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 naïve 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.