Several months back I was thinking about transitions and culture shock, wondering if I was really a robot because I had not yet experienced that all too familiar feeling of "OMG THIS COUNTRY! HULKSMASH EVERYTHING!!!"
Huh. Turns out I AM human.
(Hi, I'm Erica and I have culture shock.)
It wasn't the infernal traffic that got me. Or the poverty. Or even the sickening wealth. Not the pervasive stench of decay that lines Jakarta streets, nor the threat of falling through a broken sidewalk into the open sewer below.
It was the eyes, the looks, and the wolf-whistles that did me in.
After several months of early morning ojek rides to CorssFit, Mr. Chef mentioned in passing that a few people had commented on my motorcycle taxi attire. I should be wearing shorts. It's indecent, apparently. Dudes would get the wrong impression. Too much leg. Inappropriate.
Mr. Chef was to educate me on the correct way of covering my body.
Naturally I was annoyed. I mean, I'm an independent actor. Certainly it's up to me to determine what is and isn't appropriate for my body. And further, we live in central Jakarta in the midst of luxury malls and fancy restaurant where I regularly see girls walk around in six inch heels with shorts so short that one false move and all is revealed. So, why then, is there one standard of dress for rich Jakartians and one for me?
Then, a few weeks later I was riding in the back of a taxi, absentmindedly trying to ignore the overly chatty driver. We went through the usual pleasantries, country of origin, length of time in Jakarta, the general awesomeness of Indonesians, the terrible traffic, my marital status (wait, what??) I buried myself deeper in my phone, earbuds on, and tried to ward off any more unnecessarily personal questions.
The car slowed, I looked up. There was the driver, arm extended over the back of his seat, taking pictures of me with his phone.
I reacted in an instant. I grabbed his phone, and threw it. Shrieking obscenities, I jumped of of the still-moving car, middle finger raised.
Since then I've been on edge. I've noticed dudes giving me the long and lengthy stare. I'm quick with the eff-you eyes. And the occasional eff-you finger. And okay, I may or may not have thrown one or two sweary tantrums over inappropriate gestures in my direction.
My patience is thinner, my temper quicker. I'm irritated by the traffic, the stench, the garbage, the plodding pace of life in a way that I wasn't before. I'm burning mad, I'm taking it personally, and I'm assuming that it is because I'm a white-skinned bule that this attention comes to me (oaky, I may be right about that last bit, but that's a post for another day.)
It's classic culture shock.
I'm unsure, exactly, of how far to bend. Do I cover up, sweltering in the morning sun? Do I acquiesce to this outdated notion of modesty thereby feeding the belief that a woman "deserves it" because how she chooses to dress? That Caucasian women are "easy" and therefore fair targets for sexual advances?
Certainly I can't "educate" local men on the "right" way of treating women. That's not my place. But I don't think in this case I can say that I'm okay with giving up on my shorts.
As respectful as I am of cultural difference and religious diversity, Indonesia is not Saudi Arabia. It is not a monocultural desert nation. These islands have a fantastic degree of diversity, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious. On Java alone, there are countless native ethnic groups, not to mention the substantial populations of Indo-Indians and Indo-Chinese, for whom, PS, super-short-shorts are NBD. I don't feel a strong obligation to conform to notions of modesty because this country is built upon coexistence, and dammit! I'm going to coexist in shorts, so STOP LOOKING AT ME!
I dunno. What's your take?
I'll probably feel better about culture shock if you send a vote my way.