“What is going on?” my new Argentinian friend asked me in Spanish.
“This is my life in Asia,” I responded while quickly turning a corner.
The two of us had intentionally switched from English to Spanish while conversing. Children hovered around us and some adults openly stared. Spanish was the only way to talk frankly about the situation without being understood.
As we moved around Borobudur Temple, voices behind us could be heard practicing how to ask a question in English.
“Picture? Please? Can I? Can I take your picture please?”
Whatever spiritual moment I was going to have at this religious site was destroyed once people registered my dark brown skin. Students and adults alike wanted to snag a photo. A teacher with her students grabbed me around the waist and said “I just want to touch you.”
And there I was thinking she was going to tell the kids to calm down before gathering around me with their smart phones.
With this woman’s hands around my waist, all I could do was laugh. The sheer ridiculousness of me playing celebrity and paparazzi while at a Buddhist and UNESCO World Heritage Site was just overwhelming. I was not going to win this battle no matter how much I wanted to. Photos taken, obnoxious teens (there’s a site you’re guaranteed to see around the world) called out to my friend and I as we rushed back to our tour van. What did they want? Pictures of course. One would think that people would be more excited to snap photos of the architecture, as shown below.
But, no. What would be the fun in that when a Black person was wandering around?
I spent a week in Yogyakarta studying at a Bahasa Indonesia language school. Though the language is not sticking with me (through no fault but my own since it has a simpler structure than English and Spanish), memories of Borobudur and Prambanan Temples remain.
Both are astounding architectural feats, but Borobudur just resonated with me more…even with the constant photos.
Maybe it’s because by the time I arrived at Prambanan it was too hot to think about anything except “Don’t faint.”
It would still be weeks after my trip to the temples before I took some Black expats’ advice to ignore the stares, be open to people’s curiosity, and just pretend they (people who want to forever take pictures) are the paparazzi.
Regardless, the beauty that was Borobudur would have me brave the teens, cameras, and heat all over again.