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Aida Speaks OutAida Speaks Out

The Wrinkled Coconuts

I had my new passport processed one afternoon recently. Later on that day at home, I laid two of my old passports and the new one side by side on my bed, all open to the first page where all the important information and photos are shown. I looked at the oldest photo that was taken about 14 years ago. What an antique, I thought. I was looking at the photo of an innocent girl, with no fancy earrings, untouched by sophisticated moisture booster 'anti-gravity cream' (why bother as my skin at that time was smoother than a baby's bum anyway). The word 'bule' meant nothing to me but a lack of pigmentation. Racism, sexism and knowledge of the White-Headhunter Society whose female members are mushrooming in the city's bars now, just didn't exist in my mind.

Then I looked at my second photo, that was taken when Soeharto and his family seemed to have more power than God. My best years, I thought. The girl in the photo appeared to have no worries; she was a fearless, confident person who had no idea yet how to change a soiled diaper. A girl in her prime - eager to unfold any of life's dangerous mysteries: wisdom, stupidity, love and the wonders of mini pills.

Then I stared at my third photo that had been taken that morning. No, I don't want to talk about the way I looked. It almost made me sob uncontrollably. The bloody cream obviously didn't work. Who would be stupid enough to buy a facial cream called 'Anti Gravity' anyway? An idiot who's in denial that she's over thirty maybe - just like me. I think walking upside down could be a more tangible anti-gravity effort. That would've worked better, why didn't I think about that before I bought the cream?

While one line below the eyes is probably the end of the world for some women, a million lines in a deeply wrinkled face just adds character for guys. To overcome their fear of aging men can say whatever they want, things like 'one more wrinkle is just another inch of added vitality'. There is actually one local saying: 'Makin tua kelapanya, makin kental santannya'. The translation is pretty disgusting: 'The older the coconut, the thicker and nicer the coconut milk it produces.' Get it? Thicker milk? And why is there no local saying that is as reassuring as that for women? Something like, hmm. Prozac? Sorry, I couldn't come up with anything.

Talking about aging processes, queuing to get your fingerprints taken at Jakarta's immigration office definitely qualifies as a long and torturous aging process. Well, the morning I went I was lucky enough to be standing in a queue. To avoid boredom, I pretended to be interested in the fingerprinting that was happening in front of me. On top of a long wooden table in the corner of the room laid a stack of papers which people should roll their black smudged fingers onto. Beside the papers was a big pad fully submerged with blackish thick tar-like goo, and at the end of the table was a piece of grayish rag that smelled like kerosene and gasoline, used to wipe the ink from your fingers.

The officer behind a computer called the name of the lady queuing before me. The middle-aged lady was accompanied by two of her assistants. One looked like a black-belt karate-expert bodyguard, and the other assistant was a lady whose sole job was to carry a box of wet tissue, to wipe the black smudge off the obviously rich lady's fingers.

"Goodness, I can't believe it!" whispered the immigration officer who was sitting beside me. His eyes focused on some numbers on the computer screen.

"Do you know that the lady in front of you is already 63 years old? She doesn't look it, don't you agree? She looks more like a 40-year-old Pamela Anderson look alike," the officer mumbled to me.

My eyes darted to the screen in front of him. I read: Mrs. X, born 1939. And Mister nosy officer was right - the lady looked way younger than 63., She could have been my twin sister.

When my fingerprinting torture was over I, a common peasant, was ushered to the next room to have my photo taken. The camera that the immigration officers used was directly connected to the computer beside it, so they could instantly edit and print the photos to be used on the passport.

"Ooh, look at my face on the computer screen! That is so dreadful. I want you to take my photo again. Wait a minute," screamed the 63-year-old lady. She looked so stressed watching her face on the computer screen. She quickly took a compact of magic powder from her bag, dabbed her face with it, and sprayed her powdered face with some 'youthful fountain in a bottle'. Then she toppled a young girl, who was already sitting on the photo chair ready to have her photo taken. The rude lady occupied the then empty chair, smiled as careful as possible so not to have any cracks appear on her face and screamed: 'Aaah, that's better!' after she saw the results on the screen. I was so furious watching her typical selfish attitude that I was close to ripping off her black-bluish wig, which was carefully placed to cover her hairline. Get it? Hairline and face-tightening surgical scar?

What is it with women and the need to look young?

I remember running into Shirley, an Indonesian girl from my hometown, a few months ago. She was married to a Caucasian guy 15 years her senior because she thought he had the biggest you-know-what she'd ever seen. But especially because he was much older than her, that gave her an ego boost.

I said to her one evening," Remember Shirley, in the past when we were probably still attending Junior High School ."

I couldn't finish my sentence because Shirley quickly cut in: "O, but darling, I'm 3 years younger than you, remember? I wouldn't have a clue about the old days that you want to talk about ."

Does being younger make some women feel superior?

I looked again at the passport photo of a 32-year-old girl who stared back at me. I said to myself, "Believe me girl, when I'm 63, I want to look like I'm 63."