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Cinderella Stories

"You're kidding right? Tom is going back to Sydney next month. He's getting married this weekend? To whom?" It was 10 am on Sunday. I tried to concentrate on what Judy said at the other end of the line. One second later she gave the most overwhelming news of the year.

"To his caddy?" I finally got it. That's why he had been so keen to play golf twice a week. I remember the girl he frequently hired at 'Hole in One Paradise', the golf course he always went to. She is a shy simple girl who lives in the village behind the course. Her younger brother sells golf balls he collects from the lake along the course. Her father has been jobless since the golf course developer turned his small piece of paddy field into a bunker.

Over the following days we all were busy helping Tom prepare his wedding. The bride, Arum, insisted to have the party at her house. I want the whole village to know that I'm going to marry a white man, she said. So be it.

The wedding day was sweet. Tom, a fairly rigid regional business manager in daily life, has played the role as the center of attention, the central attraction to be precise; very well I would say. The party drew a large crowd; from the village leaders, children from the nearby elementary school to food vendors. It was a success.

I guess the greatest challenge Arum had to face was when she felt she had to join our social circle. As the first Indonesian wife in the club, Arum often came to me to ask some inter-cultural adaptation tips. Sometimes, I felt that she was even looking up to me as her fashion diva. At our weekly afternoon teas, she would consistently arrived wearing an almost identical clothing ensemble to what I had worn the week before. If I decided that scarecrow-look-alike style was in season, I'm sure she would have worn one. She has forgotten one of my tips that the best way to adapt is just to be her self.

There was an element of sadness to it. Arum seemed lost in the attempt to gain acceptance from her new high-hat, fashion conscious, mostly white-skinned friends in the club.

Once I asked her what she planned to do in Sydney.

"I think I'm going to set up a warung selling Indomie noodles and es campur in front of our house, if Tom doesn't mind," she said innocently. She didn't even have a clue where Sydney is. She had never ventured beyond her village, let alone left her country before.

Sri has a different story. Her family lives behind the famous bird market in Yogyakarta. She was a guide and used to help me write stories about batik. After losing contact for more than a year, I finally saw her last month. She looked content and was dressed nicely, although she seemed to have lost a lot of weight.

She told me she had married a Dutchman twice her age and moved to Amsterdam last year. She was glad to come home to attend her sister's wedding.

"What have you been doing in Amsterdam? What do you do now? Have you finally pursued your dream to be a batik teacher?" I asked so excitedly.

"No. I can't. I have been very busy taking care of my husband and our house, cooking, doing laundry. My most demanding task is serving my mother in law. She's very old and completely dependent on me day and night. My husband doesn't want to send her to an old person's home."

What kind of life is that? What kind of man would take a week's vacation in a tropical paradise, marry a local girl and expect her to be an instant, free-of-charge housemaid? But again, it's not my place to judge.

Doesn't every body love the story of Cinderella? I even cried when Richard Gere purposed to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. It was so romantic. Handsome princes ride in their limousines, saving poor and desperate women. I wonder when Pretty Woman II will be made. I'm sure it won't be as enchanting as the first one.

Back to my story. There are a lot of other Arum and Sri stories out there.

Why would these highly educated white princes from hi-tech countries marry relatively poor and less educated local women? Their unconditional love, the men always say.

The women are already grateful to be lifted from poverty and love for their husbands will grow eventually. Or maybe not.

But Arum and Sri are uncomplicated examples. Feminism, women's equal rights or a movement against Park Lane's sexist advertisements is way beyond their imagination. It pleases them to simply serve their husbands twenty-four hours a day, no matter what. According to their understanding, it is the core of being a good wife.

And they live happily ever after. Hopefully!

Warung: Street side food stall
Indomie: Instant noodle
Es campur: Mixed fruit ice

First published in The Jakarta Post