An Indonesian friend recently asked me to describe Indonesia for him in one word. I thought for a bit about the incredible landscapes I’ve seen here– from smoking volcanoes and primary rainforest to white sand beaches and mountains covered in rice terraces– and about the biodiversity, the diverse cultures, delicious foods, crazy traffic jams in the big cities and insanity of driving on rural roads, the humidity of the tropics, the monsoons, the dry lands of the eastern islands, and so on.
The one word that I came up with, however, unites the entire archipelago — KOSONG. That’s it, kosong. Kosong in this instance meaning “sold out” or “no more left.” Depending on where I am, I’ve also heard “habis,” but most often the person responds “kosong.” For the past six years I have split my time between the US and Indonesia. While in Indonesia, I’ve been to thousands of restaurants and small shops in both big cities and remote areas from Aceh to the eastern islands. No matter the location of the shop it never fails. When I place an order for the most appealing dish on the menu or when I order a specific variety of durian that is advertised on the sign, the kind person waiting my table or from behind the counter always answers, “kosong.”