Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hot, hot flame

Today a historical event took place in Indonesia: for the first time ever, the country was a stop in the world relay of the Olympic Torch.

However, thanks to the quite relaxed atmosphere of the upcoming Games, the event was held under tight security. Only 5 000 carefully selected persons (a lot of them children) were invited to attend the ceremony. It took place in the confines of Jakarta's main stadium that's protected by high gates plus a few thousands extra policemen who were making sure all was smooth.

But still, the atmosphere was very much Indonesian style: laid-back.

This is one of the police corps, by the way.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Noah's rain

When the rain arrives in Jakarta, and you want to judge how bad it's gonna get, one trick: look at the shoes of the jagas (the guards for parking lots, private houses, office buildings, you name it, everybody has one). If they've changed their boots for flip flops, be careful. It means business. Because there is one thing you need to know: when rain sounds like that, it is futile to try to fight against the mightiness of the monsoon. You'll be wet alright, might as well save your shoes.

Another example. See this nice scene of a bunch of happy young people playing volleyball on the beach? On the right side, it's the same beach with a little bit of a cloud in the distance (sorry, the picture is pretty bad but you might still have an idea of what I'm talking about). Well, when you see this, just know that if you're more than 50 meters from the nearest shelter, start running, otherwise you're going to be soaked. That's fast, man.

Mind you, there are some good thing about tropical downpours. First, it nurtures life. Lots, and lots of life. Second, you don't have to fill up your fish pond; it does it for you. Third, it cools down the air a little bit. Fourth, it provides some money for Jakarta's umbrella boys: when the rain starts, hundreds of colorfull umbrellas pop up out of nowhere, held up high by very small boys who earn a thousand rupiah or two to walk the rich people from the entrance of the mall to their cars. It's easy to recognize a good umbrella boy: he's soaked to the bone, because his job is to protect the rich lady's new perm from being disturbed by a drop of rain.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure we can really count this slave job of poor boys as a good side-effect of the rainy season...

Let's not fool ourselves: the rains are mostly an inconvenience. I will not even dwell on the most dreadful consequence of all, which is the proliferation of mosquitoes and the diseases they spread, particularly in poor neighborhoods (malaria, dengue fever...). Let's just focus on what might interest my readership: rich people stuff.

When you see rain coming (I mean, when you see dark clouds in the distance, because if you've already felt the first drop, it's over), try getting in a cab as fast as possible if you need one within the next hour. Last time, it started raining at 5 PM, right during rush hour, so when I called a taxi at 7 PM to go home I was very glad to hear the operator tell me I was number 98 on the waiting list (even though, despite what your evil - albeit often quite accurate - presuppositions might tell you, the taxi service in Jakarta is pretty good). And that's not the only drawback: it also brings the infamous traffic jams in Jakarta to new heights of horror when the streets get flooded within an hour.

Some find it fun, though.
Finally, here is an ad from the cigarette company Sampoerna. I've already posted another one; I like them because they do reflect some funny cultural aspects of the country. Here, you don't need to understand the dialogue, it's just a bunch of guys ready to go out (you notice it is something important because they all wear new shoes and nice batik shirts)... when the rain strikes.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Zip up, ladies!

A local administration in East Java has recently come up with an idea of such brilliance that it forces you to sit back in awe when confronted with this genious. I think all the righteous fighters for good morality ought to intern for a while with this Enstein of behavioral science who gave birth to such a revolutionary concept.

Fact nb 1: prostitution is evil.
Fact nb 2: women are not much better.
Fact nb 3: the old tradition of massage can lead to funny business.
Fact nb 4: men can't resist temptation.

Solution: all masseuses in massage parlours have to wear a padlock on the zipper of their pants (or their skirts, for this matter, although I am still wondering how that would work).

Yes, it's a new regulation that was passed recently. Apparently, according to some reports, the cashier in the massage parlours keeps the keys (locked up, I guess) and may release them from time to time in order to allow the evil temptresses to visit the bathroom whenever nature calls. I read that they keep a second set of keys just in case there's a problem with the first ones. Losing the one and only set, you have to acknowledge, would be a major inconvenience for the girls.

Luckily enough, the decision has caused an outrage here: the minister for Women Affairs has slandered it, saying it is an insult to women, and it has become the subject of ridicule throughout the country. Which is a shame though, because I can think of plenty of other derivations of the philosophy that would make our lives so much more moral: think of using wooden spoons (and mittens of course) when touching the client's back, or imposing chastity belts in clubs. That'd be only for the females though, because you very well know that all males can remain Masters of their Domain as long as they know the sweets are on display only.

If not, they could be forced to wear the koteka, the traditional outfit of some of the tribes from the far-flung Indonesian region of Papua.

That ought to do it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My Asian Heart

Don't despair about the press; there still are some great people out there such as freelance photographer Philip Blenkinsop featured in this documentary, My Asian Heart.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

In the name of intellectual honesty

Yesterday there was a demonstration in Jakarta – one more. A few hundred of students from the main universities gathered in front of the Constitutional Court, singing and chanting “Allahu Akbar” ("God is the greatest"). Well, what do you think? A bunch of bearded extremists whose sabers tingled with the desire to shed some of my Western blood? Think again.

Those kids were just protesting against the film Fitna that they judge insulting to their religion. (Just in case you’ve missed the news reports, Fitna is a Qu’ran-bashing documentary recently released by the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose main claim to glory is to have given racism a place in his national Parliament). They were sporting banners claiming “Islam is not fear”, “Islam = Love” or “If you take pieces of a book, what do you get? Pieces of information. If you take pieces of the Qu’ran, what do you get? Pieces of misunderstanding”.

The last one is my personal favorite, because if you live in Indonesia and you don’t want to succumb to the latest fad (running around scared of the “green fascism”) you quickly get really, really annoyed by the Muslim-bashing competition we see coming from the West.

I’m not a Muslim; actually, I don’t follow any religion. But I do understand the students who were protesting yesterday. Granted, there are extremists in Indonesia; they proved it this week when they choked themselves yelling their hate at the Dutch consulates and embassy here. Granted, too, there are passages in the Qu’ran that are quite chilling, and that’s what makes the Fitna documentary so efficient for the narrow-minded who’re willing to condemn a whole religion without bothering to try to get to know it.

But in my humble opinion, I doubt the hate potential of individual passages is the privilege of the Qu'ran. Check out this funny clip from the American TV show “West Wing” if you want a glimpse of what a Fitna film dedicated to the Bible could look like.

Damn liberals