Today when I left my house and walked out onto the street I heard the sound of someone singing out of tune in a microphone…no it wasn’t the mosque, it was Karaoke Kelinging (sorry about spelling). I don’t know much about this phenomenon but it involves a VW kombi van, a small stage, very loud music and lots of cameras emerging on a semi-vacant space in Jakarta for Trans TV. In the action I recognized our regular ojek drivers, jalan kaki stallers, neighbours and passersby who have to stop and look, maybe edge closer, and more than likely dance and sing along with abandon. As I was innocently taking bad photos from a safe distance, people standing around me were urging me to get closer and smiling at me, so I foolishly and hesitantly stumbled towards the stage. Before I knew it, I was pulled up on stage, handed a microphone and serenaded by an old man (a karaoke volunteer) and being told to dance and sing-a-long.
I know that many Indonesians believe bules to be extroverted and willing to dance and sing on demand, but what they don’t know, is this kind of behavior generally involves alcohol consumption, as do many acts of bravery in the west. Every celebration from birthdays to weddings, funerals to christenings, involves a glass of alcohol. Or two. Or ten. It’s normal. And it allows us to let go of inhibitions and let loose. I would have rocked that stage if I had have consumed a beer or two.
So with no alcohol in my system I was forced to only sweat, go extremely red and wait for the humiliation to end. My knees couldn’t even bounce along to the beat; I was frozen. I looked out at the crowd and saw that they were smiling and laughing at me, the extremely loud comperes were making a mockery of the volunteer trying to speak English to me, and yelling at me to sing-along to an Indonesian song I didn’t know the words of (if only it was Nidji, I could have done it), and they were handing me fake flowers and a rusty saw which I didn’t know what to do with, and then at last they were done with me and I ran, like I have never run before to a safe distance and jumped into the first angkot (little red bus) on my street to a safe place where I could finish shaking and wipe the sweat off my brow.
As I sat on the angkot I thought about the many times in my life in Indonesia while hanging out with my totally sober Indonesian friends, many of whom have never touched a drink in their life, that I wish I could order just a glass of bintang to get through this social event, then I wonder, why is it so that in order to socialize comfortably, Australians need alcohol or some other kind of drug, in order to have fun. Something has gone wrong with our culture. When I looked at the ojek men and people crowding around the stage singing at the top of their lungs, dancing and laughing until their sides hurt, I was jealous of the ability of Indonesians to let go without the need of alcohol, to take up space and laugh at themselves, to be secure in who they are. I told myself, that’s it, I have to grow up and learn from Indonesians what it means to be brave and secure and as the tshirts slogans say in Australia, ‘dance like nobody’s watching’, and if I stumbled past Karaoke Kelining again, I would be brave and show them my best disco moves. After lunch with a friend, I jumped back on the bus to take me home, got off on the side of the road and to my excitement, Trans TV was still there. It was time to be brave and sober. I walked to the edge of the crowd and my sister’s biggest fan, Mr Jocko of the Aqua shop had the biggest smile on his face and started laughing and pointing at me and calling to his wife and he said “I saw you dancing on stage, mantap” and I felt my face go red again and I ran home. No lessons learned.