It was a windy day when I stepped past the gates of Ancol’s EcoPark, Jakarta. It was not too sunny, not too cloudy, and there was wind – a perfect day to fly a kite. Truth be told, I had never flown a kite throughout my entire life and that day, all I could think about was how much I wanted to fly a kite.
So that day, instead of walking through the stalls selling fruits and vegetables, my family and I veered to the left and found a small stall laden with toys of an average Indonesian kid’s childhood. There were toy cars that would run when kids walk with it as if they were walking a dog. There were ribbons shaped like dragons which one could twirl on the ground to make it look like it was taking flight. There were even dolls seemingly made out of knots. Behind this stall, there was a man with green shirt and a bright-colored Jamaican hat standing up abruptly as we drew closer to his stall.
The first thing I noticed among the many displays of toys was the dragon-shaped ribbons. I exclaimed to my Mom, “This was a toy from my childhood!”
She looked at the toy and started twirling it and said, “Mine too.”
The man behind the stall went around and stood near us, saying “That one is a favorite for kids.”
I asked him, “Do you have a kite?” He motioned towards a rack at the side of his stall filled with small kites with gold and silver tassels attached to their tails and Superman printed on them. I lifted one up and found that it was attached to a small, wooden stick.
The man in green had walked over to me, looked at the kite and then me, and said, “Notice how the kite’s string is different?” He took one of the kites out of the rack and started unraveling the string looped around the wooden stick.
“I made it this way, with this material so no one would get hurt. Kids often get cuts from flying kites so I don’t want them to get hurt while flying this one,” he said with an intonation that could only be heard from a person talking about what he loved.
I nodded and examined the kite. “How much?”
“10 thousand,” he said. I decided to take it.
My sister then pointed out a necklace with what looked like a light bulb as its pendant. The man in green went over to her and explained without being asked, “Ah, I made this necklace out of an old light bulb. It could have been just another trash, but if you take out the electric cords in it, it could actually be really functional.”
He lifted up the necklace and moved the light bulb to a certain angle against the sun, “It can be a magnifying glass. It can reflect the sun light if you’re lost somewhere in the forest or at sea to point out your location. It has a lot of functions.”
As he talked, I noticed how that intonation came back to him – the one you can only hear from someone talking about what they love. After being asked about the price, my mom handed some cash to him for the necklace and the kite and then asked him, “Do you happen to teach any DIY courses to make this kind of stuff?”
He nodded. And that question actually became the trigger for him to tell his entire story.
“I can teach people how to make toys like this. I actually master 2,500 different kinds of knots. I got an award in Berlin because of this,” he said with a sense of pride.
Then his smile faded as he said, “But they don’t even consider me at all in Indonesia. I did a lot of things for them overseas but when I returned here, none of it matters. People even conned me. Now I try to make a living selling these toys.”
I felt like I had been hit in the gut when I heard those words.
His face then lit up again. He walked over to the string tied between two tree branches behind his stall and pointed at what looked like a stick-man figure riding a broomstick made out of burlap sack, motioned my mom and me over, and said “I call this one Harry Potter. The broomstick represents Asians. Harry Potter is a Westerner. This is my view, that we, Asians, are always ‘ridden’ by Westerners, always controlled by them.”
He took my kite from my hands and said to me, “I can teach you how to make this too. Just print out that Superman and make its ‘skeleton’ from bamboo, attach some tassel to its tail, and tie it using a wool string to a stick made out of palm sugar wood. Yes, I use palm sugar wood for the stick instead of bamboo. There’s actually a myth in my culture that if you give palm sugar wood to a kid, they will always stop crying and be protected from evil.” His hands moved time and time again in his explanation to give emphasis, sometimes to shift his weight and touch his creations.
“Oh really? I didn’t know that,” I said.
“Yes, you can even wave it around your room to ward off bad luck and wherever it’s placed, there will be no bad luck in that place,” he replied in his quiet voice.
And throughout his lengthy explanation, I realize one thing about this man: he is so passionate about his craft that he doesn’t care about how people are going to use the knowledge he has. He just wants other people to know about his craft and how he creates toys out of nothing. He’s that passionate not to even think twice about sharing his entire trade secrets.
He paused for a moment then said again, “I also know a thing or two about plants and gardening. I was a member of Soeharto’s team of gardeners and botanists.” He then paused again, his expression a bit sad as he recalled his better days.
“Do you have a phone number I can contact or something?” My mom asked him.
“No, I left my phone at home,” he said, feeling the pockets of his trousers as if to make sure it’s not really there. “But you can visit me at Pasar Seni, unit B 14. I have giant art piece made out of knots in front of my shop. If someone buys it, I can make IDR50 million.”
“What’s your name?”
“Makroni, like macaroni. You can ask around at the market, they’ll point you to my shop. Or you can Google my name, I think I have a website,” he said calmly.
And that was the story of how buying a kite got me to get to know Mr. Makroni by simply witnessing a conversation between him and my mom. That day I learnt that sometimes, you work hard and you get to the top only for other people to knock you down and that those people might be the ones you’re doing it for. I learnt that there’s always a risk you have to take in pursuing your passion – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
As I bade Mr. Makroni a thank you and goodbye that day after he reminded me again and again to visit his shop, I silently said a prayer that things may turn around for the better for him and that his passion and talent may be appreciated for what they’re worth.
Ps: in case you’re wondering, Mr. Makroni does have a site. You can find more information about him here. And should you ever find yourself in Ancol, please visit his shop at Pasar Seni B 14.