Oh well, it’s just another typical moment in my life as a quasi-celebrity here. Today I went to the “pasar senggol” market with Ibu Helena, another English lecturer in the department. This is a labyrinthine outdoor market that’s set up two weeks before the Edul Fitri holiday. As such, it’s a once a year chance for people to stock up on things like underwear, belts, CDs, plastic chairs, clothes, shoes, placemats, and other essentials. As we made our way through the crowds, people not only continued to shout “Hello Mrs.! My Darling!” and other such things, but they also felt free to reach out and touch my arm! Men and women alike did this. It was really bizarre. Ibu Helena kept reassuring me that it just meant they loved me (oh my adoring fans!) and were excited to see me. One guy even asked to take my picture. We made off before he could snap his shot. Later, we ducked into a hardware store to get some batteries for the clock in my office and the saleswoman felt free to stroke my arm and comment in English, “Your skin is so white!”.
Apparently it’s really common for Indonesians to touch strangers. I saw Ibu Helena do this twice. Once she pinched a baby’s cheek in passing and another time in the supermarket she got the attention of one of the clerks by laying her hand on her arm and left it there for the entire conversation of where to find whatever it was that we were looking for. And another thing – she held my hand as we walked around! She says she likes to hold her colleagues’ hands. It felt a little strange to me to be walking around holding hands with a 25 year-old woman I’m not related to and barely know, but I went with the flow. (Plus it was nice to be guided through some of the crazy twists and turns of the market and to be ushered away from my “fans”!).