Destinations Magazine

Indonesia: Turning the Art of Busking on Its Head

By Nico @atravellersday
Crazy things that happen when you eat

The first time I saw it I wasn’t sure how to react. It happened so suddenly and was so completely unexpected. I was sitting down at a little stall on the side of the road in Jakarta, eating some sate and I heard someone start to shake a little rattle made from metal coins that had been punctured through the center with a nail. There were two of them, one shaking the rattle and singing terribly while the other clapped. Now street buskers, even terribly bad ones are nothing new, you see them all over the world, but these people were so different that it took a minute for what was about to happen to sink in.

eating sate

I hope I’ve set the scene. Two buskers singing terribly with s%#t instruments. Normally you’d tell them to get lost and stop ruining your meal. I doubt if many people would even think of getting money out of their pockets. The thing was when they stopped singing (and it did sound like someone was murdering a cat) without fail when they walked around the stall every single male in the place whipped out there wallets so quickly it was almost as if they were burning a hole in their trousers. Then, after less than two minutes in the place they were gone with a pocket full of money. I watched them walk down the road and they just repeated the process in the next food stall along.

eating street food

At the time I didn’t know what to say. Now just to make it clear they weren’t some luscious blondes bending over the tables and flirting terribly. If you haven’t been to Indonesia before then let me reveal what had actually happened: the two busking beauties were actually transvestites. Now South East Asia and Thailand especially is pretty famous for its lady boys, but less so Indonesia.

buskers

In a reversal of the classic busking technique where money is paid for being good, these people had just walked away with a fistful of notes in their pockets for minimal talent. I had to give them credit for the speed that they earn money. They had managed to make people feel so uncomfortable because of the way they dressed and their sexual preference that the customers at the restaurant were willing to pay their way out of it.

Out of personal interest I’ve tried to find out some of the history behind it. I’ve yet to get a straight answer from people, but from what I gather it’s a relatively recent phenomenon, something that’s only come about over the last 20 years or so.


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