Our first full day in Medan included an outing to a nearby shopping center. It’s a five or six story mall filled with restaurants and stores and on the top level there’s a grocery store. Partly to practice our Bahasa Indonesia skills and partly out of necessity for some basic kitchen goods and partly out of wanting to begin getting to know this city that is now our home, we headed over to explore. After finishing our grocery shopping we decided it would be nice to get a cool drink before the trip home. We ended up in a small shop in the mall specializing in teas and coffees and the very popular boba. Not so very different from the Orange Julius or Wetzel’s Pretzels or Cinnabons that used to dot malls across America before the malls started to go extinct.
Boba are very small, round semi-gelatinous balls made from rice flour. They are slighty sweet and added to many drinks in Southeast Asia. Boba has also gained popularity in the past few years in the US. Our youngest two adore these drinks so we stopped. We placed our orders with a young Indonesian guy – probably somewhere between 17 and 20 years old. He spoke a little English and helped us with our order. We sat down and waited.
One by one he inquired – in English – our names to write on our cups. He also asked us in passing where we were from and we told him America and California. Then, instead of calling our names to have us come to the counter and get our drinks he delivered them to us as they were ready. The store played a steady stream of covers of classic American rock and roll from the 80’s which I thought was interesting but not necessarily unusual. Then Gena realized Hotel California by the Eagles was playing. Not a cover but the actual original song. I motioned to the young man behind the counter about the music and he grinned in response – clearly he had played it for us. Finally, since there weren’t any other customers at the moment he came out and started talking to us. He knew some English – enough to get by quite well, and we had the opportunity to practice some of our very basic introductory Bahasa Indonesia.
After 15 minutes or so his co-worker suggested he should return behind the counter and at least pretend to be working. He asked for a selfie with our family, and told us we were the first native English speakers he had ever met. All his other English practice was online and in text. His excitement was obvious, as was his confusion. Why in the world had we come to Medan rather than Jakarta or Bali like most other Western tourists?
We left elated and with promises to come and see him again. It was wonderful to meet and talk with someone excited to be talking with foreigners. It was wonderful to have someone to try out our language skills on – rudimentary as they are. And it was a reminder of the wonderful possibilities for building relationships with people in this beautiful country. So much to look forward to, and we’re thrilled to be getting started even if our steps feel so small and stumbling at the moment. We try to remind ourselves we’ve only been in the city for less than 24 hours. We have a LOT of work ahead of us in the coming weeks and months.
But we’re grateful to Kevin – and look forward to talking with him further – as a reminder of how good God is in giving us encouragement along the way.