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From Being Shy to Being a Yes to Life

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Runi Palar tells the fascinating tales of her trips around the world, extraordinary chance meetings with a man, and being a yes girl. To take her out of her shyness, Runi was kept busy on Sundays learning to dance and attending Scouts. As a result, she had “Many chances to perform dance at many high-end occasions.” Runi says Scouts helped her open her mind and, “I became brave and tough, able to face difficulties.” Spending all her time saying yes to everything her parents wanted, she also said yes to her husband when he suggested she follow in her father’s footsteps—and she’s very grateful she did.

When I was young, maybe up until eight years old, I was a girl full of fears, insecurities, extremely shy, and very sensitive. Sometimes I could cry easily, even though it was for a small reason. I was raised up by a conservative family in Central Java. My parents and I lived in Central Java, Yogyakarta, where my parents had a very strict disciplined lifestyle. So as a girl, sometimes I would like to say no if they asked me or commanded me to do something, but I always wanted to please my father and my mother. Finally, I only said, "Okay. Yes," and "Yes," and "Yes." Actually, sometimes I didn't agree with their advice or commands, but that's life. But actually, my father and mother were very careful caring for me, loved me so much and also always dressed me up nice like this—they were very happy but so strict.

So, as a young girl, I was always like this. Well, actually, my father, my late father, was a master in silversmithing. So seven years before independence, Indonesia's Independence Day, he was sent by Indonesia—still a colony of Holland—to America, to San Francisco. So for him, it was very exciting going to Jakarta and then going to America, but then there were no planes at that time in 1938. Can you imagine? So going there and back, of course, by boat. Forty days, but he said it was a very beautiful experience, of course. Fourteen months in the United States.

Well, he came back, and he managed maybe more than a hundred employees to do silversmithing. So making a teapot or coffee pot or tea strainer or cutlery and a little bit of jewelry. Sometimes my late father made jewelry for me. I didn't say no, but actually, I didn't like it. It wasn't of interest to me because it was too intricate. I like more simplicity, actually, but I never expressed this to my father. Again I always said, "Yes, thank you very much." But then I gave it to my friend, the jewelry, but I never let on. I was just okay, I'll just keep it, but actually, I gave it to my friend. At the time, I was also feeling strange because my father never involved me in this kind of field because Central Java is very conservative. So no ladies or noblemen doing this kind of thing. So for me, I felt like there was no place for me. I couldn't do anything. So I just hoped and hoped that maybe one day my father would make a special decision pleasing me.

It comes through when I was nine years old. Finally, my late father said, "Runi, you are so shy and introverted." Then "I think you need to go to not only the elementary school, but you have to do something else. So on Sunday, no break. Sunday morning from nine to twelve, you have to learn classical dance." So I learned from an expert. The expert was the uncle of the King of Jogja. So a good source. So I said, "Okay." "And then in the afternoons at four till six-thirty, you have to join Scouts." "Scouts?" And then, "Okay." I cannot say no, only okay. So as a girl, I was forced to be like that, you know, no break at all, but I always said, "Okay." I did my best. And I tried to be more confident and focused. But I had to go there alone by bicycle then. So every Sunday I was so tired, you know, from morning until evening. But maybe because he gave me like spirit, so the spirits become energy. Energy becomes cheerful. I don't know.

But finally, the reason becomes so fruitful. From those dance lessons, I became the best dancer at that time. And my favorite teacher was surprised that sometimes as a girl, I turned, showing my back, and my teacher said, "No, you have to show the front." "Okay." So I always showed my movements from inside and so fully focused. So he liked it so much. So that's why he gave me chances. Many chances to perform dance at many high-end occasions.

And then also for Fifi IP guests who came from Jakarta because the Fifi IP guests from Jakarta after meeting with our president, usually their destination was Yogyakarta, then Bali. So in Yogyakarta, they should see the classical dance and also go sightseeing to the temples—Hindu temple, Buddhist temple, etc. So I was surprised I became so famous. And I was young for a classical dancer. So every time I got applause, or sometimes the audience gave me flowers. So I kept the flowers until they dried because, you know, it was so meaningful for me. And not only this.

From the lessons as a scout, I became more open-minded. I was capable of conducting a choir. Like this, you know? And then also the drum band and the marching band. I was always at the front, and the marching band was mainly male and only two females—me and my friend. So I was surprised that I became so open and not only this, but I became brave and tough able to face difficulties. I would smile at difficulties. "Okay. Smile." So I become more tough. Not only that, I also started to like flowers, arranging flowers. So when people came to my house, I always showed them my flower arrangements, even though the flowers were just from the garden, you know. And then not only this—I became good with my hands. I liked to dress up my hair with many different styles. So I didn't go to a hair salon. And also with scarves, so many kinds of styles—making scarves elegant or sporty or anything else, I could do it. And then sarongs. Make sarongs sexy or . . . Okay! So I became a different woman . . . not yet married . . . so a different girl.

At seventeen years old, I got a chance to go overseas because the last days of seventeen wasn't good in Central Java. So at seventeen years old, after finishing high school, "Okay. Let's go abroad." I got the chance of one month in the Philippines. So in the Philippines, of course, I could visit many cities because I had one month. And I also got a chance to perform at Malacañang. Have you been to Manila? Malacañang is the state palace in Manila—so I could meet the president and first lady. And then back to Indonesia. Only two months.

And then I got a continuous journey. It's more exciting. New York. Wow. New York! Are you from New York? So New York for me. Wow. It's the city that never sleeps. Oh, I wanted to see this, you know. So, of course, I was so happy, and there was training before going to New York. I had to learn for one month at a training center in Jakarta how to sit down, how to be behave because I would be sent as like an ambassador—a cultural ambassador. So I had to learn many things.

Do you know about the New York World's Fair in 1964? So fifty-seven years ago, I was there. I performed my dances in the Indonesia Pavilion at the New York World's Fair with my other friends from all over Indonesia. At that time I met eyes with somebody. Only this because you know my leader was so strict. So no dating or touching, no. Only this. Yeah, I met somebody, but he knew that I was shy, of course, and also scared of my leader.

So we are staying on Long Island. You know Long Island, yeah? So there are four wings. The first wing was for the interior decorators' group and another one was for information aid group. And this was for dancers and also for musicians. So every morning, when I went to the Indonesia Pavilion, of course, I dressed up nicely with a sarong and everything. Within twenty minutes, I have to be dressed up. Only twenty minutes. This, and then this, and then this—twenty minutes. If not, the bus will just leave without me. So I was always passing on the lobby, one lobby only, and I saw that man. Always sitting there and reading a newspaper, and I don't know seriously, but every time I passed by, he was like this. For me it was a nice feeling, you know? But then I didn't see him anymore. It seemed that as an interior designer for Indonesia, he was an interior designer for the Indonesia Pavilion.

So maybe because he was finished and then went back home. So I didn't see him anymore. And then, there was a competition among the pavilions from all over the world at the New York World's Fair. And, you know, the Indonesia Pavilion was second after the winner—Spain. Yes. So I was so excited, of course. And then, I performed in front of the very charming leading star Lucille Ball and also singers like Harry Belafonte. After that, my journey to Paris, and there I also performed at the Palais de Chaillot—an opera house in Trocadero. And got the chance to meet our president, the first president, President Sukarno, at the Indonesia Embassy. I was so grateful. And then from there to Amsterdam. I was in Amsterdam maybe ten days. I also performed in front of Queen Juliana.

At that time, I met him again. I was surprised. What is he doing here? But okay, I didn't care. And then, I was back home. I had culture shock because in Yogyakarta I felt Amsterdam, Paris, New York, and Yogyakarta is so dark, you know, not too much light. I was stressful. And then I had a feeling. Oh, I have to go from Yogyakarta. And I talked to my late father. I had to continue my study at the advanced place at Bandung. Bandung is near Jakarta. So I entered the Bandung Institute of Textile. You know how it is when entering university. There they dressed me up like crazy, and then I had to ride a bicycle.

And I was on the way to my dormitory, and then I met again this man. But he was driving with special sunglasses—trendy ones. Of course. I turned to the right into a small alley. You know, I didn't want to meet him because I was embarrassed, but he was clever. He caught me in the end and, since then, we became friends. And then he said, "I would like to see your parents." And that was in 1965.

In 1967, I became his wife. And then, after one year, the first child was born. So he was like thinking, "Runi, maybe you miss something" because I was active, you know, dancing and then just being with the baby with the crying and everything. "What you want to do besides this?" "I want to be a choreographer." "A choreographer? You must be on the stage again. It means you need applause." "Oh." "So, what do you think? Why don't you continue in your father's footsteps?" And then again, I said, "Yes, yes." But actually, I didn't have any ideas. Zero, but because of again my energy and trial and error, and then twenty-five years, forty years later, I'm still doing it. And actually, why I love my husband and love Bali because at the time, 1978, Adrian got a job in the Hyatt Sanur—the renovation of the rooms. And I was appointed as dress designer for the uniforms. And after that, we were thinking, okay, maybe later—we have three children already married—then we have to go back to Bali and move to Bali for good.

So that's why now I'm in Bali. And then, on the twenty-five-year anniversary of Runa Jewelry, Adrian gave me a special gift, a museum—officially opened by the governor. And praise the Lord for forty years, I'm okay. I got all the appreciation. A book from the craft council as appreciation. And then thanks. Thank God that I always say, "Yes, yes, yes" to my father and to my husband. And so I feel blessed that now I have been already fifty-three years married. I have three children, seven grandchildren, and maybe in another two months great-grandchildren coming. So I'm so cheerful to be here because this is the best season and the best time to know all of you. And thank you very much, Colleen, you are a very nice lady and also model my jewelry. Very nice. Thank you so much for your trust. Nice to meet you.


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