Sunday, February 15, 2009

Life in Jakarta: Learning the local language

Living in Jakarta is quite interesting, language-wise. While formal Bahasa Indonesia is quite similar to Bahasa Malaysia, which I speak, the local lingo known as bahasa gaul is another kettle of fish altogether. Up till today, I can't make head or tail of it and need subtitles if I watch the sinetron. B. Indon also uses a different subset of words to describe certain common things and this is a sample of what I've learnt so far.

We call it a lipas back home in Malaysia. So when we found one in our house some months ago, this terrified Madam immediately called for the compound superintendent. "Supardi, bisa tolong? Ada lipas di rumah!" (Supardi, can you help? There's cockroaches in the house!) To my astonishment, he asked me what a lipas was. Oh goodness me. How do you mime a cockroach??? After a rather silly round of insect charades, he finally lit up, "Ohhhhh... kecoa!"

Cepek, ngopek, gopek...
It was early days in Jakarta and I asked our driver to put on the local radio so that I could pick up some new words. I can't remember what the radio ad was about but the jingle talked about overcoming capek. I asked S what it was. He said it meant "tired" and explained further, "Capek itu letih... tapi kalau cepek.. itu uang." (Capek means tired but if it's cepek, it means money) I repeated, "Cepek?" He nodded, "Ya... cepek, ngopek, gopek.. itu semua uang, Madam!" (Yes.. cepek, ngopek, gopek...that's all money, Madam!")
I was extremely puzzled. Why so many terms for money? I couldn't figure it out and kept turning it over and over in my head. Finally it hit me - they'd borrowed from the Chinese terms for 100, 200 and 500.

Kelmarin, besok
These terms in Malaysia mean "the day before" and "tomorrow" respectively. I made the mistake of assuming they would mean the same here. They don't. My maid and driver gleefully informed me that they mean different things in different parts of Indonesia. Besok can mean tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or any day in the future, depending on where one came from. Kelmarin could mean yesterday, the day before or last night. I feel a migraine coming on, I do.

This is my favourite sign ever in the whole of Jakarta. When I first arrived, I saw it everywhere but couldn't figure out what it was. Finally a German friend interpreted it for me. It's a Dutch word which translates literally as "bang pot" and is the word for the exhaust pipe on your vehicle. He asked me, "What do you call it in Malaysia?" Somewhat sheepishly, I replied, "Paip ekzos..."

And this one is my favourite. We were on our way home from Pacific Place on Saturday and Dear Hubby pointed to a sign and asked warily, "Babe... just exactly what are they selling?" I looked up and saw he was pointing at a sign that said SEMEN GRESIK. I burst into laughter and explained, "Don't worry, they're just selling cement!"


  1. ROFLOL!!! Oh and don't tell the Indons that you are taking a banci (survey/census) because its a bad word for them! I remember when someone from Indonesia came over here when our govt was carrying out the national census - their eyes were so large at the sight of the huge banners lining the roads haha....

  2. Lol, love this post!
    For Indonesian, we also found few funny Malaysian words, such as "pemadam" for eraser.

    btw, Is that true Malaysian call maternity hospital as "rumah sakit korban lelaki"?

  3. PB: Ooh.. I shall ask my driver what banci is then! HAHAHA!!!

    Anon: What does pemadam mean in Indonesia then? It's amusing that 2 countries that have such similar languages have such different words for so many common things.
    LOL @ rumah sakit korban lelaki... I don't know, I've never heard it refered to as such but this is FUNNY!

  4. We called a man that pretend to be a women, and dress like a women as "banci". It's transversite(is it the right spelling?), but without operation.
    Normally, people making fun of them because their too-much-makeup. You must have seen them on the street asking money whilst singing on traffic light.

    We called "fire fighter" as "pemadam kebakaran".
    Based on, pemadam means extinguisher.

    What about "Pasukan injak-injak bumi"? Is that Malaysian words? if so,that also funny for us :)

  5. Gosh.. I'm so annoyed. I typed out a nice long reply to the comment above and then Blogger lost it! Grrrr... took me an entire day before I had enough time to sit down and type another one and by now, I've lost my mood.

    Ah... I've seen banci in the hotel I stayed in when I first arrived in Jkt! They hung around the pub and we would watch to see which clueless bule would think they were the real deal and pick them up. LOL

    Ya... to Msian, pemadam = eraser = extinguisher. We don't use diff words for them, I assume Indons do?
    Why is pasukan injak2 bumi funny? I don't get the joke, sorry? I'm not sure if they're just exlusive to Msia.. it's not a term I use daily. :)

  6. Di antara banyak kata itu, sering orang Indonesia bercanda dengan menyebut kalimat "rumah sakit korban lelaki" untuk menerjemahkan rumah bersalin atau "hentak-hentak bumi" sebagai pengganti istilah aba-aba didunia militer "jalan ditempat".

    Kedua istilah tersebut sama sekali tidak dikenal di Malaysia, begitu pula untuk istilah "rumah sakit" karena mereka lebih pas mengambil istilah "hospital" untuk memelihara warisan Inggris yang pernah menjajah Malaysia.

  7. LOL I was shocked too when I was in KL a few weeks ago and I keep on hearing this ad on TV that shouted "BANCI PENDUDUK" a million times!! LOL...I actually learned Bahasa Melayu in Singapore when I was studying there, so I actually know what "Banci" means, but still...being Indonesian, I can't stop thinking about "Transsexual Population" when I hear "Banci Penduduk". (OK, it should be "Penduduk Banci", LOL)