I was reading an inspiring story from my good friend, Subhan. He wrote about a student by the name of Sentot who studied English in Jakarta. I eventually discovered that the story is autobiographical and Sentot is in fact Subhan himself. The story reminds me of my own experience in learning English.
It was in 1990 when I started learning English in my Junior High School. To me, English is fascinating and I fell in love to the language the first day I started learning it. Ibu Astini, my English teacher, should be given the credit since she managed to captivate me with her charm on the first day of her class. I still remember, we learned numbers on that day. Since everybody seemed to be quite familiar with numbers, Ibu Astini started the class by asking us to spell out numbers and write them on the blackboard. Yes, we still used chalks and blackboard back then. I was amazed by the way English words are spelled out. How can one pronounce “one” as /wʌn/? It did not make any sense to me at the beginning but I liked it. Put simply, I feel in love with English that day.
I went for a pilgrimage one day to Batukaru Temple in Tabanan, Bali. It was in 1992 and I was only 14, in grade 2 of Junior High. My English was far from good but it was much better compared to the first day I attended Ibu Astini’s class. The problem was that I had no opportunity to practice my English in what I called a ‘real environment’. I meant native speakers. When I referred to native speakers, you should know that I meant “white people”. See how ridiculous I was when it comes to English.
I saw a lovely couple, white people, were wandering around the temple where my family members were having rituals. I could never take my eyes off them and lost concentration on my prayers, honestly. I felt something inside me, a strong power came from within and I did not know what it was. I felt like someone was whispering to me, asking me to see and talk to the couple. It was the chance for me to practice what I had been learning for the last 1.5 years. It was not easy, for sure. I really needed to find very good reason to walk and see those two nice people. The 14-year old boy was very shy, I have to admit.
Not knowing where it was from, there was strong power came to me and lifted my body up. Off, I went to see the couple. When I approached them, I did not know what to say. I could only smile with hesitation. The lady smiled back to me and seemed to be interested. I could tell from the way she stared at me. Imagine if you are a French lady enjoying a magical Hindu temple in Bali and a 14-year-old boy with Balinese traditional dress comes to you with smile. No wonder she smiled back to me and said “hello”. I waived my hand timidly and said “hello, how are you?” It was in fact a standardised greeting I had been practicing for the last 1.5 years in Ibu Astini’s class. So, there was nothing special about it.
She seemed surprised discovering that I could actually speak English. I am sure my accent must have been terrible but the lady is French, remember?! I recall asking “where are you from?” So typical! I also remember that I talked a little bit about Besakih, another temple in Bali. I said “Besakih is the biggest temple in Bali”. I think I suggested them visit Besakih but I do not remember what I exactly said. Maybe something like “please go there”.
Noticing her partner conversing with me, the man approached us and smiled. He was busy with his camera before and took a lot of pictures. He waived his hand and I did the same. He joined the conversation. I felt the world came to support me and I gained my confidence. Do you know what made it better? Around twenty people, my extended family members, were watching me doing that with admiration, for sure. I was thrilled and enthralled. It was my first conversation with ‘native speakers’ even though later I discovered that they are not really native speakers. I am glad that they were willing to speak English with me as I know later that not every French people you meet is willing to speak language other than French.
The conversation was short because of my limited English so that I had not much to say. However, I did enjoy that short moment. It was to me a milestone. I proved something to myself that what I had been learning was actually useful. It meant a lot to me in building my self confidence. I was sad when the two lovely people went to their car and said goodbye. I was staring at them entering the white Suzuki Katana. Other members of my family were also staring at them, amazed! Remember, around 20 of them.
When I was ready to let them go, both of them came out from the car and approached me. My heart was pumping for one more time. The man handed to me something in a small box, which I had no idea about. “This is perfume from Paris” he said. I did not expect that of course, so it came as a big surprise. I said “thank you very much, you are very kind.” With a big smile, of course. Not until three years later I discovered that the perfume they gave me was actually a good brand from Paris. I remember when I was in Senior High in Denpasar, a friend of mine used the same perfume and told me the brand and also the price.
I have visited more than 20 countries in four continents and I have also visited the couple’s country. Undoubtedly, a lot have taken place since the day but I believe the meeting with the two nice people in 1992 contributes a lot to my journey. If there are three requests that I can have from a bottle genie, one of them would be to meet the lovely couple, which remain mysterious to me until now. Even two decades since the conversation, my English is by no mean perfect but I believe I made progress. Thanks to Ibu Astini and the courage I had to make a good decision to converse with the two nice people from France twenty years ago.