We Love Jakarta: A Little Bit of Cinta
Treen May & Tasha May
It’s no secret that finding a man in these times isn’t easy. As young men lose their masculinity and spend more time shopping and hairstyling than women, as they turn up the collars of their pink shirts, as they fear losing their freedom to a nagging wife and crying child, women are losing their self-esteem and spending an inordinate amount of time dieting and trying to look pretty. Or picking up men and never calling them again. Or convincing themselves that they are happy being alone. So many people seemingly confused about what they are supposed to be doing with their lives with so many choices at their disposal – to be married or not, to have children or not, to be free to do whatever they want to do with no ties.
In Jakarta, many of my Indonesian friends are feeling the fear of growing old alone, but they don’t have the same confusion about what they will do with their lives. The direction they are heading in is clear – they are going to get married, have children, and grow old – hopefully buy a house, hopefully stay healthy, and probably look after their aging parents. In the three years I have been here, many of my female friends have found a man, gotten married and had a baby. Everything seems to happen so fast as I recall the slow years of my 20s and the ever increasing speed as I head closer towards the big 4-0.
In Australia, people don’t have the same pressure from family to get married – they can live together for years, even have 5 children, and no one will bat an eyelid if they are unmarried. Indonesia, in regards to love and marriage, sometimes reminds me of how I imagine Australia to have been in the 1950s. Then it was unheard of to have a child before marriage, or to have sex before marriage, though of course people were doing it, as they do now in the love hotels in Jakarta. If people were together and showing small signs of affection, then it was almost guaranteed that they would be married soon. Couples here are not afraid to talk of marriage in the early stages of their relationship – in Australia it is unmentionable until a few years have passed, if at all. In Indonesia, your family still has a say in whom you can marry.
It is my good fortune to have come to Indonesia after many years of traveling, of short term relationships and long term disasters, and to my surprise, fall in love with an Indonesian man. In one of our recent blog posts, I mentioned that my boyfriend is an Indonesian Muslim — and to my surprise the comments reeked of animosity, with accusations of his controlling me. I laughed as I thought of the absurdity of his trying to control me.
I know that it is still unusual for people in Jakarta to see us together – some people assume he is my ojek driver. Sometimes waiters ask him with big eyes, “How did you meet that bule?” Ha, how he laughs at that.
It isn’t surprising that people assume something is unequal here. After all, the main examples of relationships featuring white people and Asians is generally old white men and young Asian women, not vice versa. The first time I ever went to an American-style bar in Kemang, I arrived early to meet my friend to find that I was the only bule woman there, but there was an abundance of white men there propped up against the bar. Although the bar was not really busy, it was difficult to find a waitress to take my order as they were busy making moony eyes at the old men who were comfortable enough to put their hands on these young women’s backsides as they walked past. I don’t know why I was surprised to see this in Indonesia – after all, the old white man/young Asian girl phenomenon is not new or unfortunately, unusual. My stomach lurched as I watched the scene. On this particular night, beer bellies and bulbous alcoholic noses seemed to be the look to aim for if you wanted to pick up, acting like some kind of aging rock stars, and able to use the pull of their wallets to draw the starry-eyed stares of these beautiful young women who dreamed of escape into the Land of the Bule – where life is an endless party and they can live in a big house and get out of their current situations.
After being here for three years now, I see that these situations aren’t the only ones common in Jakarta. In fact many people are enjoying the best relationship of their lives – whether they started off equal or not, whatever that means, they have found a new groove in their lives – a partnership, a friendship – crossing the cultural boundaries. This is certainly difficult for some people to believe. An Indonesian friend of mine who married an older man, went to live in Australia with her new husband and was faced with endless difficulties – no less than her husband’s grown children treated her like a maid, people on the street stared at her like a prostitute, and people assumed constantly that she was in it for the money — not the love. As she faced a growing pile of laundry that her maid would have done for her in Indonesia, she could only sigh and dream of going back to her polluted city.
As time passes, perhaps people will be more accepting of relationships across cultures and will get out of their mail order bride thinking. Perhaps Indonesian wages will increase to a fair level so that they don’t seek out old men or women to make their fortune. Maybe women will stop being used for sex and men will control their need for satisfaction. Until that time, I will enjoy my relationship with my Indonesian man who talks about having kids and growing old together, who laughs a lot and takes me out to dinner, who is smart and caring.
Yes, I will continue with my trite blog and plans to ban the use of loud speakers to project religion onto the masses while he continues to snore blissfully. I may even set up an online dating service for Australian women and Indonesian men with promises of a little sweetness. And then I will just relax in the knowledge that in this house, everything is OK.