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Of Kota and things

sunny 30 °C

Once known as Batavia, Kota was once the hub of Dutch colonial Indonesia. From its earlier years, it developed into a centre for trade with a shoreline fortress, and it was surrounded by a defensive wall and a moat. Today, however, Kota is easily distinguishable from its former self; much of it has crumbled or been destroyed, and now, old Batavia can be considered a sort-of-Batavia, where traditional Dutch buildings – buildings which are uncared for and literally falling apart – are plastered with huge advertisements, posters, and billboards, celebrating the latest Blackberry or Bigmac or Nike sneakers. Of course, this is a lamentable sight to behold, yet appearances are definitely deceptive. Kota is a great place.

First of all, Kota is home to Jakarta's best nightclub, a place which can only be described as a dungeon; a wretched place of horrors and terrible things. I cannot say any more than this. Come and visit me and you will have to see for yourself. Trust. Kota is also notorious for its rising crime rate, and confused bule such as myself are often warned about its many dangers, especially after dark. This has not stopped me from frequenting the area, however, and let it be said: I have spent more time in Kota during the eve than anywhere else in Jakarta; that is, anywhere other than my abode.

During the day Kota is, like the rest of Jakarta, overcrowded and intense, with a certain energy and vibrancy. It is a town of many stalls, selling all manner of goods, from trinkets and ornaments to clothing and musical instruments. This energy is especially prevalent in the town's main square, Taman Fatahillah. Indeed, of all the places in Kota it is Taman Fatahillah which most reflects its Dutch heritage. Here, one can not only purchase all manner of goods but also experience some of the best streetfood in Jakarta (at least from my own experience). It is also home to several museums, such as Museum Sejarah Jakarta, Museum Wayang, and Museum Seni Rupa. And so, I travelled to Kota – not for the first time, yet camera in hand – some weeks ago. This is what I found.

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These fellows are called Ondel-Ondel, a name given to both the puppets and the performance. I found them – or it – on the streets, a treat which I have had the chance to stumble upon on a number of occasions. The Ondel-Ondel originates from the Betawai people, who, my friends tell me, are the native people of Jakarta and the surrounding region. It is a traditional performance which has, and still is, utilized to ward off bad-spirits; however, today, it is also used within the inner city as a means of entertainment. Bagus!!!

Unfortunately, I have been unable to visit any of the museums in Kota, chiefly because they are closed during the weekend. We were thus refused entry from Museum Wayang, and so we decided to enter an old, abandoned building.

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Although the interior of this building will mean little to my British bredren, to my Indonesian companions it was of great interest. In fact, it was their plan and endeavour to take me precisely to this particular establishment, which, to my eyes, was good for nothing but an illegal rave or squat party.

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Still, I decided to venture forth throughout the place, and before long, I heard a voice beckoning me through a door. I saw a man, and followed the voice. It was here that I met a certain fellow (I forget his name), who specialised in the creation of Wayang.

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The wayang kulit, or shadow puppet play, is a near thousand year old theatrical tradition native to the island of Java (where Jakarta resides). The wayang kulit uses flat leather puppets with moveable arms, who's shadows are reflected through the use of light on a pale canvas. It is especially popular in Jogjakarta, which is in Central Java, and it is one of my great endeavours to travel to the place so that I might appreciate the spectacle. The man I spoke to both creates the puppets and directs the performances. After discussing matters with the fellow, we then visited Cafe Batavia, a famous and overpriced bar/restaurant, which purports to offer a glimpse into Jakarta's colonial past. In truth, the place is pretty cool, with live Jazz, cool décor, and interesting drinks. The horrors of Jakarta's colonial past, however, are far from reflected.

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That's all for now. I am aware that I am far behind in keeping this blog up to date, and it is my plan this week to remedy the problem. This is particularly important for next Saturday I will be traversing West to stay with a tribe far removed from the dreadful clutches of modernity. I cannot say more than this now but stay tuned Mother, Father, Nanas, friends, and the rest of my wonderful family!

Posted by dabey 05:28 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Not quite Christmas Day

semi-overcast 25 °C

“I want to do something exciting. What can I do in Jakarta tomorrow?” Tomorrow would be Christmas day yet I didn't acknowledge it as Christmas. “What can I do, something to celebrate Indonesia?” My student gave me a surprised look and responded with the obvious: “But it's Christmas.” “It is not Christmas,” I replied. “Christmas is back home with my family, eating roast beef and Turkey. I am not back home and I am not with my family. I am thousands of miles away. What can I do?” Of course, I was not interested in Christmas dinner; at least, not in the traditional British sense. It would only disappoint me. So, thousands of miles away from home and without the company of my family, I decided that I would not celebrate Christmas. Instead, I would celebrate Indonesia. And so I did.

My student recommended I go to Taman Mini, which resides in Southeast Jakarta. Opened in 1971, Taman Mini was conceived by the wife of then president Suharto. Today, it is a 100-hectare park which celebrates the cultural diversity of Indonesia. The park consists of full-scale traditional houses for each of Indonesia's provinces, with various displays and museums. There are also a host of restaurants and theatrical and musical performances. I collected an assortment of pictures.

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Recently, I have been exploring the various musical forms and genres indigenous to multcultural Indonesia, which are as complex and diverse as anything we have in the West. One of the more popular genres, Dangdut, utilises all manner of string instruments and blends Arab, Indian and Malay musical styles. I have become particularly fond of it, and revel in the fact that the musical genre is heavily associated with villains, vagabonds, prostitutes, and wretches; that is, the music is associated with the working class. Also, the tendency of mine to enjoy a good night out in a local dangdut bar (better termed “shack”) has not gone unnoticed. In fact, whenever I mention to any of my ( very rich) students that I greatly enjoy Dangdut, their responses are almost always the same: disbelief and shock, followed by heavy laughter, all mixed together with a high degree of confused wonderment. This repudiation of Dandgut is understood better when one realizes that these same people idealize and glorify MTV. The horrors of globalization, for sure. I have much more to say on the matter but will leave it for now.

Alas, in Taman Mini, I was overjoyed at hearing the sounds of dangdut from a distance, and of course, I followed the trail. Unfortunately, there were few Indonesians present, and I resisted the temptation of making a fool of myself by dancing alone on the stage.

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Before long, however, I was gestured by a fellow to join him on the dancefloor. He could not speak English, yet it was clear that he wanted me to follow his moves. This caused me a great excitement, and I figured that it would be foolish to pass up on the chance to learn the moves of Dangdut from a local.

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Unfortunately, I am not quite the dancer, and the static nature of my performance left little to be desired. Still, I made a friend, and we lunched together Jakartan style and supped tea.

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During the day, I decided that I wanted to treat myself to a feast. If I could not have a Christmas dinner, I would have a Jakartan dinner, and I would eat the very best of Seafood. This led me to Bandar Jakarta, a restaurant in Ancol, a town in Jakarta which excels in Seafood, if little else. Bandar Jakarta is a seafood lovers dream. It is a restaurant by the sea which consists of a market, where all manner of fish and shellfish, alive and fresh, are selected and then cooked. To all Seafood lovers out there, I urge caution: these pictures are enough to make a man jealous.

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The final result of my order was shark, tiger prawns, parrot fish, squid, and crab (all cooked Indonesian style), with kangkung, and naturally, rice.

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I supped a beer and gazed upon the ocean. It had been a great day. Bagus!

Posted by dabey 21:15 Comments (5)

New Year's Eve

sunny 28 °C

For New Years Eve, we travelled to Tidung Island, a small island to the north of Jakarta which is part of the greater Thousand Islands. It was the students who suggested it. However, on the day before the journey we received news: due to bad weather, our guide said that it was best we cancel our trip. This caused a variety of problems, and so the journey to Tidung Island was abandoned and we settled on a trip to Harapan Island (also a part of the Thousand Islands). We were supposed to catch the boat from Muara Angke at 6.30 am. However, due to a combination of poor planning and terrible traffic we missed our boat. The next boat was at 11am, we were told, and we had to wait.

This was not necessarily bad news, however, for we had to wait in Muara Angke, a town located in north west Jakarta. Muara Angke is a port town with a famous market renowned for its seafood. However, Muara Angke is not a place for tourists: it is a town of dirty, grimy streets, streets of intensity, and real, raw character. Everything, the stench of the fish, the muddy streets packed with impoverished people trying to make a living or trying to survive, the surprise and disbelief, followed by the yells from people shocked to see a white face; all of this provides a real shock to the senses.

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As mentioned previously, I went with some students and a couple of other teachers. We found a place to rest and store our belongings, and then myself, another teacher, and one student decided to venture throughout Muara Angke. We took a turn from one of the main streets and met some interesting characters.

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As you can see, these fellows were constructing a cage, which, they explained in Bahasa Indonesia, they use to catch Ikan; that is, they construct the cages with their hands which they then utilise in order to catch fish. We also met a woman, who offered us Kopi (coffee). She was all too happy to have her picture taken.

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We then continued our endeavour and explored the area further.

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The stench here was close to unbearable. The lake, or whatever you desire to call it, was more akin to a large toilet; and it was next to this oversized toilet that people lived, utilising the water to wash their clothes and possibly bathe. The houses were built from the most basic materials. Check.

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Noting my students reaction to this area was particularly interesting. As a rich and privileged Indonesian, my student exclaimed his horror at this sight. He was genuinely shocked that some people in Jakarta live in such conditions. I asked him: “Have you never seen anything like this before?” To which he responded, “No, never.” This surprised me a great deal. How can a person who was born here in Jakarta not be aware that such places exist? Indeed, how can a person not be aware that slums not only exist here, but exist in abundance? I hold nothing against my student, of course, whom I consider a friend. First of all, his reaction was not just one of surprise but also sadness. I did not take any pictures (I felt bad and intrusive doing so), but the slum was filled with small children and their mother's living in the most wretched conditions imaginable.

Upon our mini-expedition, we received a phonecall from one of our companions. The boat was about to leave, he told us, and so we made our way to the boat.

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It must be noted, the return boat ride cost a mere 25000 rupiah (about £2), and the journey lasted for approximately three and a half hours. In other words, the boat had no seats, was crammed full of people, lacked air conditioning, and the experience definitely gave one some insight into how refugees feel when they flee some ghastly shore.

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I was sick, sick unto death with suffering (to steal a few words words from Mr. Poe), and nausea soon enveloped the core of my being. Take a look for oneself.

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After some time and much suffering, I realized that we were not confined to the dungeon below, and it was with great relief that I discovered the roof of the boat. However, with the boat travelling at high speeds, combined with choppy waves and dreadful weather, this led me to believe that sitting on the roof of the boat would soon reduce my person to a body swimming amongst sharks.

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I began to feel better, however, and the sickness and nausea suffered in the dungeon below was soon vanquished.

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Before long, we stopped off on one of the regions many islands. This allowed us to refresh ourselves and eat before we changed boats and made our way to Harapan Island.

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We boarded the second boat, which was a peculiarity at best.

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We arrived at Harapan Island at some point in the afternoon.

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And so, my News Years Eve and day was spent here on Harapan Island, a peculiar little place.

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When we arrived on Harapan Island, we had no place to stay, so we simply knocked on the above family's home, whereby we were greeted with food, drink, bed, and cheer! This behaviour is not unusual in Indonesia, where trust, collectivity, and compassion seem to be attributes commonly espoused by the masses. This is even true in a mega city such as Jakarta, where people are not only friendly but genuinely caring and always willing to help when help is required. Imagine knocking on a random family's home in the North of England, for example, or London? What response would a question such as "can we stay in your home tonight?" be greeted with, I wonder? The likely outcome could range from a punch in the office, a calling of the police, or perhaps a generous supply of abuse swiftly followed by the slamming of a door. The people of Harapan Island, however, were generous, kind, and pleasantly surprised to see a selection of fellows such as myself. It was a very small island, with a small community of approximately 1500 Muslims. The community was close-knit, with every face knowing - and embracing - their neighbour. The islanders here seem to live a comfortable life, where the consumption of fresh fish and seafood constitute their diet. There was a sense of peace on the island, too, which was refreshing.

Posted by dabey 23:14 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

More pictures from Muara Angke, courtesy of my companion

rain 25 °C

I procured these pictures from my friend, who accompanied me in Muara Angke. I thought I'd share them.

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Some geezers in Muara Angke. Notice that the man in the middle is wearing a Manchester United hat. This is a familiar sight. In fact, I'm unaware of the statistics but there could be more Manchester United fans here in Jakarta than there're in Manchester itself

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These weird, buggy-like, wheely things are not especially common in Jakarta.

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A part of the fish market, where one can eat some of the finest "Ikan Bakar" (grilled fish) in the whole of Jakarta! A fine place.

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Again, this is the fish market, which is BIG!

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I have no idea what this fellow is carrying on his head but it looks like difficult work. Muara Angke is located in north Jakarta, which is a world apart from the business district, which resides in South Jakarta. Life here is difficult.

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This fellow was kind enough to show me his work. He builds cages from metal, which he then uses to catch fish. He then sells the fish on the market thus mentioned.

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Dengue Fever (and who knows what else?) is rife here, a virus which is passed on through the bite of a mosquito. It kills children.

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The last picture here reveals much about Jakarta. In the distance, the tall, high-rise buildings - new apartments which're being built - perfectly display the continuing development project in the city, which always stands next to and often within impoverishment and underdevelopment. Development has not and is not reducing poverty in Jakarta. In fact, poverty and inequality in Jakarta are increasing.

Posted by dabey 00:19 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

A journey to the village of Ciptagaler - Part 1

sunny 20 °C

The original plan was to visit the Baduy, a tribe located in West Java who have long managed to resist the cultural influences associated with Dutch and Japanese colonialism, as well as the sustained globalization project courtesy of the US. They have largely managed to exist outside of the Indonesian state, too, as both the first president of Indonesia, Sukarno, and the second president, Suharto, greatly respected – perhaps even feared – the Baduy. Unfortunately, however, the Baduy were refusing people entry into their villages. This was due to them celebrating some kind of festival. This news came as a great disappointment.

However, my friend, the anthropologist whom I was supposed to be travelling to Baduy with, told me that there was an alternative: Ciptagalar, which was located in South West Java. First we would travel from Jakarta to Bogor by train (a one hour journey). Then, we would take the bus from Bogor to Pelabuhan Ratu (a four or five hour journey), where we would hire a driver, who could navigate us through the surrounding forest, and then up a mountain (another several hours drive).

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The trains in Jakarta form the most useful form of daily transport for those travelling to and from neighbouring cities and villages, which millions do each day for work. Many of the trains have no doors or windows, and during rush hour, it is not unusual to see the roofs of trains filled with people. I took these pictures at approximately 10.30 am when rush hour had long since passed.

Upon arrival in Bogor, we took the Angkot to the bus station, and then the bus to Pelabuhan Ratu. The bus was small and uncomfortable; however, we were treated to a variety of musical performances by several young gentlemen out to put coin in their purse. This eased the journey.

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We arrived in Pelabuhan Ratu at approximately 6pm.

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A small town in South West Java, I cannot imagine that Pelabuhan Ratu attracts many tourists. Certainly, the only faces I saw were Indonesian, mainly ethnic Sundanese. The town consists of shops, streetfood, waroong, and more shops. It also has a beach and some excellent markets, including a market renowned for its seafood. Unfortunately, the markets had closed by the time we arrived, so we filled our stomachs in a waroong and contacted our driver.

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We were then told that he couldn't pick us up until 1-2 in the morning, so we had to wait. With this news, we decided to take to the streets of Pelabuhan Ratu and have a look around. Friendly faces, as per usual in this country, were abound.

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The above custom seen in these pictures is what people call a “Durian Party”; or, at least, that is what it translates too. The event consists of a selection of fellows and maids on the street, gathering and socialising around the infamous Durian. The fruit is eaten, although let it be said, the Durian is feared as much as it is revered. Indeed, the Durian is a peculiarity amongst fruits. Called the “King of Fruits” in these lands, the pungent odour cannot be equated with any other fruit in existence. On the markets, on the streets, wherever Durian might be (and there are entire restaurants and waroongs dedicated to the fruit here) the stench is all-encompassing. As for the taste - sweet, sugary garlic, with the texture of gunge and goo - it is weirdly delicious. The Durian has been known to murder people, too. Much larger than the coconut, the outside shell consists of spikes sharper than most knives. A Durian which falls from a tree and lands on the human head, therefore, spells certain death. Films have even been made about it, and Jakarta is often referred to as "The Big Durian." Further still, eating enough Durian also has the effect of being drunk! What a champion fruit!

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We were tired and the wait was long, so we decided to book ourselves into a hostel. This was a questionable establishment at best, although it enabled us to sleep for a couple of hours.

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Eventually, our driver arrived. I cannot remember precisely when, but it was around two in the morning. We drove for a couple of hours through darkness, and so I was completely unaware of the beauty of the surrounding land. Before long, we had some kind of technical problem with the jeep. I felt really ill at this point. I had hardly slept, I felt weak, and the journey in the jeep was genuinely painful. Finding a house, we asked for aid. At this point it was still dark, maybe around four in the morning, yet the family within endeavoured to help us. They offered us the opportunity to sleep for a couple of hours while the driver attended to our vehicle. I accepted the offer with all haste.

Upon waking, light had dawned. I had slept for just over two hours. The house we had slept in resided beside a track within a forest.

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After taking some pictures, gathering our belongings, and thanking the family who had aided us in our time of doom, we continued our journey, ascending through the forest.

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We arrived at Ciptagelar at approximately 7.30 am in the morning.

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The pictures I managed to collect are no reflection of Ciptagelar's picturesque beauty. This caused me a great disappointment, so much so that I have recently splashed the cash on a superior camera. It is a village which has only very recently begun to feel the affects of modernity, and the people there have a great understanding and compassion for their own land. They grow and eat their own rice and vegetables; and catch their own fish. The village is located in the highlands of Southwest Java, where the surrounding valleys, forests, and villages are the closest thing one as experienced to The Shire (from Lord of the Rings) or Link's home village in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

For now, I must leave you, but I will return shortly with various pictures and tales from my journey in this little-travelled, alien village known as Ciptagelar.

Posted by dabey 23:15 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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