I stand out in Indonesia, which means I attract attention more often than I would usually like. Here are a few examples of how I find myself in the limelight in my day-to-day life:
– I usually get copies made at the department library. This is basically one big room lined with bookshelves and filled with large study tables. The front corner of the room houses a copier and the man who operates said machine. One day I decided to ask him if I can just run a monthly tab to make paying for my copies more streamlined. I was struggling with some vocabulary to arrange this, and when I looked around to see if someone could help I realized EVERYONE in the entire library was watching my transaction. We’re talking a room full of 20-30 people, most with bemused smiles on their faces, listening to me have an awkward conversation with the copier man.
– I decided to try a restaurant near my house. After the waiter took my order, the owner came straight out from behind the scenes. She thanked me for eating at her establishment and then asked to take a photo with me. (Also noteworthy: one of the songs playing in the restaurant’s sound system was the PowerRanger theme song.)
– During a mall visit I stopped in a small toy store to see if they carried glow sticks (thought these would be fun for going out dancing sometime). Armed with my dictionary, I asked a sales clerk if they had such a thing, which caused the 3 other sales clerks to come over and see what I was trying to describe. This in turn caused all 5 customers in the store to also stop their shopping to see what the crazy foreigner was asking for. I was literally surrounded by EVERYONE in the shop as they tried to understand why I was looking for a plastic stick that glows.
– Anytime I walk for more than a few minutes outside, someone on the street invariably calls out something to me: “hello,” “good afternoon miss,” “hello missus,” “hello mister,” “good morning missus,” etc. This isn’t small town friendliness. This is a chance to shout any bit of known English to a foreigner. I usually ignore these calls, but sometimes I respond with a smile or a quick “hello.” Occasionally I take the time to correct the caller by replying “bukan mister, saya miss!” (I’m not a mister, I’m a miss!). Once I was walking with a coworker when a man shouted “hello missus” to me, so my colleague asked if I knew the man. Of course not! She was surprised that her compatriots would talk to me, a stranger, so she assumed I actually knew him.