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Indonesia...western fare displaces tradition here

Sean Isaacs of Almonte, Ontario heard our essay from South Korea on the displacement of the traditional vegetable condiment kimchi by more modern western fare.  He writes about witnessing something similar in Indonesia...

I am Canadian-born, and my wife of almost 20 years is Indonesian. In October of last year, we made a long-overdue return to Indonesia with our two children (7 year-old daughter, and 13 year-old son). It was a special and emotional trip for all of us (our first in 13 years), as not only did our children get to meet their grandmother (and great-grandmother!) for the first time, but we also made a pilgrimage to the rural village in Sumatra that I first spent time in as a teenager on an exchange program almost 25 years earlier. [click below for the rest]

Although a fondness common to all of us, my son and I especially share a passion for "Teh Botol" - sweetened jasmine tea, which we could not get enough of (while many teenagers have their bedroom walls adorned with sporting posters, Fenton, our son, continues the hunt for a Teh Botol poster!). On my earlier trips to Indonesia, this jasmine tea was ever-present in virtually every social and/or business setting imaginable. At every meeting, on every flight, in every boxed lunch, and on any visit to the home of a friend or relative - the small tetra boxes of teh botol with their attractive batik-motif labels (or more commonly in the markets or restaurants, their somewhat elegant glass bottles reminiscent of the early soda-pop bottles) would be the drink of choice. Whether the product of custom or simply mass-fondness, there could be no doubt which Indonesian beverage company likely dwarfed all others in terms of numbers of units produced, and number of advertising dollars invested.

On this last visit, however, we were taken back by many profound changes which seemed to have occurred during our 13-year absence, but (at a personal and perhaps hedonistic level) none surprised me more than the complete transformation of the "social beverage" custom. Gone was our beloved teh botol from every pantry and every meeting, and instead what greeted thirsty travelers and welcomed visitors was....sealed cups of water. Everywhere, these small plastic cups of warm water. It made no sense! On a cost level, there must be virtually no difference between either liquid, and (in a country where both hospitality and a frequently despotic humidity were ever present) the presence of a hit of cane sugar in one's beverage was an ingredient welcomed by ones body.

As with many developments, it was explained to me that this change was not the result of either an evolution of Indonesian tastes or an economic/environmental "greening" issue, but rather quite simply an unfortunate mirroring of the new western fondness for "bottled water". So out with the deliciously-satisfying, quintessential Indonesian little batik boxes of sweet tea (equally splendid warm or cold!), and in with the mundane mini-buckets of water, simply to meet the perceived expectations of the new "modern" society.

Needless to say, although my son and I still enjoyed the infrequent success of actively hunting down and enjoying the odd bottle of this beloved golden liquid during our trip, it wasn't even close to being enough, and we both left for the long journey home keenly having wanting more.

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