Although my time in Sumatra was short, I had the pleasure of spending it at the fantastic Nachelle Homestay. Named after the manager, Abdi’s, year old daughter, the house was as warm and inviting as our hosts and offered stunning views of the city from the rooftop.
As I’ve mentioned before, Berastagi is cooler than Singapore (which really isn’t saying a whole lot, but… STILL!) and I had forgotten how homey it feels even just to curl up under a toasty blanket on a chilly evening (one of those soul warming feelings).
The genuine warmth and welcoming of our hosts went above and beyond our expectations, as they organized our itineraries and transportation and were incredibly open and friendly.
Our interactions with the rest of the community, however, often didn’t get past the clicking of a camera. While my friends and I shutter-bugged away at attractions like mountain ranges and cityscapes (and in my case, every piece of fruit in the city), the locals turned us into attractions ourselves. From the moment we got off our bus, groups of giggling school kids would approach us, asking for photos and practice with their English. At first, we assumed this meant a quick pic and brief Q&A, but by now, I’m pretty sure the people of Indonesia have more pictures of me on my trip than I do (which actually says a lot, since I filled up my whole memory card) and all know that I’m from Canada and have enjoyed my time in Indonesia.
Being a bale (bah-lay), or white-skinned foreigner, basically gives you celebrity status in Indonesia and while the first paparazzi encounter was fun (the kids were really enjoying themselves, bringing out their school notebooks to practice various English phrases), things start to get a little weird when groups of people start walking up to you, declaring “photo” and proceed to start snapping away.
As a tourist, I occasionally seek out photos of shopkeepers in front of their stalls and other “normal” things, but being on the other side of a wayward person’s camera still puts me off. I know the pictures aren’t of me, personally, they’re just of my skin. Especially after having lived in a multi-cultural city like Toronto, it’s strange to think that something like skin tone is reason enough for a photo-op.
However, Indonesia – and most of South East Asia is a whole other world in that respect. While I came to Singapore hoping to work on darkening my skin tone with a tan, the skin-whitening industry here is valued at over $13 billion, with ads like this one, here: