Archive for July, 2011

Job Interview

So Luke, what do you do with yourself?

I lie in bed and read. Actually sometimes I read books, other times I just stare at the ceiling. Well, I don’t just stare at the ceiling, I’m thinking too. Thinking about many things. Things like how much I really want to work a minimum wage job. Other times when I’m not lying in bed reading or staring at the ceiling I’m doing my school work. I like to do my school work. Actually maybe I just like to do my school work because I want to write smart things and get good marks and impress the lecturer of my Southeast Asian history course because I have an awesome brain crush on her. Other than that I also hang around and help out with various anarchist collectives. But don’t worry about that, for the most part I’m just there because there’s a girl that I have a bit of a crush on who also goes to those things. So yeah, basically, I lie in bed listening to Magic Dirt thinking about 50 year-old Southeast Asian history lecturers.

Why do you want to work for us?

Well there’s this thing called capitalism. To do things in capitalism I need money. To get money I need to come to people like you, and hope that you will allow me to do things for you. These things may include stacking of food containers in a uniform fashion, mopping your floors in a uniform fashion, crushing boxes in a uniform fashion, wearing a uniform in a uniform fashion and making sure every person gives money (often gained by a similar process of doing stupid shit in uniform fashions) in exchange for goods. If these people do not have/offer the correct numerical value applied to a product that you probably don’t even give a shit about, it would be my duty to deny them of the right to that product. All I ask in return is a bare minimum monetary sum in line with laws that will tell you what the lowest amount of dollars per hour you are required to legally give me.

What previous jobs have you had?

I worked at Franklins for almost two years. Maybe one and a half actually. I was a cashier for a while, then I worked on the floor, stacking shelves and stuff like that.

What did you enjoy about that job?

As cashier, I enjoyed saying “Hello, how are you?” to hundreds of people without having to establish any further connection. I was able to use a standard “yeah, not bad” answer every time a customer would ask me how I was. They would always ask me how I was even though it was pretty obvious I was just doing stupid activities to get stupid money to do stupid things (such as buy train and bus tickets to get to work to just do stupid things to get stupid money to do stupid things). I also enjoyed standing in the same spot for hours and hours. I could feel myself getting stupider and stupider as the shift would progress as I noticed myself having to stare at a coin for at least twenty seconds to figure out if it was a twenty cent of fifty cent coin, even though its pretty obvious if it would be a fifty cent coin because a fifty cent coin is the only coin that isn’t round like a circle. My hypothesis is all the blood from my brain went to my feet. Which is bad for identifying coin values because I don’t use my feet for thinking.

Working on the floor was sometimes a little more enjoyable. It could be called independence. I enjoyed the ability to move around. I think it could be described as similar to when you buy a goldfish and you transfer the goldfish from the little plastic bag into the slightly larger fish tank. I was able to move around. I was able to hide in the pet food aisle and look at all the cute animals on all the pet food packaging. On the floor, I enjoyed finding loaves of bread in the shampoo section and wondering about the real identity of these anonymous supermarket conceptual artists and what messages they were trying to convey through their works. Sometimes I would also “create” similar “pieces”, for example, placing a poison product in the meat shelf – to bring awareness to the poisons in our food, particularly meat and dairy. Other temporal artworks included an installation and performance art piece in which I stacked rolls of aluminium foil in a not so rigid formation and then banged on the shelves to see if they would all fall down.

What does customer service mean to you?

When someone comes and asks you at the register where they could find a can of tomatoes or an avocado slicer, it is best to respond with “I don’t know. My experience of this store is confined to what I can see and touch from this 80cm x 40cm piece of plastic lined carpet. If you’d like to know what the PLU code for button mushrooms is then I will gladly share this information.”

That’s what I would do, and to me, that’s the most common sense way to go about customer service. But for others, it seems that customer service is a quasi-religious belief in the omniscience of the customer as summed up by the mantra, “the customer is always right”. I don’t really believe that and I wish to present an example to refute such an assertion.

One time I was doing my work when a customer came and asked me if any of the fruits and vegetables were organic. I told her that the fresh produce wasn’t my area, but considering this was a Franklins I doubted that much, if any, of the fruit and vegetables that were sold there were organic. I told her she’d have more luck at the food co-op less than  five minutes walk away or the organic shop less than a minute’s walk away. To which she replied that Franklins should stock organic food because she likes to do all her shopping in the one place.

Obviously in this situation the customer was not right. But, let’s say for instance, she was right, just for sake of argument, to test this notion of customer omniscience. So this woman was right that Franklins should stock organic food so she can do her shopping all in the one place and not walk one minute to the nearest organic shop or five minutes to another organic shop. Let’s put aside the fact that the small King St and Enmore Rd area that these three shops cover could easily be considered “one place” in the same way that Stockland Wetherill Park is considered to be “one place”. Let’s put aside the fact that she is incredibly priviliged to be so close to not one but two organic shops. Let’s put aside the fact that, really, she should be blindfolded and dumped in the middle of Smithfield and told to try walk to the nearest organic shop. Of course we take the blindfold off when she’s dumped in Smithfield. We’ll put all that aside and think for a moment that yes, yes she is right because she is a customer and the customer is always right. What happens next? We throw out all the current stock of fresh produce and tomorrow receive truckloads of organic produce? We start to sell organic produce alongside non-organic produce? But where do we find the room to put the two types of fresh produce? Do we convert the staff lunch room into a special organic produce section? You see, this is where such an irrational belief leads us to!

Do you have any conditions that may limit your capacity to work?

Yes, actually I suffer from a condition called consciousness that makes me incredibly sensitive to bullshit. Bullshit may include, but is not limited to: being paid six dollars less per hour than me even though we do exactly the same amount of work – if not more – as them, simply because I’m younger than 20; watching the price of items go up every few months without any corresponding wage increase; and observing that I do much more work than the storeowner ever seems to do. This limits my capacity to work because my condition, consciousness, forces me to want to decrease the disparity between bullshit and benefits, and although I can never fully compensate for the soul destruction of minimum wage labour I can at least find comfort in attempting to bring the input of labour and the rewards of my labour (as experienced by myself and not the boss) closer to a state of equilibrium. Usually this is done by working slower, taking longer lunch breaks, accidentally breaking packets of lollies, accidentally eating those packets of lollies and hanging out in the pet food aisle contemplating the role of gender and class in the marketing of pet food.

Do you have any questions about the job?

Yeah, my hair. Will that be a problem?

Ok, thank you Luke. We’ll get back to you by the end of the week.

Rock The Youth @ Kompleks 3K, Subang Jaya – 23/7/2011

I’m always carrying my little portable recorder around with me but I never seem to pull it out when a band is playing. But at last weekend’s Rock the Youth festival at Kompleks 3K in Subang Jaya I actually did pull it out and turn it on while some of the bands played.

I’m always drawn to youth festivals, or just the word ‘youth’ in general and it was even better that some bands I really like were playing as well. Comparing this one to youth festivals back in Australia, there was an absence of hip hop (none at all) and metalcore (usually the two types of music that dominate youth festivals in Western Sydney) but there were a number of “experimental” type bands, which is something that unfortunately isn’t present at most Australian youth events. Also, as with most Frinjan-associated events there was a bit of a political side to it too.

As I’m still new to the live recordings thing I’m sure the sound quality isn’t as good as it potentially could be. I’ll try to work on that. Hopefully next time the recordings will be better. Also, although there were many bands playing on the day, I only recorded three of them as I was afraid my battery was low.

Akta Angkasa
16 min 29 sec / 22.64 MB / 192kbps MP3
Akta Angkasa is one of my favourite bands from the KL area and as always they played a good set, just a shorter more condensed set without some of their slower and longer sections. This was also the first time I was able to properly hear the synths.

Space Gambus Experiment
13 min 34 sec / 18.64 MB / 192kbps MP3
I was looking forward to Space Gambus Experiment but I must admit I was a bit disappointed by their set which was shorter than their sound check. There are some nice quieter and minimal sections where the gambus is the focal point. However, the louder parts sometimes just sounded like a bunch of people playing at the same time but not necessarily together. I guess that’s just the hit-or-miss nature of the whole improv/experimental thing. And sorry for annoying background noise from my dumbshit friends.

14 min 8 sec / 19.41 MB / 192kbps MP3
Khottal always seems like such a fun band to be in and at this show the audience was having just as much fun as the band – with stage diving, crowd surfing and at one point the stage was full of dancing audience members and band members. Khottal has about nine or ten members playing a wide range of instruments. Unfortunately some of the instruments such as melodica and xylophone seemed to get drowned out by the drums during this set. Maybe if you listen closely you can find them all.

I was saving the rest of my battery to record Monoloque but after Khottal played we were all informed that Monoloque had to cancel at the last minute. I wish I could have used the extra battery to record someone else like Liyana Fizi or Ben’s Bitches. Oh well, maybe there will be another chance. These shall do for now.

The Economist censored in Malaysia

The Economist censored

The July 16 2011 issue of The Economist ran an article about the recent Bersih 2.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur. This is how copies of the magazine turned up at the Borders at Times Square (and I assume wherever else it was being sold).

Anyway, they weren’t able to censor the internet so we can read the full article at The Economist website.

[Sorry about the bad quality image. You get the idea.]

Checklist For Becoming Melayu

Following in the footsteps of Jeane Abdullah, the Portuguese-Eurasian wife of Abdullah Badawi, and other non-Malays who have masuk melayu and in the spirit of trying to figure out if what we consider racial identity is just a little bit bullshit, I’m going to see if I can become Malay.

“Malay” means a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom and –

  • (a) was before Merdeka Day born in the Federation or in Singapore or born of parents one of whom was born in the Federation or in Singapore, or was on that day domiciled in the Federation or in Singapore; or
  • (b) is the issue of such a person;

No. 1: Professes the Religion of Islam

I’m practically straight-edge so I don’t drink alcohol or take any other haram intoxicants. I’m vegan so I don’t eat pigs. When I was a baby I kept getting infections and the easiest solution was circumcision. I can say “لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله” any time I want.

No. 2: Habitually Speaks the Malay Language

Tunggu lah! Kenapa tak sabar? Sikit-sikit lama-lama jadi bukit.

No. 3: Conforms to Malay Custom

I can play caklempong. I lepak at mamak restaurants late at night. I have at least two tablespoons of sugar with my tea. I don’t use toilet paper. I can sing along to Yuna’s Dan Sebenarnya, yet claim to not like Yuna’s music. I can grow one of those little beards, not too long though. I have really weird sleeping patterns that mean I spend most of my waking hours during the night. When I’m meant to meet my friends I tell them I’m already on the way, just before I have a shower, before I get changed, before I have something to eat, before I read a book, before I leave the house to catch the train which usually takes about half an hour. Lah.

No. 4 (a): was before Merdeka Day born in the Federation or in Singapore or born of parents one of whom was born in the Federation or in Singapore, or was on that day domiciled in the Federation or in Singapore; or

No, but….

No. 4 (b): is the issue of such a person

I don’t really know what that means, I’m not very good at legalspeak. But could I just get adopted by some old Malaysian people?

My Day With the Cleaners

I woke up late as I’d arrived back in Malaysia late the night before. On the way home from KL Sentral, the city streets were conspicuously empty. There were hardly any cars at all. I found out that the government had ordered the police to set up road blocks along all roads leading into the central KL area.

I spent the first hour or two after waking up at a nearby restaurant, using the wifi there to follow what had been happening on Twitter. The Petaling Street and Central Market area seemed to be busy and accessible. At 2pm, I decided to leave, Plaza Rakyat was the place to begin.

At Cempaka station, police had stopped a man and were checking his bags. I wondered if this had any connection to Bersih. At the station counter I asked for a ticket to Plaza Rakyat but was told that it had been closed. I was told the closest station to Plaza Rakyat that was open was Bandaraya so I bought a ticket to Bandaraya.

On the train, announcements informed passengers that Hang Tuah, Plaza Rakyat and Masjid Jamek LRT stations had all been closed and the train would be skipping those stations. I sent an sms out to some friends to see where they were at and received a reply saying, “Pudu is vendetta”. I decided to get off at Pudu instead of going all the way through to Bandaraya.

The section of Jalan Pudu between Jalan Pasar and Jalan Imbi was empty. No traffic, no shops open, the only people around were those who had just got off the train at Pudu to walk somewhere else that wasn’t that area of Jalan Pudu.

At Jalan Imbi, I watched a group of people march from near Hang Tuah LRT station and turn left onto Jalan Pudu, towards Puduraya. People on the side of the road watched them walk by, waving, chanting “Bersih” and some left the side of the road and joined the marching group. The group then stopped for a while at the corner of Jalan Pudu and Jalan Bukit Bintang.

At the same time, the “Patriot” counter-protest group, made up mostly of UMNO Youth members, was making its way down Jalan Bukit Bintang toward Jalan Pudu.

The Bersih group then made their way down Jalan Pudu but turned into some backstreets adjacent to Jalan Pudu, presumably to avoid a police line along Jalan Pudu near the hospital. I didn’t follow this group as it had began raining and I didn’t really feel like getting stuck in the rain. I joined the rest of the ‘spectators’ standing under shopfront awnings at the bottom of Jalan Bukit Bintang.

As Patriot continued a slow march down Jalan Bukit Bintang the FRU had arrived. The police pushed the ‘spectators’ behind their line formed at the bottom of Jalan Bukit Bintang. I watched from behind the police line.

Patriot and the police clashed. Solidly linking arms, Patriot seemed to easily break through the police line before a tear gas canister had been detonated. A group of us who had been watching from just behind the police line huddled into a nearby doorway. We held towels, bandanas, scarves and whatever else we had with us to our faces trying to reduce the effects of the tear gas.

Patriot retreated back up Jalan Bukit Bintang and as the teargas cleared we left the doorway. I managed to find some friends at that moment and since the rain had calmed we left to find the Bersih march.

After walking down Jalan Imbi, various back streets, and crossing Jalan Bukit Bintang where the police and Patriot were still facing off, we found some Bersih people down in Changkat area. A taxi driver drove past and raised his fist out the window chanting “Bersih!”

At this moment, I received an sms saying, “People takeover the hosp.”

At the corner of Jalan Nagasari various small groups converged and we tried to figure out where to go next. Some said to walk Jalan Nagasari, others to go back toward Jalan Bukit Bintang – which would have been a bad idea because that’s where the FRU and Patriot were facing off. Deciding against making our way to the hospital on Jalan Pudu we joined a group of a few hundred people making their way up Jalan Nagasari. Along Jalan Nagasari we stopped at a mamak restaurant to watch the TV news about Bersih before jogging up the hill to Jalan Raja Chulan.

At Jalan Raja Chulan we converged with a  much larger group that was heading toward Jalan Sultan Ismail. The group turned left into Jalan Sultan Ismail, heading toward Bukit Nanas. We took over all six lanes of the road and spread back as far as I could see and as far forward as I could see. There were at least a couple of thousand marching down Jalan Sultan Ismail.

For the next hour or so, there was almost zero police presence at all. A few thousand of protesters were marching down Jalan Sultan Ismail across all six lanes and no police in sight. We kept on walking. Walking and chanting.

Apart from the usual chants of “Hidup! Hidup! Hidup Rakyat!” and its Bersih counterpart, “Hidup! Hidup! Hidup Bersih!”, there were also regular chants of “Takbir! Allahu akbar!”. My Chinese friend and I would just smile at each other, and share a look that said, “Yep, this chant’s not for us.”

I always find moments like this fascinating. Events such as protest marches, street festivals and Reclaim the Streets parties. When roads open up not as places for cars to dominate but for people to gather and socialise. The way a city looks and feels changes so dramatically when people replace cars on the streets. I find it always comes with the realisation that something seems a little bit wrong when a huge proportion of our public space is roads for cars.

With all the walking and chanting, I started to wonder what we were actually doing. Where were we going? What were we going to do when we got there? What were we actually trying to accomplish with everything we were doing? Were we still trying to go to Stadium Merdeka? Were we just looking to start a fight with the police? But what would be the point of searching out a heavily policed zone when we already had the streets of KL all to ourselves? For a little while it did start to feel like we were just walking aimlessly around.

Past Bukit Nanas we turned into Jalan Ampang and after we met with another really big group who had just come from another assembly point closer to Dataran Merdeka and Petaling Street. The numbers grew. It was huge.

We stopped for a while. And tried to figure out where to go next. Well, we didn’t really figure out where to go next, someone else did. I’m not sure who this someone else was, and how they went about making decisions. We started walking back the way we came. But after a few hundred metres we all stopped again. Messages to go this way, that way, this way, were yelled up and down along the crowd and we stayed still for a few minutes. A police helicopter flew past.

After the few minutes of not moving in any direction along Jalan Ampang, that someone or those someones who were figuring out which way to go had figured out to go toward KLCC. So we continued marching along Jalan Ampang to KLCC. Still, besides for the helicopter flying by every now and then there was no sign of police at all.

When we arrived at KLCC there was still no sign of police anywhere. Most people sat at the intersection of Jalan Ampang and Jalan P Ramlee. Others were standing around the large sitting crowd. People were chanting, singing Negaraku and just hanging around.

After about 20 minutes, or what felt like twenty minutes, it may have only actually been five minutes, a helicopter flew overhead and suddenly a large numbers of people started running. It took me a while to realise that the FRU had arrived. Some ran down Jalan Ampang in the direction of Ampang Park, others ran in the direction of KLCC. I made my way to KLCC. As I walked, people were jumping over walls and through gardens, others were caught and held by undercover police. I saw a few young men and women being picked out by the police.

At KLCC it was safe enough to stop moving and turn back to watch what was happening on Jalan Ampang. A line of FRU police were marching down Jalan Ampang followed by the water cannon spraying its chemical-laced water.

As one half of the crowded were pushed further down Jalan Ampang, I followed the other part of the crowd past KLCC into KLCC Park. It was about 4:30pm and the azan from the masjid in KLCC Park signalled time for Asar prayer. Many people went into the masjid while others hung out in the park, resting and rehydrating.

I was hoping that this would be just a break for rest and/or prayer and the people would soon be back out on the streets.

One of my friends had received news from other friends that there were still people out on Jalan Ampang near Ampang Park. We tried to make our way there from KLCC Park but a side street would have taken us right into the FRU line – on the wrong side. We walked around the block in another direction and found many friends outside the 7Eleven on Jalan Ampang not far from KLCC.

After waiting around, hoping the masjid would empty on to the streets, one of my friends told me it was over. Apparently the steering committee had called it off. I was a bit disappointed. Why stop now? There’s still 1000s of people around, surely we can regroup somwhere or split off into several smaller decentralised groups.

We continued sitting outside the 7Eleven. Catching up with more friends who came by and not really sure what to do or where to go next. Over the next 30 minutes, more people began to walk up and down Jalan Ampang. The restaurants and shops were all still closed except for that one 7Eleven.

Some of us walked back up to KLCC. Outside, police paraded around on horseback in front of an onlooking group with their cameras out. I think it was their way of telling the shoppers that everything was ok. Don’t panic. Everything is back to normal.

Inside KLCC everything was normal. Shopping and business as usual. You wouldn’t think that less than an hour ago the shopping centre entrance had been closed off and just outside thousands of people peacefully assembled had been attacked by police shooting tear gas and spraying chemical laced water.

Walking through this scene of normality, on a day that wasn’t so normal at all, I was quiet and lost in my thoughts. What happens tomorrow? What happens on Sunday? Is everything the way it was before?

I like to think it won’t be the same as it was before. Sure, Najib will still be prime minister as head of UMNO, capitalism will rule and all those big things won’t just disappear before tomorrow. But maybe some little things will stick with us. The reminder that Malaysian democracy is presently nonexistent. That 1Malaysia exists not in an UMNO-led Barisan Nasional but for a few hours it existed in the streets. That we had just been a part of one of the biggest demonstrations seen in Malaysia despite the police’s attempt to lockdown KL.

We just have to look after those little things. Those little changes and make sure they aren’t forgotten or lost. Encourage their growth and keep on adding. To continue to expand Bersih beyond just a Pakatan Rakyat movement or a Reformasi movement but into a real democratic people’s movement.

Why do I want to learn Basa Jawa?

In a bookstore in Jogja a kid started talking to me.

Hello mister (rolling the r, just as all the Jogja kids do).
How are you?
I’m good, how are you?

Apa kabar?

Upon hearing me speak some Indonesian his mother started talking to me too. Dari mana? Who are you with? What are you doing in Indonesia? How long have you been here? The usual questions.

She saw that I was holding a book about Javanese.

Kamu mau belajar Basa Jawa?
Kenapa? Mau punya pacar orang Jawa?

And then I guess I just went a bit silent.

Kamu mau jadi kekasih aku?

I had about seven hours to fill after purchasing my train ticket to Yogyakarta and before boarding the train to Yogyakarta. I left Gambir station and walked over to Merdeka Square. In between I also ate some ketoprak as I was still very hungry due to the fact that Jakarta’s streets are conspicuously empty on a Sunday morning, and the gado-gado stand I went to a few days before wasn’t where it was a few days before.

I had already spent a lot of time at Merdeka Square, the park with the giant concrete phallus ejaculating fire called Monas, short for Monumen Nasional, during my stay in Jakarta. I’m not sure why I kept going back there. Maybe the familiarity of the place gave me a sense of comfort and safety. And maybe just sitting there or walking around there was interesting in itself. There was always something to look at and falling into a conversation was very easy.

I sat under a tree in the shade, in the southern part of Merdeka Square, with my A4 size exercise that I had been writing in just before two guys came and started talking to me. They were members of an English language learning group in Jakarta and invited me to meet the group where they usually hang out. Unfortunately this wasn’t able to be done in the five and a half hours after meeting these guys and before boarding the train to Yogyakarta which I had bought a ticket for only one and a half hours earlier.

After we said goodbyes and the two guys continued walking around the park, I went back to writing in my exercise book. I wasn’t alone in my exercise book for long before a woman and a young girl walked toward me but stopped less than ten metres away from me. The women looked like she would be in her thirties or forties, was wearing a loose top over tight black leggings and her long hair tied back. Her two top front teeth were either missing, corroded or badly chipped. The girl looked to be in her early teens, and in contrast to the women, was wearing baggy blue denim jeans, a long sleeve white top and a white tudung. They just stood around giggling to each other until the girl came closer.

“Take poto?” she asked.

“Ambik gambar?” I asked back, still not used to adjusting my pronunciation to an accent more Indonesian.

Especially in Indonesia I’m often asked by random people for a photo. I’m not sure if they enjoy collecting white people, or pictures with white people, or its just their way of breaking the ice. Although it feels quite awkward to take a photo with a complete stranger, I usually agree to the photo-taking, treating it as an ice breaker and work at developing a conversation with them. Sometimes it works.

This time it did work. A few photos were taken with mobile phones, which looked like some sort of Blackberry copy, and they invited me to join them in walking around Merdeka Square. Since there was still about five hours after they invited me to walk around with them and before I boarded the train to Yogyakarta and curious as to where this will lead, I decided to follow.

We walked over to the fence that separated Monas from the rest of Merdeka Square, collecting two boys along the way who looked to be between five and eight years old. We stood next to the fence talking and watching small children slide between gaps in the fence and people who were bigger than small children jump over the fence. I figured that all these people were doing so to evade some sort of entrance fee. Though, considering that Monas is so huge, maybe walking along the perimeter of the fence to a more official entrance was just too time consuming and a little bit annoying.

The young girl invited me up to the top of Monas. I wasn’t really in the mood for it so I declined. She asked if I was scared. Not scared, just not really in the mood for it. And not really in the mood to arbitrarily change my brain mode to ‘in the mood to go to the top of Monas’.

She then invited me onto the car-train thing that drives around Merdeka Square. She said it was free. Which made me a little bit more in the mood for that. Along the way towards the place where people line up to board the car-train thing that drives around Merdeka Square the girl asked the usual questions – How long have you been in Jakarta? How old are you? Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?

After replying in the negative to the last two questions I noticed a look, a smile, and a giggle between the girl and the woman. I wondered what that was about. Maybe the woman was trying to hit on me and the young girl was her wingman, or wingperson. If that was the case, I couldn’t find any reason to have a problem with it. There was less than five hours after that moment and before I boarded the train to Gambir, so nothing too awkward should be able to happen.

I still wasn’t quite sure what the relationship was between the woman and the girl. Was the woman the girl’s mother or older sister? Or maybe they were just two people who became friends somehow and hung out at Merdeka Square giggling and smiling at each other.

“Bisakah aku panggil kamu kakak?” the girl asked me but at the time I didn’t know that’s what she asked me. I didn’t realise that’s what she asked me partly because my skills in Bahasa Indonesia aren’t very good so I only heard key words. I think the main reason I didn’t know at the time that’s what she asked me is because I’m used to speaking Bahasa Malaysia and not Bahasa Indonesia and so unless you were unsure about my gender, asking me that question would make no sense at all.

So, putting together the words in my head, overlooking the real meaning of the words because my brain believed that meaning makes no sense at all, I agreed anyway, though not sure exactly what I was agreeing to. Maybe she was playing match maker between me and her older sister. Maybe the woman was her older sister. Or maybe she wanted to call her older sister and tell her about me and introduce us. Maybe call her older sister to say, “Hey I have another picture with a white person to add to our collection.”

After replying to her question with yes, she started to occasionally address me as kakak. Which meant that whenever she addressed me as kakak I thought she was talking about her older sister who may or may not have been the woman with us.

We saw that the line to be able to board the car-train thing that drives around Merdeka Square was long and decided against joining the group of people waiting to get on the car-train thing that drives around Merdeka Square that may or may not be free.

Apart from this being a time when many people line up to board the car-train thing that drives around Merdeka Square, this was also the time that the water sprinklers on the lawns at Merdeka Square are activated. Kids were running through the sprinklers, sitting on them or guiding the streams of water in the direction of parents, aunties, uncles, older brothers, older sisters and other people who weren’t playing with the sprinklers and showed little desire to get wet. Among the children playing with the sprinklers were the two boys that had been following us and one of them had guided a stream of water in the direction of the woman. We all giggled and laughed.

We walked back in the direction of the tree where we first met but instead of walking to that tree we walked to a man that was sitting next to a few bags of chips and other types of keropok and maruku. The woman and the girl sat down and talked with the man and I was invited by the girl to sit down too and she offered me some of the chips.

We sat and ate and I began to work out the relationship between the people around me. I figured that the man was the woman’s husband, and the woman was the girl’s mother. So the woman wasn’t trying to hit on me and she wasn’t the girl’s older sister. But where was this older sister that was always mentioned, or I thought was always being mentioned although the kakak occasionally referred to wasn’t an older sister but maybe was in fact me.

Though, maybe the kakak wasn’t me after all because while we were sitting down, the girl had taken out her phone and called someone. She called her older sister and tried to get me to talk to her.

“Tak mau. Malu! Malu!” I said, declining the offer numerous times. I felt awkward talking to someone on the phone who I’d never met before and wasn’t a call centre worker. I felt awkward by the prospect of some kind of matchmaking attempts. The girl kept on insisting I talk to her older sister.

Eventually I gave in and took the phone. We talked a bit, though communicating wasn’t so simple. Listening through a phone line to a voice without accompanying facial expressions and body language makes my ability to understand Indonesian even worse than it is. We struggled through saying hello, asking each other’s names, various other pieces of small talk and ended with her asking, “Can I add you on Facebook?”

After hanging up the girl asked if she could ask me something and I said that, yes, she could ask me something.

“Kamu mau jadi kekasih aku?”

“Apa?!” I exclaimed. I didn’t respond this way because I didn’t understand the meaning of the words she had just said. I responded this way because my brain didn’t know how else to respond to a fourteen year-old Indonesian girl wearing tudung asking if I would like to be her lover.

She seemed to think that I didn’t understand her words. So after what looked like the figurative act of ‘gathering courage’ manifested in the physical form of a facial expression, that made me feel kind of bad because in response to her courage in asking me that question all I could say in response was “What?!”, she asked me again.

“Kamu mau jadi kekasih aku?”

“Errr… Tak mau.”

“Jelasin kenapa nggak mau?”


This time I said this because I didn’t quite understand the words. I forgot that in colloquial Indonesian, the -kan suffix is replaced with an -in suffix. And, she repeated her question (if what she said is actually considered a question).

“Jelasin kenapa nggak mau?”

“Err… Sebab saya tinggal di Malaysia. Saya tak tinggal di Jakarta dan saya akan pergi ke Jogja malam ini.”

“Is it because you don’t like girls who wear tudung?”

I felt my insides burst into laughter. If only she knew. If only she knew about how much of a Yuna fanboy I am. If only she knew I had such a huge crush on a girl who wears tudung. If only she knew about the constant jokes made by friends and myself to the effect of me having an obsessive attraction to girls who wear tudung.

“I like girls who wear tudung. Some of my best friends in Australia and Malaysia wear tudung,” I try to reassure her that its not because I don’t like girls who wear tudung.

We sit for a few minutes longer and then her mother and father want to leave. We stand up, say goodbye and walk off in our own separate directions.