Years ago, I met a Javanese artist who thought in percentages and actually told me that I was only 75% beautiful in Indonesia. I was traveling solo through Yogyakarta, a community known for its artists with art studios lined up and down the streets. In a café where I was having breakfast, he strolled over to me, sketchpad in one hand, the other gesturing at the empty seat next to mine. He was in his late 20s, Muslim like the rest of the population in Indonesia and his hair was black, thick and matted. Around his neck sat a red painted wooden beaded necklace.
We chatted for a while about how he wanted to be an amazing artist like “Salvador Dali” with the “droopy watches” when he suddenly asked, “How many husbands you have?”
“What?” I had forgotten I was wearing a fake wedding ring. Even though I was single at the time, I still wore a ring to be left alone while traveling. “Uh…just one. He’s waiting for me in Bali.”
“I see.” He paused. “Well, if another tsunami coming, you my wife okay?” I laughed. “Okay, deal.” We high-fived across the table. “I bet you say that to everyone. How many wives do you have anyway?”
“I’m good Muslim. I deserve five wives. But for now, no wife. No money, no wife. In Indonesia, can have many wives.”
“Why do you think you’re a good Muslim?”
He touched his beaded necklace for a second. A flash of guilt crossed his face and then he said, “Only 50% good Muslim I am. I pray, go mosque every day. But I smoke and sometimes drink beer and if lonely, I have lucky-lucky with women.”
“Don’t you want to be 100% good Muslim?” I asked.
“Yes but I artist. So I live artist life. Why you only have one husband?”
“In Canada, I can only have one husband.”
“Oh. Is he 100% good husband?”
I chuckled. What’s up with the percentages? “Yeah I guess so,” I said about my phantom husband.
He looked down at his paint-speckled hands. “You are beautiful. 75% beautiful.”
I smiled. “Only 75%?”
“Yes. Better than most 100% foreign women, I think. Maybe 50% of 100% foreign woman okay pretty.”
After that I went to his studio across the street to view some of his paintings which were really nice. He was quite talented.
He painted on cloth, stretched them out with wooden sticks and dried them in the sun. One painting of three Javanese women posing and looking in the same direction drew me in. It reminded me of my two sisters. I decided to buy it.
“Really? I so pleased you buy!” he beamed. He rolled it up and then placed it carefully in a brown paper bag and handed it to me with both hands.
“Miss Debbie, I enjoy our chat. Now you are 90% beautiful!”