Medan – Touching Indonesia

Flying with Air Asia
The modern and luxurious Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) was not designed to carter budget airlines, which now flourished Southeast Asian sky. Indeed the wind of cheap airlines had made flight more and more affordable for most people. And Malaysia was among the pioneers with their widespread Air Asia.

Kuala Lumpur airport authority has made a separate airport for the passengers of these budget airlines at LCCT terminal. This airport was small, crowded, and messy. Even if it was a younger brother of the KLIA and just several kilometers away, it didn’t match the latter in any sense.

Most of the people in waiting lounge were Indonesians, distinguishable from their strong Javanese or Sumatran accent. I have learnt that many Indonesians working in Malaysia tried their best to change their accent, due to fact that Malaysians quite disliked Indonesians. Some said there were more than 1 million Indonesians now in Malaysia, legally or illegally, and the Malaysians cursed the cause of criminal cases in their country was the Indonesian migrants. There were always sentiments between the two neighbors, as most other neighboring countries in the world. Even if the Indonesians and Malaysians possessed so much proximity in their culture and history, there were always problems in the people’s nationhood and nationalism sentiment. Generalization was unavoidable. The general attitude of Malaysians look down Indonesian speaker in the country, and the general attitude of Indonesians cursed the Malaysians as the cause of the trouble in their country, like terrorism, fundamentalism, and cultural burglary.

It was understandable how the Indonesian migrants tried hard to change their accent to be recognized as Malaysians in Malaysia. But in this waiting lounge, where most people were Indonesians who were more than excited to be departed to their kampong, people started to speak their kampong village.

Indonesians were always friendly people. Even just sitting in waiting lounge might bring you to a deep friendship with someone. A lady sitting next to me, whom I borrowed pen to fill my immigration card, were very excited to know that I came from the same town as she did. She had been living in KL for 14 years, sometimes exhibited her proficiency in speaking Malaysian accent, but her strong Javanese accent made me feeling I was at home already.

“Too bad you go to Medan, brother, otherwise I will bring you to my home,” she said. Her house, as she mentioned, was less than 1 km from my house.

This was not my first time flying with Air Asia, which cost less than 30$ to Medan (in Indonesia, so it’s international flight). This was not my first time also having to wait for departure inside an airplane without air conditioning. It was hot and crowded, comparable to Surabaya city bus. Again, this was not first time the flight was delayed because someone smuggled durian and the smell polluted the air inside the plane. As imagined, this passenger (most people would suppose Indonesian) didn’t claim the his/her durian, and stewardess announced except if the durian was handed to them, they would not start the flight. Being in a hot, crowded airplane comparable to Indonesian economic bus (this is Malaysian economic plane) and stuffed by durian smell was an Air Asia genuine experience.

You would see on every seat a warning written in Indonesian language ONLY, not in English or Malay, “Everybody who steals the live jacket will be prosecuted 1,000,000 Rupiah and handed to the authorities”. Why only in Indonesian? This is a Malaysian plane departing to Indonesia, with some Singaporean and western passengers as well. Of course it was not because Indonesian was accepted as the uniting language of ASEAN (it will never!), but I suspected that ‘they’ generalized almost 100% possibilities of the thieves were Indonesians. As I never flew with Air Asia to Thailand, I wondered whether they would write this warning in Thai language only.

No doubt, Air Asia was very successful in term of pioneering budget airlines in Southeast Asia. It had widespread routes inside Malaysia, as well as inside Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. Air Asia also had good coverage on Indonesian domestic routes. But the success now also aroused the attention of religious scholars. I read about this in a Malaysian Muslim tabloid, Hidayah. A religious scholar at first complained the fact that both Malaysian Airlines and Singapore Airlines didn’t design uniform in Islamic way for the stewardess. Well, at least for the two airlines the dress was still Malaysian, as it was developed from Malay Batik. They couldn’t care much about Singaporean Airlines as Singapore is not Muslim country. The more intensified attention was given to Air Asia, of which the stewardess uniform was just simple universal clothes, not Malaysian in values at all, not to say following Islamic dress rules.

Our neighbor, Malaysia, is indeed a special country. Remember when Russia decided to allow a Malaysian to fly with Russian rocket to aerospace, we found how ridiculous way they used to select their ‘astronaut’? The country didn’t have really qualified astronauts as they didn’t develop this knowledge. The way to choose who would fly to the sky was by allowing all people to apply, then giving them difficult tasks like long run contest, and then allowing all other countrymen to choose their favorites by SMS just the same way as they chose Malaysian Idol (but maybe with different number). While the Russian astronauts will make research of the aerospace, this beloved Malaysian astronaut will make research whether Malaysian national food, ‘nasi lemak’, would be eatable in outer space and the religious scholars on the ground made seminar how this astronaut would deliver his Islamic prayers in the world-rotating rocket.

While I felt ridiculous with Malaysia, a Malaysian passenger next to me sympathized Indonesia. He was a Malaysian Malay, flying to Medan every weekend for golf. “Poor Indonesia, I feel pity with Indonesian countrymen. We are brothers. Indonesia should be rich, but you see now how poor Indonesians are….. I really take pity on them”
When people may have such ‘strong Malay brotherhood’, when people actually start to think about people at the other side of the border, why should we have so much problems living as good neighbors? The case was not that simple.

When the plane touched Medan, after about an hour flight, the feeling of being in completely different country started. The weather was hot and humid. After being so long time in Uzbekistan winter time, I felt very sensitive with Medan’s high humidity. The airport was messy and poor airport workers offering help to carry passengers’ luggage for a tips. I reckoned in most airports in Indonesia, these workers, who instead were supposed to help passengers, usually hide the luggage charts and only provided charts to passengers if they got paid.

Malaysia is really another world apart, even just from Medan.

About Agustinus Wibowo

Agustinus is an Indonesian travel writer and travel photographer. Agustinus started a “Grand Overland Journey” in 2005 from Beijing and dreamed to reach South Africa totally by land with an optimistic budget of US$2000. His journey has taken him across Himalaya, South Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and ex-Soviet Central Asian republics. He was stranded and stayed three years in Afghanistan until 2009. He is now a full-time writer and based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Contact: Website | More Posts

3 Comments on Medan – Touching Indonesia

  1. dulu air asia airportnya di KLIA, ga dipisah.

  2. Dear Agus,

    saya baru saja menemukan ceritamu di kompas dan langsung tertarik. Terutama cerita di titik nol, perjalanan kora.
    Sepertinya semua orang sebetulnya sedang melakukan perjalanan kora, naik haji, pilgrimage, semua jenis perjalanan meningkatkan spiritualitas, termasuk Agus & semoga saya. Hanya ada yang dengan sadar melakukannya ada yang tidak.
    Ada yang ekstrim, ada yang biasa saja, ada pula yang tidak melakukan apa-apa.
    Tapi garis lurusnya, semua berjalan menujuNYA dan semua tulisan cerita perjalananmu membantu saya menyadari dan membuka hati selebar-lebarnya akan kebesaran, variasi dan kuasa Tuhan.
    Pada akhirnya kita semua adalah pengelanaNYA dan kepadaNYA adalah kerinduan tiada tara.
    Agustinus Wibowo, terima kasih.


  3. Trims mas agus,saya baru baca artikel ini.

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