Pulang Kampung by Lauren Lang

My mother’s house was a pretty nice place.

That thought caught me off guard when I visited my mother who was working in Shanghai during summer break. Once there I realized, I had stopped saying “I’m going back home” since I moved to Lewiston, Idaho for college.

When I was 18, my family began scattering all around the world. I moved to the United States for college, my mother moved to China for work, and my father stayed in Indonesia by himself.

For the first few months of college, I’d been saying these phrases; I’m going back to the dorm; I left my stuff in my room; Do you want to hangout at my place? When I said, “I’m going back home” someone would ask, You bought a flight ticket to fly home already?

After all this time, I never realized that ‘home’ was based on where my parents lived. I was jealous to see many other college students who could go back to their homes at least once a month. Once a week, even. They only needed a few hours drive to go back home.I needed to fly across countries and continents to go home. I’m 8,645 miles by flight away. I would have to change multiple airplanes from town to town, patiently wait out a layover for hours – sometimes overnight – be on the airplane for another ten hours, and take at least five days to recover from the jetlag. Going home for me could cost at least 900USD (on a good day).

I couldn’t always afford that I want to go back home. Instead I asked myself, Do I need to go back home?

The term ‘homesick’ came to my understanding when I experienced difficulties regarding to my mother tongue. I don’t have a strong accent when I’m speaking english (at least that’s what I believe). Early on though, I often had troubles translating Indonesian to English in my own head. I went to a phone store to pay my phone bill .

CUSTOMER SERVICE: Hi, what can I help you with?

ME: Hi — I need to uh… for my phone…

CUSTOMER SERVICE: O… kay.

ME: I need to refill my number. No — I mean,

Jesus! What’s the word? Mau isi pulsa!

ME: I need to top up my phone’s data.

From the valley floor, I could see a huge letter ‘L’ on top of the hill, which marked the city of 31,800 in Idaho State. In some other parts of the city, I could see a huge letter ‘C’ on top of the hill, which marked the city of 7,300 in Washington State. From the top of the hill, I could see two cities in the valley; Lewiston of Idaho and Clarkston of Washington, with Snake River that divided the two cities. The hills changed colors according to the season; white during winter, green during spring, and brown like a toast during summer and fall.

After a year and a half of savings, I finally could afford to go back to Jakarta for the first time in the summer. As expected, my journey would take several days to finally reach home. I flew from Lewiston to Seattle, Seattle to Tokyo, and Tokyo to (finally) Jakarta. I saw subtle transitions at each layover I went to go back home. At the airport in Tokyo, Japanese syllabaries on the signs with English alphabetical underneath it. Japanese language was spoken all around me, on the TVs, and through the announcements, usually before they spoke it in English. Besides the changes in the language, there were less and less Caucasians and more and more Asians as I traveled away from the United States. Less shades of colored hair and more dark hair. Fewer colored eyes and more dark eyes. Fewer people at 5’6’’ and taller and more at 5’6’’ and under.

When I arrived at Soekarno-Hatta airport at night, I started sweating due to the humidity. Indonesian language was everywhere. Similar to the Japanese people, most Indonesian people have dark hair and eyes and mostly less than 5’6’’ tall. Indonesian people have a darker skin tone though and many of the women were all covered from top to bottom as in hijab that covered their heads down to their necks.

My cousin picked me up at the airport. She was dressed like most young adults in Jakarta, just a regular t-shirt and a pair of long pants to cover her thighs so people won’t stare at her legs. Many people in Indonesia expect many women to be all covered as if they were all Muslims.

Selamat datang pulang, Ren. My cousin gave me a kiss on both of my cheeks when she greeted me.

Yes, it validated my homecoming. The validation became stronger when I was in the car with my cousin, the AC breezed and cooled off my body. Her driver was driving — which was normal for Indonesian families from lower middle class and up to have a driver. Along the road, skyscrapers, streetlights, and billboards lightened up the city scape. Tons of vehicles; cars, motorcycles, buses, trucks, taxis, angkot and even bajaj flooded the roads, created traffic jams as usual. The radio in the car played the Indonesian rock-pop hits that my cousin and I sang along. From the window, I spotted an area where traders were selling food on the truck or cart along on the sidewalk.

My cousin took me to eat the food street where we sat at the plastic chairs and held the plastic plate on our hands. We ate a satay with peanut sauce and rice cake. And that confirmed it, I’m finally home.

BIO: Lauren Lang was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. She lived in Lewiston, Idaho for her B.A in Creative Writing and currently, she lives in Montpelier, Vermont for her MFA in Writing & Publishing. Her works have appeared in Talking River.