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Mike, Myself and I

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I really think that there is an unexplainably sickening relationship between Indonesians and microphones. Have you ever seen an Indonesian with a microphone? It’s friggin’ weird man. Most Indonesians treat microphones as an extension of their egos. Microphones are everywhere in this country. You can find them at schools, traditional markets, drug stores, cemeteries and public water closets. Once one person stands up and gradually moves the microphone closer to the lips then it’s the time for the imaginary propaganda: ‘ding-ding’ red signs pop out from the top of his head which read ‘look at me, look at me and listen to me, I’m so important and so good at this!’ Some Indonesians probably only eat two out of four basic foods everyday, but hey they have a set of karaoke microphones in their house. If you’re stuck not knowing what to give an Indonesian for Christmas, give them a microphone.

I got myself toddled up in a bright orange Javanese kebaya one morning. My slightly oversized lower hips were securely wrapped tightly in a batik ‘kain’ skirt, outlining what was important for men to see of this miserable traditional woman. I wanted to reach my watch lying beside the sink in my bathroom when I temporarily forgot what I was wearing. My feet ended up tangled up in the end of the ‘kain’ and my face wearing the sink. Good Lord, the Sultan from the last century or whoever invented this traditional outfit must have been a chauvinistic sadist with a twisted sense of humour.

Making sure that the rolled hairpiece, which I pray hopefully wasn’t harvested from some poor woman’s grave, was stuck properly at the back of my head, I was ready to go. Slowly I walked toward my car keeping everything, like the two-kilo weight of the hairpiece, my tightly wrapped derrière and seven centimetres high stilettos, in balance. I was on my way to attend a wedding ceremony in Bekasi. The invitation said that the ceremony will start precisely at noon and all female guests must wear formal traditional outfits. Talk about a slow death.

I had been nowhere near Bekasi before in my life. Despite the clear map on the invitation, typically, the reception building couldn’t be located. My driver drove around the suburb for quite some time before we were led to the reception building by the loud music coming from a huge sound system installed inside the building.

I went inside and right away was greeted by my relatives and friends who appeared to be so cheerful to see me. I guess they felt better as soon as they saw me show up suffering from the same physical misery. We tried to communicate to no avail. The background music dominated all attempts of communication. I walked toward the back of the beautifully decorated stage to talk to the sound system operators. I asked them nicely to turn down the volume of the music and walked away with my leftover dignity since the operators just stared back at me with anger as if my request was completely offensive. Okay, I guess the guests were supposed to communicate with sign language while they were forced to enjoy the music.

The bride and groom arrived at the entrance of the building. The loud music was replaced by the graceful tunes of a traditional ‘gamelan’ orchestra. The Javanese music was really soothing. The bride and groom were finally seated. Then the master of ceremonies proudly announced that the entertainment was about to begin. Entertainment I thought - what entertainment? A lady wearing a bright green long dress fully covered with glittering sequins took the microphone away from the MC and started singing, or wailing, to be precise. The sound system operators, looking at me with the sickest grin on their faces, turned up the volume of the speakers, amplifying the ‘dangdut’ music to an intolerable level. Since when has ‘dangdut’ replaced traditional music in traditional weddings? One by one the ‘singers’ sang with all their might, some of them tried to sing songs in English, which to me sounded like a two-year-old’s gibberish. I left the building with ringing in my ears. Bloody microphones.

This reminds me of an experience I had when I was eight years old, attending a local school. The joke was on the headmaster. Every time we, the kids, did something nasty like hiding other kids’ school bags inside the toilet cupboard or something (we didn’t have individual lockers at the time), the headmaster always told us to stand in the heat in the school yard. Then the funny part was the way he always shouted at us, the miserable kids, through his megaphone. We were only less than a metre away from the headmaster. The good part was that the megaphone protected us from his splattering saliva.

I really believe that some Indonesians’ love toward the long black microphones actually, accidentally or not, was planted into their brains when they were toddlers. I figured this out through attending the many toddler birthday parties my five-year-old has been invited to. Usually the birthday child’s parents hire a group of clowns or magicians, since obviously entertaining the kids themselves would be too tough for them. The clowns stood in front of the kids dressed, of course, in full clown attire, including the white paint on their face, which inevitably mixes with sweat to become purple on their dark skin. Then the clowns started to show their tricks that were always the same at every party we attended. While doing the tricks the clowns also tried to communicate with the kids with a speech that I found offensive for my kid’s IQ, via microphone. The loudspeaker was of course was tuned so loud as if they spoke to an audience in Gelora Senayan instead of in a 30 square meter room. My favourite part is when the clowns asked a question of the kids and the kids screamed the answer, but the clowns still said ‘I can’t hear you’ while pointing the microphone toward the kids. The kids then screamed even louder into the microphone. Deaf clowns.

Now my daughter always talks to me before she attends parties. She says, “Please, make sure that no one in the party uses a microphone. If they do, then I won’t come to the party.” Great, now my daughter is microphone-phobic.

I’m thinking to use the same method my daughter uses. Is the big bad wolf going to use a microphone at the press conference tomorrow?

First published in the Jakarta Post, on December 13, 2003

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

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