Isn’t it always a confluence of events that leads one to cavort about town in an outfit socially equivalent to a tuxedo? As usual, I blame Andrew.
One of the challenges I always have upon making port is deciding what to wear. Our first endeavor is always to check in with immigrations and customs, and of course this goes more smoothly if we express respect toward them through our interactions and also our wardrobe choices. In many places, it doesn’t matter if you wear flip-flops to interact with customs, but in other places, it is a grave offense. Likewise, we attempt to wear clothing that does not call the wrong type of attention. For me, I view this as a show of respect for the host country’s culture. I’m not here to impose myself upon anyone or change anyone; I’m just here to enjoy and observe. So, I try to dress the part.
As we arrived in Tual, I dig around in my closet trying to find an acceptable article of clothing that will cover almost everything. I determine conclusively I do not possess such an article of clothing. If I have a shirt that works, then it does not work with the long skirt I have. Or, if I have a long dress and a sweater to put over it, that’s fine, but the chest remains open and you can see below my neck. I start to fear my only option is to cut a hole for my head in one of Sonrisa’s bedsheets. But then, I find something. A long dress, a jacket. I tie the long dress very high around my neck and it seems to do the trick for today.
“Don’t worry, we can go shopping!” Andrew tells me. He's awfully chipper about the idea.
Now, some women would be very excited to go shopping. If we were shopping for pens and notepads, or maybe shoes, I would also be very excited to go shopping. Instead, we are shopping for clothing, in a country in Southeast Asia where all the humans are approximately 1/3 my size.
Have I ever told you about the time I attempted to buy silk pajamas in San Francisco’s China Town? When I tried to take my purchase to the counter, the shop keeper shook his head and explained, “No, no, you need an extra….extra……extra large because you are a fat American girl.”
I don’t have much of a choice, though, so we head to town. This is when we meet the lady who whisks me away on her motor scooter to find an outfit at her boutique. I don’t get to try anything on, there are no dressing rooms, but I take what she has to offer and hope for the best. Back on Sonrisa, I put it on and discover everything fits just fine. It’s a strange look. I feel a little misshapen in the pants that highlight my “hips” and the poncho that seems like I should have bought it in Mexico. But, I now have one outfit that seems socially acceptable for going about town.
This isn’t enough, though, so now Andrew wants to peruse the clothing market. The clothing market is like nothing I have ever seen before. It is a labyrinth of clothing hung in tiny, dark square cubicles. You walk down a narrow alleyway, accompanied by stray cats. You try to avoid water puddles and other muddy spots by walking on wood planks or other flat objects laid down for your feet. When you want to step into a “shop” you must remove your shoes. The shops are hot and very claustrophobic.
Have I ever told you about the time I got my head and somewhat broad shoulders stuck inside a very tight shirt while in a well lit, air conditioned fitting room in Nordstrom? I had a panic attack and needed my cousin to help pull me out.
We don’t get very far into the labyrinth before an Indonesian-Mama stops us in our tracks. “You need to buy clothing? Okay!” She says in Bahasa Indonesian. At least I think that’s what she said. She starts pulling clothing off the racks to show me. The colors are bright, the patterns are bright. There seems to be no limitation to how wild the patterns can acceptably be combined. She insists I would look great in a particular mustard yellow shirt and skirt wrap.
“You try on!” She says as she wraps me in the outfit over the top of the clothing I’m already wearing. She frowns when the shirt at best covers my shoulders but will not pull forward to button in the front. Here it comes……
“Oooh,” She says with surprise, and in what must be the only English words she knows: “You are very, very large. Very fat American!” She says more matter of fact than anything. It’s not a negative assessment, she intends to be factual. She mutters as she digs around in her stash for something larger. She pulls out an Extra, Extra, Extra Large. XXXL. She wraps it around me again and this time it will button, but just barely. She nods enthusiastically, then extends her hand out at me while looking at Andrew as if to say, “What do you think?” to him. Andrew nods enthusiastically.
“You like it, don’t you?” He asks me, as if there is no other alternative answer.
From my perspective, it’s hard to tell. It’s dark, a little musty, I’m wrapped in two layers of clothing, the underlay of which was not form fitting in the first place, the ceilings are low, the standing room is nil, the shirt is mustard yellow, and it has lace all around the collar and sleeves. The lace is very stiff and itchy. There is no mirror, but I can imagine this isn’t my typical style. Sweat pours down my back and puddles on my upper lip. It tickles, but I resist the urge to wipe it off on the sleeve of the new shirt.
I don’t have the heart to say “no”. I press my lips together hoping Andrew can read my body language which is meant to say: “I have a very hard time believing that I look like anything other than a lumpy hotdog wrapped in mustard right now.”
But, Andrew is not a mind reader and instead he says, “Great! Okay, how much?” to the lady.
Still suspicious that I look like a hotdog, I wear my mustard yellow outfit out and about the next day. No one makes any comment about it at all.
When this Baby’s mother handed him to me, even he didn’t warn me of my folly.
We make a second foray into the clothing labyrinth and I get trapped by the second Indonesian-Mama in the second shop in. She chooses a tan lace shirt and a pleated stretchy skirt for me, pretty much exactly the same as the mustard shirt. We go through the exact same, uncomfortable, process of trying on, searching for a larger size, deciding whether I “like” the outfit or not. Except this time, when Andrew asks me if I like it, I say “Yeah, I don’t know. It feels a bit stiff and too much like the other outfit.”
“Naw! It looks great!” Andrew tells me. "It's very slimming!"
I sigh and resign myself to a second outfit I don't like. Why don't I just say "No. I don’t like it”? But, I have an instinct that such a statement will go over like a lead balloon. So, I let Andrew pay the woman and she tucks the clothing into the bag.
I am not any closer to owning clothing I feel comfortable in. We walk further into the labyrinth where upon we are tugged into a shop by a much younger woman. She squints at me, then pulls down a handful of clothes for me that she thinks I should try. “You are very large, very large!” She says as hands me stretchy, XXXL pants.”
She motions for me to remove the clothing I have on.
“Try on?” I ask her.
“No, no,” she says, “to buy.”
I don’t really understand what she’s saying, but now there are three or four more young ladies gathered around to watch my shopping experience. Just what this tiny shopping mall/fitting room needs: four more bodies. They lift up a strip of fabric to hide me while I change clothing. She takes my mustard yellow shirt away and shoves it in a bag while shaking her hand and head as if to say “No, no, no, no, no.”
“This is better,” she tells me. Linen pants with a flower motif and a light tan shirt with zig zag patterns.
“In Indonesia, OK.” She matches two types of fabric with wildly different colors and patterns. “In Indonesia, not OK.” She shakes her head and matches two types of fabric with solid, plain colors. She takes me through a series of patterns and colors, indicating “okay, or not okay” as the case warrants. Then, she pulls my mustard yellow shirt and skirt out of its bag.
“Wedding” she says to me.
Wedding? Wedding? What could she mean?
“Wedding” she says to me, again, lifting up the mustard yellow shirt.
Exactly. This thing is for going to weddings! It’s formal wear. I have spent the last day looking completely and utterly rediculous about town. We all have a really good chuckle about this, and she sells me three shirts and four pairs of pants that I feel much more comfortable in.
As Andrew and I walk away, Andrew laughs at me. “I can’t believe you’ve been walking around in formal wear all this time.”
What a turkey.
A couple nights later, we head out to Dapor Kece. I dress up in one of my new outfits and Andrew throws on a new shirt. We look good! When I receive a compliment on my outfit from our friend Ima, I tell her my funny story of wearing wedding clothes all around town. She gets a hoot out of this, but then she says:
“Yeah, I wondered why Andrew was wearing board shorts with a shirt that we would consider to be like a tuxedo.”