I have landed on a blog written by an Malaysian expat who now lives in Jakarta. Some of her articles tickled me and I just realized that is how people see us, Indonesians. One that makes me smile is to read her amazement to see the ladies who go to shopping malls with big hair and dangerously high heels, and they look like they are ready to go to a gala dinner rather than buying detergent or having coffee with friends.
I couldn’t agree more. God forbid if Indonesian matrons turn up with unwashed hair, or a pair of flip-flops – unless they are a bejeweled pair – or without make-up, even on weekends or at the shop’s closing time. It’s better if they are accessorized with designer handbags and shoes, at least one nanny for each kid (one to push the trolley, one to to carry all the shopping bags, and one to hold the kid), and sometimes dutiful husbands who sit down patiently, while the matrons are trying on the just-in-for-summer shoes at Jimmy Choo.
Don’t think that having big hair and looking glamorous doesn’t take big a effort. It does indeed. To apply make-up oh-so-beautifully, these women will take beauty classes, provided by make-up brands in 5 star hotels (I attended one, and the biggest spender actually won a designer handbag worth USD 1,500!). To obtain the big hairdo with slight curl from shoulders down, they have to secure a place with a hairstylist which takes at least one hour of washing, blow-drying, curling, leaving-the-hair-for-1o minutes while getting the feet massaged as well as manicure and pedicure, then styling (I know some people actually never wash their hair at home, every two days they go to their hairdressers to get their hair done). Walking in at least 7-cm heels also takes years of practice, despite kicking them under the desk and substitute them with an ugly pair of slippers for 8 working hours. Spending hours flicking magazines is actually a deep research to make sure they wear the most popular, up-to-date clothes, although it won’t help reducing the amount of time spent to actually finding those clothes. It’s all big effort, even if that means they will end up looking all the same, and there is no difference between night and day look.
Back to the glamorous look at the shopping mall phenomenon. The Malaysian lady doesn’t understand that to Indonesians, going to shopping malls is not about shopping. Shopping malls are places to see and to be seen, places for recreation (this explains why they usually have lobbies with gigantic water features or clock, and people just sit around and watch the time goes by), places for meetings, eatings, watching movie, reading books, getting pampered, getting slimmed down, and even serve as places to be healthy as fitness centers and dentists move there too. Some even stretch beyond 10 PM and provide clubs and bars. In summary, for Indonesians, shopping malls are the center of the universe. Even we could get our computer fixed or car washed there too. With acute traffic jams around Jakarta, shopping malls must provide all services they could think of to make the customers happy.
With all the services they provide, we could spend hours at the shopping malls without the need to get out, because everything we need is there. So, there is a fat chance we will bump into people we know there too. Boss and colleagues, friends, ex-lovers, enemies, competitors, secret girlfriends, potential clients, spouse’s much younger and perkier secretary, other ladies from the kids’ schools, people from rotary or other charity clubs, gossip journalists, photographers, celebrities, the maid we just sack and now is dating a rich guy, you name it. And as we know that for Asians, image is everything and everything is about the perception, Indonesians take it way too seriously and beyond it. So everyone will not take any risk to look ugly and unpolished. The louder the better. The more bling-bling the better. It doesn’t matter if we have only Rp 5,000 in the wallet as long as we have big hair and manicured toenails. It doesn’t matter if we don’t know how to queue at busy coffee counters as long as we carry (fake) designer handbags. It doesn’t matter we couldn’t pronounce croissant as long as we keep buying the “in” donuts in the ever-busy bakeries. It doesn’t matter we don’t know how to say Yves St. Laurent, Estée Lauder, or even Carrefour right as long as we are holding their membership cards. And it doesn’t matter if we wear a pair of knee high patent boots even though it’s 30 degrees hot, as long as we could look cool in them.
Looking glamour doesn’t mean the Indonesian ladies have less brain than WAGs or Marie Curie. Such look now becomes socially acceptable, or even a requirement to fall into certain standards. Even though it’s tiring, endless effort. And even though after 30 minutes in the shopping mall everybody looks like a clone of each other.
You’d be the judge.