One of my Indonesian teachers, Ibu TJ, is taking me on a journey of Indonesian history by introducing me to the pahlawan Indonesia (Indonesian heroes) pictured on Indonesian currency. It started because I asked to learn about sejarah indonesia (Indonesian history).
We are up to Soekarno who is on the 100,000 rupiah note, or seratus ribuh rupiah. Yang merah (the red one). Despite Indonesian currency denominations being written on the actual lembar (notes) themselves, and after about 7 years of studying Indonesian, I still get muddled up with the zeros. Yes, I know, take four zeros off the figure and then you have your near Australian dollar equivalent, but saying the amounts in Indonesian is still sulit (difficult) for me. It seems, my inability to do matematika in my own language seeps into my second language ability too.
When I am in Indonesia, semakin bisa (as much as I can), I try and say the money amounts to practise them in real life situations, namely shopping! Sometimes I even go as far as pretending I don’t understand English so that when they give me back my change they say it to me in Indonesian. Or when they say a price and I say “tidak mengerti” (I don’t understand) they have to say the price in Indonesian.
Pretending to be Russian was working fine for a while. Well… until I met some lovely boys in a shop in Yogja who sat me down and gave me a refreshing drink of water when they saw how hot and parched I was from walking for hours. I told them I didn’t want to buy anything and I could see they were just being kind. Though they did want something from me. That’s when karma finaly caught up with me and my dishonesty. They said “Ibu, ajari kami sedikit bahasa Rusia” (Mrs, teach us a little bit of Russian). I feigned not knowing what to teach them and guiltily went on my way.
After that, I thought I would have to pretend to be from somewhere I know at least some of the language . I speak Japanese pretty well but that woudn’t work with my white face. I had studied Italian for 5 years and could manage a little, teaching a little would not be a problem if that permintaan special (special request) ever came up again. From then on if I was out shopping and not getting any Indonesian in – I became Italian.
Not related to being a language imposter, but getting back to being mathemacially challenged, another way I tawar (barter) with shop keepers is to say that I would pay a red one or a blue one. So if I want to pay 50,000 rupiah for something, I would say “yang biru” (the blue one). Or if I’m happy to pay 100,000 rupiah I would say “yang merah” (a red one). This one works if I am being lazy and not wanting to say the numbers but still want to speak Indonesian.
Ibu TJ told me another one. You might call the Indonesian lembar (notes) by the historical pahlwaan (heroes) that adorn them. Say if a mate has lots of “yang merah” (red ones) in their dompet (wallet) you might say “Banyak Soekarno!” Literally ‘lots of Soekarno’ which means that they are cashed up with all those red Soekarno notes in their wallet.