On Monday, October 16th, ETA Sam Chen joined the teachers of SMKN 7 Semarang in their monthly practice of wearing traditional Javanese clothing to school. Buying the headdress (blangkon) and shirt (lurik) involved a long trip to Pasar Johar, one of Semarang’s largest markets. There, Sam learned more tips on how to haggle in Indonesian (though, ultimately, he found that the best way to lower the price was to have his co-teachers do all the talking).
Back at school, Sam found the new outfit to be hot, itchy, but ultimately an avenue toward interesting conversation. Speaking with teachers and students, Sam learned how different areas of Java have different styles of blangkon, and in certain places – like Yogyakarta – the garb is still worn by some on a regular basis.
In turn, Sam was asked to explain “traditional clothing” in America, a task that forced him to consider how to distill all of the country’s diversity into a handful of categories. After googling images like “California surfer” and “Northeast preppy,” Sam realized that trying to describe one single fashion as “American” is almost as futile as trying to describe any given phenomenon as “Indonesian.” The diversity of both countries defies generalization, and in their dissimilarity, Sam discovered an underlying sameness.
Sam Chen is currently teaching at SMKN 7 Semarang, Central Java
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