Saturday, September 20, 2003

Ada Apa dengan Indonesian Movies?

Ada Apa dengan Indonesian Movies?

It's a long weekend for me--Monday is a public holiday here. As usual I have tons of things to do over the next three days.

I've been so busy that I haven't watched a movie for over a month. The last one that I watched was T3: Rise of the Machines. It's been a long time too since I've watched a good local Indonesian movie. Last year I thoroughly enjoyed Ada Apa Dengan Cinta and Eliana, Eliana.

Ada Apa Dengan Cinta is a teenage love story but it's pacing, cinematography, soundtrack and acting are so well done that I think Malaysian film-makers can learn a lot from it. This is what a regular, run-of-the-mill commercial movie should look like. The movie was also released in the Malaysian market early part of this year and was quite a hit, from what I read in the press.

Its chief attraction are its two beautiful stars: the delectable Dian Sastrowardoyo and the dashing Nicholas Saputra. I also watched Dian Sastro in the Christine Hakim-produced movie, Pasir Berbisik. This movie is even much more impressive in terms of cinematography and acting--Dian Sastro gave a performance deserving of a standing ovation. The movie also won a lot of awards in the international circuit.

Eliana Eliana was equally astounding. Though the cinematography looks poor because it was actually an experimental work shot with an amateur video camera, director Riri Riza was able to convey so much using such a limited canvas. It takes the viewer over one night in Jakarta together with a mother and daughter as they wandered through the "pojok-pojok kelam" (dark corners) of Jakarta in search of a missing friend, in the process, thrashing out their differences and bitterness against each other.

The movie made me a great fan of Rachel Maryam who played the title lead. I actually went to watch the movie three times last year---all at different theatres!

Not sure if I have time to watch a movie this weekend. I have a lunch appointment with Ibu Titi later. Maybe I'll check out the movie theatres after that. I love my weekends in Jakarta.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Of Hurricanes and Ojek Payung

This morning I watched images of Hurricane Isabel ravaging the East Coast of the US on the BBC. I was immediately reminded of a joke cracked by one of the cop characters in Steven Soderbergh's award-winning movie on the drug trade, Traffic. (I watched this movie three times when I was working in Singapore, couple of years back).

While on a sting operation masquerading as drug buyers, the lovable Hispanic cop played by Luis Guzman, narrated one of his corny jokes to the drug dealer, much to the chagrin of his partner, played by Don Cheadle.

The joke goes:
Why are hurricanes named after women?
Because when they come, they are wet and wild. And when they leave, they take your house and car.

Jakarta is wet these days. The rainy season has just started. I wake up everyday with splashes of raindrops on my window and a view of cool gloomy wetness outside.

When it pours in Jakarta, the city can be quite a sight. Immediately you wlll see multi-coloured umbrellas suddenly sprouting up everywhere like mushrooms. These are umbrella services provided by young kids in the street, called ojek payung, who will offer to shield you across the street for a small tip.

The rain is like a hujan rahmat to these street urchins. I suppose this is one of the most seasonal business one can find in Jakarta. But the kids have great fun: drenched from head to toe, they would happily splash and dash their way to offer umbrellas to you when you come out from the office.

Ojek payungs provide a useful service and are such a welcome sight during this rainy season; unlike the "hurricane women" who would only take your house or car away. I try to stay far away from those.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Of Bandung and Bentong

I haven't been to Bandung for a while and kind of miss the place. I'm happy to know today that the customer has requested me to be there next week. Looks like I will get to luxuriate on the three-hour train journey again and enjoy the great Parahyangan (Abode of the Gods) landscape along the way.

Bandung reminds me of my hometown Bentong sometimes. The journey to Bandung by car from Jakarta brings back memories of what the car-ride from KL to Bentong was like before the KL-Karak highway was built. Passing through Puncak on the way to Bandung is a bit like arriving at the foot of Genting Highlands on the way to Bentong: the weather is cool, the terrain mountainous and the roads winding.

Bandung with its many old Dutch buildings reminds me of the Bentong I knew when I was a child--the colonial houses along Jalan Bukit, the D.O.'s residence near Padang Kelab and the evergreen Padang Tras where I spent many happy mornings playing soccer with my friends.

Nowadays it looks like I go to Bandung more often than Bentong. My childhood home is still there, uninhabited. My old books--books that had enthralled me as a child--lie on a shelf in my bedroom, collecting dust and my old paintings hang silently on the wall staring into emptiness.

It saddens me sometimes to think how much Bentong has changed these days. The rubber estate in front of my house has been bulldozed away for housing development; my alma mater has been repainted in some gory colours; the traffic has become horrendous.

According to my Indonesian friends, Bandung too has changed a lot over the past decade. The weather used to be very cool and people had to wear thick jackets at night. But now on weekends, you'll see the town jam-packed with carloads of city-folks from Jakarta, crowding the restaurants, polluting the hotsprings and littering the shopping malls. Bandung is the nearest escape for them. It looks a bit like my hometown during Chinese New Year.

Sometimes, on that slow langorous train ride to Bandung, I spot kids playing soccer on an open patch of grass; and I'd always see a speedy young kid, chasing the ball barefoot down the flanks, imagining himself to be Rivelino; and then for a brief moment I would think that I had caught a glimpse of paradise.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The Grass is Greener...

When I was a schoolboy, I was very interested in landscape painting. I used to dabble in oil. I wanted very much to paint in the vein of the 18th century English painter, John Constable. I copied his famous work, The Haywain--my juvenile attempt still hangs on the wall of my home back in my hometown.

Nowadays I don't have time to indulge in this hobby anymore. Painting can sometimes be a troubelsome affair--you need to get your hands dirty; you need an easle, palette, canvas and messy tubes of paint. Writing in contrast seems so much "easier". Hey, you can even do it with a PDA at the cafe.

When you do painting, you become more sensitive to colours and their many subtle gradations in hue. The first time I set foot in Jakarta, I noticed that the colour of the grass here is different from those in Malaysia--it is of a darker shade of green. After having stayed in Indonesia for almost two years now, I realised that this is probably due to the more fertile volcanic soil that they have and the tropical weather with six months of heavy rain.

I once told my Malaysian friends rather innocently that the grass is greener in Indonesia. Of course, they laughed at me...

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Astral Talk

The Theosophists believe that Man has many bodies--the physical body is just the lowest manifestation of a hierarchy of overlapping bodies which we possess. They are altogether seven of them but the most common one that we hear people talk about is the astral body. The bible for the Thesophists are the writings of Madame Blavastky, namely, The Secret Doctrine.

Many other religious and mystical groups besides the Theosophists believe in the existence of these non-physical bodies. We hear people talking about out-of-body experience--it is is nothing but the astral body separating from the physical one. The human soul and ghosts could be just these non-physical bodies.

When I was a teenager, I was a bit of a fan of such esotericism and read widely on such subjects. These kind of "superstitions" would be anathema to rational scientists like Carl Sagan who criticised such beliefs severely in his book The Demon-Haunted World.

But reading them is great fun. I see them as useful "models" to view the world. I have personally met a few people in my life who claim that they can see the aura of a person. The aura is nothing but the astral body itself--it emanates radiation-like outward from the physical body and changes its colour based on the mood and temper of a person.

Saints are often depicted with a luminous aura around their heads. Theosophists claim that intellectually and spiritually developed people have very bright and liminous astral bodies. Astral matter is nebulous like clouds and a psychically developed person can see "storms" raging within the astral world.

Whenever we speak, we actually eject astral "projectiles" out to the person we are speaking to. Harsh words are like missiles of astral matter that penetrate into our recipient's astral body and create harmful perturbations within. Soothing words or sounds like the chime of a bell evoke astral emanations with harmonious shapes--like bubbles, or ripples--enveloping the person we are talking to.

It is fun to think of words having tangible "shapes". It makes speaking easier. Immediately one would use hand gestures to "shape" these balls of astral matter whenever we articulate something.

Again I could be indulging in mystical mumbo-jumbo. Being someone trained in the sciences, I take these things with a great pinch of salt. But it is certainly no harm knowing what mystics believe. Who knows, one day, astral matter could be proven to exist as a natural part of the universe. At the meantime, I'll continue having great fun creating various "astral objects" whenever I speak.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Sunday with Ibu Ety

Sunday with Ibu Ety

A question which you'd normally get in the office on Mondays is: "How was you weekend? What did you do?".

I am usually a bit hesitant to answer because my weekends are normally not spent going to fancy places which young people normally would. No I did not spend Saturday night partying at Blowfish; I did not have a candlelight dinner with a hot date at a fancy restaurant in Kemang and no, I did not spent it at the beach in Anyer; nor did I go for movies or shopping at Plaza Senayan.

What I did yesterday was, I went hunting for Indonesia's celeberated writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer's old house in Kampung Kebun Djahe Kober--the place which he described so vividly in his short story, "My Kampung" in Tales from Jakarta as a filthy and stinking place, where death and disease hung in the air.

Pramoedya narrated in his memoir, The Mute's Soliloquy, that Kampung Kebun Djahe Kober was the place where he lived together with his first wife in 1950. The house in Kebun Djahe Kober belonged to his wife's family. In the memoir, he wrote about his first impression of the place:

"What kind of lives did the people of this place lead that could keep them from seeing or prevent them from doing something about the sorry state of their surroundings?"

With Pak Rachmat's (whom I made acquaintance during my first trip to Djahe Kober) help, I found Pramoedya's house, located on Gang 3 (or Lane 3). The residents around there told me that Pak Pram's daughter is still living there!

The hospitality and friendliness of people in urban kampungs are amazing; they soon ushered me into the house and introduced me to Pramoedya's second daughter from his first marriage, Indriaty; referred to in his memoir as "Ety".

I was well-received by Ibu Indriaty who was amazed that I made such an effort to look for her father's old house. Pramoedya doesn't live there anymore; in his memoir, he narrated how he left Kebon Djahe Kober after his divorce with his first wife. But Ibu Indriaty told me that she and Pak Pram's second wife's family are very close and they get in touch very often.

I was thrilled to learn some of the details about their lives and how it used to be in Kampung Kebun Djahe Kober. Ibu Indriaty never got married; I did not ask for her age but she must be around 50 over years old. In the fifties, Pak Pram took his two children (Indriaty and her elder sister Puja Rosmi) and first wife with him to Netherlands where they stayed for two years.

Ibu Indriaty was kind enough to let me take pictures of her and her house. The house used to be bigger--occupying the space of three houses--but the land had been sold and what remains is just a third of what used to be. Ibu Indriaty lives there with her niece.

Before I left, I had Ibu Indriaty autograph my copy of The Mute's Soliloquy and I promised to send her copies of photos that I had taken.

It was a wonderful Sunday for me. But if people ask me what I did during the weekends, I'll probably answer, well, I just wandered around Jakarta city and stayed at home mostly.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Comebacks & Redemptions

Comebacks and Redemptions

I was having dinner at Restoran Sabang yesterday evening alone. And as usual, while waiting for my food, I would normally do some reading or writing. I bring along my Jornada PDA, a longhand journal and a book with me everywhere I go.

After writing a page in my journal (my daily quota), I flipped through some of my old entries. On Thursday, 16th of January 2003, I noted down something that I read from the Web: The actor Steve Guttenberg (of Police Academy, Cocoon and Three Men and a Baby fame) was interviewed about his career. He commented:

"A career is a series of comebacks".

That became food for thought for me before my real food arrived (chicken chop). We sometimes think that a career is something stable that grows over time. Yes, we do grow as individuals but a job is but a transient thing with many ups and downs along the way. Gone are the days when people remain with one company or job for the rest of their lives.

I have many friends who are thinking of switching careers and industries. The dot-com bust has decimated many of them. Perhaps many of us have been lulled into complacence for too long. We are never too old to reinvent ourselves. It takes discipline and great willpower.

I have an ex-colleague in the States who is now taking chemistry and biology classes so that he can go into biotechnology and environmental engineering. He is a constant source of inspiration to me.

As for me, I'm always reinventing myself in the background. I want to take the example of Tim Robbins' character in The Shawshank Redemption--the Stephen King prison novella that was made into an award-winning movie.

With just a small metal spoon, the character played by Tim Robbins spends years slowly digging a tunnel out of his cell, unbeknownst to his fellow prison inmates. One day the inmates found his room empty, except for a large poster of Rita Hayword on the wall. Tearing the poster apart, they saw a tunnel hidden behind it that led all the way out to freedom.

Perhaps one day too, I will find my freedom. But I must continue digging...