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When Shadows and Light Dance

On my second day in Jakarta, when it was very hot and I was tired and a bit overwhelmed, I headed to the Kota area. Kota is home to old Dutch buildings and a square, Taman Fatahillah, surrounded by museums. I wanted to see the Wayang Museum and I also had one of my biggest questions about Indonesian men explained, read to the end for that one. Wayang, Javanese for shadow, are puppets that are used in theater performance, some of which are epics that run for nine hours! They can be wooden or leather – the best, I was told, are made from water buffalo hide.

As soon as I walked into the museum, the man who sold me my ticket started speaking in English and gave me a tour. Of course he wanted me to buy something, which I did because wayang are beautiful and because I wasn’t going to pay the money changer fee for the $10 I forgot was at the bottom of my purse. As part of my personal tour, he took me to a back room and put on a wayang performance for me. It went something like this: after some struggles, the Romeo and Juliet of wayang (I forgot their Indonesian names) get together and take a honeymoon to San Francisco where they visit a nice girl named Lydia. I kid you not, I was biting my lip so hard not to laugh – it was very cute. He had asked me where I was from when we first met and since no one here recognizes Sacramento, I said San Francisco. Actually, I’ve noticed that many Indonesians don’t have a sense of American geography, asking me things like whether or not Boston is close to California.

So happy together in California:

Wayang are incredibly intricate and can take weeks to make and paint.

Wayang are important in Indonesian culture, kids grow up with them. I think they are akin to guignol in France. I even recently edited an article at work about the government putting on wayang shows to teach people about counterfeit bills.

Okay, as promised, the fact about Indonesian men. The red protruding part on this wayang is a very long finger nail. I’ve noticed men in Jakarta with extremely long thumb nails, on one hand usually, and I was starting to wonder about the story behind this. Well, as my guide explained, it’s a symbol of wisdom.

The museum had an interesting collection of colonial wayang on display. There was even a climate controlled room where wayang from The Netherlands were on display. These wayang were caricatures of colonial overlords with silly faces and overweight bodies. This lady, however, looked nice:

Jakarta is known for its Betawi culture. Life-sized puppets, ondel-ondel, are used in performances like Jakarta’s 484th birthday.

In other news, Ramadan just started and life in Jakarta has slowed down. Muslims fast during the day. Many restaurants cover their windows so if you want to go eat, you don’t distrub or maybe, tempt, those fasting. Before sunrise people eat a meal and at sunset, the fast is broke. Ramadan lasts a month, and I am excited to try some of the food that is available for it.

In other unrelated news, I checked something off of my life to-do list recently: karaoke in Asia. So much fun, seriously, I am not being sarcastic. This may need to become an every-few-months event. And yes, my go to is “Spice Up Your Life” by the Spice Girls. Cheers!

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