| Dewi Kurniawati |
Jakarta (dpa) – The Nusa Indah shop in Jakarta is chock-a-block with shoppers during lunchtime. It sells delicacies from all over Indonesia to customers trying to follow an old – but to many young people, annoying – Indonesian tradition.
They buy ‘sambal rudi’, a chili paste from Surabaya province in Java, or bakpia, a cake from the island’s Yogyakarta province, and present them to friends and family as gifts from their travels.
That is to satisfy the demands for ‘oleh-oleh’, a gift-giving tradition that is quintessentially Indonesian.
“Where is my ‘oleh-oleh’?” is a familiar line every Indonesian has heard when returning from a trip, be it domestic, international or even a religious pilgrimage.
Indriati Octarina, a mother of three who lives in Jakarta, thinks it is okay to ask friends or relatives for gifts from their trips.
“It makes me feel happy to know that people still remember us while they are travelling,” she says.
But some travellers are weary of it.
“My friends used to ask me for ‘oleh-oleh’ all the time,” says Safir Makki, a photojournalist based in Jakarta. “It used to put me in a bind – either I drained my money buying ‘oleh-oleh’, or I felt bad for not having bought any.”
It also causes stress.
“A friend in Jakarta pushed me to buy her a bag when I was in Singapore, although I told her my money was very limited. She asked me to use my credit card and said she would pay me back later,” Jakarta dentist Erni Pujianti says.
“Some senior colleagues in my office would ask me to bring up to 10 kilogrammes of fresh shrimp or crab when I travel to the eastern part of Indonesia, giving me a headache,” says Purwanti, an engineer who often travels throughout the vast archipelago.
“They don’t care if I have to pay for extra baggage, and I just couldn’t say no,” she says.
The ‘oleh-oleh’ custom goes back to when travelling was considered a rich person’s hobby. In earlier days, those who could afford to travel, especially overseas, were perceived as wealthy; they could share some of their fortune by bringing back gifts. But the emergence of low-cost airlines over the past decade has changed the picture. Most people can afford to travel now, but do not necessarily have enough money to buy gifts.
“I finally said enough! I am not travelling to bring back ‘oleh-oleh’,” Makki says he told friends and family.
But the demands keep coming, especially because he often travels to exotic destinations like Iran, Nepal or Sri Lanka.
“I told them if they will pay, I will bring them items they want,” he says. While travelling, he posts photos of items suitable as ‘oleh-oleh’ on Facebook, with the prices. Whoever is interested, will have to pay.
Shops like Nusa Indah provide an even more convenient way around the ‘oleh-oleh’ tradition.
“We have customers who are too busy to get ‘oleh-oleh’ when they travel, so they buy it here,” owner Ibu Hartati explains.
Crowds in her shop are ever growing. Nearly buried under a pile of snacks on her simple counter, she prepares customer bills with her old calculator and accepts cash only.
“We were too busy during our trip to central and East Java to buy ‘oleh-oleh’. But it would be awkward not to bring some gifts to family and friends, so this place is the answer,” Ahmad Zulkarnain says as he purchases layer cakes and crackers with his wife Yulianti.