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…


Sweet vagary of the San Francisco weekend

San Francisco has historically, of course, been one of the major centers of sexual subcultures. We could only imagine, how queer folks from the smaller towns and villages around the wider area were heading up to the city once they could, to seek for those who thought and felt likewise, to step on for a self-realization on different grounds that small-town rigid morals and tight eye of the “big brother” would perhaps allow. It was not before the 1980s when Castro became the well-known gay-neighborhood, but don’t think that there weren’t any beforehand. I’ve heard it was then around Polk, but I’ve also seen some maps with dots referring to the gay bars of the 1950s, and there were so many all around the city.
I ended up having a drink in Castro already on the very first weeks I got here . Well, I kind of enjoyed it – Lady Gaga and big boys with big muscles on the LCD screens around the blink-blink shaded bar, and cheap tequila. But nonetheless it hasn’t really been an arena where I would rush back into. They say, Castro has become a tourist attraction in itself, and has been even criticized for that by some from the local gay scene here. Interesting. However much critique against tourism, consumerism or homonormativity I could possibly think of, I still feel proud passing the huge rainbow flag when riding up the Market street through Castro. This flag is huge!


For my personal heart-beat, I find more interesting the scenes that rarely get to be explored by random city visitors. Not that the latter would that much matter, but it’s more about the fact that the scene is small, specific, and gets produced by it’s own exclusiveness, that at the same time is inherently a drop-out.
One of the rules about this/these subculture(s) is not to gossip around the big wide web what is going on in those parties and those scenes, so I don’t have intention to do that. Besides, it would be a really hard task, almost impossible, as the writer, or me, who would try to do that, would sooner or later encounter alexithymia, i.e. an inability to describe emotions in a verbal matter.
This is the scene of vagary, full of unpredictable instances, desires, joys, unusual bodies, ideas and action. This is the scene of the drag, that renders productively the very Real, however chaotic and ungraspable.
Perhaps what Felix Guattari has said about the potential political power of the drag might give another glimpse of what I’m trying to say here: “The question is no longer to know whether one will play feminine against masculine or the reverse, but to make bodies, all bodies, break away from the representations and restraints on the “social body”.
And when I come think about my feelings towards the moments I experienced within this scene, I’d lay out another quote:
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” (Oscar Wilde)


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.

Makassar: pleasantly mad

Jaka is a chill-out waria in her 40s. She has a quite popular salon in downtown Makassar, where she keeps  herself busy from morning til night. Once I caught him straightening girls’ hair until 2am.

Makassar, Sulawesi

But she always wakes up early in the morning, brings fish from the market, serves the first customers, cooks the fish, she is social with all her friends who constantly come over to hang out in her salon. And it’s always raining in Makassar, so it’s a good spot to wait until another shower is done and they can make a move.

As it was Saturday night, and this is the night when all people in Indonesia take it all with fun, some young even say they go hancur – they go crazy. So Jaka took out her high heels and we went for a rendez-vous in downtown. The city was full of young people, there were crowds of guys with all their crazy motorbikes. Built up and wild, retro machines, and the busy bikers with their blinking motorbikes. There was also a lot of crowd hanging around the waria hot-spot. Jaka knows the girls, but she’s already grown out from nightlife of the youth. She doesn’t bother anymore to go out that often. She has a salon to keep and a boyfriend with whom she feels happy with.

We stayed at her salon for couple of days, and truly enjoyed the company of Jaka.

Jaka and Minna