Indonesia. (In)complete.

At Fort Marlborough, Bengkulu City

It’s official. Today, I finally set foot on all 34 provinces of Indonesia. Surprisingly, Bengkulu was the first and, today, the last in my ‘have visited’ list.

My first trip (not moving) outside of my hometown Jakarta was actually .. drum roll … Bengkulu! Yep, twenty four years ago I went to this province in a voluntary humanitarian trip. Being a first-tripper and given the purpose, I didn’t know what to expect from going to the then troubled place. I remembered, though, getting off the a military aircraft, hauling logistics, lending my hands for kitchen works, sharing humble meals with other volunteers and sleeping under a military tent.

After 3 days, it was time to give my seat to next volunteers. In this short time, I remembered strongly learning about being selfless, helping strangers and working in a team but, in contrast, little – if any – that I remembered about Bengkulu.

Fast forward to twenty four years, yesterday, I arrived at Fatmawati Soekarno Airport, Bengkulu.

Technically, I have been to all provinces of Indonesia. I have been to Berau and Tarakan when they were both districts in East Kalimantan before joining the new provinces of North Kalimantan. I’ve also been to Bangka when it was part of South Sumatra before becoming part of Bangka Belitung Province. Last ones, I’ve been to Batam and Majene when they were still part of Riau and South Sulawesi Provinces, respectively.

If I’ve checked those places even when I went there while they were part of other provinces, why didn’t I tick off Bengkulu when in fact I’ve set foot there when it was the same province as today?

From the top of Fort Malrborough, overlooking the newly revived Chinatown

Substantially, it is because I have nothing in my memory about this tiny province. Practically, there were few – if any – media updates that reminded me of this province. Berau with famous diving spots in Derawan, Bangka now part of Babel getting tourist influx from Rainbow Troupers the movie, Batam as Singapore wannabe, and Majene as … hmm, what are the updates from this city? For twenty four years. Bengkulu has never been in my radar that I never thought of returning here. I am pretty sure, the fact that I don’t read local newspaper contributed to this.

In my last birthday evening, I thought about what I owed to Indonesia. Of course, Bengkulu! So there I went, booking return tickets. With only 24 hours of time between arrival and departure, I expect nothing much. But, as always, I wanted to feel how to live here especially in the capital, the City of Bengkulu. Local markets, local communities, the China town and the fortress. Local food, local coffee and local habits. As expected, I failed to remember anything about this place from my humanitarian trip twenty four years ago; I felt I’ve never been to this place.

But this actually felt good. I discussed about how Bengkulu was perceived by outsiders with a local youth community – they can’t decide their name – that focused on ‘doing creative stuffs.’ I talked to guides at Fort Marlborough and the House of Bung Karno about local politics. I spent a quiet moment reflecting the (possibly) glory period of the recently revived Chinatown. And I met a young local expat from Jakarta who refused to call the city home but have led ‘comfortable weekends’ for three years #ohwell

Words upon words, talks after talks, I started to get the sense of this city. Twenty four hours was not enough to explore the City of Bengkulu, let alone the province. But twenty four hours was enough for me to say that I was inspired by a mix of worry, quirkiness, gratefulness, hatred, pride and acceptance. Life feels more present with a mix of these feelings; I felt alive too.

Less importantly, I’ve paid my due, checking myself in all 34 provinces of Indonesia and – hopefully – being able to share my personal stories on all these provinces. Next time you meet me, pick a province and help me to remind myself of that place, will you?

A cup of Robusta High, specialty coffee at Bencoleen Coffee House

Most importantly, I created another checklist to tick off. While sipping and talking about local coffee with one of Bencoolen Coffeeshop baristas, I found Kadewatan Robusta as one of the best Robusta coffee beans. When – not if – I return to Bengkulu, I would like to intoxicate myself, immersed in the flowery coffee shrubsof Kadawetan, Curup or Seluma.

Of course that if Indonesians don’t see new provinces emerging in the future. #HelloPoliticians

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