Sego Tiwul, one of the ‘local’ cuisines, in Pangkalan Bun

I’m almost always excited when hearing the word ‘authentic’ as much as I’m also curious about how it is defined. Sure, everyone would come up with own definitions, or a lack of it, but when they became a ‘brand’ that attracted others, authenticity needs to be at least clearly-communicated.

One word that I usually used to define authenticity was ‘local.’ But again, the word was vastly defined.

Orangutans in Camp Leakey rehabilitation centre in a feeding session

Last week I went to Pangkalan Bun, second-largest – albeit busiest – city in Central Kalimantan. I went there for one particular ‘local’ attraction, encountering the orangutans at their rehabilitation centre in Tanjung Puting National Park. I saw – or met? – orangutans before, both in cruel captivity of Ragunan Zoo and in their similarly-natural habitat of Bukit Lawang (are they still there today?). An encounter with ‘semi-wild’ (as my guide later mentioned) orangutans was an experience every human being should have.

“To remind us that we share 95% DNA with these creatures,” my guide said.

I giggled. “Are you sure those who chose not to believe in evolution would have similar motivation coming here?” I asked him.

He chuckled.

Fortunately, I arrived at Pangkalan Bun a day earlier, giving me time to explore the city and surrounding areas. For me, the whole day was helpful to allow me learning how people in Pangkalan Bun live their ‘authentic’ life with the great apes.

My driver, an immigrant from Jepara, Central Java who has lived in the city for eight years, shyly told me that he never actually met orangutans in the national park. “I only took guests there,” he explained with a bitter smile. “But I made my living mostly from people who went to see orangutans. That’s how I can relate myself to them.”

We laughed.

I then met a young ranger at Tanjung Keluang Tourism Park. He pursed his lips when I asked him how many visitors who went visiting orangutans were going to the park. “Very little. I don’t have the numbers, but very little. Maybe it’s because they did not know that this area is the natural breeding ground of turtles. Even very few locals know about this phenomenon,” he explained.

When I asked why, he rolled his eyes. “Maybe it’s because this place does not make money for them?”

Maybe (not).

Liberica beans grown, harvested and processed – here, fermented – locally in Pangkalan Bun

In the afternoon, I met a coffee farmer who took me on a short journey from coffee harvesting to post processing to roasting to brewing and finally to cupping. Liberica, a familiar name not for a coffee variety but for a cafe chain #LOL (their coffee was not bad though hahah) I learned that the variety has been planted, harvested, and enjoyed by local people for years.

“But why it is almost unheard of outside Pangkalan Bun?” I asked him, hopefully representing coffee drinkers from all over Indonesia.

“Aside from the limited quantities, Liberica is an unpopular choice between the famous Arabica and infamous Robusta. It’s been difficult to position this variety in between those two giants when it actually had its own place in terms of palate,” he said. When I asked what was the palate, he shrugged. “I guess only locals knew this.”

Later, when I talked to local coffee aficionados, I was told that Liberica was known for a rich aroma of jackfruit. The beans that I enjoyed that day, fermented, brought even stronger aroma of jackfruit. I fell in love with these beans and, later during a cupping session back in Jakarta, agreed that Liberica coffee from Pangkalan Bun would serve nicely as my regular – local – coffee. #slurp

When I finally went to meet my orangutan siblings, I asked my guide how they have changed his life.

Economically, positive. Throughout the year, he arranged trips for visitors mainly from overseas. July and August were two busiest months (and that”s how I missed the klotok* and took the speed boat, instead). Other than that context, it’s difficult how orangutans fit into his daily life. In fact he, as some other people I met, claimed that unless for such trips, the orange-haired apes rarely made daily conversations.

On my last day in the city, a young local man took me to an eatery that locals and visitors alike currently crazed about. “Sego tiwul**? Isn’t that a cuisine in Java? I used to have that when I was a kid,” I was surprised.

He later told me that many cuisines – as well as words and phrases, customs and other cultural artefacts – brought by immigrants from Java and Madura were adopted by locals. “My parents were local Malay, which used to made up the largest part of the population, but I felt like I am a visitor today. But then again, living (way of) life as a Malay today, would be strange here. So I guess it’s safe to say, what we used to say local was now replaced with what we used to say imports,” he explained.

Later that day, on my flight back to Jakarta, I was thinking about how do I define local to myself.

“From, existing in, serving, or responsible for a small area, especially of a country”

Without adding one more definition, I felt comfortable with how Cambridge Dictionary defined local. One word that relates to my experience was “existing in.” To me, someone or something may came from outside, but truly locals are those that exist IN the place.

As more places get culturally diverse – poor those that do not – the word ‘locals’ is slowly moving away from cultural artefacts (clothings, foods, languages, arts or buildings) and closer to cultural experience (behaviours, customs, habits, traditions – not traditional, though -, feelings, logics, beliefs and even world views).

It’s tough to decide who is more local among these two

When we embrace this kind of ‘local’, it doesn’t matter what accent people speak, as long as they communicate seamlessly. It doesn’t matter who eats what for lunch, as long as they can share their table. It doesn’t matter who enters or leaves a community, as long as the community maintains, shapes and keeps redefining their OWN locals.

It is not my intention to debate about what is local or not, but I can not deny the good feeling that I have when what I do, say, eat or wear fit and are accepted well by my surroundings. That is the kind of feeling that, no matter where I am or where I say I came from, validates me that I AM local.

I hope you live like a local in wherever you live now. Do you?


* Klotok is a wooden cargo boat that are designed to navigate waters in Indonesia and, especially in Pangkalan Bun, are turned into cabin-style passengers ship

** Sego tiwul is a rice-like meal made of cassava roots. It has lower calory than rice and was once used as main staples in Indonesia especially during Japanese occupancy



  • My trip was organised by (CP Hendra Jayusman, +628122920577)
  • Liberica coffee that I tried was produced by Kahawa Coffee (CP Teddy Azhary, +6281226629991)
  • My car rental was organised through Mansur Car Rental (CP H. Mansur, +62-81253343636)

All contacts are shared upon permission from the owners.