Tales of the Waria

Back in Town!

I’ve been back in Indonesia for a week now and it feels good. Like putting on a pair of comfortable gloves. Yes, I’m sweaty, grimy, and exhausted. But I’m back in the throes of it. Able to interact with my subjects, able to remember why I started this project to begin with.

My favorite part about coming back…
Kepala Ikan Woku (Fish Head Curry)!

When I first arrived in Indonesia a week ago, I played the film’s extended trailer to a large crowd of warias. They absolutely loved it. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure how much of it they actually caught, since they were laughing and shrieking throughout.

Production, as usual, is moving along at a snail’s pace. I quickly discovered that my most competent of assistants Aldy had taken a full-time job at a boxing factory. When I gave him a look of dismay, he shrugged and said, “Outsourcing.” I decided to go and visit his factory to see if I could steal him back for a month. After speaking to his managers for an hour and gifting them with L.A. souvenir magnets, I was able to get their permission. But only starting June 11th—they needed time to find his replacement.

In the meantime, I’ve taken on Adit, Aldy’s good friend, as my assistant. Adit is incredibly friendly and looks somewhat like a giant panda when he laughs. He’s also ethnically Chinese, so we communicate in a survivalist mishmash of Indonesian, Chinese, and English. After we spent an hour going over video equipment, we went to go film Ari working in his salon. Halfway through the shoot, I noticed smoke rings entering the frame of my shots. I turned around and saw Adit holding a cigarette. “Sorrylah,” he said. “I’m nervous. This is my first time on a film shoot.” I clucked disapprovingly, but didn’t have the heart to tell him to stop. Four hours later, he was still following me around with the tripod, puffing away.

I’ve achingly aware of how horrible my Indonesian pronunciation is. How so very American. Strangely enough though, I’m now able to understand more than I did last year—despite not having practiced in the interim. Maybe it’s because my brain doesn’t freeze in panic anymore. I’m also catching on to the Makassar dialects a bit more now. Today, when we finished our shoot with Ari, I caught him and his wife Emma talking about me in Bahasa Makassar. Ari said, “Kathy’s put on some weight in just the past week. Look at her face.” “Yes,” Emma agreed. “She’s probably sleeping too much.”

Language can really open doors.

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