Christmas is celebrated as a day-off holiday here in Muslim Indonesia, where the major holidays of most religions are observed. Started my holiday Christmas morning after a solitary Christmas Eve. First stop was Goodies to start distributing my gifts – cash attached to Christmas tree bulbs for the wait staff and wrapped gifts for key staff members. I had already given the office staff their gifts the day before.
Putrie and her daughter spent the night at her place and were to arrive about noon, in time to open gifts and attend the Goodies Christmas Day buffet. Eggs benedict was the choice for breakfast. With Sumatran coffee and fresh orange juice. Christmas Eve I had a photo taken of me and the wait staff to use as a Christmas card, so I needed to create that back at the apartment, send it by e-mail and post it on Facebook. Finished just in time for the girls.
They came bearing gifts and Santa hats for all, although I refuse to wear such things. The tearing of wrapping and taking of photos took far less time than to buy them and wrap them, as usual.
We finished just in time to arrive at Goodies for the 1 p.m. start of the buffet. A big crowd already was there; we served an estimated 80-100 people. Turkey, ham, prawns, some kind of Australian shrimp bug that had sci-fi type armor, roast beef, roast pork, au gratin potatoes, salad, fruit, beans, peas, carrots, squash, gravies, desserts.
The girls and I took a table in the covered dining area on the opposite side of the pool from the restaurant, near the buffet line. It was already a full house, with a mixture of Westerners, their wives/partners, and families. One of Putrie’s friends joined us and later we moved to one of the main tables, where the wives were sitting. Just like in the U.S. at parties, the men seem to gravitate to one room and the women another. Here they sat at adjoining tables.
For me, the meal was half relaxing and half working, as we needed photos of the activities for the newsletter. So, I periodically walked around looking for picture ops, dragging my bad leg along. There were two activities, in particular, to photograph. First, was the entrance of Santa, played by Harry, who is living in one of the guest rooms.
I followed Santa (Harry) around as he greeted everyone, before finally settling into a “throne” that had been provided at the head of the pool. I met Harry a couple of months ago when we both played extras in the HBO film being shot on the island. He’s a construction manager and has an awesome Fu Manchu. Apparently, he’s also something of a hippie, telling me he used to have very long hair.
The tradition here is for Santa to give out gifts to the kids in attendance – but then to also give gifts and ice cream to the neighborhood kids. The neighborhood kids waited anxiously at the entrance until they were allowed in, a mad rush ensuing.
My friend Jack in Costa Rica will relate. Two years ago, he and I purchased a bunch of toys in San Jose, put them in two very large plastic bags, and drove off looking for a poor neighborhood. Jack had been doing this for several years and invited me along. Then, we pulled off the main road to a dirt road lined by ramshackle wood and sheet metal shacks.
At first, there were very few kids outside, but once the word got out, we were inundated with children looking for a gift – or three. Jack took the first turn at handing out the goodies, while I snapped photos. We exchanged roles and I was quickly overwhelmed by the hands reaching up and the faces pleading to be noticed. It was a pretty special experience and brought back to me vividly on this day.
The second event of the day was the breaking of the pinata, at least that’s what it would be called in Latin America. I don’t know what it’s called here but it is basically the same – someone tries to break open a contained of candy for the children. Typically, the person is blindfolded but we just let the kids here take turns whacking a paper ball full of candy. Once broken, it didn’t take long for the goodies to be scooped up from the floor.
Everyone pretty much sat around for awhile, letting their over-stuffed stomachs settled, while a few people went back for seconds or thirds. I just sat listening to the women at my table talk in a language I didn’t understand. A good bit of drinking was going on at the bule table, Scotch being the whickey of choice.
Finally, the party broke up and we headed back to my apartment – to await Putrie’s family members, who wanted to meet me and help me celebrate Christmas (even though they are Muslim). Being pretty tired at this point, I wasn’t looking forward to this part but what are you going to do?
I was told that a cousin and Putrie’s brother were coming, along with a number of children. First to arrive was the cousin, a woman of about 60, wearing the typical head cover and sarong. She came with two boys, one of whom had these very big, round eyes that stared at me as if I was from outer space.
After sitting around awkwardly in mostly silence, the rest of the entourage arrived, fresh from a birthday party at the Nagoya McDonald’s four boys, a little girl, Putrie’s brother Ferri and – her father. I was told a cousin had accompannied Jenni from Medan to Batam on Sunday, but apparently I had bought airline tickets for her father.
I was not prepared, which was made even worse by him presenting me with a gift that probably cost him too much given his financial circumstances. I had nothing to give him – except a Jack Daniels and Diet Coke. He seemed like a very nice man, and spoke some English.
I had been told to order a pizza for the group before they arrived, and dutifully did so, even though I couldn’t imagine anyone being hungry after our buffet meal and their McDonald’s party. But the pizza lasted less than three minutes, as the kids surrounded the box on the floor – Hawaiian seafood pizza. There wasn’t even a taste left for me.
Eventually, after much play from the kids, the crowd was gone. Even Jenni left with her granddad to sleep at Putrie’s place. It was 8:30, I was tired but tense, so went to the pool for a swim and physical therapy on the knee. Two staffers at the restaurant wondered why I would swim at night. I mean, it’s not like there are any sharks in the pool, and there are lights all around. I think they think the spirits would be angry.
Here are some additional photos of the day: