By Claire Harding (Semester 17/Aug 2003)
University of Western Australia

Java is the most populated island in the world. Despite covering an area of only 127 thousand sq ft, it is home to 130 million plus inhabitants (compare that to Australia’s 20 or so million who are spread out over more than 7 million sq ft!!!). So what sort of repercussions does this have for those who live there? Well most noticeably I discovered that it is extremely difficult to find your own personal space or private time for very long! Indonesians are much more ‘pack mentality-minded’ than most Westerners. Keep in mind that if you are alone (walking down the street, on the bus, eating at a warung etc) it is not because you WANT or NEED to be alone in order to get something done OK…it is because you just have no friends! Kasihan deh lu! (You poor thing!) Therefore, you will constantly be asked Kok sendirian? (Why are you alone?) and Mau ditemani? (Want me to accompany you?)

Although I really like and appreciate the fact that people here are so friendly and interested in my business, it can on occasion become a bit too much on those days when you just need 2 seconds by yourself (as I write this at my local internet cafe, there is a little girl standing behind me reading over my shoulder)! However, you do get used to it somehow…I remember finding it quite bizarre and isolating when I went back to Australia over Christmas and could suddenly walk down the street without being asked a whole series of personal questions by complete strangers. I mean, how could people possibly not want to know if I had taken my daily bath yet or not !?!

Secondly, this huge population size means that jobs are not at all easy to come by (and I thought I was having a hard time in Perth!). This is where what I like to call ‘random job creation’ comes into play. Basically, this involves menial, unnecessary tasks being invented for the sole purpose of generating some form of (measly) income for the masses. The first one that springs to my mind is the ever-ready, ever-orange-jacketed tukang parkir (parking attendant). S/he (I’ve never seen a female tukang parkir before but am told they do exist) will hand you a paper ticket when you park your motorbike/car in front of a shop, warung etc, and upon your return you are expected to pay Rp. 500-1000 (around 15 cents) for the privilege of parking on the edge of the road or pavement (and not having your bike stolen!). If you are lucky you will be directed into the oncoming traffic with the aid of a lot of whistle-blowing and complex hand actions.

The next category of ‘random job creation’ can be witnessed at the shops/supermarket. You know how in Australia, when buying groceries for example…packaging, payment and weighing is usually done through the one person? Well not so here. Those 3 tasks can be divided amongst at least 10 people. This is where the infamous pakai nota (literally means ‘using a note’) comes into play! I.e. being given a small written bill from the salesperson responsible for the section you’re in, which you must then take to a centralised cashier for payment.

By way of example, I went to buy a hole-punch yesterday. Upon locating the hole-punch, I took it to the cashier where I thought I could purchase it. Not so. I’d temporarily forgotten how the system ‘works’ here!!! Aduh! First I was directed downstairs to the pakai nota counter. This is where ‘the writing on a note-sized piece of paper of the item/s purchased’ took place; upon which the item was removed from my grasp and momentarily disappeared. I then took my little piece of paper to another counter where I was expected to pay for the item. After that I was pointed in the direction of yet another counter, at which point I was finally able to collect my newly purchased hole-punch. Sometimes there is even an additional step added here (my personal favourite actually), which involves the item being lowered down by bucket from the second level…even if you initially found it on the first level. But hang on…think it’s over yet?? Ha! Just when you think you’ve made it home-free, you are accosted by ‘The Stapler’ – this is the person assigned to staple the top of your plastic shopping bag together (in case your purchased item tries to make a run for it?!) Finally, you are homebound. “Job creation – turning one job into 10.” I’m exhausted just writing about it!