Just because I haven't updated my blog for a while does not mean I haven't been exploring, writing, taking pictures, meeting fellows, and more than anything, both enjoying and appreciating my experience. This entry is from a while back, and there are more posts and pictures to come which will fill yawl in on my adventure! So, here goes!
On the 12th of May, 1998, approximately 10,000 students held a sit in protest at Trisakti University, Grogol, West Jakarta. The protests were the product of rising unemployment, increasing privatisation, government corruption, and economic crisis. The protesters intentionion was to head for Parliament, but the crowd was blocked by police. In the ensuing conflict, four students were executed. This was the explosion to a social and political situation which had been growing in intensity for some time. The next day, mass riots broke out throughout Jakarta. Malls were torched, shops looted, over 1500 people were reportedly killed. Before long, the anger of the ordinary Indonesian man was directed towards the Indo-Chinese minority. This resulted in Indo-Chinese businesses and homes being targeted, not to mention the targeting of Indo-Chinese women, many of which were the victims of brutal gang-rapes, some by as many as 12-15 men (some figures put the number of rapes at the 400-500 mark). Since the riots, there has been widespread reports of police and military involvment in the rapes. Nobody has been prosecuted.
When I travelled to Glodok some five weeks ago or so, I was completely unaware that it was one of the main towns affected by the riots. As one of Jakarta's China towns, Glodok is quite a curiosity, for there are no symbols or characters which are immediately identifiable as Chinese. In fact, the China town in Manchester looks far more Chinese than Glodok, if you know what I mean. Alas, it was with great curiosity that I made my way to Glodok, which is in the north of Jakarta. In theory, Glodok is about 30 minutes from my abode. I say in theory for the traffic in Jakarta can easily transform a 30 minute drive into a days adventure, and traffic jams are one of the great daily enemy's of the city's residents. When I question a local about Jakarta, when I ask them: “Friend, brother, sister, bringer of peace, whoever you might be, what make you of your city?” it is indeed the traffic, along with pollution or government corruption or rising inequality and the subsequent increase in crime, which stands head and shoulders above all other complaints my fellows might have.
Yet alas, this day the traffic was on my side, and it took me little over 30 minutes to make it to the town of Glodok. At this point it was approximately 2 in the afternoon, and upon stepping from my taksi and bidding the driver adieu, one could instantly feel the afternoon heat with all its wrath. This was not helped by the fact that the sun had managed to pierce Jakarta's usually grey and clouded skies, and so it was with great haste that I sought some shade. This naturally led me away from the main road (thank god) and down one of Jakarta's many side-streets.
I had come to Glodok on the recommendation from a friend. I had said to this friend: “It is with a great yearning that I desire the flesh of a cockroach, or else the blood of some other beetle, a locust perhaps, or the head of a rat. Is there anywhere in Jakarta that I might find such food?” My friend seemed delighted with both my idea and my ideal, and she recommended that I head to the “Chinese market in Glodok,” where, she said, all creatures great and small were offered in abundance. I was overjoyed at this news, and so exploring the many side-streets and alleyways of Glodok caused me a great excitement and sexual furore.
It was not long before I discovered the market, or at least a market, which sold all manner of goods; trinkets and foodstuffs, dvds, cds, clothes, even pornography, which is banned in Indonesia, were sold here in abundance.
Being a Chinese town in Jakarta, it was not long before I stuffed my face with a selection of dumplings, and it was here that I tasted by far and away the single greatest dumpling ever known to mankind. It was Shui Mai, only unlike those poor representations of Shui Mai in England, this dumpling was the size of a man's fist, with a taste unrivalled by any dumpling tasted before. Of course, this is Jakarta, and the unrivalled taste of the dumpling was intermixed with the stench of open, rotting sewers, a sensual overdose which takes much getting used to yet offers much in the way of intensity.
After filling my stomach, I once again explored the market with its many aisles and stalls. I had come with a single objective: to feast on those creatures which can only be described as cretinous; that is, I had come with the aim of biting cockroaches in two, grinding locusts between my teeth, sucking the blood and gunge from oversized beetle larvae, eating maggots and worms and spiders and foetuses. As to whatever else might come my way, be it the flesh of a dog or the brains of a cat, I told myself: “let it come!” And so it was a great disappointment that I was unable to find any of the treats thus mentioned. I had been searching for just over two hours, and the afternoon heat had tired both my body and my soul. I continued my search, yet began to feel hopeless. I needed a guide, yet I had only myself. I asked for directions, yet my Bahasa Indonesia was poor. Then, suddenly, amidst the hopelessness of my predicament, I found this.
It was a cage rife with many birds; some kind of sparrows, perhaps, and the sight filled with me with an insatiable hunger. I spoke thus to my fellow: “Saya minta itu” (I'll have that). The fellow looked at me with confusion, then uttered some words which were beyond my level of comprehension. “Saya minta itu,” I repeated. “Apakah lama memasaknya?” (does it take long to prepare?). The fellow appeared even more confused and uttered some more words. I managed to catch the words “temple,” and he motioned towards an open doorway. It was thus that I stumbled upon this treat.
Marvelling at this sight, I thought it peculiar that a Buddhist temple of this sort should be tucked away behind a series of run-down backstreets in a shady part of town. Also, it was not long before I discovered the true function for the birds. As you can see in the picture above, a young child is kneeling down, seemingly studying a plastic box. It was not long before the child opened the box, and out flew dozens of birds, released from the manacles which previously bound them. This sight pleased me, and I endeavoured to explore the temple more. Inside, many people were praying, and a brilliant score was playing. The music added an unreal, dreamlike quality to the place. I decided to sit and enjoy the moment, watching proceedings from a distance. Throughout my endeavour, I collected a number of pictures.
Under President Suharto, expressions of Chinese culture were banned. This included music, art, language, traditional festivals, and religion. It is for this reason that, even today, Glodok has little in the way of cultural expression, and the town feels more like Salford than it does Chengdu. Stumbling upon the temple pictured above was therefore incredibly exciting and also surreal! At one point, I was staring into the abyss, symbolised by the open sewer. In the next moment, I was gazing upon some peculiar temple. Do you know what I mean?
If not, then I apologise. I am not at my best this morning. I feel ill. But anyway! Farewell for now, my friends! Keep tuned for more tings!