Category Archives: Indonesian Women

Little girl dreams about farms, fairy tales and flying tigers

As we come closer to reverse engineering our own brains questions like this come up:

When we look at a glass of iced water, we perceive the liquid and the solid ice cubes as independent things even though they are intimately linked as part of the same system. How does this happen? Out of all possible outcomes, why do we perceive this solution?

No clue and I’ll raise you one: When do we begin to perceive that the liquid and solid ice cubes are dif? Because, guess what — I don’t think every baby does. In fact, just betcha that when they’re really little, kids see stuff a lot cooler than when they get older. Dr. Seuss and Sasha Shulgin (1925 – 2014) cool. Like liquid ice.

I mean, nobody knows what babies dream — right. Or toddlers. Just look at all the crazy illustrations below for some artists’ impressions. Because arguably the reason we tell kids fairy tales is because no one else would believe them. It’s obviously part of the process of peeling the water away from the ice cubes and getting your reality on.

Life starts in the barnyard, correct. My daughter, for example, knows very well that “horses like hay and goats like to play” — even though she’s only seen a couple actual horses, no goats, a few cows, the odd flock of wild turkeys. Because she’s into it — Massey Fergusun tractors, anthropomorphic scarecrow technology, old-school cowbells — all the stuff. Very basic, you say. But look how young you (probably) got involved yourself. So, yea, it would seem basic.   P1140141  Continue reading


Legong: Dance of the Virgins (1935), “authentic” Balinese love story

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Legong: Dance of the Virgins (1935) was shot in Bali by big names of the day.  While few people have ever seen it, it’s quite popular with those who have, including Bloom and Hagedorn. They relate  that, upon “distribution by Paramount [some] scenes of nudity were trimmed for domestic release in the United States, and shots of cockfights were excised from the British prints.”

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Tips for Managing Domestic Staff in Jakarta

I’ve  revised my two-year old tips based on a couple more years of experience as well as a dozen underlying assumptions about what its like to employ and be employed within Indonesia’s “informal sector.” By the way, the Indonesian word I have in mind is pembantu —  literally, “the help.”

These tips apply more to expat families who are in Indonesia for longer periods; who employ household staffers for a broader range of tasks; and who employ Indonesian at least some of the time for managing them. So if someone says they “could care less as long as the laundry is done” I suppose that’s fair enough.

Finally, I’m going to assume  your housekeeper or hired help is female. In fact, that’s not always the case, please forgive me.

Tips for hiring household staff

  • Indonesians say a domestic staffer (pembantu) should be jujur (honest) and kerja keras (hard working). Here are three more traits which ought to make sense to you no matter where you’re from (if you can guess what they are : ) inisiatif, kreatif, and berdisiplin.

Maids in Jakarta

  • Try to find a happy medium between wait-and-see and make-the-shoe-fit while a new staffer is still on training and probation. It may be a disappointment to spend a lot of time only to determine she won’t work out.  But it’s more likely to work if you go ahead and manage all those expectations early on.
  • Make sure your staffers know that the traditional “thirteenth month” bonus system is in place (it should be). Making it work for 12 months is a reasonable goal on both sides.
  • Working as a maid doesn’t require necessarily literacy (sure helps); but hiring one does. The basic terms of your maid’s employment, the agreed work calendar, and your expectations and notes about her performance should be written down, even if it’s just in a notebook sitting on the kitchen table.
  • Can’t figure out why your maid works so hard? Possibility because you do; although the reverse could be true.

Tips for tasking and training household staff

  • Does it work to have an interpreter, personal assistant or friend who also does your laundry? Maybe. But try to keep an eye on the “mission creep” and identify potential unhappy endings. Otherwise, hire an actual personal assistant so your maid can focus on the housework.
  • Your maid likely isn’t trained as bank teller or accountant.  Make things easy on yourself by not leaving valuables lying around or insisting she keep careful track of money. This is a waste of her time, especially in a paperless world like the traditional market. (I’m not saying to “let her keep the change,” which seems obviously a bad idea.)
  • Keep track of the relative strengths and weaknesses of your staff and use this for tasking. The relevant skill set is broad; you could conceivably have a “maid” doing anything from gardening to nannying and you may choose to re-task instead of re-hire. Still, it’s hopeless to have someone who is spatially unorganized tidy the closet, etc.
  •  The day your staffer fails to show up is the day that you must not. A decision has to be made and communicated to everyone involved about what happened, why, what happens next, what happens next time, etc. Likely as not it really was flu, flood or funeral — just like she said. You did catch what she said, didn’t you? If not, ask for an SMS. Try to figure it out. This shouldn’t require much time nor should it be postponed too long. Tips for losing household staff

Tips for losing household staff

  • Communicate as succinctly as possible how expectations weren’t met and follow up immediately with action, such as requesting return of keys, belongings, etc.  It will be easier to fire your staffer if the expectations and communications are already there in the first place. This is not the time for “misunderstandings.”
  • Don’t share the details. Third parties must be content to know that “she had to take some time off” and the confidentiality will generally be to the advantage of both household and staffer (especially if she reapplies in the future).
  • Sometimes it really is easier to do it yourself: don’t be surprised to discover that a dozen household bugs are zapped the day your maid walks out. That’s why she’s gone, right? Then in three days when you’re sick-to-death of doing things the easy way and start interviewing again, don’t forget to share your best practices with the new maid.
  • Someone you can’t trust who has access to your house should be released. But avoid paranoia. Install CCTV and do periodic security audits, including the servants quarters. But try not to worry about what happened to the Rp 20,000 you left in your pants pocket last Thursday. Whether it’s sneakiness or poor stewardship, being suspicious will undermine trust and worsen the situation.

Historic Guntur Theater — then and now

I snapped the “now” shot a few months ago, a few blocks from the Sharehouse.

It’s the historic Guntur theater (same link but in Indonesian).  The Indies Art Deco building designed by Ir. FJL. Chijsels  (of AIA Bureau) was built from 1923-27. The flood canal (from the waterworks in Manggarai) had just been completed. So this would have been a prominent country crossroads (Jl. JP Coenweg and Jl. Goentoer) .

Meanwhile, the black-and-white “then” photo is an old postcard belonging to Tokek Belanda on Flickr.  The structure has deteriorated  rapidly.  I did a double take after seeing it on Flickr. I could access my own “geo-stamped” memories of it after more than five years transiting Jl Guntur.  But I couldn’t find it — or see it, rather — when I rocked up to where it was supposed to be. Turns out that, as it crumbles, less and less is visible from the street. Photos of Batavia Jakarta

Long before this was the movies, it housed the Jan Pieterszoon Foundation (Stitchting) — and a boarding school.  We don’t hear much about JP these days, but he’d be shocked by the photo of women  (below) in full multicultural mingle mode.

Thanks to original poster (unknown)

During WWII the Dutch used the property for military purposes, as does the police or “MP” branch of the Indonesian armed forces today.

But there’s a couple mysteries.   So please COMMENT BELOW if you  know: Was the theater famous or just the old building? Was it in fact a rowdy place where drinking was allowed?  Also, scarier then or now?

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Trance dance & spirit possession in Indonesia

Video below shows Indonesian horse spirit possession, although with horses rare in the archipelago monkey spirit possession (being possessed by the spirit of a monkey) is relatively more common.

While in Indonesia trance dance is a time-honored way to put the whole village on edge, possession by the spirit of Janet Jackson (videos below) only began gaining popularity in the early 1980s (Jackson was born in 1966).

A relatively uncommon hybrid form of Indonesian dance/drama: simultaneous possession by the spirit of Janet Jackson and a horse (unknown breed):

Indonesian country music — dangdut, reggae, or Pop Melayu?

According to my wife, back in the day, when Charly and his posse used to play music for passersby at Station 12 between Jakarta and Bogor (ST12), he had a crush on her.

“Stay with me, Angel, he told her. “I’m gonna be bigtime. You’ll see” [I’m not making this up, but was she? ]

“No way, Charly. It is fun kickin’ it here with y’all. But I don’t want no dirty busker for a boyfriend.”

[And she regrets it big-time, to this day :  ]

Everybody in this town got a  story like that. However ineffable once you’re there, the highway to fame and fortune — people around here say — often turns out be a country lane or a narrow urban alleyway (gang) crawling with rats and cockroaches. You don’t even need to go anywhere specific  — like Hollywood or Nashville — to get famous around here.

So in the context of rags to riches, what’s the Indonesian version of country music?

Emma Baulch’s article “Music for the Pria Dewasa: Change and Continuities in Class and Pop Music Genres,”  in the Journal of Indonesian Social Sciences and Humanities, makes me want to check the box next to: Pop Melayu.

The article is theory-laden but readable; all you really need to know is:

  • The Malay word #kampung (kampong)  — in this part of the world — lines up with the notion of village, countryside, less developed, etc.
  • And the word may be opposed to another — gedung, which means building — to set up a little rural/urban dichotomy
  • Despite their mass popularity, some — or I mean lots — of Indonesians will rather forcefully argue that they don’t like bands like  ST 12, Kangan Band, and Hijau Daun. (Honestly, it does remind me of the Nashville twang — I mean thang ; )

Dandgut, certainly, is legit. And a lot older than Pop Melayu (which — as you can probably tell — is a label that come music executive came up with and not the way that fans would refer to bands like ST12).   And then there’s reggae — which can be down-to-earth without sweating the urban /rural thing. (I guess I’d have to emphasize can be down-to-earth. Cuz, the self-styled Indonesian ambassador of reggae, lately of NYC, himself — Ras Muhammad —  was recently lamenting that a lot of reggae these days is nothing but a  soundtrack for airhead beach parties.)

OK, I’m done. Below, however,  are the ‘graphs I dug from Baulch’s rock-n-roll article. Taken together, you’ll see they do — just for the fun of it — support the notion of Pop Melayu, being “Indonesian Country.” (Which is a plenty weird result, since the music doesn’t really sound like country . . . whereas Iwan Fals kinda does (Iwan Fals also sometimes sounds like Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd).

 . . . pop genre distinctions and their attendant kampungan-gedongan dimensions [should be looked at in terms of how ]print media have played a cruical role in building, and reinforcing, a myth of class  @109

Dangdut became a social text for assigning all sorts of meanings — kampungan for example — through which elites could register their own class position. . . Dangdut fans, synonymous with the masses, were discursively produced in print media according to middle class and elite notions of the rakyat [the people] as explosive and uncontrolled. @107

In contrast to dangdut though, pop Melayu [ST12,  Kangan Band, Hijau Daun] generally make use of Western instrumentation, not a bamboo suling (flute) or a gendang (paired hand drums). Pop Melayu’s nod to dangdut can be very slight and barely noticeable. In recent years, in terms of sales, pop Melayu has emerged as an enormously successful genre. @117

Rather than distancing itself from the images of provincial vulgarity associated with the term kampungan, [Kangan Band’s] publicity machine began to make much of its humble, marginal beginnings. In cinematic and literary form, narratives of the band’s rags to riches story appear in a chain of bookstores and on television. Here is an inspirational story of wong cilik (little people) battling against the odds. @121

Much seems up for discussion here: the question of how an interest in the vocalist’s physical appearance reflects on consumers, the role of the metropolis in cultural production, the Melayuness or otherwise of Kangen Band’s music and it’s implications for the affective qualities of consumption. Indeed, the term kampungan is not unpacked here. Nevertheless, the responses to Selinkuh on You Tube do evidence a kind of inquiring, reflexive mode that, it could be argued, disagreements about pop Melayu’s quality seem to provoke. @123

Besides the commercial  significance of pay-to-download ring-back tones featuring the music of Pop Melayu bands and “the pervasiveness  narratives of upward mobility which depict this trajectory as one from kampung to metropolis” [what matters for present purposes] “is that these musical products are . . . most intensively consumed by those living in provincial second-tier and third-tier cities, especially those cities on islands other than Java, therefore most squarely beyond the fringes of Jakarta.” @122-3

The article concludes that kampungan — as the marker of Otherness that has been so important in the construction of Indonesian middleness — is “increasingly unstable.” Moreover, as Pop Melayu is “spun and pitched”  as a musical genre, it is being incorporated into narratives of upward mobility with the result that it is  “no longer just the waste, the un-modern, the vulgar (although these significations endure). Instead, “kampungan (which I suppose we can translate as “country  roots”)  can now also signify the possibility of bettering oneself.”