My Jakarta: Rosa, Prostitute

Rosa is a prostitute. That’s her job, plain and simple. She works about three times a week, drumming up business in clubs and hotels. Her customers take her home or rent a hotel room. Rosa’s not a hustler or one of Jakarta’s gold diggers; she’s not paying off a car or looking for the big score. She’s just scraping by, making a living her way here in the big city.

A lot of women who do what you do here are referred to by the slang term ‘ ayam’ (‘chicken’). What do you think of that term? 

I don’t like it. I’m not “ayam.” I like to go out and have fun with guys, I enjoy what I do and I’m free to choose who I want to go spend a night with. I’m a kupu-kupu malam [lady of the night].

How does it work to operate as a freelance prostitute? 

Sometimes I go out by myself, other times I go out with close friends, a group of girls who like to party. I meet a guy, he buys me drinks, we talk, and when I feel comfortable, I will hook up with him. We don’t usually discuss money, but there are exceptions. Sometimes the guy is straightforward and asks up front about how much it will cost. If I like the guy, we don’t talk about money until the morning. Usually he gives me the cash when I’m about to go, or I ask him for some “taxi money.”

Where exactly do you meet these guys? 

Everywhere, but mostly at pick-up bars in South Jakarta or any five-star hotel with a bar. Sometimes I go out to nightclubs as well.

How much does it cost to spend the night with you? 

Depends. It’s always up to the guy, but they usually know the standard. The biggest tip I ever got was Rp 1 million [$106].

What do you mean by ‘tip’? 

Yeah, I don’t like to think of it as being paid or that there’s a going “rate” to be with me. I’m tipped for my time. We hang out, have a good time, have sex and in the morning they tip me before I go.

What’s the minimum amount of money you expect for a night? 

Normally it’s around Rp 500,000.

Which hotels in Jakarta are your favorites? 

JW Marriott, Le Meridien, Crowne and a bunch of other places I can’t remember.

Has a customer ever taken you on a trip? 

Yes, I’ve been around Asia, places like Singapore, Lombok, Jambi and Bali.

What did you do before you started working as a prostitute? 

I worked as a waitress in a restaurant, but that was two years ago, when I first moved to Jakarta from Bandung.

Would you ever work in a restaurant again? 

No. Making money like this is too easy.

So are there rules about being a freelance prostitute? Are there places where you can and can’t go? 

I can go wherever I want. I mean, I know when I’m not wanted by other hookers in the area, so in that case, I tend to hang out in the clubs that I know are free from that kind of territorial thing.

If you walk into a bar can you spot the girls who are hookers?

No. There’s no real way to tell who is working. I can’t just point them out and be like, “Uh,  her, her, her and her.”

How did you learn English? 

I learned on the street and by having conversations with people. I learned English from books. I speak Korean as well.

What do you do when you’re not out making money? 

I stay at my place. I cook, watch TV and relax in this rumah susun (housing project).

Do you have a boyfriend, someone who you see outside of work? 

No, I don’t have a boyfriend right now, but I’m always looking.

When you’re in a bar what kind of guy are you looking for? 

Hot, rich and handsome. That’s the idea, right [laughs]?

What’s more important, that he’s hot or that he’s rich? 

Rich. Everybody needs money.

If you find a boyfriend who you would consider to be a potential husband, would you tell him that you used to have sex for money? 

Yes, I would have to. It’s important to be totally honest in a relationship.

How much longer do you think you will be doing this? 

What, hooking up with guys for money? Who knows, as long as it takes, until I fall in love, find a good husband or find a job that actually pays well.

Do you think that what you’re doing is dangerous? Have you ever been hurt? 

Yes, I think it’s dangerous, but that’s the risk that I have to take. I don’t have any other choice. Luckily, nothing bad has ever happened to me. Only once, a guy bit me hard and it was really painful.

Rosa was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Rosa, Prostitute

Pictures by Iwan Putuhena


My Jakarta: Santa Claus

Finding Santa Claus is no easy task, especially in a tropical city like Jakarta. Imagine wearing that baggy red coat with white fur, a winter hat, boots and, of course, the beard in the sweltering heat. So that means the only place to locate him is in the air-conditioned malls around town. Santa talked to the Jakarta Globe just before his busiest night of the year.

How long have you been Santa Claus?

This is my second year. Last year I was a Santa here in the mall as well. Lucky for me, I got to do it again this year. I think I’ll be doing this for a while.

Santa, you’re cashing in big time. How much do you charge for pictures? 

It costs $7 a picture, which we print out here. You also get a file to take home. You can only get it once a year.

You keep touching and fixing your beard, is it itchy? 

No, it’s not itchy, but it gets really hot after a while and it’s hard for me to talk. I have to wear this from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and I’m the one and only Santa around here.

So what’s your real name? 


Do you personally celebrate Christmas? 

Yeah, I do, I’m Christian. But Christmas and Santa is for everyone.

Have you had any interesting experiences while being photographed with the kids? 

Afterward some kids ask, ‘Santa, where’s our present?’ Most are expecting a real present. I don’t have gifts with me, I’m only here for pictures. When that happens I get confused and feel bad. I just tell them to wait until Christmas and hopefully the parents can work with me [laughs].

Can you tell us about some of the wild Christmas presents kids have asked for? 

There are plenty of weird requests. Recently a girl asked me if she could take home the reindeers.

Where is the North Pole? 

I’m not sure, somewhere in Antarctica? Anyway, it’s a secret [laughs].

Where is Mrs. Claus? 

She’s at home making and preparing the presents for the boys and girls.

There are no chimneys in Jakarta, so how do you get into the houses?

Well, I just use the escalators, or sometimes the elevators when I’m tired [laughs].

Santa, you’re kind of fat. Have you considered working out? 

I’m already old, it’s OK to be fat.

Do you like to eat nasi padang ? Can you get it at the North Pole? 

Yeah, that’s my favorite, too bad they haven’t opened up a franchise at the North Pole. Maybe it’s too cold.

How can you tell the good kids from the bad ones? 

I can tell from a distance as they approach me. The bad ones jump around and come straight toward me as if they’re about to attack. Some want to climb all over me. And then some kids try to strangle me or pull my hair and beard off. The good kids say hello, shake my hand politely and wish me a Merry Christmas; those are the ideal ones, little angels.

Do some kids get scared? 

Yeah, lots of them do. I’ve seen them crying, but their parents still urge their kids to get a picture with me. Now that I think about it, it’s probably them who want to see me, not the kids.

Do kids in Jakarta know who Santa is? 

Well, it depends on their age. Those meeting me for the first time tend to ask questions. Those who were pictured with me last year are already familiar with Santa. Some, who already know the “Big Secret,” are not too excited to see me. But I think images of Santa are everywhere now. At the movies, in commercials and magazines, so kids from Jakarta are familiar.

Where do you park your sleigh and reindeers? 

Oh, they’re standing by in the basement; I have a monthly parking permit.

Why does Rudolf have a red nose? Is he drunk? 

No, elsewhere it would be because he’s cold. But since Jakarta is hot, I think he must be allergic to pollution [laughs].

You have some cute little helpers; do you like being surrounded by the ladies?

Well, I’m getting old, they help me with the little things like keeping me entertained when I get bored, massaging me when I’m tired and protecting me from any kids who try to beat me up. But they’re here mostly to keep the fathers happy while the wife and kids are busy taking pictures with me [laughs].

Isn’t Santa supposed to be white? 

Yeah, but I’m here in Jakarta so I got a tan.

Do you have any childhood memories of Santa Claus?

I remember the spirit of Christmas itself. As a kid I always got excited about my presents. My mother would say, “Here, this is from Santa,” and that happy feeling was different from receiving a gift on any other day.

Where will you be spending your Christmas?

Well, after I deliver all the gifts, I’ll spend Christmas with my family, friends and neighbors.

Santa was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was posted in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Santa Claus

Picture by Iwan Putuhena

My Jakarta: June Luhulima, Diver and Doctor

Being both a doctor of physiology and a diver, June Luhulima’s journey of exploration is never ending. Today she talks about her experience as a participant in the world diving record set at Sail Bunaken 2009, understanding how our bodies work and her recent volunteer work in Padang.

What did you study and what exactly do you do for a living? 

I learned physiology; it’s the logic of life, understanding how your body works. I earned my degree from Christian University of Indonesia (UKI). I enjoy learning about how the body works while exercising, diving or being exposed to hot or cold weather. Today, I consult and teach, specifically in relation to diving. I was a consultant for a Kempo martial arts team when it won two National Games’ [PON] competitions. I worked with the trainers to enhance the performance of athletes by giving them accurate calculations for their training programs, workouts and nutrition.

What organizations are you involved in? 

I’m a member of the Association of Maritime Doctors [Perdok-LA], an organization that focuses on the condition of people that live and work near the sea, such as fisherman or divers, and also the All-Indonesia Sport Diving Association [Possi], as chairman of its research and development commission. The two associations collaborate to teach the proper way to dive and the dangers, and I’m involved with both organizations.

How long have you been diving? 

Since 1976. It’s my hobby and I’ve always been interested in learning what happens to our bodies underwater. I was a dive instructor before I got my degree, that’s why I focused on underwater physiology at school.

Where have you dived, and where is your favorite place? 

In the Banda Sea, Manado, Thousand Islands, Kalimantan, Bali, Ambon, Lombok and many other places. The Banda Sea is my favorite because there’s a straight drop off a cliff face and the fish are much more beautiful than any other place I’ve been to.

The world diving record was broken at Sail Bunaken 2009, and you were a part of that. Tell us about it. 

We planned it in 2008 and it became an event for everyone, including the Navy, tourists and dive clubs. Our marine territory in Indonesia is vast and we were concerned because that there weren’t as many divers as before. Our mission was to attract a younger generation of divers and have them consider jobs related to the ocean and underwater themes. We had 2,486 divers and zero accidents.

What are the benefits of diving? 

Well for me personally, going underwater really helps me to be more creative, clear my head and fuel my imagination. So if you are stressed, I really recommend it. Also, when you’re breathing underwater from a tank, you’re breathing six times more oxygen than on land. It’s good for your skin and it helps you to look younger [laughs].

When and where is the next big diving event? 

Sail Banda Sea is coming up in 2010. This time we’re aiming to get instructors involved. However, in nearby Ambon we’re going to have other activities and competitions like underwater photography and underwater orientation, so everyone can join in.

Is there anything that you take from the ocean and adapt to your everyday life? 

Yes, the way I dress. The color coordination of my clothes is inspired by the sea. Like the fish in the ocean, if its white and grey with a yellow tail, I try to wear the same colors. For example, I would wear a white blouse, with a black skirt, yellow scarf and a grey belt.

Can you compare the human body and the ocean? 

Well, the fact is that the body is a universe in itself. Sometimes, when I teach, I show two different pictures, one taken underwater and one of a human body under the microscope. My students can’t tell the difference.

You just came back from Padang, how was that experience? 

I went with friends from the Global Rescue Network two days after the earthquake. I was chosen because they had medicine but no doctors. We were sent to Padang Pariaman, since the bigger cities were already provided for. When we arrived there was no rescue station, no leadership and conditions were bad. The central government was not there to organize and there were no specific instructions. The other rescue teams just went in and out of the area, dropping off food. But what the people really needed was to restore the water supply and construct toilets and a public kitchen. That’s what we did and we stayed with the locals until everything was ready.

Did the money from Jakarta get distributed properly? 

There is more than one door. For example, one of the TV stations provided food and medicine with donations from viewers, but I didn’t see anyone coordinating the distribution properly. They just gave everything away as they traveled for good photo opportunities. The government should assign each organization to focus on one area to rebuild schools, mosques and build basic facilities.

How do you feel about living in Jakarta? 

I like the rhythm, everything is at a fast pace. But it no longer suits me because I have asthma. Travelling abroad or going out of town is like servicing your car every couple of months, I do it to recharge my batteries whenever I’ve had enough of the city. And when I return, I’m motivated, I have new ideas.

June was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: June Luhulima, Diver and Doctor

Picture Courtesy of June Luhulima