Tales of the Waria

The White Hair

Today over lunch, my new production assistant exclaimed with great surprise and a genuine sense of discovery, “Kathy, you have white hair!” Tiara was sitting next to me and gleefully spun around to see my reaction. With a frown, I explained that I had one white hair. That just happened to be prominently displayed. Then I launched into my spiel about what topics might be perceived as rude by Americans – a talk that Tiara has heard several times over (mostly because she delivers such rousing comments as “Look at your skin. It’s so oily.” And “Your cheeks are so fat. Indonesian-style.”)

Questions Indonesians often ask (within 5 minutes of meeting you) that some Americans may find offensive:

  • How old are you?
  • Are you married? Why aren’t you married yet?
  • How much money do you make a year?
  • What religion are you?

We also tend to shy away from comments dealing with physicality. God forbid if you ask someone if they recently gained weight. In Indonesia, people seem to delight in physical differences. The waria, for example, give each other nicknames based on physical attributes. Tiara is known as kodok (the frog) because she has skinny arms and legs, but a round belly. And Suharni is known as cumi-cumi (squid) because of all the silicone injections in her face…

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