Wayang Kulit

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Offline Kedamono

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Wayang Kulit
« on: June 24, 2018, 12:06:51 AM »
Ted Granger puffed away as he peddled his bike in the early morning sun. Attached to the bike was a trailer loaded with trade goods. Next to him was Lorenzo Di Stefano peddling his own trailer. They both rather that they could have used their vehicle, but the local Javanese king, Sunan Patah, had banned all privately owned motor vehicles from the land. If a person wanted to get around, you rode a bicycle, an ox cart, or you walked. So there they were, cycling down the market streets of Surakarta, looking for an empty stall to set up and trade their goods from.

Back at their hotel, the Losem Pang, they had gone over the rules and regulations imposed on all visitors to the kingdom of Java. The ban on motor vehicles was know after the first scout team here was arrested, thrown into jail and had their Hummer confiscated. They broke out easily and escaped, but they couldn’t return to this world because they were hunted men. They also failed to find out what else was prohibited in Java.

Pornography was an obvious banned item, as were foreign made alcoholic beverages. Computers, either for sale or for personal use were banned as were “Personal Wireless Audio Telegraphs”. Luckily, their slim laptops and tiny walkie-talkies escaped notice by the trade inspector that had visited them to issue them a permit to sell. Luckily they chose not to bring any electronics for sale, but a hodge-podge of hand-made goods, tools, and simple devices. However their load of dolls was confiscated as possible objects of idolatry, as were any pictures that showed recognizable portraits. They had to pay a hefty fine of 40 gulden, about an ounce of gold, which ate into their capital. Between the two of them, they only had 20 ounces of gold, most of which was to buy local goods and services. Their room at the hotel was costing them 3 gulden a night each. Over their month long stay on this world this would eat up about 4 and half ounces of their stockpile. Thus the need to supplement their income.

“Hey,” puffed Lorenzo, “over there, a space.” He bobbed his head in the direction of an open space between a fruit vendor and man selling live animals for food.

Ted nodded and aimed his bike at the opening. “They setup early around here,” he replied.

As they pulled up, they realized why the spot was open. The stench from the animal vendor was overpowering. Ted smiled, bought some fresh fruit from the other vendor and the duo pedaled away.

Soon they found another collection of open spaces under the Spanish era arcade and soon they had their folding table setup and their wares arrayed behind them. A stall warden stopped by, checked their permit, and collected the gulden for use of the space and another 50 duit as a bribe not to roust them later. Duits were a small copper coin, about 100 to the gulden.

Then the two sat on the cushions they had brought and waited for their first customer.  Ted divided the bunch of dhuwets he had bought at the fruit vendor, handed half to Lorenzo. Both men sprinkled some salt on the fruit from their pocket salt & peppershaker, and bit into the violet fruit. “Mmm, nothing like local street foods,” said Ted. “I saw vendor cooking up some pork bits and guava three stalls away. I’m thinking lunch.”

“That sounds good,” replied Lorenzo, “and I spotted a vendor selling rujak in melon bowls. Bueno!”

“Rujak… mmmmmmm,” mimicked Ted, then the two of them laughed.

During the morning they mainly got lookeeloos, folks that eyed their odd wares, stare at the one item that held pride of place, and then walked on. They made enough to pay for lunch, their primary goal. Ted purchased two plates full of pork bits and pieces, mixed liberally with roasted guava and mango bits, all covered in a tamarind sauce. They had to provide their own plates. Lorenze then went after the rujak vendor, and came back with two melon bowls full of fruit in a red sweet-hot bumbu rujak sauce. He also snagged a small paper cup of garam, a salty ground red chilli spice.

“Well, they have trade with the Americas,” said Lorenzo, sprinkling some garam on both his rujak and his meat.

Plucking out a sweet potato, from his rujak and sprinkling some garam on it, Ted said “Most definitely.” The two enjoyed their lunch, comparing notes on other street food they have had over the years.

Earlier that day they had determined that whatever the Americas were called on this world, it wasn’t “America”. After lunch, Lorenzo thought for moment, he said that he had an idea and that he’d be back in a minute or so.

The woman selling rujak looked up as Lorenzo approached and smiled at him. “How was the rujak? Not too spicy?” she asked.

“No, not at all,” he said, as he watched her slice up the different ingredients for another batch. “I do have a question, though,” he picked up a sweet potato that was displayed on her counter, “what is this? Where is it from?”

“Ah, this is the ‘root creeper’,” she replied, “My family grows it on our farm. Freshest in the market.”

“Hmm, but it’s not native to Java, is it?” observed Lorenzo, giving the tuber a sniff. “I’ve seen it in other lands, but never tried it till now. It’s very tasty, sweet even.”

She looked thoughtful for a moment, remembering something. “I think I remember from my teachings that it was brought over here by some Lower Columbians who had settled here hundreds of years ago.”

“Hmph, ‘Lower Columbia’ you say,” mused Lorenzo, “I’d never about thought that. Kantangs of course, but never this,”using the Javanese word for potato. “How are these roasted?” he said, gesturing to the sweet potato in his hand.

“Very good, especially if you put a sweet-hot sauce on them while they roast,” she replied. “My good friend here, Ken Dedes, she can cook them for you if you wish.”

The woman in the next stall smiled as she cooked up some eels. “Not right now, I’m full. But for my supper when I’m done, I’d love a roasted ubi jalar. Ah, I am so impolite, I am Lorenzo Di Stefano.” He gave her a little bow.

“And I am Ken Umjano,” she replied, giving a little bow of her head. “You come back here and we’ll make you a meal you will not forget.”

“Is it alright if I bring my friend?” said Lorenzo sheepishly, “He’s working at our stall down the way from here. Um that one.” He pointed at his stall.

“I may have to visit your stall later, when my daughter takes over in a little bit.”

“We’ll be waiting for you!” he said with a smile.

When he returned to their stall, Ted was engaged in a haggle with a well-dressed Javanese over a stainless steel chef’s knife. “But you have no idea of how far this knife had to come to be here,” said Ted, as he carefully rotated the blade, causing the sun to run along its length. “I can’t let it go for any less than 25 gulden.”

“25 gulden? My family will starve if I spend all my money on this shiny bit of metal!” replied the man. “No, I cannot pay more than 19 gulden.”

Ted looked up and smiled, and said to Lorenzo, “My good man, what do you…”

“No, no, no do not include me in your haggling,” said Lorenzo, going behind the table, arranging some goods. “Deal fairly with this man.”

“Oh ho! You’re trying to cheat me!” proclaimed the man in a loud voice.

Ted mouthed a foul word at Lorenzo, and then turned back the man before him with a defeated look. “No, I was just trying to drive the price up. So that was 19 gulden then?”

“18,” replied the now smiling man.

Sighing inwardly, Ted put on a wan smile and said “18 gulden it is. Do you want it wrapped?”

After finishing the transaction he sat down next to Lorenzo and suppressed a smile. “18 gulden? That’s about, um…” Ted pulled out his abacus and did the math, “70€, and we only paid 2€ for it at that yard sale. Nice little bit of profit. So, what did you find out?”

“America is known as Columbia on this world,” he replied. “Upper and Lower Columbia. And I made friends with the stall owner who made our rujak, Ken Umjano. She’s going to stop by later on to check out our wares. She might know someone who might take our bait.” He nodded at the brown and brittle object sitting in the pride of place in their stall. “Oh and we may get a very special dinner tonight.”

“Double our pleasure…” said Ted.

“She’s married and has at least one daughter,” flatly stated Lorenzo.

“OK, I wasn’t going to hit on her,” Ted defended.

“Ah-huh… and the pope is a Unitarian,” replied Lorenzo.

The afternoon went fast, and they did more trade. It seemed that a different kind of person prowled the market in the afternoon, and soon they had made another 50 gulden in profit.

Ken Umjano showed up with a extra large melon bowl, filled with fruit covered with bumbu rujak sauce. “It would have gone bad,” she said, foisting the treat on the two men after Lorenzo introduced Ted.

“But we just can’t take it,” said Ted, “Let us pay you for it. This is what 18 duit?”

“I’ll let you have for 12 duit,” she said leaning forward and continued in a conspiratorial whisper, “Stall vendor discount.” She gave them a wink. They paid her the sum and moved the bowl of sugar covered fruit to a safe hiding place.

She looked over their wares, marveling at the collection of cookware they had on display, then her lit upon a stainless steel ladle. “Oh my, what is this made from? Silver?” she asked, cradling the ladle in her hands, and then tried out the heft and feel. “No, not silver, too light. Iron? Steel?”

“Stainless steel,” replied Lorenzo. “At least according to the man we bought this from.”

“Amazing, it’s so shiny,” she looked at her distorted reflection in the bowl of the ladle. “What do you want for this? 30 – 40 gulden?”

“30 is our asking price,” he leaned forward and whispered, “We only paid 25 gulden for it!” he gave a conspiratorial wink. It was only a half lie, in actuality they only paid 25 eurocents for it at a thrift shop. That and some stainless steel polish did the rest.

She sadly hung the ladle back on the shelf, saying, “Ah, that’s still too much for me.” She gave it a look that had both men look at each other and nod imperceptibly at each other.

She turned and looked at thing that had pride of place in their stall. A large, dry, ball shaped collection of curved branches and nub of stump at the bottom. “What is that?”

Ted stood next to it and said, “It’s called a ’Tumbleweed’. This one is from the Upper Columbia, though you can find them in Asia and Africa as well.”

“’A weed that tumbles’,” she replied. “That’s an odd name. Why do you have one on display?”

“It gets people’s attention,” replied Ted, nodding his head at a couple staring at the strange plant. “Ever since we bought it, it has brought us more customers than our wares. It’s an odd enough plant that it draws all sorts of people.”

Lorenzo smiled and then greeted the couple and the three of them began a lively discussion over the stall’s wares.

Ken Umjano raised an eyebrow in appreciation, wondering what she could hang in her stall to get people’s attention. Then she had a thought. “My middle son, Paku, he goes to the university here in town, he’s quite smart and qualified for a royal scholarship. He takes classes on the science of plants and I’m sure his professors would love to look at ‘the weed that tumbles’.” She looked at some of the more technical items for sale in the stall, she added, “And maybe they might buy some of those items. They work for the king, bless his majesty, and they are well paid.”

Ted stood in thought for a moment, and then said, “If you could do that and we sell some of these items…” he reached over and lifted the ladle from the shelf, “This will be yours. The profit we’d make off of selling one or two of these tools, would pay for three of these. And if we sold three or more,” he picked up a narrow teak wood box large enough to hold the ladle, “I’d gift wrap it for you. Consider it a finders fee if you can deliver them to us.”

She smiled in the way only a predatory stall vendor could smile. “Put them aside Theodore, I intend to collect that finders fee.” She spit in her hand and held it flat out. Ted spit in his hand and placed it on top of hers. They squeezed their hands together and the deal was done.

Ted was able to trade her a new paring knife before she left, for a promise of a delicious supper that evening. After she had left and after Lorenzo had finished his dealings with his customers, the two sat down and munched on sweet & hot sauce covered fruit.

“Looks like we get to make contact with the brains of this world. She picked out her own bribe and hopefully we’ll be talking to some scientists this week,” said Ted. “And we’ll get dinner out of the deal tonight as well.”

“Great, and this evening we’re invited to attend the local Wayang Kulit performance,” replied Lorenzo. “That couple was two of the performers. It’s the only form of theatre allowed in Java it seems, only shadow puppets are allowed. It seems that the current string of rulers are very strict in interpreting the Koran here.”

“Huh. Shadow puppets,” said Ted. “That’s funny you know, that’s what we are, just shadow puppets for UNIDA on this world. I can’t wait to get out into the light again.”

The two sat quietly, contemplating their mission on this world. Then Ted slapped his knee and stood up. “Enough navel viewing, we have inventory to sell.”

Lorenzo stood up and sang out “Tools for sale! All kinds of tools! Our prices can’t be beat!”
« Last Edit: October 10, 2019, 11:22:29 AM by Kedamono »