BtSM – Beauty and Harmony

The following Post was written on June 5th, 2013.

My initial intent was to write a blog post every day about my trip.

I quickly realized that not only was the internet connection speed not going to support this idea, but I also realized that perhaps, a really good blog post deserved a bit of thought and experience before doing justice to this adventure.

I have been in Indonesia now for ten days. Seven of them I spent in Lembang, a town up in the mountains near Bandung, in West Java.  The last three I spent here, in Batu Karas, a small village on the coast, South of Lembang.

The week in Lembang was a week-long colloquium (BtSM, Building the Scientific Mind) that my grandfather organizes. It primarily revolves around Science and Education, but within these areas people manage to find more diversity than I had imagined.  The topic for this year’s colloquium was Beauty & Harmony.

Now, I’ll reluctantly admit that the topic did not interest me so much before.  It seemed to me that both these things are so incredibly subjective that holding a colloquium to discuss them could not possibly come to any kind of conclusive idea.  But the incredible people who came, and shared their perspectives, debated, argued, and learned together, all left feeling like they had accomplished something.  We all came to a sort of understanding, on an individual level.

As for my own understanding of it, well, it’s actually becoming clearer this week.  I have thrown myself into daily surf lessons, spending many hours a day in the water, trying and failing and trying again.  Primarily because I needed something to keep me busy.  One week alone in a strange place, I was all too aware, could just as easily amount to loneliness and despair as it could in heaps of fun.  So, surfing it was.

The last time I surfed was during a six-hour lesson in Florida.  I came out of it with a sun burn as big as the backs of my legs (tomato red, I kid you not), countless bruises, and a sprained hip that still troubles me when I stand for too long.  Wet, sore, and miserable, I vowed never to surf again…

Just kidding.

So today was day three of my lessons here in Batu Karas.  If you’re thinking of taking it up, this is the perfect place for it.  Everyone here surfs, but as a beginner I’ve felt nothing but support from everyone here.  My instructor Andre is a local surfer, and he’s been a great source of information about the people and the area.

My conclusion is that of all of the places I’ve been to, this is one of the most amazing ones.  People living together in a community, supporting each other the way they do here, is something I’ve rarely seen.  Everyone is incredibly kind and respectful, both toward tourists and locals.  As a tourist I have more often than not mingled with other tourists when traveling.  But here, I barely know the other tourists in the hotel, but I feel as though I’m slowly getting to know the locals.

There is a big open space down the road, like a big dirt parking lot, and on the one side of it there is a row of little “shops”, probably about eight or nine of them.  And every one of them provides the exact same things: they all have a single table out front and advertise Nasi Goreng (Indonesian rice-based dish), for which they charge the same amount. They all sell packets of mosquito repellent and cigarettes and soap, among other things.  All the same, all the same prices.  But all run by different families.

I simply couldn’t figure out how anyone was making any money.  But then I realized that all the restaurants are similar too, same dishes, similar prices, similar conditions.  So today I asked Andre why, and how does he choose?

His reply was simple, but really struck me: Why choose?

I was confused.  Well you have to choose one.

But why? He persisted.

Well you need one pack of cigarettes, where do you go?

One day I buy them from one family, the next day from another.

And that’s when it became clear to me. There is no sense of competition.  People are not competing to be the best surfer and they are not competing to sell the most repellent.  People here are all just making a living in some way.  As far as I can see, there is no jealousy, no rivalry; but quite simply, co-existence.

A Westerner may look upon this town and see “poor” people, living in lesser conditions than we are accustomed to.  But I see happy people.  People who spend their days with people they care about, and doing something they love (surfing).  It’s a simple formula, but it works.

Now, this may not be Science or Education, but to me it is a perfect example of harmony, and beauty.


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