We spent the next few days in Lake Toba doing…well, not doing much of anything. We’d use the internet, which was a nice thing to have access to again, lounge about, and walk through the tiny town and along the water. I, of course, looked for and found the local hooch of the place, which is fermented coconut water sold to groups of young men in dingy shacks where they play dominos and cards – but the drink was truly foul stuff. So no drunken evenings spent with the locals. Other than that, there wasn’t much to do except lounge and walk around looking for the perfect Batak carvings to bring home.
Looking out over the lake
Roofs of the local houses.
Walls of the island against the side of the lake. This is a supervolcano.
The Batak people make beautiful woodcarvings, many of which incorporate buffalo horns and bone, and are often made as medicine boxes or astrological calendars. We spent several days comparing among the many shops, but it was pretty clear that there was one guy who was the best carver, a real master, and – of course – he was the one least willing to bargain. We did the delicate dance of bargaining over three days, which drives M crazy, but which I love.
Bargaining and watching soccer are, in my mind, the two best ways to get to experience a local culture if you don’t speak the language fluently. In both cases, the conversational scripts are essentially already written. As a football fan you’re only reacting to what you see on screen, not coming up with new conversational forays, so you just jump and shout, or foot-stamp your disgust with a lousy call, and everyone around you can understand what you’re expressing and why, without any real need to talk. There are no awkward pauses, since everyone just turns back to the game. And with bargaining, the conversational topic is set (buying the goods), and the roles are set (buyer wants to pay less, seller wants to pay more), and so what remains is the style with which one has the conversation. Humor, laughter, mock anger and outrage, these are all the tools with which one has a meaningful interaction, and it turns out that conversational fluency isn’t at all required. Since bargaining is common is just about every place that we visit, it is fun for me to experience how it’s done differently everywhere.
Anyhow, M hates it. In the end, we bought two very nice pieces, that we’ll now have to ship home.
On our travels around the island we did go to one of the local villages where they had a ring of stone chairs. These chairs were where the local chief used to settle disputes and hand out punishments. Apparently when a person was to be killed for their punishments, they were cut with knives and then rubbed all over with chili and lemon juice to increase their suffering…before being executed. Fun stuff!
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