Sorry that this post is so late- we’ve been pretty busy since last Wednesday! Our last few days in Jogja were exciting and exhausting. Below is a recap of some of the more memorable moments, and the frog I caught:
On Thursday, June 30th, we went to a restaurant owned by the owner of Mirota Batik (the famous Batik market we visited earlier). The owner is a well-known and much beloved transvestite, and his restaurant is known to feature waiters and waitresses with a range of gender and sexual practices. Although Jogja is thought of as a student city with predominantly Muslim and Christian values, the restaurant proved that this doesn’t silence or stifle the LGBTQ community (a popular assumption for outsiders from other areas of Indonesia and the greater world alike). After that we went to an outdoor carnival-type event at the Sultan’s palace. We all tried to alun-alun (walk blindfolded through the crowd and the 2 banyan trees) and Bridget and I made it! If you are successful, your wish is granted. Mine already came true so I’ll share it: I wished to make it through the trees (kind of a lame wish).
Saturday was our last day of Bahasa Indonesia class. After class we went out with all the gurus and the school director for a “graduation” ceremony and goodbye lunch. At this point, we’d been eating lunch with the gurus every day, and they’d shown us around campus, so we were decently well- acquainted. The lunch lasted over 2 hours, speeches were made, songs were sung (one of the other gurus has a single out!) and pictures were taken. As things wrapped up we were given our certificates as well as a surprise gift: USD Lembaga Bahasa t-shirts. *This was an INCREDIBLY thoughtful gesture, and also brought to light many bizarre interactions we’d had over the course of that week:
On Monday, we asked the gurus where we could buy USD t-shirts, and had been given a range of vague and misleading answers about the location of the school store. By Thursday, we were feeling frustrated. Having learned how to ask and follow directions in Bahasa Indonesia, we’d taken our guru’s answer “it’s on East Campus somewhere near the English Literature faculty,” and asked around for more specific directions. After going on many a wild goose chase, I began to wonder if my comprehension was not up to par.
So, on Thursday, we discussed our frustration as we left class. A few of the gurus followed us out of the classroom and asked where we were going for lunch. We ate together, as we had the entire week, but when we were done and about to go on one last quest for collegial memorabilia, the gurus didn’t go back to their office as was routine. Instead, they took us themselves to the korporasi (school store).
After being lead to a quiet snack stand, the gurus asked the owner if the korporasi was open and, disappointedly told us it was closed for the summer. They apologized and said they’d give us the 2 shirts they had. We thanked them and parted ways, wondering why this was proving so difficult. So, when we received our gifts on Saturday, they all had a nice chuckle about our gullibility.
After that, we made our way back to the traditional market and Mirota Batik to do some souvenir shopping before we left Jogja. Our leisurely outing, however, proved to be quite the opposite. We walked from the restaurant to the bus station, only to find that the bus was full and wouldn’t be available for an hour. The concept of public transportation being full was quite foreign to me. Termana explained that this happened sometimes on the weekends during the summer, and that we’d take a taxi instead. However, all of the taxis were also “full” or in use, so in a last-ditch effort, we hopped onto 3 becak (pedicabs). The cabs, which seat 2 adult Indonesians comfortably, reinforced my awareness of the physical difference between myself and many of the people I’d seen around Jogja. This was proved further by one of the cab’s tires popping just as we reached Malioboro. None of us are “big” in the western sense of the term, by any means. However, comparatively speaking, we’re very tall, and have larger frames than most Indonesians. Apparently, the petty cab couldn’t support our weight.
At Mirota Batik, we were overwhelmed by the zoo-like atmosphere: tourists and locals alike swarmed around every stand and grabbed frantically for clothing and other oleh-oleh (souvenirs). Someone’s wallet was stolen by a tag-team of pickpockets. We were ready to go back to the Wisma to pack up.
But, similar to our experiences getting to the market, we were unable to get a bus or a taxi, and piled back into pedicabs. One of the drivers hand-selected Aisha and Susan to go in his cab (because they’re the smallest, we think). However, half way through the trip home, his cab broke. We all pulled over and the drivers conferred. As they did, we got a better look at the expressions of agony on their faces: although they hadn’t said a word about being tired, hot, or hurt, their suffering was clear. I felt incredibly guilty: in stereotypical tourist fashion, we had taken what is meant to be a “cultural experience” for tourists and locals alike, and transformed it into our means of transportation. The idea of someone physically laboring on my behalf was overwhelming and, honestly, disgusting.
We paid the drivers and apologized for the broken cab. They were in turn very apologetic, and asked us to pay whatever we thought was appropriate. Appropriate, how? What had started out as a fixed rate fare of RP 30,000 (less than $4) for a 20-minute ride was turning into a question of the reconciliation of economics and body politics. How can you decide the appropriate remunerations for someone’s physical exertion and injury? Yes, this was their job, and they were working of their own volition, but our use of the pedicabs for transportation felt almost exploitative.
I don’t know enough about economics or prices for repairing petty cab parts in Indonesia to be able to evaluate what fare would have been monetarily “appropriate” in this situation. The pedicab market, which used to flourish throughout different parts of Indonesia, is slowly and steadily shrinking under governmental pressures. Efforts to “clean up” Indonesian cities have essentially outlawed the use of pedicabs everywhere except for the special province of Jogjakarta. In light of these government “sanitization” projects, the pedicab industry in Jogja seemed to me to be incredibly localized and organic (that is to say, community-based rather than institutionalized on a national level).
However, regardless of the absence of more formally imposed governmental regulation, the experience nonetheless stirred up feelings of discomfort and uneasiness for me about my presence in Indonesia as well as my role for the summer. Because our intentions were in no way exploitative or malicious, and especially because pedicabs remain one of the few markets that appear superficially untouched by neoliberalism, I felt totally disenchanted after getting out of that cab. The politics of petty cabs are clearly complex and positioned within an intricately interconnected network of socioeconomic values and compromises. That afternoon had knocked off what remained of my rose-colored glasses, revealing the façade of the quaintness and kitsch of petty cabs as yet another lens through which to evaluate the impact of globalization and the movement from organizing space around nation-states to that of corporations.
It was a sour note to leave Jogja on, but the plane ride gave me some time to think more about my newly stirred feelings of discomfort.