Excuse Me, Mister!
So believe it or not, (that’s why I had my teach take photos = evidence) I am sort of a celebrity in Indonesia. I was surprised when two separate groups of students, probably about 8th grade or high school, stopped me at Prambanan (and probably six groups stopped me at Borobudur) to ask if they could practice English. They asked me lots of questions: “Where are you from?” “Why do you come in Indonesia?” “How old are you?” and “What do you think about our country?” All of the groups were asking the same questions in the same order, so I’m thinking all the English language learning material comes from one place. A lot of the students have problems remembering gender and several times people shouted at me, “Excuse me, mister!” One of the students looked at his friend and said, “No, Mrs.” He was almost right.
After chatting and signing some of pages the students were recording my answers on, the groups wanted to take group photos with me, so we did. Then some random guys wanted photos with me, so I did. They kept saying “Barry Obama” to me. President Obama lived in Indonesia for several years as a child and people here seem to be very happy and proud of that fact. One of the guys was even brave enough to put his arm around my shoulder. All of his friends started “Oh-ing and Ah-ing.” I just smiled the whole time because saying “no” to all the photos would not be polite.
I had heard from friends who traveled to India and China that this kind of thing happens to white people. I started asking my teacher why exactly it is that people want to take photos with a random white person (I’m not a movie star, although apparently people wouldn’t know if Richard Gere was walking around, which he will be this weekend here). My teacher was saying that it’s exciting for people to see a bule (foreigner, pronounced bu-lay), a white person. At first, I thought taking photos with the bule was just something teenage kids liked to do, kind of like a dare and then they will show their friends the photo. But then, during our visit to the Borobudur temple (which I will post about soon) parents and adults started coming up to me and asking to take photos with me. A woman holding her baby wanted a photo with me. At one point I was surrounded by a group of about 20 teenagers all wanting to take photos. It was hot out and it was pretty overwhelming. My teacher told me she did this when she was younger, before she taught and saw foreigners everyday. So I was a good sport and played along, when I said a few words in bahasa they were impressed that I was learning.
One of the most interesting parts of these photo-ops were all of the cellphones people were using. Out came the Blackberries, Nokias, and Blueberries (the not as expensive version of the Blackberry). Indonesia is a very wired country. It seems that everyone has at least one phone and everyone is on Facebook. Which I guess is why I was sort of confused about everyone wanting photos – I guess the real thing is always better? One of my friends from the language program was explaining that if we saw bushmen in the middle of Paris or New York City we would probably want to take photos too. I’m not sure about this comparison, but it’s one way to think about it.
Bule is an interesting word. My friends at Wesleyan taught me this word, my first Indonesian word, because they told me that I would hear it. Little kids have wandered up close to me and looked at me and then looked at their parents and said bule while giggling. I asked my teachers if this word has a negative connotation and they said “no.” Bule just is what I am here. Walking to my homestay the other day some kids rolled down their car windows and screamed bule at me and then kept driving. That made me feel super self-conscious. But this is the way it’s going to be, although hopefully when my language improves I can say something witty and start a conversation. I stick out like Conan O’Brien would stick out here (okay, he is much taller than I am). So when I walk around I can expect to hear, and do hear, “Halo, Mrs.” “How are you?” and my favorite, usually said without any context, “I love you Mrs.” I’m moving to Jakarta tomorrow and am wondering if this will happen as much in the metropolis capital city.
Yesterday some friends from school and I went walking around Jogja and spotted hundreds of students riding bicycles in the streets. We were thinking this may be some kind of rally or car-free day, but we weren’t sure. Jogja is definitely a motorcycle city and side-walks are not everywhere, so walking around can be a bit hairy. I don’t think I could ever drive here. The first time I was in the car with my host sister I was in awe that she was just driving like it was no big deal with people swerving in and out and not really observing lanes.
Our walk took us to the center of town where we ended up near the kraton. There were lots of people hanging out and light up becak-like transportation.
In this large square there are two banyan trees in the middle and legend has it that if you are blindfolded and can manage to walk between the trees you will have good luck. We all walked through so hopefully the legend is true.
Off to Jakarta tomorrow. Thanks to everyone for reading and for the emails and kind words. It really is amazing how the Internet makes the world seem so much smaller.