My Jakarta: M Yusup AS, Tennis Ball Boy

Even though badminton is king in Jakarta, tennis still holds its own in the realm of popular sports, and few in the capital can  say that it’s as much a part of their lives as M Yusup AS.

A lifelong Jakartan, Yusup has worked as a ball boy and competed at various levels of tennis over the past 40 years. And although his competitive days are well behind him, Yusup is still devoted to the sport.

He tells us all about the challenges of being a ball boy, why nobody plays tennis at Senayan anymore and why global warming is ruining business.

There aren’t a lot of people out here playing. Do you get much work as a ball boy? 

Not only am I a ball boy, I’m also a hitting partner. I also clean up the courts to get them ready for when the players come here.

How has your job changed over the years? 

I preferred the way it was in the ’70s and ’80s. Back then, these courts were always full. These days, business is slow. People have courts at their apartments now, so they just play there. That means I have to work longer hours to make enough money. But I’ve worked here all my life and I don’t want to work anywhere else.

How long have you had this job? 

Since 1970. I’m 49 now and I’ve been doing this since I was 11.

How much do you make as a ball boy?

Two ball boys usually split Rp 25,000 ($2.65) per game. I can’t give you a daily average though, because when it’s rainy or hot, people only come to play in the morning. If I go home with Rp 30,000, it’s a good day. Food costs Rp 10,000 a day and I spend Rp 12,000 per day to take the MetroMini to and from work, so on days when I don’t make much money, I spend the night with my relatives nearby.

Do you get different sorts of clients now than you did in the ’70s and ’80s? 

Yes. We used to get a lot of Japanese players here. I liked them. They were understanding of how hard it was to get by and they tipped very well. Now they don’t come here any more. Most of the players are American or Australian.

Did you prefer the Japanese players to the Western ones? 

No, they tip well too. Sometimes they pay me Rp 50,000 an hour. But they come here less often than the Japanese did.

Do Indonesians ever play tennis here? 

Not really. They prefer to play at more exclusive places, like apartments or hotels.

What are your work hours like? 

There aren’t really any set work hours. I usually get here at 5 a.m., right after I finish my morning prayers. I try to leave for work early to avoid the traffic. During rush hour, it can take half an hour to get here from my home in Kebayoran. Sometimes I stay until closing time at 10 p.m.

When do the players usually start arriving? 

The first ones usually show up at six in the morning.

Have you always lived in Jakarta? 

Yes, I’m Betawi. I’ve been to other cities in Java, like Bandung and Bogor, but I’m only really comfortable in Jakarta.

Over the years, how has Jakarta changed as a city? 

Mostly for the worse. When I was young, the weather wasn’t as hot as it is now and the pollution wasn’t as bad. The economy was good for me until the ’90s. Then living here got much more expensive.

Do you support a family with this job? 

Yes. I have a wife, a son and three daughters. My son is 25, but my youngest daughter is two-and-a-half years old. None of them have regular jobs yet, so I’m the only steady source of income. I sometimes take odd jobs when I get offered them, but I won’t look for other work because of my age.

How do you like the court owners here? 

I don’t mind them. They let me work here, even though I don’t exactly work for them; I’m freelance. When I tried working at the Pakubuwono Apartments, on the other hand, the owners charged me a fee to work there. I quit that job after one day.

Do you play tennis yourself?

Yes, and I also teach a little. I’ve played since I was about 15. I competed seriously back then and I played with Lita Liem Sugiarto [a prominent tennis player in the ’60s and ’70s] a few times. I just didn’t like having to leave the city to compete so often. I have my own racket and sometimes I play with the other ball boys when we have nothing else to do. We actually have scheduled court time here on Mondays and Thursdays.

How many ball boys work here at Senayan? 

About 100. Most of them are only part-timers, though. I’m the only one who’s here all day, every day.

How popular is tennis in Indonesia? 

It’s gotten a lot more popular in recent years, since they started putting tennis courts in apartment buildings, but it’s not as big as badminton. Everyone plays badminton here, but only upper-class Indonesians play tennis

Yusup was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: M Yusup AS, Tennis Ball Boy

Picture by Zack Petersen

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My Jakarta: Dji Dieng, Supermodel

Now that batik has been officially recognized as part of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, the next logical step is to have one of the most beautiful women in the world spread the word.

Supermodel Dji Dieng, who was born in Senegal and raised in Paris and the United States, was in town recently to promote batik and songket, Zero Malaria and “55” cigars, produced using tobacco grown in Yogyakarta.

Is this your first visit to Jakarta? How do you like it so far? 

I love it. I didn’t expect everything to be so cool. The shopping malls are great, the people are very nice and polite, there are many beautiful girls and the food is great. I love spicy food.

Have you had the chance to see anything around the city? 

Not yet. Yesterday, I got to meet designers Zainal Songket and Denny Wirawan. I’ll be doing work with them for a photo shoot.

You are one of the most beautiful black supermodels, yet Southeast Asian fashion is dominated by Caucasian and Asian models. Why? 

It’s simple, the color and height, everything is different, so it’s a new market. I hope by working with designers in Indonesia, I’m opening the door for other black models. I’m going to collaborate with Fame Management Indonesia to come here regularly to do runway shows and photo shoots.

You are a goodwill ambassador for Unesco, and have been honored with the Award for Humanity and the United Nations Volunteer Award. Where do you get the inspiration to help others? 

I grew up volunteering because my family has been doing this since I was born. They’ve been helping people in Senegal, by giving them food, clothing and shelter. I’m very active with HIV/AIDS and breast cancer prevention, and I have my own association for malaria awareness.

Tell me a little bit about your non-profit organization, Zero Malaria? 

Well, anyone can get malaria. You can get it anywhere in the world, in Asia, Africa and even Europe. Every year three million people die from malaria. It’s one of the most dangerous diseases in the world.

Have you had malaria? 

Yes, I almost died from it in 2004. I was in the hospital for six months. I got it while I was in Africa. That’s why I have to do this, because no one talks about malaria and how dangerous it is. That’s why I created my own association, to raise awareness. 

How can you help the Indonesian people and raise awareness here?

We do shows and concerts and we collect all the money to buy mosquito nets and medicine that we give away to the kids at schools in poor residential neighborhoods. We teach them how to use the nets properly to help save lives.

What do you think about fashion in Jakarta? 

I love it. Yesterday I saw so many great pieces of clothing at the mall, the traditional batik material is so good. I bought a lot of dresses for myself, and I’m very happy to be here, with all my heart.

Are you familiar with batik? 

Yes, of course. In Africa, we have something similar. Batik in Indonesia has a very good quality and a lot of designs. When I come back in January, I will do a lot of shopping.

You have the distinction of being know as the supermodel with the longest legs. What’s that like? 

It’s good because it’s in the record books. I was the third supermodel to take over the title and I hope no one takes the honor from me.

You work with designers like Christian Dior and Vivienne Westwood. What about up-and-coming designers here?

I want to work with them. The fashion industry in Indonesia is growing. If I can work with new designers in Europe, I can do it here as well. And it’s also because the dresses here are perfect.

Your cigar company uses tobacco from Yogyakarta? 

This is one of my projects that I’ve been doing for the past two years, exporting Indonesian-made cigars to Europe and the United States. The brand name “55” comes from five leaves and five types of tobacco, and you can see my face in the logo. Right now we are making the small-size cigars for the ladies. It’s very classy. I love cigars!

Dji was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Dji Dieng, Supermodel

Picture by Iwan Putuhena