My Jakarta: Laura Muljadi, Model

It’s not easy being different in Jakarta. In the Netherlands, dark skin and exotic eyes can land you a modeling gig. But in Jakarta those same features, coupled with the fact that you’re 181 centimeters tall, warrant stares and whispers. But Laura Muljadi, 25, became a fixture at Fashion Week. Things weren’t easy for her — her mom made her shower with milk in hopes of lightening her skin. In college she weighed 82 kilograms. But instead of blaming people who put her down, she made things happen on her own. Now, when she’s not doing the catwalk, she tells kids at schools to be themselves. and stop caring about what other people think.

What does it feel like to be stared at all the time?

When I was younger my hair was really short and everybody thought I was a guy or a transvestite.

Even when I was in the Miss Indonesia pageant a blogger said I should join Miss Transvestite Indonesia.

When people stare I just smile back at them.

I’m ethnic Chinese, but you can’t tell. I stopped walking with my dad when I was 14 because I was so tall at that age people didn’t think I was his daughter.

You didn’t always think you would be a model, did you?

When I was growing up my dad only saw things as black or white. He always said: ‘There are only two types of girls in the world.

The pretty ones and the smart ones. You can’t be in the middle. If you’re in the middle you won’t survive.’

My dad always gave me books. I’ve always had books.

You have dark skin, which is normally not considered beautiful in Indonesia.

I grew up in the ethnic Chinese community. Even my cousins always thought I was different.

Once, when I was in elementary school, my teacher was talking about blood types and he said ‘Laura, it’s gonna be tough for her if she gets sick because she’s adopted and her parents might have different blood types.’

How was it even possible for him to say that in front of his students?

I was 9 years old. Of course I cried.

When I was younger, my parents would order pure milk and I would have to shower in it. They thought it would make my skin lighter.

But I always believed that things were going to happen for me.

You received a scholarship to go to school in the Netherlands. What did you study there?

I took up international communications management.

After school, I came back to Jakarta and got an office job related to my major, but modeling took over, and now things have gotten a bit carried away [laughs].

Any advice for young models ?

You need to be smart. Know what’s best for you.

You can buy all the whitening products here, but if you don’t have the confidence you’ll never be pretty.

You don’t need to be sharped- nose or anything. I go to schools and talk to kids and they say ‘You’re so lucky.’

But I tell them in this world only 5 percent of success is luck, 95 is hard work and motivation.

What do you tell the kids when you visit the schools?

I tell them ‘If you don’t want people to hate you, if you don’t like conflict, then don’t take risks.’ When I joined Miss Indonesia people were like ‘What were you thinking? They never pick people who look like you.’

I told them I’m not here to win, I’m here to pursue my dreams and to inspire people like me.

I don’t mean those who are dark-skinned, I mean different from the stereotype of what’s pretty.

When you were in college in the Netherlands you hosted a radio show that was broadcast in Indonesia.

It’s like Radio Indonesia. It’s a government-funded radio station with programs in nine languages. I did a show called ‘Voice of Women.’

The program started out as something completely different, aimed at college-age kids. Why the change?

I did my thesis on migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.

People here know all about the bad things that happen to migrant workers in Singapore and Malaysia, but they don’t focus on or broadcast the good things.

So you were talking about good things?

I found a balance. We broadcast the good and bad stories so the people from cities and villages knew what to expect.

Sure, a lot of bad things happen, but there are success stories that no one ever hears about, especially from Saudi Arabia.

I wanted to tell the listeners what they could expect to happen — both the good and bad.

Some people benefit from going abroad. But the media never broadcast those stories.

But does anyone really want to work as a maid abroad?

That’s the thing — some people go abroad and then come back and are celebrities in their villages.

Some people are even given an inheritance from their employers.

Especially in Taiwan, Indonesians are seen as caretakers and nurses, not maids.

Some get rich and just stay in Taiwan. But you never hear that.

People only want to hear how miserable other people are.

How did you get your big break?

When I was going to school in the Netherlands, I worked as a waitress at a cafe.

I weighed 82 kilograms at the time. A regular at the restaurant owned a modeling agency.

She said ‘If you lose all this weight in six months I can assure you’ll get a job.’

I went from 82 kilos to 49 kilos in six months.

Everything went in a blender. I didn’t chew anything for three months.

So what were you having for dinner, oatmeal?

I drank juice and blended vegetables. It was disgusting. I could never do it again. Then I tried to blend rice and meat, and the second month I even blended mie goreng.

 

Laura was talking to Iwan Putuhena & Zack Petersen

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Laura Muljadi, Model

 

Pictures Courtesy of  Laura Muljadi

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My Kemang: Tongkol, Bartender at 86

Long before drinking outdoors became trendy, the bar Lapan Anem (“86”) was already serving cold beer in the rain. Tongkol is a veteran bartender there. You wouldn’t guess that he’s pushing 40, but he puts his youthfulness down to his balance of work and pleasure. Tongkol sat at the bar with us and shared his stories, favorite drinks and his views on living and working in Kemang.

How long have you been a bartender at Lapan Anem?
I’ve been working here since they opened in 2003. At first, I was a bar back, just helping out the bartenders.

Where do you learn how to bartend?
I taught myself by watching the bartenders over the years. Learning, while drinking, because after all, I have to know the taste, right? (Laughs)

What’s your favorite drink?
I enjoy drinking beer, especially Bintang. For mixed drinks, I just like the simple and classic like Jack and Coke.

Do you have your own specialty drink?
Yeah, I call it Absolut “Tinggal” (Leaving). It’s a combination of Absolut vodka, triple sec, Midori, Cointreau, gin, tequila; pretty much everything! As you can imagine, it’s very strong, so after the drink you’re leaving consciousness. (Laughs)

Where are you from originally and where do you live?
I was born and raised in South Jakarta. Now I live in Wijaya. I’ve been living there forever, and rarely pass the south border.

What else do you do for fun, besides bartending?
I raise Bangkok chicken, and I go fishing.

Do you eat the chickens?
No, it’s for cock fighting.

What do you like about Kemang ?
There are many places to hang out, especially for nightlife. It’s been happening since I remember. Even before I worked at the bar, I would already spend most of my time in this area.

What are the changes that you’ve seen?
There are more bars and restaurants opening. The garden and outdoor concept is the new trend, it’s everywhere now. Places like Beer Garden, Bremer, Rooftop and many more, but we were the first outdoor bar, even before the new part, Splash, was renovated.

This place is like a second home to you. Why are you comfortable here?
We are all friends and my boss is very laid back, so I don’t have to go anywhere else. All of us have been working here for a long time.

Is it hard to handle drunken people?
Well, it’s always fun to take care of our customers. They do stupid things all the time. But it’s difficult to handle fights. I mean, it always happens when alcohol is involved, but we try to keep the peace.

Do you want your own bar someday?
It never crossed my mind. I just want to have a small warung by my house selling snacks and soda. That’s enough for me.

What do you think about the high-rise and construction around the area?
It’s very high; I can see it from here. (Laughs.) But I guess it’s good for the expats and tourists who’ll be staying there; after all, Kemang is their area.

What do you think about Kemang’s problems?
Well, traffic is always a problem everywhere, especially here. I would like to see them expanding the streets, if it’s possible. The roads around here are very small, while entertainment places grow.

How busy is Splash?
It’s consistent, always packed. It’s a good place to listen to music. We have a stage that we share with other outlets in here. On weekdays, you find the locals such as young professionals and students. Then over the weekend, it’s a mixed crowd, but there are many kids from international schools.

Do you guys check ID cards?
We do, but sometimes they come with their parents and they buy the kids drinks. I guess it’s a different culture than us.

What’s the drinking age in Indonesia?
I think it’s 18 (pause) or 21. Who knows? (Laughs) In here it doesn’t matter really.

How do you compete with other bars?
Well, we compete in a good way. There’s always a brotherhood among people that work at the bars, we know each other. Sometimes when the other bar is running out of liquor or beer, they come here to borrow our stock. If we have it, we will give it to them, and help them out if they are busy. And they will do the same for us.

Tongkol was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in Kemang Buzz

My Kemang: Tongkol, Bartender at 86

Picture by Iwan Putuhena