Warias of the wasteland

TheJakartaPost.com – Simon Pitchforth

While returning home one evening last week after blowing the froth off a few ales on Jakarta’s street of backpackers and broken dreams (Jl. Jaksa), my Blue Bird hansom cab passed over the river/canal overpass that connects Menteng with the skyscrapers of Jl. Rasuna Said. On the overpass I saw several tradesmen plying their wares on another grueling evening shift. Those of you who have seen these fellows before while driving south of an evening will no doubt be emitting a familiar chuckle. For those not in the know however, allow me to elucidate more clearly and reveal that these gentlemen are what are generally known as lady-boys… transvestites if you will… looks like a lady… in fact it’s a chap.

Now, I may be opening up a whole can of worms here and perhaps this subject is not entirely fitting for a Sunday. However, these fine bodies of men are almost certainly one of the city’s minor tourist attractions. The first time I saw these charming creatures I was new in town and wet behind the ears. A friend took me for a spin around the area in a taxi and I was a little shocked. We then headed on to a club I might add, no money changed hands, I’d like to make that quite clear and our taxi doors were not breached in anyway.

The area in question is known as Taman Lawang and extends from the aforementioned overpass into the pleasant, leafy environs of Menteng. I have always considered this to be a slightly weird arrangement. Other cities and countries make sure that street walking, especially that of the gender-bending variety, is confined to the cheesy side of town. Menteng though is one of the poshest, most gentrified and expensive districts in the city. Ex-president Soeharto is the area’s most famous resident but no doubt other powerful politicians, businessmen and generals are also domiciled there. I can’t begin to imagine how they feel when they leave their mansions of an evening to be confronted by semi-nude transsexual prostitutes being solicited by Kijang drivers.