Tales of the Waria

Zoom, zoom, zoom…

Things going well as I march into my final weeks in Makassar. If all goes according to plan, this could possibly be the last missive you receive from me because I’ll be home in no time at all (Nov. 7)!

The focus of the film has shifted in the past couple of weeks. I’ve stopped following Fajar, the 12-year-old, and started focusing more on the love lives of adult warias. How does a transgender individual find true love in a society that puts a lot of emphasis on family and religion? There’s Martina, the shy hotel maid who goes to church on Sunday but searches for love at night on Sudirman Street, the prostitute hangout. Then there’s Mami Ria, the older waria who has settled for being the second wife of a police officer. And then there’s my newest subject, Ari. Ari is what you’d call “an ex-waria.” Born into a conservative Islamic family, Ari was forced to marry a woman. Now she has two kids, dresses like a man, and shaves her head. Every night though, much to her wife’s dismay, she sneaks away to chat with other warias at a local night cafe.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about warias, it’s that they love contests. So, in hot pursuit of a film soundtrack, I held a waria singing contest last week. 8 beautiful contestants sang various dangdut songs (popular Arabic/Indian sounding music). Tiara, my guide, even got some trophies made for the winners that read, “Dangdut Audition, Documentary Film, Kathy Huang.” It was surreal. Over 50 warias gathered together at a local cafe to watch the event. I was supposed to help pick the winner, but after the three other judges (2 warias and 1 gay man) showed me their intense judging rubric, I knew better than to interfere. It was amazing how much fun the warias had. Even days afterwards they were still discussing who won and who should have won.

Look at the size of these beauties!
The winners of the dangdut contest
Our illustrious judges

In terms of production, things have gotten easier now that Ramadan has finished and people are back to their regular schedules. I’m now working full time with Tiara and Aldy. I’ve shown them both how to handle a camera and boompole. They’re incredibly fun to work with.

The one downside to staying longer in Indonesia than expected is that I’m running into musim hujan (the rainy season). Not only are there now unpredictable downpours, everyone has also gotten sick from the change in weather. I myself got a bit of a cough, which translated itself (thanks to my habitual eye-rubbing) into pink eye. I’m not discouraged though. I bought some mighty powerful antibiotic eyedrops at the local pharmacy (sans prescription!). After 4 months in Indonesia, two respiratory infections and one case of conjunctivitis aren’t bad.

Here’s a funny story: I finally made it into Indonesian news. Fajar, Makassar’s primary newspaper, printed a photo of me in their Saturday issue. In it, I was filming Al-Markaz, the largest mosque in town. The caption below the photo read: “A Japanese tourist takes pictures of Ramadan.”

Oh, and incidentally, whoever said you couldn’t gain weight in sweltering climates was wrong. Dead wrong. It’s been a slow and steady process, but yes– the Makassar diet has finally done me in. All the coto (a soup concoction made from cow innards), mie titi (insanely tasty dry noodles that put you to sleep right afterwards), and kacang telur (peanuts dipped in sugary egg batter, whole bags of which must be finished in one sitting) have gotten to me. I met a waria the other night whom I had filmed during my earliest days in Makassar. I asked her if she remembered me and she replied, “Yes, but you were thinner then.” She motioned toward my cheeks. It was all I could do to hold back a cry of anguish. Tiara has also noticed my weight gain. When I demanded to know why she hadn’t told me earlier, she replied, “Because I wanted you to be fat like me.” Then she inflated her cheeks like a chipmunk and sang, “Fat girl, fat girl…”

Warias can be so cruel.

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