Pontianak is a female ghost, or the Southeast Asian equivalent of the vampire. A woman could become a pontianak by committing suicide upon discovering that her husband is cheating on her, or if the woman dies during pregnancy. They live on banana trees, and there are many banana plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. When I was a kid, my grandmother would warn me not to get too close to banana trees. Or don’t look up when you’re near a banana tree. They like to hang upside down too. I’ve never seen one and I haven’t known anyone who’s seen a pontianak, but they’re usually seen by village folks. Pontianak have long black hair, long fangs, and a white dress, and they usually haunt only men. They don’t suck blood like Western vampires do, but they suck out your organs.
The informant grew up hearing stories about the pontianak. The legend of this creature could be a reflection of expected gender roles in Malaysian and Indonesian societies, and also fertility and faithfulness.
“When you greet someone in Indonesia, they only touch your hands on the tips very gently using both hands. So if describe it, it’s like you stand facing each other and put your palms together. And then with your hand, you will touch the other person’s hand only on the tips. This is hard to explain in words. They never grab your hand to shake it like in the western way. Also, if you are a young person and you greet the elders, first you kiss the elder’s hand and then you bring the hand onto your forehead gently. That’s how you show your respect. Between females, when they greet each other, they share kisses on both cheeks, also very gently almost not using their lips.”
This way of greeting, for my informant, looked very elegant and polite. She thought it was a better way than the custom of shaking hands in Western culture. It is very polite which is an important part of the culture in Indonesia. It also shows respect to each other and to elders, which is another important part of the culture. This way of greeting is more personal than just shaking hands, it helps to start relationships between people in the correct path.
For myself, I also find this way of greeting to be very elegant. In Korean culture, we also show respect to our elders by bowing, although handshakes are also common. Handshakes can sometimes have different connotations than just greetings however, as we are even taught of the best way tot deliver a handshake in professional situations. A firm but not too overbearing grip is usually recommended, as different pressures can have different meanings. When there is tension between two people, they are often depicted as aggressively shaking each others hand, trying to win over each other with the strength of their grip. In this way handshakes can almost be something condescending or something used to analyze the other. However, the Indonesia custom is not like his as it shows deference to each other and affection in their relationships.