Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Southeast Asia's New Nightlife Capital -- Jakarta?

JAKARTA, Dec 5 (Reuters Life!) - The chaotic capital of the 
world's most populous Muslim nation is rarely associated with 
glitzy nightlife, but new venues in Indonesia's Jakarta may soon 
see it challenging more cosmopolitan centres in the region.

The city of about 10 million, or many more if thousands of 
unregistered poor flocking in from rural provinces are included, 
has just become the first city in Southeast Asia to host a 
Buddha Bar, the hip Paris-based franchise of restaurant/lounges.

The region's biggest economy has enjoyed a period of sustained 
growth in the last few years and better stability after the 
financial crisis and political turmoil of the late 1990s.

"Jakarta is a growing city in a growing country. So we think the 
market is now sufficient," said Jean Baptiste Giradet, marketing 
manager of Buddha Bar, which is housed in a restored Dutch-era 
mansion and former immigration building in the leafy Menteng 
area of the city.

The Indonesian capital, usually more associated with loud hotel 
bars, thumping nightclubs or karaoke joints, joins the likes of 
London, New York and Dubai in hosting a Buddha Bar.

While neighbours such as Thailand have suffered a deepening 
political crisis in the last three years, Indonesia's young 
democracy has surprised many by its resilience, and the economy 
has also benefited from a period of booming commodity prices.

New wine bars and bistros such as Cork & Screw, Loewy and 
Birdcage have also sprung up to serve a growing middle class and 
expatriates. Wine appreciation classes are also popular.

Harvey Nichols, the luxury U.K.-based retailer, opened its debut 
store in the Indonesian capital in October with a floor housing 
a trendy restaurant, bar and wine shop.


In a country where around half the 226 million people live on 
less than $2 a day, most of these places are clearly out of 
reach for the majority of Indonesians.

But Giradet said Buddha Bar's target market was the local elite 
and expatriates, and it also wants to attract business 
travellers from places such as Singapore who might otherwise 
just leave "because they think there is nothing to do in 

The bar, which has a dining room with a capacity of up to 200, 
overlooked by a giant gold Buddha, has also not changed its 
targets because of the global financial crisis.

"We have reasonable targets. We know that perhaps we will have 
less business travellers," Giradet said, adding the bar was 
ordering slightly less of the most expensive vintages that cost 
more than 10 million rupiah ($816) a bottle.

The menu will also bow to local tastes by including the odd 
Indonesian favourite such as nasi goreng, a fried rice dish.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

JALANAN - A Musical Documentary

Nice piece of real life from Jakarta. Looking forward to the release of the documentary

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Holy cow....

A few months ago in Bali, an elderly (albeit doubtfully wise) man got caught in the act of expressing his love for his cow in a way that is universally deemed a little too physical for morals: he raped the poor beast - without the aid of any type of blue pill, which is very surprising for a 70 year-old stallion. Now the village has to deal with his sin, that is unanimously frowned upon here like anywhere else. Their method is quite surprising though: they decided to drown the poor cow into the sea in order to cleanse the village from the sin; the rapist only had to throw away his clothes (as well as, I assume, his pride) in order to symbolically cleanse himself. More detail on a Jakarta Post article below.

What is especially weird, is to think that Bali is the only place with a hindu majority. Obviously the crow is not as sacred as in India... but this episode created big controversy and critics.

Cow drowned into the sea for being impregnated by human

Villagers from Julah in Tejakula, Buleleng, tow a pregnant cow behind a boat into open sea as part of a local traditional ritual.

The cow, which is five months pregnant, was thrown out to the sea about 3 kilometers from land Monday. The villagers believe the animal was impregnated by a village elder.

During the ritual the man, who was caught red-handed having sexual intercourse with the cow two months ago, joined the boat trip in order to throw away his clothes to to symbolize him discarding his sins.

Julah customary village head Ketut Sidemen said the ritual, called gamya gamana, or freak weeding, and had been conducted there for generations. The decision to perform the ritual was made a local residents meeting.

In line with customary regulations, the perpetrator, identified only as PS, 70, was sanctioned to fund the expensive ceremony, which aimed to cleanse him of any bad influences.

Luh Ketut Suryani, a professor and activist, deplored the sancation against PS.

She said drowning a cow was baseless because sexual intercourse between a human being and am animal could not cause pregnancy due to the different chromosomes and genes of the two.

"The cow is not guilty, why shoud it be drowned? Why don't just use a symbol like what was done by the perpetrator?" she said.

Suryani's said she was concerned dealt with the financial situation of the owner, who lives below the poverty line.

"The cow, which has a high price, had to be thrown away. It will be a pity for the owner, who is already poor and is now forced to lose his priceless belonging."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rain check

Below is a funny article published yesterday in the Jakarta Post by a Muslim author. Enjoy.


In heaven and on earth: Breasts and thighs 

Julia Suryakusuma, Jakarta 

Surfing the net last week, I stumbled across the reason why so many Muslim terrorists are not afraid to die, long to be syahid and are willing to end it all in a homicidal suicide-bombing: Turns out they may just be sexually repressed lads desperate for a bit of nookie! 

At least this was the only conclusion I could reach after watching a kooky video by Saudi cleric Omar Al-Sweilem. In the clip, he passionately extolled the breasts and thighs of the 72 black-eyed virgins promised to martyrs who make it to paradise (http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/1741.htm/). "Praised be He who created night and day. What hair! What a chest! What a mouth! What cheeks! What a figure! What breasts! What thighs! What legs! What whiteness! Wha softness!" 

It seems good ol' Omar has got postmortem sex worked out in detail, right down to the last grope and squeeze. 

"When they see you, they will push you onto your back, on (the) musk cushion ... place her mouth on yours. Do whatever you want. Another one would press her cheek against yours, yet another would press her chest against yours, and the others would await their turn ... one black-eyed virgin would give you a glass of wine as a reward for your good deeds. The wine of this world is destructive, but not the wine of the world to come." 

Yes, Omar's message to the faithful is clear: It's perfectly all right to enjoy sensuous joys and erotic sexual pleasures -- 
including group sex and drunken orgies -- just so long as you're dead. 

Omar's ravings also led me to realize that for his paradise to be appealing to naive, young, would-be terrorists wanting to get it on in the afterlife, there naturally has to be a contrasting prudish moral culture of sexual denial here on earth. Otherwise, why bother waiting for heavenly hookers? And that must partly explain why right-wing, conservative Muslims are so keen on strict moral laws banning all the enjoyable things in life. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Smell the roses

One of the perks of being perched right on the Equator, is that you can sometimes take the time to smell the wonderful flowers that grow wild everywhere. Here is a little collection of tropical beauties.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

White collar hero

Today I met a hero. Not a pumped up blond guy who spends his time saving kittens from burning trees; no. A real hero. I mean, the real deal: a clean bureaucrat.

Believe me, those are a rare breed in Indonesia - almost as rare that flashes of genius briskly crossing George W.'s brain. Our beautiful country is plagued by widespread corruption, and routinely drags to the bottom of the list for clean-handed societies.

But what was surprising in meeting Agung Kuswandono was that I realized (poor Westerner) that all corrupt people are not nasty villains who are eager to drink the latest drop of blood off of their poor countrymen. Some are, sure; the country pays a heavy price in terms of missed opportunities because of this hord of rapacious bureaucrats and businessmen (foreigners are not all that clean either). But with Mas Agung's example I realized that there is usually a huge price to pay to not being corrupt.

Mas Agung is a customs officer. In Indonesian, that could translate as one of the worst breed of greed, roughly equal to policemen, judges and tax officials. But for him at least, there is only one thing that is important: to be honest in his job. So, when he was in charge of the customs office in Jakarta's airport he once impounded a load of helicopters that were to be imported into the country without the proper documentation - and, you'd have guessed, without paying the proper taxes. Most of Agung's colleagues would have requested a proportion of the taxes due for themselves and then laugh all the way to the mall with their pocket full of money. Not him. And it did not even matter that the owner of the illegal helicopters was the brother of the vice president himself.

After this episode Mas Agung won a kind of national fame, but he had to pay the price for it: not only he did not get rich doing a job that should have transformed him into a billionnaire (in rupiahs); he was harrassed at home and at the office, was threatened by mafia-like tough guys, and several of his employees were beaten up so bad they ended up in the hospital in critical position.

Luckily, the present government in committed to fight against corruption, and Mas Agung, despite his relatively young age, has progressed quickly through the ranks of the administration (this is rare, as if you're a corrupt boss you don't want to promote a young clean guy, because he will disturb your little traffic. Another reason for not being clean). He was in charge of reforming the customs department of the port of Jakarta, Tanjung Priok. Today there are still people hanging around there with thick wads of 1000 rupiahs bills: they are here to make the change for 100 000 roupiahs (around 10 dollars) so that you can spread around a bill here, a bill there to speed up the process of importing your merchandise. But thanks to people like Mas Agung, the big corruption has ebbed away.

Long live the Agungs!

Corruption is one of the main problems in the country, and also something people are very aware of, as seen on this T-Shirt that says "my money does not come from corruption, but from my hard work".

Monday, September 1, 2008

Wet feet

I'm no blonde in a Chanel outfit in front of a blue screen, but I can tell you something: the rain season has started, on Saturday August 30th at exactly 12.36 PM (if you were standing on Jalan Ciputat Raya; might be a little different in other parts of Jakarta, like 12.24 or 13.01).

How dare I make such a sweeping judgment? Because I'm just one of those normal Jakarta residents who had the unfortunate experience of being on the road at the time. What it means concretely is that Matt, who was taking a taxi to go to a friend's place 15 minutes away, was stuck for 1.5 hours. In Kemang, the roads were not only totally jammed because
you have to go slowly when visibility is reduced to a minimum; but also, there were so many vehicules stranded in the middle of the street because they over evaluated their capacity to swim, and their engine ended up drowned (Blue Bird taxis are very good: my guy was a real champ' and it did not happen to us. Had my fingers crossed the whole time). At those moments, you'll always have a bunch of bare footed and chested young men - the only appropriate attire in these occasion - who would jump to the rescue of the poor rich guy stuck there, and push the car to the side.

Here we go for another 6 months.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008)

This is not about OUR Matt, but another Dude who thinks it is quite fun to travel the world dancing around. His latest video is awesome (we do miss dear Indonesia though)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Clear cut nemesis

Indonesia may be the largest Muslim country in the planet, but its general take on Islam could not be further apart from the bogeyman image it has become in the West. For example, you still see little sidewalk restaurants open at noon time during the fasting month, you have girls here who sometimes wear the Muslim veil, sometimes don't - depending on whether it fits with their daily outfit or not...

On the other hand, Malaysia (aka Indonesia's archenemy), has been experiencing a worrying islamization of its public life since the late 80's - worrying, because it creates a malaise within its important non-Muslim minorities.

I was struck by two parallel news on the issue today. On one hand, we have the PAS, a conservative Muslim party that controls one of Malaysia's northern states. On the other, we have Gus Dur, one of Indonesia's former president; today, he heads one of the two main Muslim organization in the country which, with its 40-something million members that including most of the islamic schools, might be one of the largest in the world. 

Today an Islamic court in Malaysia has condemned 4 Muslim men to 7 days in jail for having taken part in a beauty pageant for transvestites. The same day, Gus Dur announced that he accepted to become one of the official counselor for an Indonesia transvestite organization.

Gotta love the contrast :-)

Another example of the relaxation of Indonesia's Islam can be seen in this picture, taken in Jakarta's Istiqlal mosque, the biggest in Southeast Asia. If you go there on Friday right after the biggest prayer, you'll find a lot of men just taking a little nap: one of the favorite activity in this type of climate at this hour of the day, and far more comfortable to be done here than at the office or while sitting in Parliament.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A step closer to the gods

The picture below is of Mount Merapi. One of the most active volcanoes on Earth, it towers 3000 meters above the city of Jogjakarta, the cultural capital of Java. Its last eruption was in 1994: it spewed a little bit of lava, a little bit of hot gases - enough to burn alive 43 people who were too slow to flee its wrath. 

As we're on nerdy holidays in Jogja, we decided to climb it.

The Mount Merapi climb is a staple of the travel agencies that dot the touristic city of Jogjakarta. At first, I figured that the word "climb" was just a product of the promotional spirit of the tour operators (for example, why do they feel like they have to say "visit beautiful Borodubur temple"? Is there an ugly version that is worth visiting too???). Alas! It is nothing of a nice hike, let alone a walk. That's a climb alright!

The program goes like this: a tour guide picks you up at your homestay or hotel in Jogjakarta around 10 PM. You arrive around midnight in Selo, the village that is the highest
on the slope of the volcano. You start the climb at 1 AM in order to schedule an arrival at the summit for sunrise. Sounds good doesn't it?

Well... They do say in the tourist brochures "not to underestimate the difficulty of the hike". We sure did. See where this picture has been taken? That's where you start, and you have to climb all the way up in just under 5 hours. Here, please read my words carefully: 5 hours is a LONG time. Long, very very long when you're sweating like you're in the Sahara desert without a Gatorade. Even longer when you think that afterwards you'll have to go down these slopes that are so steep that during the climb I was wary of just standing up straight for fear of falling down in the dark.

We departed on a beautifully chilly full moon night. The first part of the hike is a simple paved road, albeit quite steep. Pfff.... Easy. I am still pretty young, and if not in fantastic shape still not totally ridiculous at the gym. But after 30 minutes, huffpuff made a well noticed appearance. One hour later, and I started to pull myself along by clinging to the branches of trees along the way. At first it was discreet; I still mainly clung onto my superior bipedial status. But after an hour or so, all pride was shed: I used all seven tools at my disposal - feet, hands, knees and, yes, ass. All of them are useful when your climb mostly consists of big and small stones rolling beneath your feet, particularly treacherous when ascending at night, regardless of how bright the moon might be. Let me correct that though: I prefered the climbing at nighttime to the descent in the bright daylight, because the latter was the hardest part; the one where Ass was my most prized tool.

We eventually made it up to the summit; all 3000 meters of it, conquered just five minutes before the sun rose. It must have been 5 degrees Celsius up there, a far cry from warm enough to dry our clothes that were totally soaked with sweat. But then Nature's show started, and it was breathtaking; my crappy picture can not even begin to render 10% of its beauty.

Our magical new technologies can give you an idea of how something looks like, sometimes how it sounded like (although I did not record the faint traditional Javanese song we heard at 2 am rising up from the valley where a ceremony was taking place), maybe how it felt like (if I'm not too bad at telling the experience). But there is something though that simply cannot be shared: the smell of the volcano that sometimes hit our nostril during the climb, when the wind brought some of the white smoke that continously pours out of Merapi's crater.

But maybe it is a good thing. I quite like the fact that we had to sweat through our t-shirts, jumpers and windbreakers, even though it was so cold that we could see our breath; that afterwards we had to spend a mini fortune in "remedial massages" to get rid of the four-days long painful soreness that was the price to pay for this hike. Because as a reward, we got the privilege of knowing the primordial odour of the entrails of our planet.

I'll tell you what though: it kinda stinks.

This is a group of students from the military academy who climbed to the top the same day as we did. Here is a game: try to find who does not fit in the picture...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The best dish on Earth

This is a picture we took from the menu of a fast-food restaurant of the international airport of Incheon in Seoul, South Korea.

 Just in case the photo is too small for you to read, the name of the dish is: "Marsh snail Soup to Chase a Hangover".

I don't know how to even begin commenting on how funny this is. A "hangover chasing" soup? In plain display in an international airport (how often do you get hammered the day before you fly international)? The mere idea of a hangover being "chased" away? By a snail?????

It's simply delicious (the name, that is. I apparently was not drunk enough to give a go at the soup itself).

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Good Food City

I don't know if it's just a god-sent hazard, but I met in the last few days 3 people who admitted that the crazy city of Jakarta has transformed one of their long- favorite pastime into a real obsession: eating. Turns out, it's also one of my passions... and perhaps the most fulfilling (filling) actitity you can indulge in in the Indonesian capital.

This was pretty surprising for me at first, because our first encounter with Indonesian food was not the most thrilling. You have to understand: we were living in Thailand at the time, where cooking has been transformed into a God-inspired art. Then we went on holidays in the small (and poor) island of Flores, in Eastern Indonesia, where we thrived on nasi goreng and mie goreng (fried rice and fried noodle). It is the de facto national dish, but not that good when served for breakfast, lunch AND dinner in tiny restaurants where it is assumed that if you pay, you're supposed to have rich food, i.e. drowned in oil. Bof.

Then you arrive in Jakarta. As you're in Southeast Asia, everything is ridiculously cheap, therefore no restaurant is out of reach of your expat wallet. And good, classy, yummy restaurants abound.

Then recently I discovered a treasure of tantaliaing morsels: the Jakarta Good Food Guide: a truly independent guide, very well done and extremely complete. You eat its 611 pages without the slightest hint of indigestion. Bravo!

The author has even been through the trouble of sampling street food throughout the city. Because, as you would have no doubt already guessed, the average Indonesian cannot really afford French, Japanese, Morrocan, Indian, Turkish, Chinese, Thai, Italian... fine food every meal. Me neither, come to think of it. So you find at every street corner little eateries called "warung" who serve any dish from throughout the archipelago. And there are a LOT of different specialties, considering the vastness of the country and its varieties of culture.

Then you even have a kaki lima section. They are these little vendors who ply the streets of Jakarta with their carts, generally offering one specialty only: here on your right you have a gado-gado guy, an indonesian specialty of vegetables prepared with peanut sauce; just on my street, in a distance of approximately 200 meters, I have every day: a fried tofu vendor, fruit vendor, gado-gado, fried noodles, as well as a warung offering grilled fish.

There is only one problem with these guys: very often they don't help with the infamous traffic jam situation of the city; it is not rare to be stuck on a narrow street because a guy is walking in the middle while pushing his cart.

Even side walks are not really supposed to be for pedestrians to walk on. I met recently with the newly elected governor of Jakarta, who was apologizing for... well, a LOT of things that are not running smoothly in the city. He said for example that he had meetings with kaki lima guys, who insisted they wanted more sidewalks in the city - a rare commodity. But it's only because then it becomes a very conveninent spot for their shops. Adds to the city's local flavor too!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Gorgeous underwater pix

You might have noticed through this or that previous post that we are avid amateur divers. Indonesia is the place to enjoy this "sport" (as far as I know, this is the only "sport" where the aim is to move and exert oneself as little as possible). We've heard people rave about the clear waters of the Red Sea, or about beautiful Maldives; sure, they must have their strengths, but Indonesia is, scientifically, the best place to be as it is located in the heart of the Coral Triangle, the most bio diverse place on Earth's seas. In a way, it's like saying that Canadian forests or Gabonese jungles are fantastic; you know they can't compete with the riches of the Amazon.

National Geographic magazine recently ran several stories about underwater in Indonesia. Their photographer is David Doubilet, whose pix are absolutely amazing. If you want to enjoy the magnificence of the underworld, go to his website.

I know I shouldn't do that, because I respect the work of professional, but I could not resist so I'm putting here one of his pix, stolen from the site.

Magical, isn't it?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fresh weed ahead

Welcome to Nusa Lembongan!

It is a small island off the coast of Bali, where we spent a couple days recently. People mainly come here for surfing (great waves, just off the beach, attract a crowd of cool guys from Australia) and the amazing diving. The water here is very cold because it is located on a deep strait; therefore the strong currents bring to the surface a crowd of cool creatures from the depths: manta rays, the odd whale shark, and, between August and October, the weird mola-mola fish. There are also lots of little colourful creatures to see, a requirement at any great dive site.

But on top of that, we found an exquisitely friendly island. It has to be said that Bali is one of the most charming places on Earth, absolutely amazing (do I use this word too much?); but in its South, where the tourism industry is most thriving, one can get tired of the touts. "Hello Mister! Transport? No? Tomorrow maybe?". Grrrrr. Well, you have to understand them: there are a lot of locals fighting for limited resources, but it does get tiring to be targetted as a walking wallet.

None of that in Nusa Lembongan. Made, a Balinese guy from the dive center where we were staying, put it this way: "In Bali, we depend exclusively on tourism, so you have to fight your friend in order to find a job. But you might lose it after few months because the competition is so tough. We know that tourists also get tired of this fierce battle between us. When I grew up in the village and I saw Bule (white people), I was always waving and saying "hello" to them, because I was curious and just wanted to be friendly. It's only when I moved to the biggest tourist regions that I understood why they rarely replied: they just thought I wanted to sell them stuff. It's very disappointing".

That's the reason why this young guy moved to Lembongan: here, there is still a village-life atmosphere, where people are friendly because that's what they are. One of the reasons is that their entire livelihood does not rely on tourism; the island produces seaweed that provides a decent income for the locals.

This is where the raw product from your beauty cream might come from. People farm it right on the beach that lays in front of the village, where the cheap hotels are. Apparently it is sold mostly to cosmetics companies, but it can also be eaten in deliciously salty salads. Try it, it's delicious.


At certain times of the day, depending on the tide, you see the farmers doning their snorkeling gear and wading in the water to harvest the seaweed. It appears to be a family thing, with kids helping with the task - when they are not just playing around on the big buoys that hold the basket full of seaweed.

Then people sort it, dry it, and zou! it's sent in your Marine Spa bath salt or whatever it is you use to have a clean and smooth skin.

Maybe it was just the fact of being a lazy Bule on a week end, but it was very nice to see that life seemed to be so peaceful there. I swear, when we were walking on the beach at the time where people were working in the sea, we could hear laughter all the time. Granted, maybe they were just making fun of my crazy hair or not-smoothed-by-seaweed skin, whatever. That was a very nice moment.