A couple days ago, I was in the Papaya grocery store here in Plaza Renon Mall and when I had collected the various items I wanted to buy, I found three very long lines awaiting me. Apparently something had gone wrong with the computer system and the cues had grown while the cashiers worked to reboot the system.
So I put my basket on the floor and settled in to wait like everyone else. Before long, however, I was approached by a store employee who motioned for me to follow him. I followed along for a ways while he hurried on toward the front of the line, but then hesitated, thinking I must have misunderstood his purpose.
But no, I had not misunderstood, for, seeing that I had hung back, the man motioned me forward again.
Now, it is classic that in situations like this, where something unexpected or unusual is transpiring, my mind does not work very swiftly or reliably (thanks to cognitive disorder). I thought at first that I had perhaps done something wrong. Did they suspect me of trying to steal something? Or was there some kind of emergency I needed to attend to? Had someone called on my personally? These were the questions sluggishly circulating through my mind as I dutifully went to the front of the store.
Arriving there, however, I was merely ushered before the cashier who had newly reopened her lane. After a long wait--and a wait that had been endured by all--I, who had been at the back of the line, was placed first in line.
Well, as strange as this seems, it is because I am a bule, a white person. Once I realized what had happened, I felt embarrassed, and actually irritated at the employee who had brought me forward. Because it's not fair, you know? I mean, if I had had my wits about me (something which hasn't happened in a decade or so), I would have politely declined to come forward from the outset.
This is not to say that anyone still in line was angry over the matter. Quite the contrary. There was not a single objection. In fact, this sort of thing is common and even considered natural or appropriate among Indonesians in general. Here in Bali, foreigners are called tamu, guests, and are treated with a deference that is jarring, at least to me, in that it is unearned and undeserved. Nonetheless, the deference is a product of their own graciousness and operates for its own sake in the character of the society.
My inner response is like Wait, you've got me confused. I'm not a tamu, not one of them--I live here--I've been here in Bali longer than some of you have.
But that's not the point, nor will I ever be considered anything other than a guest, no matter how long I'm here. Whether I feel unfairly elevated, whether the preference is undeserved, whether I feel embarrassed or unworthy--it doesn't matter. I am what I am.
The burden of being white? Well, I guess it's not so bad. Nor, I guess, does it really have anything to do with me personally.