Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Hello leather puppet!

In pursuit of a subject that had perhaps better not be made fully public - at least not outside a court hearing - I was recently explaining to No Good Boyo the semantic flexibility of the Malay/Indonesian word 'kulit', which can mean either skin or leather depending on the context. It appears as part of the term 'wayang kulit' (wayang meaning 'shadow' or 'puppet' depending on context), which refers to a form of shadow-puppetry using flat puppets carved from buffalo hide. The term 'shadow puppet' is the most appropriate English translation of the term, but that needn't stand in the way of a random Indonesian with a small dictionary.

Now picture the scene: Along the arcaded west side of Jalan Malioboro, the main drag of Yogyakarta, stand hundreds of stalls selling clothing, souvenirs, craft stuff and the like to wandering tourists, both domestic and foreign. To lure the foreigners, most vendors have learnt a modicum of English sales patter. Thus one will be accosted every few yards with "Hello -hat?" "Hello - batik shirt?" "Hello - poster?" and so forth. On one memorable occasion, I was accosted by a puppet-seller with the words "Hello - leather puppet?"

I mentioned this to a fellow Java-loitering SOAS student, and we decided to adopt it as a form of greeting, though with more of a Leslie Philips intonation (we also pioneered a form of improvised street-theatre which involved holding public Alan Bennett-type dialogues in loud, Lancashire-accented Indonesian to the consternation of passers-by who would suddenly realise that they could understand every word spoken yet still have not a clue what we were on about - usually the desirability of having "a proper sit-down meal").

Upon her return to London, I wrote her a postcard bearing the salutation "Hello leather puppet!" It was picked up by her boyfriend, who confronted her gently but somewhat anxiously about it, asking "Is there something about your relationship with this man you haven't told me?"

There wasn't. She duly explained and he saw the funny side, to the extent where he and I have subsequently greeted each other the same way. Just as well really, considering he's about 6'7"...

7 comments:

scarlet-blue said...

Well Hello leather puppet . . .
Yep, works for me. I shall try it on the next person I greet and report back with my findings . . .
Sx

Gyppo Byard said...

My friend Sarah found that the phrase used randomly had unfortunate effects, but they could usually be reversed with the help of buckets of iced water, electric cattle prods and her 6'7" boyfriend. I merely stood aside and sniggered, as you'd expect from the Didacoi code of honour.

No Good Boyo said...

Beats being a cyberpunk meat puppet, I suppose.

Gadjo Dilo said...

"Hello leather puppet" works for me too, and consisely describes how one feels one is regarded by one's boss in 90% of the paid employments in this world of ours.

Mrs Pouncer said...

Used it this afternoon in the Oxfam Bookshop, Woodley, to the stone-deaf till operator, who smiled and said "Yes, isn't it? It's the summer we didn't have".

I am thrilled with this greeting. My Argentinian son-in-law will be the next lucky recipient. I will let you know.

scarlet-blue said...

I tried it last night down the The Rose and Crown . . . I return a little ruffled and decidedly dishevelled . . . so many thanks, ta, Mr Gyppo . . .
Sx

Kevin Musgrove said...

I'm convinced I've heard this greeting in a public convenience in Manchester.