Tales of the Waria

Indonesia Raya!

I’ve reached Indonesia safely! My stomach is healthy and my spirits are high. I’m safely ensconced in Yogyakarta studying Bahasa Indonesia with 5 excellent tutors. They’re all excited about my project about the waria (one actually admitted to me that he had once spurned the love of a waria and regretted it!) and are designing lessons that deal with beauty salons, weddings, and AIDS.

The other day, I even got to interview the leader of the waria community in Yogyakarta, Mami Vin. She’s had a pretty rough life. She went from being a sex worker to caretaker of street kids to respected Executive Director of a non-profit. All this without the support of  her family, who disowned her until they saw her being interviewed on television and decided to take her back in.

Waria elders Mami Vinolea (right) and Bunda Yetty.

I’ve got nearly 6 hours of class a day, but I try to get out when I can. I had my first becak (rickshaw) experience the other day. Though I vastly overpaid (too many zeros to contend with when you’re dealing in rupiahs!), I was grinning from cheek to cheek. People are incredibly friendly here. Meet someone at an art gallery and they’ll begin a regular email correspondence with you. If you’re introduced to a friend of a friend of a friend, they’ll gladly offer to take you for a tour of Yogya on their motorbike.

A group of philosophy students from UGM (Indonesia’s largest university) have been showing me around the area. The other day, they took me to the Sultan’s Palace in Solo. We were staring at a portrait of the sultan himself (see below) when one of my new friends said, “Isn’t that the sultan?” and pointed to someone who looked like a Japanese tourist leisurely strolling about. I thought they were trying to pull my leg, until I asked a guard and he nodded nonchalantly. Of course, I had to go in for the kill. I’m from L.A. We love celebrities!

Don’t hate.
His Dignity the Sultan

The quest to speak better Bahasa Indonesia continues. I thought I’d share some of my funnier moments. When I was first picked up at the airport, my driver asked me if I knew of Gong Li. I said, “Tentu saja. Dia binatang terkenal.” (which translates roughly to “Of course. She’s a famous animal.”) Earlier this week, I tried to order coconut milk but ordered a “kepala muda” instead (a “young head”). Then, during my interview with the waria, they asked me where I was from. I said, “Orang tua saya dari Taiwan, tetapi saya melahirkan di Amerika.” (“My parents are from Taiwan, but I gave birth in America”). Whoops.

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