Goodbye, Makassar. I will miss you.

Tomorrow is my last day in Makassar. I had foolishly thought I might be able to take in a few leisure activities before leaving South Sulawesi. A trip to the famous Tana Toraja, for example. Or a few days spent snorkeling in the renowned waters of Tanjung Bira. Nope. I was clearly deluded. I did permit myself one diversion, however. For 2 hours today, I let Mami Ria put makeup on me. She wanted to do me up in the style of a traditional Buginese bride. My curiosity got the better of me.

It was a surreal experience. Right away, Mami lightened my skin color with foundation. When I squirmed and started to protest, she waved her hand dismissively and said, “Don’t feel the need to talk”—prompting everyone in the room to laugh. She quickly taped my eyelids so that I had the “coveted” eyelid fold. Using brown shading, she heightened the arch of my nose. And then she put not one but two sets of fake eyelashes on me. By the end, I barely recognized myself.

Dimas described me as being "corpse-like" at this stage.

Here, Dimas described me as "corpse-like."

Tiara’s exact words: “Mami, make her look like a waria.”

Tiara’s exact words: “Mami, make her look like a waria.”

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The crew dressed up to the hilt.

It was fun getting a makeover, but I must admit that it was also an ego blow to realize that what made me “beautiful” was the refutation of my God-given looks. And ultimately, I was just reminded again of why I prefer the “tomboi” look. Looking beautiful just takes too much time! [Read more…]

Orang Bule

Twice now I’ve hired someone in Indonesia and had them show up with a friend in tow. “Two for the price of one,” I call it. When I was asking Dimas my assistant if this was normal for Indonesia he responded, “Maybe it’s because they’re nervous you’re a bule (foreigner).” He went on to explain that it was rare for people in Makassar to ever work with a foreigner and that the day before he started working for me, he had been quite distraught. Unfortunately, all those nerves have since disappeared. He now calls me “boss” mockingly and feels free to tease me to no end. What I wouldn’t do to have my bule mystique back…

Dimas is a fascinating study in globalization. His favorite band is Blink 182 and he is completely obsessed with Macbeth shoes, a line apparently created by Tom Delonge of Blink 182. And I mean obsessed. He’s part of an online Indonesian Macbeth fan club and talks incessantly about these shoes. Recently I handed Dimas a camera to take production stills and this is what I got in return:

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Crazy Japanese Lady

Judging from these photos my assistant Dimas took, you’d think that I only have two expressions when I’m shooting: mad and madder.

Trying to endure the mid-day sun

Trying to endure the mid-day heat

Shooting nearby kids a dirty look

Shooting nearby kids a dirty look

Sometimes I’m struck by how strange I must seem to the local Makassar people. I’ve come a great distance (from Japan, everyone assumes) to spend all my time with transvestites and gay men. I’m traveling alone though I’m a woman and seem blissfully unaware that I’m in perpetual danger. I make strange demands, asking people to turn off their music or restrain their children so that we can shoot a documentary film—a foreign concept in itself. And then there are all the little things that I do that raise eyebrows. Like ask for drinks without sugar (in a country where four spoonfuls of sugar in your tea is the norm). Or get irrationally distressed when I can’t access the internet. And wash my hands to the point where it’s probably detrimental to my health…

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…

Camping in Indonesia

For all three of you that read this blog (hi, mom, Marisa, and Irfan!), I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you on why shooting in Indonesia is very much like camping. Here goes:

  1. Brackish, highly suspect water is common in both scenarios.
  2. You should always carry your own toilet paper. And you always pack it out (lest you want to be that embarrassed foreigner explaining to your Indonesian host why your broke their toilet)
  3. Dimas in a fresh shirt

    Dimas in a fresh shirt

  4. Headlamps are indispensable. In Indonesia, they come in most handy when you’re experiencing mati lampu (blackouts) 1-2 times a day.
  5. Always carry extra clothing with you. Dimas, my newest and most resourceful production assistant, always carries an extra shirt. Meaning he’s the only one of us fit to be seen in public at the end of the day.
  6. Raingear is a must. Especially when it’s musim hujan (rainy season) and heavy downpours can happen in the blink of an eye. Riding on the back of a motorcycle in the pouring rain is not fun, especially when all you can think about is sheltering your raison d’être (aka your camera).
  7. Fill up on calories. This is a rule I try to abide by every day. Salads? Who needs them? I start the day off with some heavy nasi kuning (yellow rice with meat, crackers, and egg), take in some mie pangsit (fried wonton noodle soup) for lunch, and then end the day with some coto (oily soup filled with chunks of unidentifiable meat).