The Jakarta Post
How women living in luxury jostle and mingle for social standing
Arisan, or social gathering, is a popular activity among Indonesian women.
In general, the gatherings involve informal credit and saving schemes in a form of lots, besides social interaction among group members. The activity used to be held (a few still are) at the houses of group members.
Initially, the main aim of arisan was to preserve communication among family members, but the gatherings have since greatly evolved. Arisan has developed based on the various characteristics of communities ' wittily exposed by writers Joy Roesma and Nadya Mulya in their book, Kocok! The Untold Stories of Arisan Ladies and Socialites.
Best friends Joy and Nadya talked with ladies at the gatherings, directed a survey on the gatherings at 300 random women, observed several gatherings and asked for comments from experts ' all as part of the six month research period for the book.
The duo begins the book with Arisan dan Sosialita (The Gathering And The Socialite). Here, readers are introduced to the idea of gathering in people's houses now being considered 'so-last decade'.
Today, women gather in crowded restaurants, wearing top-notch makeup, couture outfits and extravagant salon-made hairdos with perfectly manicured finger nails, colorfully adorned with nail gel, and fingers lavishly adorned with diamond rings.
On side chairs, their Celine, Chanel and Hermes bags ' from Etribelt, Kelly, Lindy to Birkin Crocodile Himalaya, priced at almost Rp 1 billion (US$102,817) ' sit alongside the ladies as they pose in front of hired professional photographers.
This is just a small example of the current trends when women get together. With the growing number of socialites, such gatherings have become familiar. The practice has become glamorous, with some high-end lifestyle magazines giving space on their pages to the activities of socialites, including their spectacular gatherings.
Arisan has also grown significantly on the economic side.
Financial planner Mike Rini explains in the book that some gatherings are categorized as investments.
They usually apply investment goods like gold and diamonds, or pool funds for mutual investments.
Psychologist Ratih Ibrahim said the activity was fun for some, 'because it means that the need to get together with friends is fulfilled.'
The book offers more excitement in its second chapter, 'Kamus dan Aturan Arisan' (glossary and rules in gatherings). There are at least 20 popular terms in the modern arisan, which are listed alphabetically. From BlackBerry to kocokan (an agreed amount of money to collect each month ' from Rp 100,000 up to thousands of dollars per month per member), this part of the book scrutinizes the details that make up an arisan.
How these functions develop into more than just social gatherings can be seen in some groups that apply piauw, a kind of interest for members who need easy loans.
In piauw, a member is allowed to claim the first lot at a certain level of interest (at least 10 percent of a levy) that she must pay in the following months within a round (a gathering mostly applies to a 12-month round).
Joy and Nadya then go on defining types of arisan ladies: socialites (the true elite), artists (celebrities), sellers, professionals (working women), social climbers (the ones who are desperate to be socialites), wannabes (less desperate social climbers), housewives, social butterflies (fun loving socialites) and tag-alongs (the ones who join gatherings without specific motives).
The book then reveals a day for an arisan member.
It starts with waking up at 7:15 a.m. just to kiss her husband goodbye, then going back to sleep, waking again at 7:45 a.m. to say goodbye to kids before they go to school.
The lady finally gets out of bed for the day for a home hairdo session at 10:00 a.m. in preparation for attending her first gathering at 12:15 p.m. at a hip restaurant, downtown. Finishing the first round of laughter and food, she heads to a boutique opening at 2:05 p.m., goes on a shopping spree at 3:30 p.m., poses and gives her best smile to lifestyle magazine photographers at another event at 4:20 p.m., visits another event at 6:15 p.m., before going home at 7:30 p.m.
A following chapter on the urban legends of these gatherings brings more shocking revelations.
Gatherings are home to several odd traditions; a cheerleading contest; a swinger group where husbands and wives switch partners for sexual activity; hiring fine-looking men (popular celebrities) or really young men (locally known as brondong) as a lot; desperate members who swallow lots, including diamonds; middle-aged women enjoying afternoon parties with young men, hiring strippers and getting drunk in temporarily closed restaurants; and finally gatherings that are strictly for first or second wives.
'For the range of odd activities within these gatherings, we spoke with the people directly involved. This is a research-based book,' Nadya said.
Joy Roesma and Nadya Mulya
Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 2013
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