Elizabeth Pisani & her giant bad boyfriend, ‘Indonesia’

Elizabeth Pisani & her  giant bad boyfriend, ‘Indonesia’
Elizabeth Pisani reveals that she travels in Indonesia without making plans in advance.

JAKARTA - Elizabeth Pisani lightheartedly shared her love-hate relationship with one of the most diverse countries on earth.

The author of a newly launched book, Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation, spent 14 months covering 22,000 kilometers across the country that has fascinated her for many years. She always found different stories in every single place she visited.

"[The relationship with] this giant bad boyfriend that I call Indonesia is something that makes you laugh, smile and feel warm inside, but then it tells you endless low-grade lies that make you want to slap it upside the head because you know it's going to end up in tears, but you keep coming back for more anyway," she said, expressing her tongue-in-cheek description of the relationship.

For all of that, the very reason she wrote the travel book in the first place was because she wanted to share the glory of the country and make other people in the world admire her "boyfriend".

As an outsider researching Indonesia, she found it very frustrating that this vast archipelago was little known for a country of its size, richness and importance.

When she discussed her book during the recent Ubud Writers and Readers Festival - where her books sold like hotcakes - she revealed to the audience the secret of her survival in the journey exploring cities and rural areas all alone without any detailed plans.

"I didn't have a plan when I started this. The modus operandi is always the same: just go and be interested in people. Most of the time I just waited for the adventures to come and adventure did happen because people are so open to you as long as you're open to them."

Every time she found herself rocking-up somewhere, she knew that someone would always take her in, that the people she met would always be kind to her and that she would always be able to find something to eat.

Never setting any rules in her journey, she enjoyed sitting for hours in Soekarno-Hatta International Airport because of delayed flights, or being forced to cancel her trip on a ferry in Sumba because of an unclear schedule.

"No need to be stressed. Ya, kadang-kadang bete banget memang (yes, sometimes it is frustrating), but it's like my mind has switched to have different expectations when I go out there," said the American epidemiologist who has added Indonesian to her own language.

But she always made the most of any opportunities, like when she was invited to join a trip. "'Just say yes', is kind of my mantra. Why bother making plans if it's eventually not going to work?"

The most important thing she kept in mind is that in Indonesia, "semua bisa diatur" (everything can be set up).

While setting out to explore Indonesia, Pisani felt very aware of the way the country had traditionally been written about.

"The vast majority of what's been written about Indonesia in English focuses on Java and Bali and then there's a separate literature on Papua. Although 60 per cent of the nation's population does indeed reside in Java, it is the very diversity of cultures, languages and ethnicities that make Indonesia what it is. You could just go on for your whole life discovering new, amazing things."

More about

Purchase this article for republication.



Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.