Home Sweet Home

After 2 days in Bali filming Suharni living among orang bule (Westerners), it was time to fly out to Makassar. Stepping out of the Hasanuddin Airport in South Sulawesi, I found myself smiling uncontrollably. God, I love Makassar. Bali may have more beaches and be more accommodating toward Westerners, but it’s also full of obnoxious tourists and locals who are always trying to make a quick buck off you. In Makassar, people are loud, warm, and terus-terang (straight talking). I love the becaks and pete-petes. Oh, and the food. The divine food. Fresh ikan bakar. Mie titi. Es pisang hijau. I have no idea what’s in half the things I eat. Probably a lot of MSG. But it’ll go down in my memory annals as some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Anthony Bourdain needs to come out east the next time he’s in Indonesia.

mami-and-kathy

Mami sports a new hair color.

Upon arriving, I instantly went to go pay my respect to Mami Ria. When she saw me, she gave a squeal of delight and we exchanged kisses. I started to jabber away before she cut me off. “Mbak Kathy…” she began, “last year when you came, your Indonesian was very smooth. Now it’s…” she winced and made a so-so sign with her hand. Like I said, “terus terang.”

The highlight of coming back to Indonesia was, of course, being reunited with Tiara, my closest friend here. Tiara has been a wonderful field producer. In this round of filming though, she’s also going to become one of the film’s subjects. Tiara is very excited about being “a star” and has been forcing me to tell her ad nauseum for the past couple of months why she’s the perfect film subject. Tonight we sat down and watched a rough cut of the film. She loved it. She said it was very artistic and showed the “true color” of waria life. But she also added that it lacked glamour—an attribute that she would gladly add.

Tiara shows me, once again, what a real pose is.

Tiara shows me, once again, what a real pose is.

If I look nervous, it's because I am.

If I look nervous, it's because I am.

No Time for Tears…

I’m back in Indonesia for my third and final round of shooting. I have to admit, it was harder to get myself back this time. Love Indonesia as I do, I’m increasingly loathe to give up the comforts of living in a developed nation. But as my good friend Wing advised me, “No time for tears. You’re on a mission.” And on this particular mission, I have a shot list 5 pages long to fulfill.

I flew into Bali’s Airport where I was immediately confronted with Indonesia’s new intake policy. In a large room without A/C or fans, passengers waited to have their photos and fingerprints taken. It took about 5 minutes before I was drenched in sweat. People were getting desperate. Some passengers tried to straddle two lines so that they’d have options. Others tried graft ($50 US to be put in the invisible ‘express’ lane). And others, more familiar with the Indonesian pace of life, were simply santai and made small talk with their neighbors.

An hour and 20 minutes later, I emerged into the Bali sunshine and was hit with a blast of hot, wet air. Though I’ve spent nearly a year in Indonesia shooting, its heat and humidity never cease to amaze me. I asked my taxi driver why Bali was so inordinately hot—especially in May. “Global warming,” he answered, shaking his head. The heat, coupled with a late rainy season, had brought the mosquito population to an all-time high. There were so many cases of dengue fever in Bali, hospital beds were no longer available. Dengue fever, by the way, is an illness that brings on fever and “bone-crushing pain.” It only lasts for a week—or so I keep telling myself…

Love Is in the Air

Weddings. What can I say? I’ve attended about 10 of them since coming to Indonesia. That’s more weddings than I’ve ever attended back in the States. It makes sense—in a densely populated place like Indonesia, chances are there’s always a wedding happening somewhere.

Ms. Ayu's Wedding

Ms. Ayu's Wedding

Our very own photographer Irfan decides to tie the knot!

Our very own photographer Irfan decides to tie the knot!

I’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time filming weddings. Though the waria are not allowed to marry legally (unless they marry women), in Makassar they’re involved at every stage of wedding planning. If they’re not decorating the banquet room or baking traditional cakes, they’re styling the bride and groom or singing at the reception. A wedding just wouldn’t be a wedding without the waria.

Mami and fellow waria pose with the happy couple

Mami Ria and fellow waria pose with the happy couple

Can you spot Tiara? Hint: A diva always stands out...

Can you spot Tiara? Hint: A diva always stands out...

It’s been a long, hot summer and I’m nearing the end. I must admit, after my unfortunate run-in with an old plate of noodles and a suspicious fever that lay hold of me for several days, I am tuckered out. Much more so than my first round of shooting in 2008. It’s been hard summoning up the energy to produce, direct, and shoot in a language that I’m only intermittently accessing. I’ve also discovered that I’ve become dangerously inured to my surroundings. Hanging out with the waria in their clubs and salons has become so second nature to me, I’m having trouble determining what what’s filmworthy. Often, instead of shooting, I just end up chatting and eating with my subjects!

When I leave tomorrow, I’m going to miss the folks in Makassar… fiercely. Especially Tiara and Aldy. They’ve become like family to me. I’ve grown accustomed to Aldy’s zen-like demeanor and charm, and Tiara’s wit and hilariously unapologetic exhibitionism. We’ve seen each other through some hard times, and some really wonderful ones as well. I comfort myself knowing that I still have one more trip planned to Indonesia in spring 2010. Stay tuned for more adventures!

My New Family

My New Family

A New Generation, a New Hope

I have to say for the record that I am very impressed with the burgeoning documentary film scene in Indonesia. Yes, cinetrons (Indonesian soap operas) and vaudeville talk shows still dominate the airwaves, but there is a generation of impassioned young folks who are eager to document all facets of Indonesian life—the good and the bad. As Indonesia is a country with over 17,000 islands spanning three time zones and a troubled history largely suppressed by a 30-year dictatorship, they’ve got an incredible wealth of material to draw upon.

Arfan Sabran, an extraordinarily talented documentary filmmaker I befriended early on, invited me to speak at a traveling documentary film festival/workshop put on by In-Docs. I agreed and was delighted to encounter a room full of young documentary lovers. I showed a brief trailer of my film and with the translation skills of esteemed film producer Chandra Tanzil facilitated a talk on how to define “documentary film.” Not an easy topic, I might add, but one which the attendees tackled with gusto. Mark my words: we’ll be seeing some incredible documentary films emerge from Indonesia in the next decade.

 

The very kind and talented Chandra Tanzil turns my broken Indonesian into coherent sentences.

The very kind and talented Chandra Tanzil turns my broken Indonesian into coherent sentences

Eagle Award winner Arfan Sabran (left) helps to coordinate ScreenDocs

Eagle Award winner Arfan Sabran (left) helps to coordinate ScreenDocs

 

 

 

Voting Day

JK's worrisome motto: "The faster, the better!"

JK's worrisome motto: "The faster, the better!"

Big election day in Indonesia. Today the streets are empty and the shops are closed as people vote for the next president. It’s assumed that the reigning president SBY (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) will win again, but in Makassar, where I’m at, there’s JK (Jusuf Kalla) fever. JK is from Makassar and around the city, cries of “Satu kampung!” (“one village”) ring out.  Though there are rumors that JK was actually an inciter in the anti-Chinese riots that happened in Makassar back in 1997, even the Chinese community here has seemed to rally around him. One Chinese man explained, “You have to have pride in where you’re from. If someone Asian tried to run for the US president, wouldn’t you want to vote for him?” I paused, considered, and told him I could see where he was coming from. There has never been a president from outside of the island of Jawa, and JK represents an opportunity for eastern Indonesians to finally be represented.

I followed Tiara and Mami Rudi to the elections today. The process was very fast and efficient. They flashed their identity cards, were handed a ballot and led into a curtained booth, slipped their ballot into a box, and had their fingers stained with purple ink.

A short walk to the voting station

A short walk to the voting station

Presto!

Presto!

Tiara proudly brandishes a once-purple, now inexplicably green, finger.

Tiara brandishes a once-purple, now inexplicably green, finger.