Karaoke, to fantasize, to laugh

It was my friend J’ birthday, and after Mexican meal and esoteric goodbye rituals at their old home – also, my old home, the one that left a striking mark on my first experience in America, as this was were I landed with my suitcase at the very first place – we ended up in a local Karaoke bar, here at the border of Oakland and Berkeley. No shit I have never seen a bar like that. J immediately hanged me a big book of thousands of possible songs we all have a chance to present now. No joke it had all the punk and rock’n’roll in it as well as good oldies so classic to the Karaoke culture.

I have seen a bunch of Karaoke around the world, it is a phenomena of the global, but nothing simply homogenous in it – it’s as specific to its localities as it could get! Estonian-Finnish ferries used to be infamous for their Karaoke sessions – good way to get drunk and nostalgic at the borderlands of sea. It was specially heart-warming to see the elder ladies with berets singing soulfully their favorites in small bars scattered around Russia. It was weird to hear that in Indonesia you can book a karaoke room which already consists some cute chicks for a sing-along (and possibly a lap dance).

Karaoke seems to have it’s definite space within our transnational leisure-scape, drawing on the cultural capital of the latter part of the 20th century, and growing wider, getting viral, making it into business, because… we, people like it and maybe, maybe realy somewhere deep inside we all just wanna be a star (sounds such a clishée, and no way it’s deep inside! But it definitely feels like it.). Put in better ways, we would perhaps all enjoy occasional disidentification (see José Muñoz, this piece is also in memory of him) with a star, an artist or a memory deeply engrained in our personal history. It’s a strategic identification by the marginal with the dominant – here, we simple people around the globe  who like singing, and the glorious stardom, unreachable memories of nostalgic aura, or it’s a drag, liberating laughter in a mask. And the last is surely not the least. It can be so much fun to go through old time favorites, dress them in drag, laugh at them and make the best out of them.

photoHe painted his lips dark and we all laid down on our knees to sing about love, in tight vibration with H. and N. in the lead.

I personally made Never Let Me Down happening…

Saturday night – the night of the week we all get spoilt

Malam minggu or Saturday night has a special meaning here in Indonesia. This is the night of party, or as one of my friends here said: “The only night of the week, when we all get spoilt – kita semua hancur!”

Meanwhile I had already moved to downtown, to be closer to the night hotspots of the city and see what’s happening in the nightly worlds of the waria. The main hang-out area Tembok Berlin is just around the corner.

The only issue seems to be the fact that this here is not the typical Indonesia, which could be described as rather safe, even when being a single foreign woman at night-time in party locations. Some young warias warned me about motorbike taxis, which are very common means of transport in Irian Jaya: “Don’t you ever use the motorbike taxi at night! They pick you up, take you somewhere where they have group of friends waiting. Then they rape you – all of them!” Supposedly this has happened around here already quite a few times.

One of the nights we were driving to the southern market area in Sorong where there was some open-air party a’la Papua. We stopped the car, took a brief look from the windows and my waria friends stated: “No, no, this is way too dangerous – we can’t go out, you will be beaten up and you’ll get a knife!”

I saw bunch dark shadows of the Papuans dancing drunk in the beats of dangdut music – the kind of party no-one could imagine happening in some dark downtown spooky market area. Papuan spirit. And a drunk Papuan unfortunately is a very common stereotype here, and for a reason – you could really see a lot of drunk Papuan people on the streets, lost in life, probably discriminated for some generations. But my friends just couldn’t let me out to check out this party and we drove off to safer grounds such as Tembok Berlin.

Starlight nightclub stands alone and proud and glorious in Kampung Baru, Sorong, Papua

As it was Saturday night, warias were all nicely dressed up and beautifully shining. One of the older warias was sitting on the wall and proudly poring out strong local liquor – one for the waria elder of Sorong, another one for me, then again to the elder. Until it was time to head on clubbing.

I remembered my friend who’s a local minibus driver here, whom I met one afternoon when he was visiting a hair salon held by a waria. In just some minutes he picked up all the warias and other chicks, so the whole minibus turned into a wild and wicked party-zone heading towards more party. We all seven warias, four women and the driver and his friend took off with a deep beat of dancehall sounds, and it all just reminded me too much of the infamous scene in Wariazone where me and Kiwa together with some nine warias were riding around Jakarta nightlife, singing Indonesian anthem. And of course, it was Saturday night! Wish I had a camera with me up there in Papua, but see the scene of Jakarta in Wariazone trailer:

In Papua, when talking about the waria, commonly people point out  that the parties where the waria are present last the longest and get most crazy. This seemed to be the case with our night in the biggest nightclub in Sorong – the Starlight, or SL as the waria call it. Interestingly, the security took a brief look at us and asked exactly the ticket money for seven people, as if the ‘real ladies’ get in for free, and the warias (as if they were considered ‘men’) should pay the whole price. I tried my best to negotiate, but they were stubborn, and it was really stinking of discrimination based on gender.

But as we entered, the party got wild. There was a band from Yogyakarta, followed by a hot dance party, where the sweat took hold and strip-dancers lifted our sexuality. Some of the waria tried to use me and Minna to get connection with men, and I, of course, was happily playing along. Minna seemed to have a crush on the hottest strip-dancer, who then poored some vodka in her mouth, dragged her on the stage and we were all shouting: “Hancur Minna, hancur Minna!”

This, by the way, is a popular dangdut song here in East-Indonesia, which translates as ‘spoilt Minna’ – a girl who went from village to the city, stayed there for too long and lost her morals.

Estonia – the new international meeting hub

Arriving in Estonia is magical. After being away from home for almost two years, I enjoy all the tiny details that were never important to me before Indonesia.

Here are trees and green fields everywhere. The cities are full of parks and the highways are packed with forests for endless number of kilometers.

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Here is so much fresh food, fresh air and fresh ideas around.

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Here people care about you, not about who you date, who leaves your house after 10pm, who your parents are or if you go to church every weekend.

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Here when it’s hot I can wear a cooling dress with no sleaves without anyone staring at me. Or actually do anything without getting too much attention.

Here you can get privacy. Go swimming in a lake, naked, and be alone; walk in a forest and be alone; even when at a party you decide to be alone, you have the chance.

Here everything is so close and mobile. I can travel around festivals throughout the country and still meet the same friendly faces, who have been looping on the road since the days got warm.

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Here are festivals each weekend, using full Estonia as a kind of stage for excitement – from the prison halls, from the rooftops to the huge crop fields in the countryside.

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And the funniest thing – all my friends from around the world are suddenly in Estonia. Marie, who I met in Indonesia; Taras, from the time I lived in Russia; Patrick whose couch I surfed on in Kuala Lumpur and a long list of others coming to visit this new international meeting hub in Europe                                            .             Image

Zone of freedoms: how a boy becomes a waria at Berlin Wall


When mentioning our fatherly careful uncle that some of these nights in Sorong I’m going out to Tembok Berlin (translates as Berlin Wall), his eyes filled with fear – this is dangerous, people are drunk there, orang mabuk!
A lovely waria Miranda also warned me that sometimes you can be attacked with a knife at Tembok. But Tembok is precisely the place where most of the waria in Sorong gather at night, so there is no question for me – I have to get there. Tembok Berlin is the heart of the city that runs, as the name says, as a wall along the coast current. This is the city’s most popular place for enjoyment and rendezvous (“tempat Santai”). Here we have great gorengans, coffee, tea, grilled bananas and luxurious durian. This is the meeting point for all young people in love and all secret lovers. Among others,  both female and male prostitutes hang out here, and latter being even more popular, because having a same sex partner can become a good smoke cover.
“People who pass by then just think that you’re meeting some old school friend. Nobody knows that this will be followed by sex, so your family relations will not be at risk, even if you’re having an extramarital partners,” my friend, who’s active in the local gay scene, told me. And it does not mean that the customer is necessarily gay himself.

But after all, this place is called Berlin Wall and there has to be a reason other than just being a wall. This here is the house of liberties of Sorong. On the one side of the wall we have the city, cars passing by and the numerous sweet aunties selling snacks and coffee, people chatting, having good time. But the other side is wilder – here we’ve got warm see breeze, green waves in constant move, along some trash and young people secretly making out. The zone of freedoms along the Berlin Wall.

It was there were I met a sweet young native papuan waria from Biak. Her story seem to be quite representative for the case of papuan waria – she had escaped from her family to another city, because the family couldn’t cope with the child’s non-conforming gender identity. So here she is now – hanging out with the waria of the city, trying to learn about her new life, and the salon work. Her dream is to open her private salon one day. To finance her life, she also comes here at nights to prostitute, just like her friends. When after an exhausting night she returns home, she prays. For her sins. When I asked her, what exactly she sees as her sin she has to pray for – is it her being a waria, is it sex work or is it something else? She replies: “This here…” While all other warias are joking and laughing just next to us, she tells me with glassy eyes that she only does it for money. She doesn’t get any satisfaction from it.

“Miss Angola!”cries another sparkling waria to sheer up my papuan friend, when she walks across the street in her sexy short pants. She rolls some hips as a reply to the girls laughing. Of course, our gender expression is constructed under various forces, just as feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir has stated that one is not born a women, but becomes a women.  What I experienced at Tempok Berlin could rather be seen as how a “boy” becomes a waria. It’s how a waria becomes to be here at the local Berlin Wall – zone of freedoms for some, zone of sins for others, zone of pain and hopelessness for some. Whatever it is – we have to break on through to the other side. Here that would be to the side of green waves and warm see breeze. Sounds like freedom, right? Yet so often the other side comes along with random sex for random money, wanted or unwanted, that takes place between the piles of hopeless trash on the beach.

Hot, hot, hot in Papua

For a superficial traveler, Sorong might appear to be quite boring destination – the city known as the gate to Papua is spread around the long motorway paralleling the beach, but it gets another level of thrill once you’re there for quite some time – the daily struggle with heat and malariaquitos.

Everywhere is the center of the city, and people walk and ride the ojek (the motorbike taxis) or yellow busses. Public transport has been something to miss in most parts of Indonesia, but Papua is doing better – there’s some space here, and some good ways to move besides having a personal motor.

Besides bursting into my fieldworks of transgender already the very first evening here, I quickly grow a fascination for the local fruits. Each day I was passing by the market and later fell into juices of sweet mangos, bananas and pineapples. They are incredible in Papua, probably due to the fertile ground and sunny air. This is the sweet part of it, but it also has another. The weather is booming hot here – i’ve been sweating tons of water, having showers at least three times a day, and feeling constant lack of air, as it’s so hot, so humid, so dusty, so strong. We were also sweating at night-time, when the sun was gone long ago, but it was still hot. And my body was constantly waisted. To sleep less that seven hours was absolutely impossible. And as they say, the mosquitos with malaria are sneaking around. It was quite common to hear remarks such as:

“Oh, I’ve been in bed for three days – because of malaria!”

“Oh, I am not in a good mood, probably having malaria fever again…”

“Oh, this poor little girl has no father, the father died of malaria couple of years ago…”
So I swallowed the malaria pill once again, but it did not do any good. Rather it made me existentially loaded and worrisome, so that after couple of days I decided to stop it all. Just keep the pills ready in your pocket once you get bitten by the malariaquito – but don’t screw up your body and mind with these strong pills daily.