When Indonesian Goes Shopping

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.

Sad? Strange?

You’d be the judge.



  1. nadia febina says:

    Haha… good observation.. it is so true. So pegel yah ngeliatnya :)

    Nevertheless, dressing up and putting on nice make-up is so fun.. oh how i am so proud to be a female!

    But i also wonder why on earth puffy hair is always “IN” in Jkt.. It is 2008 and the trend is flat sleek hair and they are still with this BIG BIG hair everywhere (??!!) :)

  2. Most of Indonesians are shallow, what’s important is the outlook appearance.

    That’s why we always see women dress up like they want to go to gala dinner in every high class mall.

  3. Miss Lai Lai says:

    Shallow. Yes, indeed Indonesians are, some I mean. Since arriving back in Indo 2 years ago, I always had this little pressure of having to look “presentable” whenever we go out – nothing to the extent of gala dinner outfit thought.

    I obliged to such pressure sometimes, but only because I enjoy being a female as Nadia mentioned…when I don’t feel like it, my trusty shorts and flip flops will do even in Plaza Indonesia! 😉

  4. Well, sad to say that everywhere you go beauty over rules brains. We do not congratulate people for being smart but we compliment for good looks…I guess that’s the reason why some women need to have a perfectly coiffed hair even only for a trip to the mall. If you follow up the local news here, a business-woman named Artalyta who got involved in bribery case with the District Attorney staffs still looks good as ever in prison with a perfect hair and a matching suit!!!
    You can read the article here:


  5. I’ve been one of the observers literally but I never try to post it on blog, cos I read some magazines and forum threads discussing THE POWER OF LOOK.

    The result.. dang! A woman with big hair, full make up, branded bags, and 6inch heels is always served with grace and big smile whereas the dress-down one will be abandoned by the SAs, or explicitly ask her to LEAVE (the store/boutique). Gah.

  6. Michael Aulia says:

    So I’ve heard.. some guys are even wearing leather jackets around..can’t believe it myself 😀

    When I go back home (I’m in Melbourne now) I always wear a t-shirt and a jeans.. at least you won’t be the first target of the robbers :)

  7. I used to have male friend from German, Singapore,Thailand, Malaysia, US, Philipine, Hon visited me Jakarta from time to time. All of them enjoyed those ladies in mall, they said it’s beautiful ladies everywhere in here and they also said that among Asian, Indonesian has many beautiful and well-grommed ladies.

    They even said that wish their spouse will dress up the same for them ehehehe. So, that is how the men viewed on this. See, man are viewing this from very different perspective. I myself also amazed how those ladies put on their effort….not mentioning the time, idea and also money they spent.

  8. Andie Summerkiss says:

    That trend is only going on in Jakarta. In a small city of Medan, with only ONE decent mall, we can see it too, which is more ridiculous when you consider the small city and the number of Hermes handbags circulated!

    I personally don’t feel “right” to dress too casually to any public places since I am brought up to “dress properly” in public. No puffy hairdos of anykind though.

    I did enjoy my five-minute of nameless “expat-wife-slash-backpacker” in the Philippines. It is very invigorating.

  9. image is everything and everything is about the perception, Indonesians take it way too seriously and beyond it.

    >> i believe your right about this. wow, thnaks, i think your blog is one my favorite to read…i’m hunger to answer crisis of indonesian identity (in my opinion)…

  10. Finally Woken says:

    @Nadia: I have no idea why big hair is always a trend. L’Oreal Group spends a lot of money to set the yearly trend, yet still they cannot dictate the trend. I wonder who’s behind it…

    @Ecky: aww… that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? that most of US are shallow? How about Miranda Gultom who looks fab, and is definitely not shallow. She dedicates her time and effort for her look as much as to her job.

    @Miss Lai Lai: I even cannot bring myself to wear flip-flops back in Indonesia* lol.

    @Elyani: absolutely right. It’s always about image perception first, then brain second. Do they have special hairstylist in prison?

    @Devi: yeah I’m usually pissed off too when receiving cold treatments from the expensive shop staffs. But having said that their so-called “cold/unfriendly” manner is nothing compares to the Western standard of service.

    @Michael: *lol, spot on. My husband’s driver got second-hand leather jacket from me and he wore it the next day. Proudly, I must say, even though it’s almost 40 degree outside…

    @Melly: do your friend realize that those ladies won’t look the same in the next morning without make-ups and stiff hair? Are they prepared for the shock? Are they willing to pay for those beauty regime and wait for more than 2 hours just to get ready to buy a detergent?

    @Andie: if we collect all Hermes bags circulated in Indonesia’s socialite, we should have been able to pay our debt to World Bank and other countries! But, have you checked whether the bags are genuine or made-in-China?

    @Uwiuw: yeah. That’s Indonesia. And Asia in general.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think not only Indonesians, but most of Asian women are afraid to look ugly even just to go out of the house and be seen by people. I am a student in Melbourne, the city with maybe the biggest Chinese community in Australia and found so many Chinese girls are always dressed up even just to go to campus library. Many of them are on a strict diet so as to stay very skinny. I once asked one of them why most Chinese girls are so skinny, is it in their genes or they put efforts to stay thin, and she said they are on constant diet because it’s important to stay thin so they could follow the fashion trend and looks great/fashionable. I myself is a number one hater of high heels, and would never wear ones unless I really really have to.

  12. Firman Hadi says:

    You’re right about malls in Indonesia having to provide everything to keep their customers happy. Unfortunately this has the side effects of sucking the life out of the Jakarta’s streets. Hence, Jakarta is a city devoid of active street life, since everything happens indoor and streets are reserved for motorized vehicles.

  13. This blog looks good. However, it would improve your visitor retention if you can make the website design more professional.

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