11 Jun 2012
When we look outside our car windows, we are often confronted with disturbing sights. We see sad scenes — a blind man knocking on car doors, or a young mother holding her child up toward us. These are just a few of the many sights we see in our everyday lives in Jakarta.
Those we see in the streets are also the ones who are falling behind in an increasingly fast-paced world. Jakarta today is a migrant city where many have come from kampungs (villages) to work and to make a living in any way possible.
But what kind of effect does this have on employment outside of Jakarta? As opportunities are disappearing at home, so are traditions. The value of culture is becoming forgotten as Indonesia develops.
The First Step
Toward the end of 2011, my friend Ian had a few thoughts itching in his head. Originally from Bandung, Ian moved to Jakarta and now works as a teacher at Language Studies Indonesia, a language school for expatriates. Ian would often visit his home in Bandung, where he would see many locals leaving their homes to work in the big city like him. Seeing this trend of migration to the city, Ian realized that the local culture was becoming devalued.
Ian and I met a few times outside of class to discuss the issue that was bothering us both. One evening, he proposed the idea of launching a program in Bandung. The program would aim to educate travelers about Indonesian culture and provide lo cals with someone they could sell cultural products and services to.
In many of our discussions, Ian would repeatedly say of his people, “They have all the resources. But they just don’t know how to use them. So I thought, why not use the skills that I have to help them?”
After many visits to Bandung, he saw the potential for families to use their homes and ways of life to sustain a local tourism business.
By mid-April, LSI had offered to fund Ian’s program, and LSI Indo Excursions Specialty Travel was launched.
The Adventure Begins
We gathered a few expats together for the first trial run of LSI Indo Excursions. The journey began at Gambir station in Central Jakarta. A long, scenic train ride to Bandung proved itself worthwhile when we reached our destination. For two days, we entered the lives of locals: participating in the annual ram fighting competition, interacting with families to understand how things worked at coffee and tea plantations, eating home-cooked meals, visiting the local school and watching angklung music and wayang puppet performances by school children. The “program” wasn’t a program in the way we usually understand it, in which everything is set up to please the audience. Everything on our tour was authentic, including the guesthouse we stayed at, which was a very simple mud brick home with true kampung-style facilities.
We were also educated on a personal level about the lives of the locals in a situation where they weren’t forced to perform for us. Sharing their way of life was a completely new experience for the families and individuals living around the coffee and tea plantations of Ciheuleut, West Java, where Ian’s home is situated.
Anna, a Polish short-film producer, commented on how we were able to gain “an intimate understanding of how coffee is grown, harvested, processed and produced.”
As the tour is directed at smaller groups, we were able to spend more time interacting with locals. The experience was not only beneficial for the tourists, but also for the local people involved.
During our stay, there were many children who came to see what was happening, using the opportunity to practice their English skills. Our hiking guide enthusiastically asked when he would be able to show the others the coffee and tea plantations. Ian was also reassured by Ciheuleut’s head official: “Just keep improving; it’s good for the people.”
The positive feedback encouraged LSI Indo Excursions to expand the program, including visits to a traditional weaving factory, and also to tobacco-farming villages.
The Big Picture
All over the world, tourism is a booming business but it can be highly detrimental to culture. Having visited many countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Japan, I’ve had many opportunities to see culture on display: The participants madly rehearsing in English to appeal to their audience, and the crowds watching a tailored show from a distance.
An LSI Indo Excursions trip allows small groups of tourists to directly interact with families in their homes and workplaces. If we really want to learn about and appreciate a culture, all we have to do is engage with people around us, rather than watch locals perform in a show.
“This is the only tour where you really feel that you engage with the local community rather than merely observing them at arm’s length. It was a wonderful chance for a community to show you what they’re proud of,” said Breanna Wright, an Australian doctorate student who joined the tour.
We can start to appreciate culture by being responsible tourists, and by promoting responsible tourism.
Responsible tourists are not invasive, and do not demean the local culture. Responsible tourists should avoid randomly giving money to locals, because this can demean the value of individuals and of their culture.
In an increasingly globalized world we should try our best to preserve cultures, and not forget the value of tradition or working at home. Responsible tourism encourages a way of life that respects locals as individuals, and values their culture as an asset.
A program like LSI Indo Excursions does precisely that, by allowing individuals to engage directly with locals.
Visitors should take responsibility for their actions toward locals, and realize that they have a large impact on the way they see themselves. While it’s great to travel and learn about other cultures, we all share the responsibility of helping those cultures retain their individuality and thrive for years to come.
LSI Indo Excursions consider three ways we can achieve responsible tourism:
1. Just travel. The simple fact that you are traveling to a locality will have a positive economic impact on the region. Your purchases on the trip will do much good for the local people.
2. Buy local crafts. If you are looking for a gift or a souvenir, patronize the arts and demonstrate your support for local culture. Buying from a local artisan can cut out 40 steps in the traditional export chain. While contributing to the local economy, you will help ensure the continued production of the community’s cultural products.
3. Contribute to a local charity. Your tour guide can inform you of organizations in Indonesia with the expertise to get aid to your intended recipients. Alternatively, you may contribute to a current LSI program.