Sunday, September 23, 2018

Interview with Sulistiansyah Rahmadi, Indonesian Traveler

Q: You've visited over 20 countries so far, mostly in SE Asia, right? 

SR: Yes. 

Q: What made you start traveling? 

SR: My first country was Singapore, and it's quite the opposite of Indonesia. They're organized, the language is different, and it blew my mind that we have things so different from my [Indonesian] culture. When I visited Australia, I thought it was all-white, but it's multi-racial. Whenever I travel, it's the opposite of what I expect. For example, I felt accepted in Australia, in contrast to Georgia [the Caucasus], where I felt discriminated against as an Asian. 

Q: Which cities did you visit in Australia?

SR: Melbourne and Sydney, but I liked Melbourne the most. 

Q: Did you travel mostly alone or with groups?

SR: Alone. Previously, I traveled with groups, but not recently. I changed because when I go alone, I get more. More wisdom... I get a lot more. With a group, it's mostly fun things, and they are doing fun stuff, but after that... [shrugs his shoulders] 

Q: You traveled to Iran recently?

SR: April 2018 for two weeks. I visited Tehran, Kashan, Isfahan, Shiraz, Kerman, and Yaz. Usually, I make an organized itinerary with a budget, and in this case, I followed my schedule 70%. It was quite tight but I stuck to my schedule. Mostly I traveled over land--hitchhiking, by car, or by train, because I like seeing the scenery. 

Q: Iran has an image in the West of being a desert country. 

SR: [laughs] Iran in the north is mountains and snow, and four hours from Tehran is a place named Tochal, a ski resort. You can even see snowcapped mountains from Tehran. Kerman, in contrast, is desert, and they call it a "dead zone," because nothing can live there. 

I enjoyed Shiraz the most because I like history. You can call me a history geek. Shiraz has Persepolis, and Alexander the Great conquered the city. After Iran, I visited Istanbul, Izmir, Seljuk, Konya, Antalya, Ankara, Pamukkale, and Cappadocia, Turkey. 

Q: How long did you spend in Turkey? 

SR: I spent 12 days, mostly one or two nights in each city. If you want know about the people, it's not a good way to do it, but my goal was to visit the ruins. 

Q: When I visit ruins, whether it's Stonehenge or Rome, I'm usually disappointed, because either the ruins are literally rocks in the ground, or they've been renovated to the point of looking fake. Only Ephesus in Turkey has impressed me.

SR: For me, it's more than rocks. When I touch the same stone that people touched three thousand years ago, I'm following in the footsteps of the people back then. It's history in the earth, right in front of my face. 

Q: What top three places would you recommend for history buffs?

SR: 1) Egypt (Cairo, Alexandria, Thebes, Memphis, Luxor, Saqarra, Abu Simbel); 2) China (Xi'an and the Terracota Warriors in the Shaanxi province); and 3) Latin America (Aztecs in Mexico, Mayans in Peru, Incas in the Andes). 

So far, I've only managed to visit China. LatAm is much harder for me, because it's so far away, less traveled by Indonesians, and therefore very expensive. Egypt is far away, too, but we [Indonesians] go to Hajj, and Egypt is near Saudi Arabia, so it's more popular. 

Q: What made you interested in archaeology?

SR: My parents are both teachers, and through storytelling, they opened my mind about the history of different countries. I was exposed to history through storytelling in elementary school and since then, I've wanted to see things I did not know about. The future is fascinating, but the past is more fascinating. Did you know the name "China" is derived from  Emperor Qin [Shi Huang] three thousand ago? People today still use the name of this one emperor to recognize themselves, a man who died three thousand years ago! 

Q: How do you afford to travel so much? The Indonesian rupiah is not a strong currency. 

SR: I do not say it's easy. I'm just a medium-level freelancer [graphic designer]. I have advantages because my clients are foreigners, so I get paid in US dollars or Euros. I cannot afford to travel all year long, but I can afford to make two trips every year, as long as I travel cheaply. I hunt for cheap flights, and I sometimes buy tickets one year before. I stay mostly in dorms and hostels--it's like one room you share with six to eight people with a shared bathroom. You have to do your homework and make your itinerary as clear as possible to make it possible. 

Q: What are your favorite travel accessories?

SR: My holy grail is my backpack. It's a cheap backpack--it's actually used for cameras, but I put country flag patches on it and take it with me everywhere. I'll have to replace it soon. 

Q: I find the Indonesian people very friendly and open compared to other cultures. What do you think is the source of such friendliness, especially after Suharto's Communist purges?

SR: I think that's one of many reasons. Because of our history political corruption, we want to forget much of our past. And when you look to the future, you have to be open, especially if the goal is to make a new, better future in contrast to the violent one your parents knew. 

Also, we are not one entity. We are the opposite of homogenous. We are already used to differences. Here in my province (South Sumatra aka South Sumatera), we have about six or seven dialects. Different people, different tribes. so it's not new for us to embrace new movements or different people. 

Sulistiansyah Rahmadi lives in Palembang, Indonesia. His blog is and he can be contacted through his Instagram account:  

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