by Melissa Chang |Indonesia, Regions, Travel, Travel Health & Safety
Location: Southeast Asia, archipelago between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
Climate: Tropical, generally hot and humid, more moderate in the highlands.
Population: 237,512,352 as per July 2008 estimates. About 17.8% of the population live below poverty line and the country has an unemployment rate of 9.1% as of 2007. Agriculture and industry prop up the Indonesian economy aided by reforms in the financial sector and improved investments. Petroleum and natural gas, textiles, mining, cement, chemical fertilizers, wood products, rubber products and tourism are the main industries.
Religions: Muslim 86%, Protestant 5.7%, Roman Catholic 3%, Hindu 1.8%, Others including Jews, Buddhists 3.4%. The Constitution grants all citizens the right to worship according to their faith, but restrictions have been applied to some religious activities. The government only recognises 5 major religions and others coming under the unrecognised category and are therefore not protected by law.
Travel Issues: Nationals of about 62 countries have the facility to obtain a tourist visa on arrival for a period of 30 days at one of the 14 airports and 23 seaports of Indonesia. However these visas may not be converted to another category or extended. All others need to apply for a valid visa at their nearest embassy. All travellers need to possess a passport with at least 6 months validity and documents proving onward or return journey. No vaccinations are mandatory. Travellers from about 11 neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Philippines etc do not require a visa to enter Indonesia but have to enter through stipulated ports. Enquire at your nearest embassy to ascertain your requirements.
Health & Safety: Indonesia is said to pose high risk of infection if precautions are not taken against Hepatitis A and E, typhoid, malaria, dengue fever, avian flu, and diarrhea.
SOCIETY & CULTURE
Indonesia has about 300 ethnic groups each with their own specific cultural patterns and beliefs. A mix of European, Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultural heritages go together to form the Indonesian ethnicity. People of Indonesia are known for their extremely friendly demeanour and welcoming attitudes. However, they have conservative attitudes governing their social behaviour.
Indonesia is an Islamic country but is secular in nature. Various faiths are practiced by the citizens without fear. Missionary works have been conducted by North American churches but such activities are restricted in certain areas. The Aceh region is supposed to be an Islamic state and follows religious tenets very strictly.
Role of Family
Indonesians value the extended family structure and draw great support from the interdependent style of living. Families often share the same accommodation or live nearby within minutes of each other. The oldest male is the patriarch and he has the final say in all matters. Women have the traditional role of housekeeping and are the primary caregivers for children. In the cities there is a break away from tradition and nuclear families live in high rises. Women work outside homes but not in any large numbers.
Ancestors are revered and remembered via special prayers and religious rituals during their anniversaries and on special days of the departed. Balinese Hindus believe ancestors to have powers that can protect and help the living members of the family if they are shown ample respect. On the other hand, if ignored, they can turn spiteful and cause destruction and sorrow. Funeral rituals are extremely elaborate and as extravagant as a family can afford.
Badminton and tennis are national favourites. Traditional forms of recreation include cockfighting, kite flying, bull racing, and boat racing. Another old favourite is sepak takraw played with a rattan ball. Some forms of martial arts like Pencak silat have avid followers.
Anything else important for this culture
Indonesians have a laid back and relaxed attitude to life and are often taken aback with the hurried lifestyle of westerners. They are a very conservative society and hold fast to religious beliefs. There is a social hierarchy that might not be visible to outsiders, but which nevertheless pays to be followed.
ETIQUETTE & CUSTOMS
Meetings & Greetings
Greetings take the form of a low bow that is done at a slow pace to show respect. the more the respect the lower the bow when greeting elders. A limp handshake followed by “Selamat” is also acceptable. Others merit a slight bow or even just placing your right palm over the heart.
Often first meetings revolve around getting to know each other rather than discussing anything serious. The purpose is to avoid loss of face to any one concerned. Loss of face or malu is an Indonesian concept that focuses on avoiding humiliation or embarrassment to any one. The use of passive voice, avoiding direct confrontation, denial, or arguing, and generally beating about the bush rather than coming to the point is all a means of avoiding loss of face. Introductions have to be made starting with the eldest person first.
Gift giving is an accepted mode of showing appreciation or goodwill. If invited to a home it is good to arrive with a token gift. Avoid buying locally available items that may be everywhere. Souvenirs from your land or a box of fancy chocolates may be ideal.
Indonesia is a very conservative society and it is important to cover up, especially for women. Keep shoulders and knees well covered. It is important to don formal suits for business meeting even in hot humid temperatures.
Dress formally as casual attire may be considered insulting. While at the dining table again wait to be seated. Do not begin to serve or eat till the elders have done so. Avoid alcohol and pork products if dining in mixed company.
Visiting a home
If invited for dinner at a home, it is alright to arrive a few minutes late but do not delay further. Bring a token gift for the hostess. Leave your footwear outside and once inside wait to be invited to be seated.
Though not many people speak English it is surprisingly easy to communicate as far as basic needs are concerned. Indonesians are extremely warm and eager to help foreigners who appear at a loss. Do not attempt direct conversation with the opposite gender unless they initiate it.
Dos and Don’ts
The head is considered sacred, so do not touch anyone on the head. If you do so accidently, apologize profusely. Do not use your left hand to hand over things such as business cards, money, or food. Do not photograph people without permission. Foreigners are not expected to know the nuances of Indonesian behaviour, but if you do your attempts are well appreciated and you earn their respect. Avoid causing embarrassment or loss of face to your counterparts by not raising your voice, loud laughter, and poor jokes.
Kid with hat and rice fields by John Yavuz Can
Birds photo by flydive
Traditional Dance by giuseppeportale_cartorange
2 kids by Victor Velez
carving by marc_smith
Food stand by Apple Jia
Moped by simminch