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The Kampung Foreigners are Here!

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I am constantly annoyed by some locals who lack a bit of grey matter in their heads in this multicultural city; for example, having someone one jump in front of me after I queue for half an hour or puff his kretek in perfect smoke rings in your face in a public place. The last thing I need is the similar annoyance created by the white-skinned, but not so vertically challenged, newcomers to Jakarta. As if this country needs to import salt into the ocean of ignorance.

Under the strict laws drawn by the big and powerful who run this country, foreigners are only allowed to live here if they have something to offer. Foreign workers are allowed to stay in this country if they can prove they’re resourceful enough and speak at least a broken form of the Indonesian language. So we can’t really blame the locals who tend to look up to and expect these imported specialists to be smart, educated and more polished than they are themselves. But you can count me out. I have seen too many situations in recent times to discredit such a belief.

Let’s cruise around to find these sophisticated fellows. I went to a mall with my mini-mes in tow, as usual. We stood opposite an elevator, waiting for the doors to open and let us in. The doors opened and about a dozen people were inside; ten of them rushed out. The exiting crowd didn’t forget the obligatory deed to almost knock my toddlers and me down, even though we were already standing to the side and out of their way.

Two remaining passengers inside the elevator were male expatriates. I waited until the kretek-flavoured stampede was over. With my hands holding tightly onto my children, I assisted them to enter the cubicle first, one by one. I couldn’t press the open button at the same time as my hands were occupied. One kid got in and the doors suddenly began closing. I had to practice my karate attack, slamming one door with my wrist to stop it from closing.

During the incident, do you know what those two white men were doing? One just stared at me - amused, while the other one was pretending to check his mobile for SMS. Neither one of them lifted a finger to assist me. Their fingers apparently were suffering from too much exercise or something; perhaps they were too preoccupied to push the elevator’s open button.

If they were Indonesians, I would have shouted: ‘Mas, tolong bantu dong!’ But being a naïve gal who watches too many dusty movies, I actually expected those white men to assist without being asked. Aren’t white men, aside from being supposedly more resourceful, also known for their courtesy and gallantry? In fact, I have learnt a lot of courteous gestures from western society: how to queue, how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’, and how to lick a pinch of salt and squeeze a slice of lime properly when I gulp tiny glasses of tequila. I remember Eastwood’s expression when he said: ‘I’m at your service Ma’am’ or ‘I’ll spread my jacket over the mud puddle so you don’t dirty your dainty shoes Ma’am’. What happened to those men – did they all bite the dust?

At home, I grumbled on and on about those men's attitude. I yelled to my husband: “I can’t believe how many kampung foreigners are actually out here in Jakarta! What are they? Some ignorant redneck imports from sleazy ghettos or from a McDonald’s farm somewhere? They don’t even practice common courtesy!” Mind you, the incident in the mall was not my first experience with a kampung foreigner.

A couple of years back, I was relaxing in the lobby of a three-star hotel in Jakarta with someone I’d just met, Mac his name was. Mac was an oil rig worker from Texas.

Literally, this is what he said that night, with a very heavy Southern accent: “How are you doing Ma’am. I am so relieved after I moved from the glittery five-star hotel downtown to here. I couldn’t stand the stuck-up people in that hotel. I swear they expect me to dress up like a prancing queen to look like I belong there. When I got back from my site visit just off Jakarta’s coast, I was in my jeans, covered in sweat – well darn, I’d had to get changed into a suit before I walked into the lobby, just to get the bellboys’ approval, you know what I mean?” He stopped and rotated his shoulder, complaining about stiffness from the boat trip. Grinning, he showed me how his right shoulder bone stuck out from its socket, following his shoulder rotation. The result of a ‘god-damn’ accident with the drill, he explained, while continuing to amaze the lobby’s audience with his freak show.

“By the way, does the hot water from the tap in your room also have that tepid temperature? It was not even hot enough for my coffee this morning.”

That blew me away. The last piece of evidence I needed to proof that foreigners are not so different from the locals. Some have brains, some are as sophisticated as Johnny Mnemonic but some are just as simple as Dumb and Dumber in disguise. I just have to convince myself that this country needs to import these Dumb and Dumber mimics to help build our future.

Notes:
Kampung: residential area for lower classes
He is so kampungan: He has no manners/boorish/unpolished

First published in the published in Kem Chicks magazine - July 2004

Housing and schooling information for expats in Indonesia expatriate website for Indonesia Indonesian language translation of article

Practical Information for foreigners, expats and expatriates moving to Indonesia - find out about housing, schooling, transport, shopping and more to prepare you for your stay in Indonesia

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