Thursday, 14 October 2010

Indo in mini

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that give you perspective. A friend and myself were in Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (a sort of theme park but stranger than that – more details in a later blog) and it was raining. We decided that the rain had eased enough to keep wandering if we could find an umbrella.

Amongst all the stalls selling Mr Bean nodding dolls, bubblegum-pink toy guns and plastic Stetson hats, not a single one had the foresight to sell an umbrella. Not one. In a country where for much of the year it rains every day, none of these enthusiastic and intelligent vendors had thought to stock a gamp for the benefit of foreign visitors.

I managed with a paper round...
Small children would hire you an umbrella and then walk behind you, drenched to the skin, but with your rupiahs stuffed into waterproof bags.

So why could they manage one entrepreneurial venture but not the other? Let me give you another anecdote…

My mission seemed simple enough. I had been in Karawaci (a suburb of Jakarta) for three days and had found nothing except for the hotel and a shopping centre (with Debenhams, MacDonald’s, Burger King and Domino’s… hardly an authentic equatorial bazaar). There must be something more, there must… there were so many people staying in this hotel, surely a tourist industry had grown up around the rich bule.
Hotel Aryaduta. Smell the

I went to the hotel reception and addressed the receptionist in my best bahasa. ‘Selamat siang’ I started. ‘Is there something to do round here? Perhaps somewhere to visit or something to see?’ The receptionist looked a little bemused. ‘Well, there’s the shopping centre…’ she started uncertainly.
Yes, that's security and
a metal detector.
Take no chances...

‘Yes, I know,’ I smiled. ‘But something to see… something to do?’ The bemused look didn’t leave her face, but settled like a comfortable visitor who finds the cushions on your sofa exactly to his liking.

What passes for a tourist
hotspot in Karawaci

‘Err… no.’ And that was that. No other suggestions, no ideas of who to talk to, not even an offer of a hotel car to take me to some tourist trap.

There’s something charmingly na├»ve about the Indonesian attitude to tourists. I don’t want this to sound like they’re ignorant or stupid, they just don’t seem able to make that mental adjustment to see themselves as others see them.

They are unfailingly polite and always pleased to see you. They work hard when they need to and are charming and helpful. When they turn, though, they can be extraordinarily violent and internecine. Last week a police officer was killed in Papua when he got into an argument with his ex-brother in law. During the course of the argument, he was called a ‘thief’.

The village had had a spate of thefts recently and, hearing this, the villagers rounded on the police officer. He was severely beaten and, when he was rescued and taken to a safe house, the villagers broke into the house and beat him to death. On nothing more than a man’s word.

In Java last week, one Muslim group burnt a mosque to the ground and beat those who were inside, because they belonged to a different Islamic sect and outside South Jakarta District Court, rival gangs fought each other with machetes, guns and bows and arrows – surprisingly, only two died, but in gruesome ways.

Rather more bizarrely, two of the toughest gangs in town came head to head recently – the Indonesian Bar Association, which is formally recognised as the only authorised lawyers guild, and the rival Indonesian Advocates Congress. In the UK would this be a problem? They might make cutting remarks about each other’s perukes or the membership list of their golf clubs, but that’s about it. Here it was the start of a mass brawl with hundreds of them joining in.

I know, I know what you’re thinking – ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’. I know, I know. Quis indeed.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

How half of the other half lives

So we left the travelogue with me full of beer and ayam goprek bakar, in a car driven by a houseboy, being driven to meet the parents of a teenager that my colleague and I had only really known for 6 hours.

Confused? You might have to go back a few episodes of this blog, to ‘Jakarta in a day’ to get the full picture. It’s worth it, I assure you.

We ended up in Cempaka Putih (I don’t know what it means, but the second word means ‘white’), driving down a scruffy dual carriageway with fairly large houses glowering in a self-satisfied way onto the road. Eventually we turned into a cul-de-sac with houses off each side. Parking up, we entered through a sliding security gate and then we met Angke’s parents.

We already knew a certain amount of what to expect. Angke had a fairly strict upbringing. Every evening that she wasn’t working in the hotel she had to be home by 8pm. She hadn’t had a boyfriend, only had a sip of alcohol once in her life, but oddly, had had her first cigarette aged 5. Her father was a chain-smoking Indian man who worked in finance and her mother used to be a cabaret singer and still played the piano.

I think that’s probably more facts than I know about most of my friends… it had been that sort of a day so far.

We were welcomed warmly, and offered coffee. Good coffee. Very good coffee, but apparently not the best; ‘look out for kopi luwak’, her mother told us (Luwak coffee). The younger sister said hello, then scuttled off, not to reappear while we were in the house. My colleague noticed a cabinet full of small perfume bottles.

‘My wife collects things,’ the father told us, just a twinge at the corner of his eye betraying the enormity of the pain behind that simple sentence. There were other, larger perfume bottles elsewhere; in all, perhaps 200 or more. ‘That’s why we have so many cats,’ he went on. ‘I hate cats’. Here, clearly, was a man beset by fortune. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a wife who collects cats, surely.

Russian cat. Price tag
withheld for legal reasons
‘Would you like to see the cats?’ the mother asked. But of course. Downstairs, in a side room, were four cages and an electric piano. Inside one cage was a huge white ball of fluff with legs – this was apparently an expensive Russian cat.

Now I’m no lover of cats, but I especially have a problem with those snub-nosed ones. There’s something anti-evolutionary about them, something that suggests that ‘survival of the fittest’ needs to have a sub-clause to include inbred animals that are ugly and serve no useful purpose somehow managing to keep their Speedos dry whilst paddling in the gene pool.
Apparently the word 'cat' is
applicable. Apparently.

Our driver’s bedroom was room next door. Bless him, he had pictures of Liverpool Football Club and Fernando Torres on the walls, and a hundredweight of fur in a skin bag in a corner. This, my friends, is what the world calls a Maine Coon. It’s just ridiculous, and apparently its genus classifies it as felis catus. Domestic cat. Subspecies wolf.

Upstairs there was a whole room of cats in cages. Now I appreciate that if these cats were allowed to roam free in Jakarta they wouldn’t last a day and that here they were cared for and healthy (recessive genes notwithstanding), but I couldn’t help feeling uneasy in this room. Time to go.

Comments seem superfluous here

The triumph of self-image
over reality
Next generation on the way

We said our fond goodbyes and promised to look after their daughter.

Angke took us briefly to the antiques market in Jalan Surabaya where an enthusiastic salesman tried to sell me a gong weighing about 50 kilos. No matter that it was going on a plane. He’d wrap it up. That’s ok then.

The view from the back of a
bajay. Tax disc not pictured.
A brief journey in a bajay – a three wheeled motorised rickshaw that laughs in the face of MOTs and giggles inanely while sophistication glances the other way, then beers in Jalan Jaksa (Jaksa Street) and then we were off home, confused, bewildered, slightly disorientated but happy.

Why Jalan Jaksa? Angke wanted to take us to the place where the bule (white people) hang out. She thought it would be nice for us. Considerate girl… she’ll go far.