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Aida Speaks OutAida Speaks Out

New Hairdo, New Culture

I'm back in front of my computer again. This time, instead of fiddling with some numbers on an Excel costing sheet or a monthly financial report, I'm actually writing again. Been out of touch for a while, my brain has been desperate to do something I really enjoy: holding the power to whinge and make silly, but hopefully insightful, comments on things around me on a piece of paper. My dearest blank white pages, they never talk back, you know. Aside from my own need, I also have to keep writing due to a number of reasons. I've got to fill in my column with more 'insider's stories' as one of the Expat Forum's members gently put it. Not to mention the constant bickering from the so-called 'fans' who have been emailing me, one of whom actually said: "Stop pretending that you're one of them (the white society) and start appreciating your own culture. By the way, keep on writing!"

Appreciate my own culture, eh? What culture? I make my own culture. I have created my own culture by, for example, writing and appearing on the odd radio show here and there (yes, Frasier, I'm coming!).

This cultural issue reminds me of a certain scene I witnessed after I finished being interviewed at Cosmopolitan FM Radio a couple of months back. Picture this; I was sitting in the back of my car at the parking lot of the Sarinah building on Thamrin Street. Trying to get out of there, approaching the exit gate, suddenly a blue Kijang (for the newly arrived foreigners, FYI a Kijang is this country's equivalent to the humble people's car) stopped in front of us. The blue Kijang tried to park in an empty parking space on my left. It was empty all right, but it also had a sign saying: "Parking space for car B1234XX", written in English. A blond lady suddenly jumped out of the blue Kijang, walked into the empty parking space, removed the sign and started directing her driver to drive her car into the empty space.

A small, dark skinned parking guy ran toward her. He said, "You can't park here Miss. This space is for Pak So and So's car."

"Posh, of course I can park my car here," the blond lady replied while trying to stuff her crumpled five thousand rupiah bill into the parking guy's sweaty palm.

Stuffing the money back into the lady's hand, the guy insisted, "No Miss, you don't understand me. You can't park here." He moved back the sign, and started directing the Blue Kijang's driver to park the car in another empty spot merely ten meters away. The lady trailed behind her car, working so hard to keep her ladylike smile on her powder-caked face - holding her dignity in place.

Like I said, appreciate what culture? The culture we thought was there simply is not there anymore. That white lady obviously thought that bribing was one of Indonesia's rich cultural traditions.

Recently I had a chance to visit my favourite hair dressing salon in Kemang after a six month absence, I surprisingly found a similar new culture developing there. Yes, believe it or not, I actually hadn't had my hair done in the salon for almost six months. Being a busy career woman had changed my appearance from a 'traffic stopping', 'head turning' woman into an unnoticeable gal with sadly un-manicured nails (from the computer keyboard), dull skin (lack of facial treatments) and kindergarten teacher-style hairdo (unlike the waist-length and bleached flowing mass most female clubbers, previously known as bar girls, so proudly flaunt). Actually, let me share with you an email I recently sent to my friend, who happens to be a hairdresser:

"Dear Anne. My hair - yes. I would really appreciate it if you could give me your expert opinion on this annoying black thingy on my head. Honestly, I don't know what to do with it anymore. Now, it takes me hours to make it look 'nice' myself, or of course I have to go to my hairdresser to make it look nice for at least 24 hours - but then I have to waste at least 2 hours waiting while they muck around with it. So now I always end up tying my hair in the most unfashionable knot - everyday. Sometimes I'm almost convinced to cut it really short like yours, but again you have your beautiful body that suits your hairstyle while I don't. How depressing. Anyway, please let me know when you're available - I'll go to your place and sort this thing out."

Ouch, I have tears in my eyes.

What am I mumbling about? We were talking about a certain culture I discovered at the hair dressing salon.

So, last New Year's Eve (I smell a Deja Vu in the air) I was sitting in the far dark corner (the corner for the 'have-no-time-to-pamper-yourself miserable looking business woman') in my favourite salon. Mind you, this salon is very famous because their staff's magic hands can turn a poodle into a Pamela Anderson. There were three 'high maintenance' Indonesian ladies in their twenties with long black hair sitting beside me.

"I think to spend this New Years' Eve at the "D" hotel for less than 4 million rupiah a person is not so bad. That will do. Of course we can't compare it with last year's New Year's Eve that we celebrated in Paris," they chorused, making sure that everybody in the room heard what they said.

My eyes darted to the chair behind me. A thirty something olive-skinned lady was looking at herself in the brightly illuminated mirror. Gees, she looked beautiful I thought. But then she stood up and I dropped my jaws. The lady's face was covered with gleaming silver foundation; bright gold eye shadow adorned her black colour based eye pockets. Without the bright light from the mirror, she looked like she was wearing a gleaming facial mask and the skin on her neck was left without any makeup.

Having a slightly complicated brain, I tried to translate those scenes so that I could understand them. That's exactly the developing culture I was talking about. The culture of 'trying to impress while making a fool of yourself at the same time'. When I look back at the year 2002, certain levels of this country's society were brimming with that culture. Look at the acts of the politicians, the 'whoever' devils behind Bali bombing, look at the water fountain under the Pizzaman statue at the end of Sudirman Street. Look at myself?

So, with a freshly shampooed new hairdo, I'm happy to be back writing again - to spread my tiny cultural seeds.