… Will Work for Handphone

How’s this for the last post of the year?

Roll back to the year 2000. I got my first cellphone (oops, I mean handphone). It was rare among my friends to have one, and so therefore, I felt just a little bit cooler than them. Yeah I know, now they’re a dime a dozen, but back then it was more of a time for pagers and answering machines. Keep in mind this was in the States, and we’re at least a couple of years behind Asia as far as techno gadgets are concerned.

Fast forward to 2004.


Ok, now that I live in this “developing” country, I witness poverty beyond anything I could have imagined, and wealth that parallels America’s finest.

I would have thought that handphones would have been quite rare and only used among the elite or the business crowd. Nice assumption jackass.

Handphones are a lifestyle here. Not unlike the car you drive in America, your handphone represents your place in society here. That’s why I bought Nokia’s bottom of the line, “look at me I’m a cheap bastard” lowest color handphone – because I know around every corner I turn I’ll see a six year old Indonesian sporting the newest video / mp3 / video game system – in a handphone. Everyone has a phone. Security guards, shop workers, cashiers, children, even pembantu (maids)!?!

Now tell me how much sense that makes? Why does a maid who is making $70 a month, with a baby and a husband, feel the need to buy a $200 handphone? Stature? Image? I’m honestly not trying to rip on them, but c’mon, where do your priorities lie?

I notice this is a continuing theme throughout this country. The average worker makes around $100 a month and yet when they get that paycheck, they spend it on needless items. They’ll go to the arcade, buy countless cigarettes, purchase vouchers for their three-months-salary-to-buy-handphone, and then complain that they can’t make ends meet.

Yes, I realize that I sound like a heartless prick, but I actually mean well. I would love to see this country get ahead somehow – yet in reality it will be nearly impossible until the average Indonesian changes their thinking.

I can understand that they may feel that there is no hope for change with the corruption that runs rampant throughout every facet of their life here. There seems to be an air of acceptance for their fate, and that they were born into their niche in society. I’m probably way too optimistic – it’s easy to be when the average expat makes about 40 times the salary of an Indonesian.

Maybe the handphone represents one slice of hope that they may cherish and be proud of. Maybe with that single handphone, they feel as if they have something in common with the wealthier class, and for a moment don’t have to feel as if they are barely getting by.

Case in point…

I know a girl who sings in a local band traveling the circuit of shady clubs throughout Jakarta. She makes more money than most workers – around $250 / month – which affords her a slightly better life. She never knows where she’ll work the next month, or if she’ll have any work. After ingesting copious amounts of cigarette smoke, working until 4am, and pretending to enjoy the 50 year old German guy trying to molest her on stage, she saved enough money to finally feel a bit ahead of the game. I hoped that she would use that money to launch herself into a better situation.

The next time I saw her, a sound system erupted in her pants! Beyonce’s voice was booming from her thighs. Confused as I was, it didn’t take long to understand. With pride she whipped out the latest $500 Nokia handphone from her pockets. Yeah, it’s an awesome phone, with a digital camera, mp3 player, and even a few porn movies built into it. She was so ecstatic about her phone that I didn’t want to bring her down.

I’m sure while she’s on stage, being groped and chocking on the stench of Jakarta’s finest, she’ll be at ease knowing that with her hard earned cash, she finally earned a place among the Indonesian elite.

That is, until the next year’s model comes out.