by Trina M Schartz
My first shopping experience while residing in Jakarta, Indonesia, although a comical one, left a scar on my American psyche. It is well known here that things are not cheap. I have been told that if you want something inexpensive you need to go elsewhere, like Thailand or Singapore, for example. Since either of those options was not available for a last minute shopping spree, I dared the shopping experience that Jakarta offered me.
I decided to go to a place that could resemble Walmart in the United States and, still very different. Obviously! I did not have to walk around for hours looking for help like I do in Walmart. The clerks had found me before I entered their shops. Walmart gives you an opportunity to make impulse purchases by lining up merchandise for your perusal at the checkout lane. Here at the Indonesian Walmart, impulse purchases happen when you are in direct contact with the salesclerk. With a (you can’t resist this purchase grin on their face) the clerk will lay items in your hands or draped over your shoulder trying to convince you, you would look good in whatever they happen to be holding.
Picture this… A great big warehouse-type mall filled to the brim with different vendors, all competing for space. I was looking for exact items: a pair of black sandals, a pair of black dress pants and a dark, solid colored dress shirt. As I stood at the top of the stairs looking out into a sea of unfamiliarity, I began to smile. At this moment, I was proud to claim a couple of much needed skills for this adventure. I grew up on a farm in what is dubbed by those that lived there as the “Heartland” of good ole’ USA, and I was used to running through a cornfield maze. I also know sign language, and part of that skill is the ability to gesture. Although I couldn’t speak Indonesia Bahasa yet, I was great at gesturing. I took a deep breath and away I went. After about 20 minutes I finally found something on my list, a pair of sandals. I tried them on, and they didn’t fit. The clerk asked “size?” I gestured, bigger. She kindly smiled and shook her head “no.” She showed me a red sandal with sparkles. I quickly returned the serve like Zorro in tight pants, with a snap of my fingers and my hip cocked to the right, I gestured with a flamboyant flair, NO.
I picked up another dark colored pair of sandals. The bangle adorned, sequined sandal-wearing clerk begins speaking in Indonesian trying to tell me they don’t have that one in my size either. How do I know that I interpreted her correctly, you might ask? Well, she handed me a white tennis shoe with even more bling strapped to it than her last desperate attempt to wrestle Rupiah out of my wallet. I started laughing, smiled, bowed in honor of her faithful attempt to satisfy my unornamented footgear needs, smiled again and left the store.
At this point, I was ready to buy body paint and display my shopping list like an amateur artist in a game of Pictionary. Instead, I thought I would give it another attempt, for the American team, without trying to “muster up” body paint. Next, I confidently went into a clothing store, and I picked up a pair of slacks. I hesitated, and gestured… a bigger size? The salesman handed me a large. I smiled, and he guided me to a dressing room in the corner of the 4×4 foot shop where he gracefully wrapped a curtain around me. All I could do was giggle as I stood in this dimly lit, Mumu draped dressing room and extended one arm out to hold the curtain away from my body and with the other hand I attempted to pull the pants up to my knees and gasped…OMG people say I am small.
It seems as though Indonesian women can fit through a straw and sit on a thimble. I had a whole new definition of the word small, and it wasn’t “ME.” I gestured to the clerk. TOO SMALL and left yet another store, crackin’ my ass up.
I was now obsessed. I mumbled to myself; I am not leaving Wally World without scratching something off my minimalistic shopping list. The next place was another clothing vendor set up smack dab in the middle of the store with no walls and no curtains. I found a pair of black pants. I cringed, and gestured where do I try these on? This wide-eyed, jovial store clerk, gestures back, pull them up over your shorts. Anxiously, I waved my index finger uh, NO! I remembered how the previous pair fit and I knew if there was a snow ball’s chance in hell these were going to fit; I couldn’t afford extra clothing underneath these slacks. As it was, I already had too much I was trying to fit in Indonesian-designed pants.
She insisted, so I thought I would play along. I pulled them up over my shorts and – holy cow – if I inhale from the depths of my toes, I can actually button my pants! I was ecstatic; I must have found the only pair the tailor forgot to hem. I jumped up and down as if we just won the lottery, and well, WE did! I happily handed her the Rupiah for the pants, and I won the right to scratch an item off my shopping list. I pulled down my dress pants, and to my chagrin, my shorts were on inside out from the last place I tried on pants. You have got to be kidding, I thought. I am so not going out of this mall looking like this.
As the clerk was getting my change out of her fanny pack, I scanned the area, waiting for the prime opportunity to do something I have never attempted in my own country; of course, there is no need because dressing rooms are a dime a dozen. Here, it seems they are not needed because there is the only “one size fits all” option for the Indonesia body frame, ITSY BITSY! I must have looked like I was about to commit a crime. I spied a man standing a few yards away, some children running in and out of the clothing racks, and a few women rummaging through clothes on hangers. You know where this is going, don’t you?
Yep, I DID IT! I threw modesty on the clothing rack and yanked those puppies off and turned them right side in, there in front of God and the rest of the non-forewarned bystanders in the “Indonesian Walmart!” The clerk caught the foiled attempt of my carefully orchestrated clandestine operation, and both of us started laughing hysterically.
The moral of this story, being a chicken would have allowed me to look like a fool both in and outside the store, but being gutsy mentally scarred me for life.