Tuesday, 5 July 2011

the strolling dancer

It was a hot day, as if Denpasar was under a giant magnifying glass that multiplied the sun's rays exponentially. My boyfriend and I drove out of the house to take care of his work. The AC in the car was blowing cool air, surrounding us in some sort of cooling cocoon that protected us from the outside heat. On the way out, we saw someone walking.

"Isn't that a traditional artist?" my boyfriend asked. The true meaning of "artist" has somehow lost its gritty and unglamorous definition. Justin Bieber is an artist. Those who has one hit song and can jet around the world is an artist.

I looked at the person walking outside our car. He was wearing a traditional Javanese suit from head to toe. The traditional suit is, indeed, a suit: a shirt, a jacket, a sarong draped around the hips covering the lower body all the way to the ankle, a headdress called blangkon (blung-kohn), and traditional slippers. Anyone who could walk under the heat in that costume really earned my respect.

What amazed me even more was the fact that he wore full-blown make-up (the way traditional Javanese artists do when performing). The color of his decorated facial skin contrasted the worn-out and sun-burnt skin on his hands that poked out of the long sleeves of his jacket. His make-up could hide his real age, but you could tell the things he'd gone through by looking at his wrinkly hands that clutched a wooden box.

"Is that a Balinese suit?" I asked my boyfriend, unsure of my own knowledge.

"No. That's Javanese," he replied.

"What's a Javanese traditional artist doing in Bali?" I asked again. I honestly didn't know. Bali is rich with its own art, culture and tradition. It already has many dances. These dances are one of the reasons why people flock to the island. Of course, nowadays it's almost about the sun, sand, surf, and sex (and tattoo), but people still ask to see shows of Kecak and Barong dances. It just baffled me that a Javanese artist would go against the current. To me, he looked like fish out of water, like he didn't belong.

My boyfriend shrugged.

"Does he get any audience?"

My boyfriend shrugged again.

I got lost in my own train of thoughts. I could identify myself with him, the strolling dancer. We are both males, we wear make-up and costume. When I had gigs in places where I had to change and do my make-up in the toilet or had to dance in front of indifferent crowd or with inadequate sound system, I bitched a lot. This strolling dancer was walking in his full regalia, under the sun, on stony paths (literally and perhaps figuratively), carrying his own music. I mean, imagine walking on a hot, rough surface, wearing thin slippers.

My mouth clamped shut for a while. Then my boyfriend said, "We should've given him a lift."

I felt pity for a split second but replied, "Hmm... well, he could be a strolling dancer carrying a stereo set inside his wooden box... Or, he could also be a loon with knives and weapons inside that box."

My boyfriend looked at me. "Wow, you've become as paranoid as Americans," was his reply.

I cringed.

I don't want to be that heartless. I don't want to be like those who took naked pictures of me spread-eagled for the purpose of making sure I didn't carry anything dangerous on the plane. I don't want to be like the obnoxiously rude immigrant officers, who were obviously of Chinese descendants, at SFO. I don't want to be like the people of Westboro Baptist Church, or like Mel Gibson. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to be like Osama bin Laden either, but you get the point.

Later on, as I'm writing this entry, another thought ran across my mind. Bali has a significant portion of Javanese people living here. Those people may benefit from the strolling dancer's artistry.

I pray, for his sake and mine, that his walk under today's scorching sun was not unfruitful, and that his walk was a walk, tired but relentless, a determined walk and not a wandering.

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