~ pengamen ~

05 October 2003

if you drive cars or take public transportation in Jakarta, you will eventually encounter people who we call pengamen. the idea behind pengamen is, they would sing and entertain you. if you enjoy the service, you pay them.

the jakarta’s pengamen, however, has moved from the original idea. they tend forget the whole idea of entertainment. in red lights, they would come flooding and start singing on your car windows. if you wave and say “thanks, but no, thanks”, they will stop singing and move to the next car. if you give them money, they also will stop singing and move the next car. what should i do if i like their song and would like them to continue singing? i always thought it’s funny that it seems that you need to give them money to shut them up, not because you enjoy their service. kinda like a blackmail with song.

these pengamens usually are equiped by somekind of instrument. it could be a guitar, types of percussion, or the most popular ones among the young ones are a can filled with somekind of beany — maybe uncooked rice or small stones. they shake the can as they sing. lately, they don’t even sing. they just shake the can, and the motorists would understand that they either have to wave or give money.

so far, the red light type is unique to the city of Jakarta. with the poverty and the amount of homeless people in the city, being a pengamen is a popular choice of earning money.

New York City has a slightly different type of pengamen. other than those on the side of the street (the common type, but i guess that makes less money. they don’t serve captive audiences), they usually appears in subways. they start singing or play some music, then after that, they go around the passengers handing out their hats. we, the passengers, are supposed to put some money in their hats if we enjoy the show.

i think that’s quite fair. although i remember there was a saxophone player who is usually on the train i take to get home from work. he wasn’t a very good saxophone player. but the worst part is, if no one on the train car give him money, he would start blowing the sax soooo loud. everyone would cover their ears with their hands. and he won’t stop until someone give put money on his hat. i hated him.

well, today is the first time i saw a pengamen in Melbourne’s train. on the way to Chapel Street, there was this guy with this guitar, who would walk around the train and sat randomly next to a passenger. he then would ask the passenger if he/she would like to hear a song or two. usually, the passenger would shyly say no. the pengamen would ask, “are you sure? it’s going to be entertaining”. the passenger, once again, shook their head and said, “no, i’m okay”. the pengamen would say, “how do you know you’re not going to enjoy my songs? c’mon…”

yeah, he was the pushy type. that’s why it reminds me to the stories of other pushy pengamens above.

~ comment (7) ~

i think the aussie pengamen are combining the indo and usa pengamen’s style. even though it’s funny but i guess he’s trying to be polite by asking if we want to hear a song or not before he play *and prob’ly sounds annoying*. sure..sure.. it’s pushy, but i guess every pengamen should be pushy… :)
nice post, thal… and just like shinta i do love the reply things here.. :)

an | 6 October 2003 - 02:15 | reply

yeah, i guess they have to be pushy. it’s sort of their way of advertising themselves.

thalia | 6 October 2003 - 06:38 | reply

Hmm, you might want to call him “Victorian pengamen” instead. I live in Sydney for 5 years and I have never encountered a single one of them on the train (I travel with train everyday), probably there’s a law that forbids them to do so. They usually can be found in the stations or busy intersections and most of them play/sing quite well.

felisha | 8 October 2003 - 02:02 | reply

hehe, victorian pengamen… i thought there is a law on that too. i have never seen anything like that either on the train (except for that day, of course). that’s why i found it amusing that he would do such thing. he might’ve been fined by now…

thalia | 8 October 2003 - 08:03 | reply

if they’re being pushy like that.. makes you not even bother to give them anything, doesn’t it?

sometimes i find a nice pengamen in the subway, who’s entertaining and very good at what they do and definitely not pushy.. if that’s the case, i would gladly to give a lil sumthin in the paper cup.. ya gak sih??

sLesTa | 7 October 2003 - 09:48 | reply

have you ever met the sax player thing? he’s usually on the F train (you live in forest hills too, no? or rego park?).

thalia | 7 October 2003 - 10:58 | reply

i couldn’t really remember but i believe i know which sax player you’re talking about.. although i hardly see any pengamen these days.. *hm..wonder why?* (i live in rego park, used to live in forest hills, but then again, they’re next to each other.. :D)

sLesTa | 8 October 2003 - 01:51 | reply