This comparison to Australia’s Queen of daytime talk TV came about after a good friend read this blog and deduced that I am having the time of my life getting to know the people of Indonesia (which, for the record, I am). I chose to take this as a compliment and assume she was referring to the virtues KAK and I share, such as our ‘way with people’ and our ‘smiles that light up a room’ rather than our failed radio careers and that regrettable phase we both went through in the 90′s when we enjoyed wearing choker necklaces.
I have to admit that KAK and I do have a fair bit in common. Like me, she probably can’t leave the house without strangers pointing, shouting, following and asking to have their photo taken with her. We also both hate Bert Newton. I probably wouldn’t go so far as to describe myself as quite as ’famous’ as Kerri-Anne Kennerly but rather, ‘obtusely apparent’ here in Jakarta, on account of my blue-ish toned skin, bizarre green eyes and poorly maintained bleached hair.
That’s right, I AM A “BULE” (pronounced “boolay”). I am, by definition, an albino and proud of it.
Sorry if this makes you cringe a bit. Those of you from certain parts of the Western World have had your views of race, religion and gender shaped by a society governed by (sometimes stifling) political correctness. It probably makes you VERY uncomfortable to see or hear someone identified and treated according to the colour of their skin. Like me and KAK, you probably use words like “Mediterranean” when referring to someone who is Greek/Italian/Turkish/Woggy looking and use lots of descriptive hand gestures instead of saying “black”. And you should. But here, things are different when it comes to people who look different.
Despite all my efforts to ‘blend in’ there is just no ignoring my whiteness. Unlike in Bali, where the majority of the population is made up of bogans visiting from Perth, I am one of a mere 5,000 caucasian foreigners estimated to live in a city of 10 million people and as such, in Jakarta I stand out like a whale at a shrimp convention (I like this metaphor – it is appropriate on so many levels).
Bule or Bully?
Being the new bule on the block isn’t always great. Thanks to centuries of colonisation, exploitation, aid and tourism from Western countries, foreigners are not always welcomed with open arms, floral arrangements and traditional dances in this country. Sometimes bules are caught up in scams and fraud, others are subjected to theft and verbal abuse and some even become the targets of unfathomable, unforgivable violence. But usually…actually, pretty much always, us bules are shown the warmest, funniest and most interested hospitality imaginable by the beautiful peoples of Indonesia.
“Interested” being the operative word here.
Personally, I rarely walk down the street without someone making a friendly ‘bule spotting’ observation as I pass by, much in the way at home I might shout at the top of my voice to someone sitting beside me, “Oh look! There’s an Asian. Look at the Asian everyone. Hey Asian! Helloooooo!” <waves>.
If I’m lucky, I can find myself trailed by a group of small children who laugh and joke and call me “mister” until they eventually tire of asking me the same questions (“What is your name? Where are you going? Mister! What is your name? Hello mister!”). I never tire of them. Ever. Indonesian children are better than sunshine.
If I’m very unlucky, I am followed home by a dirty old man on a motorbike who harasses and scares and prefers not to speak to me, in favour of making a spine-tinglingly creepy “pssst” noise every few seconds. I usually see this as an opportunity to practice my “I am a big bule woman and I will f*ck you up!” face which is invariably effective in moving him on.
Bule or Bleached?
Occasionally and equally as creepily, random women will reach out and touch my hair or skin on public transport, often without my permission. I find it strange, but in true KAK form choose to gracefully accept this as a compliment. Not just in Indo but throughout Asian culture, darker skin is perceived to be an indicator of poverty, as it suggests you tend to the fields rather than sit indoors on your throne…I dunno…eating goldleaf lotus flower cakes or something. Apparently, the lighter your skin, the more money you have. The more money you have, the more status you bring.
As such my fair, sun-damaged, flawed and freckly skin is regarded by many here as the ultimate and ideal physical trait. I can’t say I share this view, as I continue to meet smoking hot people of all ‘colours’ but Ponds, Nivea, Loreal, Rexona and their billions of marketing dollars claim otherwise.
The Bule maketh the party
This may explain why I often find myself invited to numerous private events by virtual strangers. At first I naively thought this was because people wanted to be my friend but I’ve since been informed that no, they just want KAK in their photos.
Like Nur, our pembantu (meaning domestic helper…we bule don’t like the word, “maid”) who one Friday asked me for my number and uttered the words, “party”, ”tomorrow” and “my house”. Oh boy was I excited. In addition to being relieved that Nur didn’t hate me despite the fact that my fellow bule housemates and I continue to leave the kitchen like this for her most Monday mornings…
I was just so thrilled to have a conversation with her that didn’t revolve around the washing and hanging requirements of my enormous bule clothes (“Bikinigate” comes to mind). Besides, I’ll turn up to the opening of an envelope, so I enthusiastically accepted the invitation to the mystery event without knowing where, when or with whom it would take place.
The next day, around 10am I was unwinding at home after a typical bule activity (vigorous exercise) with some typically obscure bule breakfast (cereal) when I got a call from Nur. Again, my Bahasa failed me but I understood, ”outside”, “now”, “let’s go.”
One of my housemates once referred to me post-workout as, “looking my absolute worst” and I would say that is a fairly accurate description of my appearance at that moment. Indonesia is hot and gigantic bules like me are hopeless at staying cool. Having completed my 60-minute run about ten minutes earlier, I was still sweating profusely from every pore in my body, as evidenced by wet patches all over my running tights and my Lorna Jane slogan singlet which reads, ”NO EXCUSES” (Yep. This is, without a doubt, my sexiest blog post yet).
Not only had Nur arrived at my gate looking amazing in full make-up and traditional dress, she had brought along a friend with a motorbike, who was waiting (with the motor running) to take me to the mystery party. If I was a normal person, I would have asked them to wait while I showered (or at least put a paper bag over my head) but I was so excited to be invited that I just ran upstairs and threw on a cotton dress over my revolting Supre running tights. I was beyond hot, in every sense of the word.
Part-way into the short motorbike journey, which wound through the tiny lanes of the nearby kampung, it occurred to me that in addition to my tights I was also still wearing my running shoes and that they didn’t really scream “party.” Thankfully, when we arrived at the wedding (Yes, THE WEDDING!) I was required to take them off at the door.
That wasn’t exactly great for anyone, really (Definitely. Definitely the classiest post yet, too).
Look, I still don’t know who’s wedding it was. All I know is this:
- That was the best Beef Rendang I’ve ever had
- The bride touched my white arm and declared that my skin made me more “cantik” (beautiful) than her. Puh-leez.
- My sweaty head will be immortalised in this family’s official, formal wedding photos until the end of time
- My sweaty head was captured in approximately 500 other photos taken by the 500 other wedding guests present
- There are no bounds to the generosity shown by people here, irrespective of wealth (or lack thereof)
- This generosity extends to choosing to overlook how bad the big bule lady smelled
- That was one of my favourite days in Jakarta so far
- Even Kerri-Anne Kennerley wouldn’t have got away with gatecrashing a wedding in her gym gear
What can I say?
I am kinda a big deal around here, in fairness.
I have been forced to censor various words in previous posts after so many hits to my page were generated by unsavoury search terms.
Don’t worry, I can’t see who or where these searches are coming from but it does make me wonder…
Who ARE you people?
Whoever you are, thanks for stopping by to make me feel like slightly less of a creep.
Here’s what I love: silly accents. I LOVE THEM.
Particular favourites are those borne by the good people of South Africa, Ireland, New York, Essex and more recently since my housemate referred to that large hemispherical frying pan as a “vok”, Germany.
After spending my entire life living in one city, speaking only one language and outrageously mocking everyone who attempts to do the same, it never occurred to me that I TOO have a ridiculous accent.
Sure, I have been known to occasionally fall into that cringe-worthy Sydney Lower North Shore habit of finishing sentences up high? like this? But apart from that I thought I was rather well-spoken (Oh yes, indeed. Bravo! I say, that is marvellous).
Recently, a French friend of mine, after tolerating my continued fascination with (and impersonations of) the way he said, “digursting” (disgusting) or, “airsaloon” (hair salon) and “zehbedgayz” (the bad guys), finally cracked it, threw his baguettes and delivered me some hard truths about my Australian drawl.
“I don make fun of zeh way you don speak corhect Anglish!” he retorted, “Faaaboooh, yummooooh (Fabbo. Yummo), zey are not words…and zeh way you say ‘faysss’ (face), it is digursting…croissant, la tour Eiffel, le petit fromage…orh horh horh.” Ouch.
Since then I’ve toned down the mocking and now limit my French impersonations to when I am with friends, behind his back. In fairness, I should show more respect given the fact that he and most of my expat friends here have more English than I have all other languages combined. Sure, my extensive vocabulary of 40 Indonesian words has allowed me get by day-to-day, but only by using abrupt, nonsensical statements, most of which are contextually incorrect and highly insulting to the person with whom I’m speaking.
Thankfully, unlike many countries around the world (like, oh I dunno, France) the lovely people of Indonesia are very understanding about these linguistic shortcomings. In my office, they give me the benefit of the doubt after I naively demand they, “sit down!” rather than “please have a seat.” They are kind enough to reward me with polite nods of encouragement when I attempt to utilize a new word – “Book in cupboard that! Cupboard, it in them!” They even indulge my need for positive reinforcement after I make a ground-breaking food revelation such as, “I have already eat enough egg chilli this day” or, “It fried and I very happy.”
Of course, not everyone shares this appreciation for my fledgling Indonesian language skills.
Specifically, the coconut lady at the wet market down the road. The other week, I couldn’t (be bothered to) work out the word for ‘grated’ coconut and she couldn’t work out what the HELL I was doing at her coconut stall. Despite what I believed (and still do) was an excellent mimeshow in which I performed such classics as, ‘sprinkling something over something’, ‘scratching at imaginary thing’ and ‘stupid idiot foreigner’ (a particular talent of mine) instead of coconut for my gluten free ANZAC biscuits, all I got was a blank stare.
When I walked into the back room of her stall (with her permission) and found an enormous metal drum of the grated coconut, things started looking up. “That!” I bellowed, and began stuffing fistfuls of coconut into a plastic bag by hand, “want this very!”
In hindsight, as I picked through the contents of the drum to get the whitest, freshest coconut, I do recall coming across an instant noodle wrapper and something which looked suspiciously like a cigarette butt…However I was so overcome with food-induced gratitude that I failed to give this nor the increasingly animated looks of grave concern on coconut lady’s face a second thought.
The ridiculousness (and the confusion on coconut lady’s part) went up a notch when I asked her how much it would cost. “Free.” she said, “I don’t want your money. Please.” Of course a freebie was out of the question, so I gave her Rp10,000 (about $1.20), took my 5million kilograms of ghetto coconut and skipped off to bake, bakety, bake.
Then a couple of days later, I was cruising by another coconut stall and saw this:
Apparently in Indo they grate coconuts in on the spot. Apparently you can hand-pick your coconut and they will do it fresh, ready, bespoke, just for you.
Apparently I had paid the coconut lady to let me eat her garbage.
Not long after this, work gave me a week off (I can’t imagine why?) to go to Bahasa Indonesia school in Yogyakarta. For those of you unfamiliar with this Javanese city, it is famous for:
- being pronounced “Jogjakarta” (Why? I don’t know. Don’t even get me started.)
- its linguistic academia
- its highly active volcano - Mount Merapi
- being Indonesia’s hub of universally flattering batik clothing
After seven months of getting around this country speaking like Yoda and eating garbage biscuits, my stint in Jogja couldn’t have come sooner. For those of you unfamiliar with Yoda:
- you should be ashamed of yourself
- go to http://www.yodaspeak.co.uk/ to acquaint yourself with the Master of the Force.
In Jogja, I learnt all the essential phrases, including how to say, “he is hot”, “can I borrow some money?”, “Does this come in any colours apart from leopard-print?” and most importantly, “grated coconut.”
Now I’m learning to speak a new language, I’m also learning to appreciate the efforts of truly accomplished multi-lingual human beings…and coming to the cruel realisation that I am not one of them.
At least I can make a mean gluten free ANZAC biscuit…anyone who says otherwise is talking absolute rubbish.
I was born on the ninth day in the month of March in 1983 but I’m not 27. According to most people who meet me in Jakarta I’m actually 24.
I guess I had noticed a fair few raised eyebrows after telling people my age (“Really? Wow…ok. For some reason I assumed you were younger.”) but the extent of my *epochistic regression hadn’t really become obvious to me until my first visitors from home were here recently. For the first time since arriving six months ago, my new and old worlds collided and I saw “Jakarta Freya” reflected in the scandalised looks on their faces.
Apparently I’ve become quite immature.
I wish I could blame this age-related misapprehension on my appalling potty mouth (ya mum’s a potty mouth) or my fiscal irresponsibility…or perhaps even my silly long stories that always seem to begin with, “So, like, there I was up dancing on this like, podium…”
But interestingly (and much to the ongoing horror of my family) these are all attributes which pre-date Jakarta Freya and have shaped the dense moral fibre which sits at the core of my personality. I know three years is hardly a drastic age-gap but after at least half a dozen people have accused me of being 24, it did make me curious. What in particular has pushed my juvenile ridiculousness up a thousand notches and turned me into this crazed, maniacal lovechild of Vicky Pollard and Ja’mie King?
Unlike Oscar Wilde who humbly admitted that he was, “not young enough to know everything,” my new found youth makes me an expert on all matters of the universe, so I’m pointing my flawless, supple, Botticelli-esque finger at that sneaky culprit, *NEWNESS.
I guess having only 30kgs of baggage when boarding my plane to Jakarta left me with very little room for the uptight, over-analytical and restrictive habits I carried with me each day while living in Sydney. Here, everything I am surrounded by is brand new; the work, the city, the food, the fashion, the challenges and above all the people.
None of my new friends here know what I was like back at home. They would probably find it strange to learn that the Old Freya was fastidiously tidy, that she would never, ever, ever go out on Sunday nights, that she didn’t always carry her cash around in a grubby batik pouch and that she has, in fact, always been this excellent at karaoke.
So, with the help of some of the great old thinkers, here’s what I know about age…
“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Take for example, this man who lives around the corner from my house.
Despite the fact that he’s told me his name at least four times now, it’s very Indonesian and I keep forgetting it, so let’s call him “Jason.”
Jason makes a living from the second-hand clothes he sells from the side of the street, including this shithot pink jacket which I actually bought off his back moments after taking this photo (before you get all uppity, please be aware that it was for sale and that I paid him three times what he asked AND bought him dinner – not like in the ‘date’ way but the ‘mie goreng in a styrofoam box’ way).
Jason is almost completely blind, yet every single day he kits himself out in the freshest, funkiest threads, takes up his position on the little bench, fires up some hardcore Indotech which sounds exactly like this and gives me a wave and a, “Pagiii ibu cantik!!!” (Morning beautiful lady!!!). Every single day.
It goes without saying that I am his best customer.
So, how old is Jason? According to him, 18…or maybe 19.
In Indonesia, many, many people don’t know their actual age. It’s not relevant to their status in society. What matters is your life experience.
I respect the fact that Jason feels young enough to have a crack even though he is clearly ancient…and he in turn respects my stupid blonde head because I get excited about buying his shitty old clothes (which probably came from the morgue) at grossly inflated prices.
Does it matter what year either of us was born in?
“Youth is the best time to be rich, and the best time to be poor.” (Euripides)
My seven years working in the not-for-profit sector have made me very accustomed to being pitied by my better-paid friends. I’m all too familiar with the pangs of envy that fire up when I spy a Qantas club tag on their luggage or I hear about a meeting that they had with their “HR Department” or see an invitation to their “Christmas Party”. But here my pathetic ‘Charity Case Battler’ status has become almost comical, given the fact that I basically living the life of a uni student again.
Jakarta Freya has been known to plan social arrangements purely around the places with the best happy hour (“I know we said we’d go for Sunday brunch, but how about we move it to Tuesday 9pm Ladies Night drinks at the Mandarin?”). On payday, Jakarta Freya can be found at Lowey Bar, nursing her single $14 glass of goon whilst resisting the urge to sprint across the restaurant to quietly maim and pillage the lucky person at the nearby table who can afford to order a cheese platter.
Sure, I’ve had to adjust to my modest monthly allowance, but compared to a local Indonesian salary (around $700 a month at the professional level) I’m doing very well indeed so I try not to whinge.
24 is a great age and Jakarta is a great place to be poor but in reality, very rich indeed.
“A man’s only as old as the woman he feels.” (Groucho Marx)
What I really want to share with you here is a photographic collection of men who embody the above quote. Sadly, even Jakarta Freya is not irresponsible enough to post these online for fear that the 67-going-on-21-year-old men in them will be identifiable and I will get thrown in the slammer and risk my chances of becoming our first non-ranga female Prime Minister.
Instead, I will direct you to www.realage.com, a pharmaceutical marketing site veiled loosely beneath the guise of a health-assessment site. I was inspired to visit this highly reputable online medical institution after recently being diagnosed with low blood pressure and mild exhaustion (it would seem I didn’t leave my hypochondria back in Oz). Given the way Jakarta Freya has been treating my body I had to lie in quite a few of the questions but am pretty pleased with my real age of 28.8.
I highly recommend you do this if you too would like to feel good about your own aging process. I daresay a visit to this site will produce a significantly more reassuring result than any online dating site or Facebook where 500 friends are in the process of changing their surnames and posting their gorgeous wedding photos.
On that poignant note, I will close with some wise words from one of the great philosophers of our generation – me.
“Drinking in a burkini can lead to severe dehydration. Sh*t gets steamy, yo.” (Jakarta Freya)
Now, if a 24 year-old can come up with new pearls of wisdom like that, just imagine the life experience I’ll have by the time I’m 18!
*Jakarta Freya has also taken to inventing NEW words when OLD English does not satisfy.
A couple of weeks ago, as I wiped a stranger’s blood off my shiny white hi-top sneakers, I was afforded a few moments to reflect on how cheap everything is here in Jakarta.
Here, you can buy a delicious lunch from the Nasi Padang lady in the basement under my work for just 80c and if you’re special, she’ll throw in some salmonella at no extra charge. You can get a full mani/pedi for about $8 and some places even include Hepatitis A in the price. If you’re looking to splash out an extra 75% for your bus fare (which works out to be 15c) the driver will come to a COMPLETE STOP to let you on and off.
So, unsurprisingly and much like the rest of the developing world, the inherent value of ‘health and safety’ in Indonesia also is measured on perhaps, the lower end of the scale.
Here, people have bigger things to worry about than the bacteria which causes bad breath and cardboard boxes obstructing the fire-escape. According to the World Health Organisation, 15% of deaths in Indonesia (230,000 people) are due to respiratory diseases like TB and pneumonia (in Australia, it’s less than 5%). There’s no 000, 911 or 999 in Indo. There’s no medicare and even Indonesia’s “Dokters” fly their own families to Singapore for any treatment of the semi-serious variety.
One of my favourite ice-breakers upon meeting a fellow Indo resident is to ask them the question, “how do you think you’re most likely to die here?”. Morbid I know, but amazingly every single person has provided me with an honest and considered answer. I personally think I would probably trip over something stupid and bang my head, but far and away the most common concern has been “contracting some tropical disease.”
So, you can imagine the possibilities racing through my mind when I recently came down with a high fever, migraine and excruciating stomach cramps. After being directed to an obstetrician TWICE (FYI rubbing your belly is not the international symbol for ‘tummy-ache’) I was eventually diagnosed with a “stressed stomach”, given six different medications and sent on my way.
I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I was!
In the Western world, taking care of one’s self is not cheap, which probably explains why we are all so extravagant with fancy things to protect our expensive healthy bodies…like ‘seatbelts’ and ‘proper electrical wiring’ and ‘refrigeration’ (not to mention all those red wine antioxidants). But here, all I need is for the Dok to tell me I DON’T have Dengue Fever, Typhoid OR Malaria and I feel like a million dollars. Hurray for Indonesia’s warped spectrum of health!
Looking after yourself in Indo is so cheap in fact, that you can get your entire day’s supply of ‘healthiness’ from one glass of “Jamu”; a dirt-like drink served out the front of your house by your favourite Ibu (means ‘lady’) Jamu.
Jamu has been used here for centuries as a traditional treatment for every imaginable health need, including skin whitening, ear-ache and even making one’s v*gina “tight as a chicken’s anus” (if that’s what you’re into…).
Here I am pictured with my ex-Ibu Jamu.
I didn’t know it at the time, but for most of October and November (and in this photo) she was giving me a drink for “Womb Cleansing” (FYI rubbing your belly is also not the universal symbol for, “I have visited Ibu Nasi and Ibu Goreng a lot these last few months and now I have a nasi baby, I would like a tonic to help me lose it”).
Nonetheless, I am a JAMU LUVA 4 LIFE since a recent persistent case of the sniffles was brought to a halt my new Ibu Jamu’s incredible 60c “Influesa” treatment, containing a veritable powershot of 135% placebo AND 5% MYRISTICAE SEMEN!(?)
Unforch, I am yet to find the placebo that protects one from serious injury.
Which brings us back to my blood stained hi-tops.
I was enjoying a morning cycle along what is normally Jakarta’s biggest, meanest, most clogged artery during the monthly ‘Car Free Day’ when I witnessed a fairly horrific accident between a cyclist and a motorbike. Gotta love a Car Free Day.
I know the motorcylist was OK because he removed his HELMET and began to shout profanities at everyone in his vicinity. Unfortunately my limited first aid skills (did I mention I was a scout?) were of little help to the poor cyclist who was busy not dying from his extensive head wounds including the loss of all of his front teeth due to the fact that he was NOT wearing a HELMET.
Cycle man did go to the hospital and he will be ok (by Indonesian health care standards) but it was a deeply distressing, frustrating and sobering reminder that here, even life is cheap.
Then again, you’ve always got your health.
Did you know I was once a scout? I’d be very surprised if you didn’t.
Sometime in the late nineties I decided that my 24-month stint in the ‘Gecko Patrol’ of 1st Gordon Scout Group from 1992-1994 makes me sound fascinating and unique, so I’ve spent the last 15 years casually dropping this personal tidbit wherever I thought it might earn me kudos.
I’ve milked my scouting experience for all it’s worth during many a dinner party conversation or when offering to assist in the construction of a domestic fire (“Stand back everyone! Let me handle this. I did scouts, y’see.”) or even when I’m in Kathmandu (the shop, not the city) looking for essential wilderness accessories such as toothbrush cases, paper soap and torch key rings. My illustrious background as a cub scout even earned a mention in my widely subscribed AYAD profile, which no doubt explains how I nabbed myself such an exciting gig volunteering with a great outdoorsy environmental conservation organisation.
So, it really should have been ‘business as usual’ when my new job took me into the heart of Tabin Wildlife Reserve, one of the few ‘islands’ of lush rainforest remaining in the virtual sea of palm-oil plantations that is Sabah’s Northern Borneo.
One morning, I rose early for a solitary walk along the local trail at the rainforest lodge where I was staying (Freya ‘at one’ with nature). After comfortably feeding a blind, senile, geriatric Sumatran Rhino a banana the day before…
…I concluded that I pretty much was David Attenborough and perfectly capable of a solo expedition. Unfortunately I don’t know the Bahasa word for “scout”, so when the hotel staff suggested a local guide accompany me, I explained that it was “only a little walk” (compared to what? All the other Borneo rainforest jaunts I do first-thing in the morning?) and that I would be “fine.” Then, realising my walking shoes were being held hostage inside the locked car, I also chose to overlook years of nagging from my scout-leader father about the importance of responsible footwear and decided that my thin Haviana thongs would suffice.
(I think it’s fairly obvious where this story is going)
After about 20 minutes of bush-bashing, I began to feel incredibly pleased with myself. “You’re so brave Freya,” I thought, “out here in the wild, alone and confident and only in thongs. Look. At. You.” I was so caught up in the moment that took this really crap photo of some really cool vines.
Then, BAM. Faceplant. Then I was like, “Look at you! Covered in mud and just going with the flow. So outdoorsy! Lord Baden Powell, the father of Scouts would be proud!” (blissfully unaware of how much mud was on my face). Another five amazingly confident minutes of walking ensued, before I realised I was no longer technically ‘on’ the trail, per se (to be fair, there wasn’t really a trail but rather a narrow strip of red paint on a tree every 10 meters or so).
You know that scene in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy is trying to get home and she has flashbacks to Glinda the Good Witch saying, “just follow the yellow brick road…”? Well, in a similar fashion, I recalled the hotel chef shouting after me as I embarked on my mission, telling me to, “follow the red trees (insert dramatic echo) and…and…and…” If only I hadn’t been distracted by his funny paper chef hat and the large tray of fried rice (mmm…nasi goreng) he was holding at the time, I probably would have paid more attention to the second part of his sentence.
So, while I was standing there, pondering how my friends and family would handle the news of my imminent gruesome death as a result of having my face scratched off by a pack of Macaque monkeys…
I heard a “rustle, rustle” and a “grunt, grunt” and spotted a small wild ‘Bearded Boar’ over yonder. To get a sense of what that sounds like, just imagine someone rolling around in a bed full of leaves whilst snoring. If you ask me nicely next time we meet I may do a re-enactment for you. In fact I’m so good at imitating wild boar snorts that I do it in my sleep most nights (but my alluring tricks in seduction are perhaps best saved for another post).
Obviously, this is where my deft scouting survival skills SHOULD have kicked in. Instead, after realising that I was being stalked by, not one, but two man-eating savage wild angry boars…
…I merely emitted one of my trademark “mature woman in distress” woops and did what any good outdoorswoman would do; ran frantically in a completely random direction. Then, BAM. Faceplant. Again. Only this time I also managed to leave my pluggers stuck in the mud a few meters behind, rendering me barefoot, filthy, puffed and moments from death in the jungle.
I’ll just give you a moment to picture that.
What happened next is really boring (i.e. too embarrassing to share here) so I’ll skip to the part where I made it back to civilisation alive, albeit with most of the forest tangled in my hair, just in time for breakfast (mmm…nasi goreng). I had only been gone for 40 minutes.
Sadly, my attempt to get back to my bush baby roots really forced me to admit that I don’t actually have any. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t pay much attention to the serious stuff when I was a scout. If you need someone to show you how to inhale the fumes of a lit a match, survive for 5 days straight on a diet of just Home Brand Strawberry Cream biscuits or turn a large can of peaches into an extremely lethal explosive device then I am your woman…but as far as outdoor fortitude goes, I’ve actually got nothin’.
I think it’s time I did something to develop my Bear Grylls (that’s cockney rhyming slang for ‘bush skillz’…well it’s not officially, but it should be. You can borrow that if you want). Soooooo who’s up for a camping trip?
I have this ooooorsum Kathmandu chamois towel we can use.
‘Scuse the French, I’m a little bit fired up.
You see, for me the word “yes” used to mean something generally positive. It had value. It was, ingeniously, the “affirmative” of the non-aviation world.
Unforch, here in Indo the word “yes” or “ya” (which is, obscurely, Bahasa Indonesia for “yes”) or nodding or thumbs-up or absolutely anything that implies the affirmative, has suffered from drastically diminished value due to market saturation…
Many Indonesians are so eager to please (particularly when it comes to foreigners) that they prefer to agree with someone rather than tell them something they don’t want to hear. It’s not uncommon for someone to start nodding at me feverishly before I’ve even asked them anything and then continue to do so even when the answer to my question is an indisputably negative one. Am I that formidable on approach that people agree with me out of sheer terror? Actually, don’t answer that.
I have considered taking a page from ‘The Book of Ya’ myself. I fantasize about cruising around Jak-town nodding to every single taxi that asks to give me a ride and then never stopping to get in. I imagine saying “yes!” to every market vendor who thrusts useless crap in my face, only to keep walking. But really…that would be cruel and the wonderful people of Indonesia are too kind. Toooooooooo kind.
After surrendering much time, money and patience to the Yes People, I have now learned my lesson. Thanks to my Bear Grylls-esque skills in adaptability as well as a brief foray into broadcasting back in the early thousands, I have developed a method for avoiding yeses – be they literal or implied – wherever humanly possible.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet my friends, The Five Wahs: What; Why; When; How; Who.
Some live samples of the Five Wahs can be found below:
To the ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver
Instead of asking: Is this safe?
Try: At what point in our journey to you anticipate I am most likely to die from injuries resulting from a collision with another vehicle, person or open sewer?
or failing that: Please give me your helmet.
To the nasi goreng man
Instead of saying: That’s not chicken heart you’re putting in, is it?
Try: How many times have you wiped that knife on your shirt today?
To the pirate DVD vendor
Instead of saying: Omigod! Is this really the Demi Moore Eightie’s Collection all on one disk? Including “About Last Night” starring a young Rob Lowe?
Try: So this porn I’m about to buy, what kind of porn is it? Like, actual porn or just sub-standard, like ‘Paris Hilton meets National Lampoon’ style porn?
To the taxi driver
Instead of saying: I want to go <here>, do you know where that is?
Try: GO RIGHT! LEFT! STRAIGHT! RIGHT! WHERE ARE YOU GOING? STRAIGHT! LEFT! STOP! HERE! NO, HERE! STOPSTOPSTOP! BACK THERE! YES! YES! YES! Thank you.
Instead of asking: Do you know how to drive?
Try: “WHOAH” x 50
To the attractive young Indonesian girl with the unattractive older non-Indonesian man
Instead of asking: Is he your father/husband/uncle?
Try: OMG I love your shoes! Where did you get them?
To anyone anywhere:
Instead of asking: Do you have toilet paper?
Try: Actually, with this one, I’ve got nothing. There is never toilet paper.
In Indonesia, the only thing more useful than an open mind is an open question. Hell yes it is.