Monday, April 10, 2006


Jakarta and Crash

How would you describe Jakarta to a visiting alien or indeed Joe Sixpack in Shitsville, Montana? How would you describe a mega city of 12 million people give or take a few million, a city where unemployed youths busk on the dirty overcrowded buses while the wealthy, or those with pretensions thereof, preen themselves in air-conditioned shopping malls that could have been lifted from Amsterdam or Zurich.

Take Sunday. 4 pm saw us heading to Jakarta’s zoo at Ragunan. Even at this late time there were crowds enjoying the amenities if not the animals. Families were sprawled out on the grass, sheltering under the large trees that liberally dot the gardens. For Jakarta’s masses this maybe as close as they can get to nature in this sweaty city, the animals, well the ones visible, were just a backdrop to chit chat and noodles while young children enjoyed scampering around the large open spaces denied to them in their kampungs.

Make no mistake, this was the masses day out. Motorbikes and buses were the transport of necessity here, the private cars nothing but a dream for many. To be honest I don’t remember the last time I saw so many dark skinned people in the same place while I was the only bule and indeed the lightest skin colour between here and Cilandak Town Square Mall. In a way it reminded me of that park in Hong Kong, the place where every Sunday the maids and the drivers, the domestics imported to do the menial yet necessary tasks, come to play. You couldn’t legislate a more effective apartheid.

Spurning the # 77 mini bus we took a taxi to Plaza Senayen and another island of exclusivity. Here a 100 dollar Burberry shirt is probably double the salary of many of those frolicking at the zoo, a McDonalds meal 5 times to cost of bakso. Here the dark skins call for taxis or clean the tables while the white set flit like social butterflies from boutique to boutique, smsing friends on expensive hand phones, happy to fork out millions on handbags or ties in an effort to look the part of homo metropolis. A fantasy world built on credit cards and marketing peoples ideas of what is and isn’t cool. I clock a t shirt in Next for 600,000! We’re talking Next here, hardly a major player in the brand stakes but tell that to them in the queue ready and willing to hand over their cash. The burgundy shirt in Burberry I like can wait till I get back to KL!

We go and see Crash and I salivate at the irony of that movie set in LA about racist attitudes but so applicable to Jakarta. It should be staple viewing in schools across the country to counter the racist or non inclusive teachings that now prevail but then that would be me imposing my values on others and puts me on a level with the zealots who would talibanize the nation.

Big game tonight is Manchester United hosting Arsenal so we head to Blok M and another side of Jakarta. Here pot bellied bule, which I guess includes me, come to enjoy cold beer and a good crack in a soft underbelly many of those we met earlier in Ragunan and Senayan maybe blissfully unaware. There’s sleaze but it’s in the air not in your face and if you don’t want it then you can avoid it. Here the bule come to unwind, play pool, watch sports and, yes, pick up a partner. We come to watch the football and drink the cold beer before returning to our suburban paradise leaving the Blok to its secrets and scandals. Perhaps the Blok is the most egalitarian of the 3 playgrounds we visited today. Or maybe the people at the zoo and the mall already have their own family, their own small community to which the belong while the expat, ever the outsider in a city of 12 million outsiders seeks his family in the bars, beers and birds of the Blok.

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