Sun, 21 May 2000

'Hello Mister, I love you...'

JAKARTA (JP): Taking a stroll through a shopping area is not always pleasurable. On the contrary, for me, as an expatriate woman, it never goes smoothly; there is always the disturbance of some male rudely whistling between his teeth to get my attention, or the frequent call from men saying "Hello Mister", or teenagers running off a number of uneducated comments, or saying, "I love you".

For one thing, why do men address the women here as "Miss", yet address the female foreigner as "Mister?" I find this quite strange and insulting. On top of that, it is quite obvious I am a woman; and young as well. I am forever telling them (If, I choose to reply), "If I am mister, then you must be misses," some occasionally apologize.

Over all, I am quite disappointed to note (generally speaking) that men and boys regularly say hello to foreigners, but never say hello to Indonesians.

I go home at times in frustration and relate these little happenings to my Indonesian husband. He responds by telling me to not worry about it, it's only because I'm beautiful. But I do not feel beautiful when people talk crudely or make noises!

On the other day, I read in this column a story by an Indonesian woman married to an expatriate. She often feels bad by the way expat men see her and I sympathize her. And just like her, I also find many unpleasant experiences with some Indonesian men (boys).

One thing that does amuse me is that these men (boys) usually close up when my husband is with me ... they don't have the guts. Although I'd like to mention one incident where my husband wanted to visit a friend in the foyer of an entertainment spot that hosted many "lady companions" for customers to accompany. I sat quietly beside my husband and one man standing near my husband asked how much he paid for me? My husband's response was, "No, that's my wife". The man apologized and quietly disappeared.

If out of all this there is any goodness, kindness or complimentary memory, I'd have to say it is when someone has asked me what school I study at, as school was a long time ago and I know I look miles younger than the average foreigner of my age. I have been blessed in that regard.

If I were to step into a room full of Indonesian men, there is usually without fail, one "idiot or fool" among them that must make a comment. One typical scenario is a guy approaches me and says in really bad English "Ha, ha, ah, ello, oh ho sorry but I ... I no speak a dah englelissh verry well." After, mind you, I've just been talking to someone in Bahasa Indonesia. But it's like they are talking down to me, like I'm a child.

I've also found Indonesian men have their own set of ideals about Caucasian women. I'm supposed to be very free, talk openly about sex, dress showing off my body.

Unfortunately, my evaluation is that everywhere around the world, people see foreigners and through social influences and education have preconceptions of that individual.

For example, if people see me or an expatriate (in Indonesia), it is naturally assumed: 1) we are rich 2) we are clever 3) bebas (free), 4) only speak English, 5) cannot cook, 6) cannot wash our clothes and 7) live in an apartment or beautiful house.

As for being introduced to people, I've many times found they shake hands momentarily and my name is the last thing they want to know, if they talk to me at all.

Funny, but if I am with my husband, the men are usually too shy to talk to me or don't talk to me because they see a white woman and automatically think I can't speak Indonesian or indirectly talk to me by asking my husband questions about me right in front of my very eyes. How absurd and rude! But mostly, especially if in an entertainment spot like a karaoke club, it is automatically assumed upon first meeting "Oh, look, a bule (white person, not polite, lit. albino)!" Then they assume that I'm Australian on holiday, can't speak Indonesian with a string of other assumptions that follow.

To cut a long story short; to them I am a bule here in Jakarta that doesn't know anything about anything. Hmmmm! Little do they know, but that goes for both genders of course.

I'm just grateful I have a few friends (Indonesian) that treat me the same as one another and I appreciate the people "on first meeting" who also treat me like themselves ... not an outcast or someone different.

-- C. Parry