Saturday, May 31, 2003

Thank God It's Only Saturday (and not Sunday)

Woke up early today. Yesterday was a public holiday in Indonesia - one that was originally supposed to fall on a Thursday but the government here has got into the habit of shifting public holidays to coincide with weekends: a long weekend is supposed to boost domestic tourism. I'm certainly not complaining. Realising that today is only Saturday after a very restful day in my hotel room yesterday makes me feel immensely relaxed and happy.

I am hoping to be able to catch a movie later. There's no shortage of good quality cineplexes in Jakarta making cinema-going here quite a pleasant experience. The Matrix Reloaded obviously deserves a second viewing. Saw it when I was in KL, and over here it started its run on Thursday. Currently it is showing in 20 cineplexes in Jakarta. I am spoilt for choice. Normally I would prefer to go to the one at Block M Plaza. It's only 9.30am now. I have time to decide: the first show only starts at 12.30pm.

Saturday mornings in Jakarta is my favourite time: people sleep late after a long week and the city only starts to stir after noon. It is the best time to go to the supermarket to shop for groceries and to catch the first show at the cineplex. Nothing beats a quiet Saturday morning in Jakarta. Saturday nights of course, is a different matter.

Friday, May 30, 2003

My Daily Diet (of News)

It has been my routine to go to the Internet cafe every Saturday and Sunday morning in Jakarta. During weekdays, I'll be constantly connected to the Net from the office. On weekends however, it is more economical for me to get my Internet fix from an Internet cafe rather than dialling out from my hotel room. I cannot start my day without first dipping into all the major online newspapers from Malaysia, Singapore and Jakarta. By instinct, I'll always visit the Star website followed by The New Straits Times. For the latest breaking news from Malaysia, the Bernama website has been my favourite since my days in Singapore. I also take the trouble to sample the main news from at least one of the Malay newspapers - Utusan Malaysia being my favourite. It is interesting to read their unashamedly anti-American views and the aggressive and accusative tone they take in reports about Singapore. Harian Metro is also worth a check for their scoops on the latest scandals involving our local artistes.

Having worked in Singapore before, I'm also interested in keeping up with the happenings there. As there is only one major mainstream paper in Singapore, everyone reads the Straits Times. Ironically I find that the Singapore paper is actually a good source of news and information about Malaysia. The reports by their Malaysian correspondent Brendan Pereira are actually insightful, balanced and informative - often illuminating the background and the unreported aspects of the latest political intrigues in the country. I also occassionally check the Malaysiakini website for the latest underground news. Reports from the Singapore papers, Malaysiakini, together with the official version from the mainstream papers will often be sufficient to give me an accurate picture of what's happening. For a lighter afternoon read, Singapore's The New Paper can sometimes be quite interesting - it is their version of the Malay Mail with an eye for the odd, humorous and sensational.

For Indonesian news, The Jakarta Post is the best and most widely read English daily, though the local papers in Bahasa Indonesia such as Kompas are more informative and detailed. When you talk about local Indonesian tabloids, there are so many of them - trashy and vulgar versions of the Malay Mail and the New Paper. Whenever you stop at traffic lights, you'll get these scruffy street vendors shoving them to your face. The trick is not to be attracted by the front-page headlines - they have a knack for spotting your eye-contact - or they will be harassing you to buy until the traffic lights turn green.

The Guardian, BBC and CNN are my main sources for foreign news. In a typical morning though, the Malaysian and Singaporean online papers would occupy at least an hour of my time already. The rest of the sites, I'll only visit them if time permits throughout the day. I still haven't mentioned sites that I visit for sports news (ESPN Star), technology news (Slashdot) and other miscellaneous sites such as my favourite blogs. Using an RSS-capable news aggregator like feedreader helps tremendously.

By the end of my day, I would have been thoroughly saturated with information, not to even mention my daily dose of BBC on TV at night. Sometimes I am amazed that I still do get to put in some decent amount of work in the office. How that happens, I am not particularly sure; but the last I checked, I still have my job.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003


Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.

- Lou Mannheim (played by Hal Holbrook) in Wall Street

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Karen Armstrong: The Gentle Voice of God

I admire the works of Karen Armstrong tremendously. The first of her books that I read was A History of God, back in 1996. I found it scholarly but at the same time extremely readable. It surveys our conception of God across time and civilizations, treating the reader to a satisfying intellectual panorama that ranges from pagan beliefs of Semitic tribes to the "God is Dead" ethos of 20th century existentialists. A respected media personality now, she has been very prolific over the years, writing books that elucidate the inter-relationships between the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The interesting thing about Karen Armstrong is that she is a former Catholic nun. Her autobiographical book, Through the Narrow Gate details the path that led her to spend many years in a Catholic convent to be trained as a nun and her ultimate disillusionment and parting of ways with the institution. She subsequently completed her Bachelor's degree in literature from Oxford University and pursued a career in teaching.

Her works are laden with well-researched details and they contribute greatly to inter-faith understanding especially among followers of the religions of Abraham. Some may argue that she perhaps has an axe to grind against Christianity given the bitterness of her convent years. But from reading her books, one can see that she strives earnestly to correct some of the biases and prejudices that the Western world has about the non Judeo-Christian world, namely the Muslim one.

I am such a big fan of hers that I even bought the audio versions of her books - read by the author herself - because she is also a joy to listen to. Her British "schoolmistress voice" is at once soothing, learned and inspiring, never once descending into lecture-room dullness. I regularly switch on one of her tapes during bedtime (like how some people lull themselves to sleep by watching TV); often "listening" to half of it in my sleep. If some of the theories about sleep-learning are true, then I would have become quite an expert on Semitic religions already.

Whether awake or asleep, I intend to continue keeping Karen Armstrong as a regular staple of my reading diet.


Hope, it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness.

- The Architect, The Matrix Reloaded

Monday, May 26, 2003

The Spirit of Oude Tamarindelaan

The Hotel where I've been staying for the past one-and-a-half years (!) is called Ibis Tamarin. Ibis, owned by the Accor Group is a popular chain of hotels in the Jakarta City. There's an Ibis Slipi and Ibis Mangga Dua and right opposite the same road where Ibis Tamarin is located - Jalan Wahid Hasyim - is another Ibis-branded hotel called Ibis Arcadia.

Ibis Tamarin is mainly frequented by local businessmen, civil servants and budget travellers. Situated within walking distance from the popular Sarinah departmental store and Hard Rock Cafe, it is very conveniently located within the heart of Jakarta City.

While Ibis is the well-known brand name for the hotel chain, not many people though know why the one located along Jalan Wahid Hasyim is called "Ibis Tamarin". Many think "Tamarin" is a corruption of "Thamrin" - Jalan Thamrin being the closest main road in front of Sarinah.

It was from perusing books about Old Jakarta, that I stumbled upon the former name for Jalan Wahid Hasyim: Oude Tamarindelaan. And the area there is known locally as Asem Lama. Immediately one sees the obvious connection: Oude Tamarindelaan is just the literal Dutch translation of Asem Lama.

Many of the old Dutch road names have already been replaced by Indonesian ones, usually named after local heroes or leaders. Many of the old historical Dutch buildings were torn down in the frenzied aftermath of Independence. This is very sad because Jakarta is very rich in history. It is even sadder because I find many Jakartans quite unaware of their historical heritage.

But I take comfort in the fact that, the hotel where I'm staying at, though not very old - merely 6 or 7 years - still retains a small connection to the past, at least in its name. I have been happy staying in this area so far though asem trees and the romance of Old Batavia are not evident anymore. But the industriousness and bustling spirit of the Betawi people still lives on, evident in the incessant buzz of bajajs preying on bule backpackers and the smoky throng of street pedlars selling gorengan, sate kambing, soto betawi and other gastronomic delights. Yes, I feel very at home indeed in Asem Lama.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

A Good Saturday Night in Jakarta.....

What does one do on a Saturday night in Jakarta? Kota, Block M, HRC, Embassy, Salsa and Blowfish comes to mind. Saturday night in Jakarta is certainly rich with possibilities. But what did I do last night? I decided to stay in my hotel room, reading.

I avoid going out on Saturday nights. The places are crowded and somehow I feel your weekend is ruined a bit if you stay up late on Saturday and sleep off half of your Sunday. I'd rather go out on a weekday or Friday night.

Saturdays are for spiritual relaxation - meditation, reflective entries in my diary, a sip of brandy and a bit of Norah Jones to tuck myself in. And last night I also had a good time reading Kafka. My sleep was deep and my dreams cryptic......