Saturday, February 07, 2004

The Middleclass and the Marhaens

The Middleclass and the Marhaens

Being in KL, it is inevitable that I will miss blogging every now and then. Last night I was with my friends at the yuppie bars of Bangsar. Though it was fun to meet some of my old friends, I felt a bit reluctant to be part of those late Friday night revelries again. But I guess I won't have much of a choice, now that I have to immerse myself and reestablish contact with the local IT scene.

Had I been in Jakarta last night, I would have had a quiet evening in my hotel room with a nice bottle of red wine, writing in my journal or preparing some lecture slides. Life is different now, and I'll have to get used to it.

The most common question people ask me when they know that I've worked in Jakarta before is whether the city is a dangerous place. I'd jokingly answer that besides the occassional bomb or two, it is generally peaceful. The truth is, I've never had any bad experience during my two years there. Thinking back, I can only recall gentle and courteous people and their great resilience in the face of hardship.

You see the struggle for survival everyday in the streets of Jakarta. My experiences there make me better appreciate the good life that we the Malaysian middleclass enjoy. It injected in me a certain variness about plunging into a lifestyle of excess and decadence.

The good thing about Malaysian society is that there's less of a divide between the rich and the poor. We do not realise what a great achievement that is until we see great disparity among these two groups of people in countries like Indonesia.

The rich in Jakarta live in a super-terrestrial world of their own above the hot struggles of the poor. The poor continue to breed uncontrollably, condemning generation after generation to further poverty. When I met Marhaen's descendants in the outskirts of Bandung a couple of months back, I saw that their lives did not seem very much different from their great-grandfather's. Sadly, even after six decades, Marhaen is still an apt symbol of the common Indonesian man.

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