“Hello mister. Hello Miss. Could we talk to you for just five minutes please?” With such good manners and innocent faces, it’s hard not to stop and chat, even if it’s the third time since breakfast.
It’s the weekend and all the local students have come flocking to Samosir island on Lake Toba, Indonesia. A stunning location to come and while away the time amidst clear blue waters, lush green hills and the beautiful Batak architecture indigenous to this area, not to mention to practice your English.
It’s the same each time. The more confident English speakers tentatively get your attention, and when they have you hooked, their minions come flooding in around you so there’s no escape.
Always smiling and eager to learn, they each want to shake your hand and introduce themselves, but as their excitement builds, it just becomes a blur of greetings with each student trying to say his or her name at the same time.
Questions come thick and fast, many rehearsed as they want to get the basics down.
“What’s your name?”
“Where do you come from?”
“Where do you come from?”
“Do you like Lady Gaga?”
These are some of the standard questions from giddy teenagers who clearly love interacting with foreigners. Just don’t let them know you have actually heard of Rihanna or Lady Gaga or they’ll be requesting renditions of everything from ‘Umbrella’ to ‘Bad Romance’ and won’t let up. I don’t want everyone to know I know the words!
As we answer, they become more comfortable speaking and their confidence grows. Little factions are established with small groups forming around the foreigner of their choice. Half of the thin road is now blocked, much to the chagrin of the locals trying to get past with their mopeds stacked high with timber, old women balancing outrageous piles of food stuffs on their heads and families driving past in their old four-by-fours, but to the delight of the other local children who gather around too.
As the interrogation draws to a close one of the final questions posed is, “what do you think of the new generation?” At first I think this is another band I don’t know before I realise they are referring to themselves. I am a bit surprised by this as I’m not all that much older than they are. Some of them are university students, so I just say I am in the same generation.
They look stunned and almost horrified by this claim, as if there is no way this is possible. “I’m only 27” I tell them. “Oh sir, you look 20! Very handsome, very handsome!” the chorus rings out, a sudden cacophony of compliments.
As they round off their inquisition with a final flurry of questions, they pose for that all important group photo and leave in a procession of “thank yous” and “good byes”. Polite, well mannered, and incredibly friendly, they’ve been a welcome interlude from the peace afforded by this beautiful country.