In some cultures it’s bad luck to cause injury to a cat

My Trip to Indonesia: Day 1 (Sept 2009)

It’s the first day of my last-minute vacation trip to Indonesia – only the second actual vacation I’ve taken in 15 years. A few weeks ago, out of the blue, my college roommate Asri who had just received her U.S. citizenship emailed me. “Sophia, I’m going to Indonesia to visit my family next month. Do you want to come?”

“Yeah, right,” I thought. But then she added. “We’re going to Bali. It’s really nice there. We can snorkel and watch dolphins.”

Then I, the one who usually has to make a list of pro’s and cons before even deciding to take a day off to spend with friends, said “yes”.  At the time, I was secretly hoping that I’d be able to take photos of free-roaming village or street dogs. Luckily, after I booked my flight, Claudia Kawczynska, editor of the Bark learned of my vacation plans and hooked me up with the Bali Animal Welfere Association (, an organization that helps spay, neuter and vaccinate dogs on Bali. As a result, I was all set to spend some volunteer time too.

So I’m here in Jakarta, Indonesia now – we leave for Bali in a few days – watching the crazy traffic, inhaling the smog, and being thankful that I don’t live here. Traffic is crazy, even compared to Market Street during rush hour in San Francisco. Motorcycles crowd 2–3 to a lane routinely driving within inches of the cars.

And it’s common to see cars and motorbikes approaching you head on. Somehow, like flocking birds that change directions simultaneously, the vehicles, turn, veer and merge seamlessly. People also randomly help guide traffic. It’s not their official job, they’re just doing it for donations. Drivers give them “tips” for their help.

An Indonesian dog navigating traffic in Bali

Traffic is so bad it would be faster to walk from one location to another, if there were sidewalks and you could handle the walking several miles in a sauna. It takes 30 minutes to go 2 miles during rush hour. Of course walking would probably lead to asphyxiation from the oxygen-depleted air.

I’m keeping my eye out for pets and stray animals. There are a lot of stray cats in Jakarta. Asri tells me that people do not routinely spay/neuter here and vets may not recommend it.

There are not many dogs seen on the streets here in Jakarta. In fact, I don’t see any. Ninety to 95% of people here are Muslims but unlike other majority Muslim countries the government is not Muslim. In general, Muslims consider dogs to be filthy. They don’t feed strays like people in the U.S. might. And dogs are not welcome in the house. Dog owners in Jakarta tend to not walk them in public. Owners tend to not to let their dogs go up to people and lick them. That would be considered ultra-filthy.

Cats, on the other hand, are practically considered holy. Injuring a cat, even accidentally is considered bad luck.

But Indonesia is a diverse country so not everyone has the same views. In fact Indonesia is comprised of 17,508 islands. The 5 most prominent islands are—Java (where Jakarta and the central government is located), Borneo, Sumatra, Sulawesa, and part of New Guinea. Bali is a small island located just south of Java and we’ll be going there in a day. The view of dogs and the presence of dogs and cats there is very different. So in the next few blogs I”ll be providing a glimpse of how dogs, cats, and the wild animals (monkeys) coexist with humans on the island paradise of Bali.



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