Saturday, May 01, 2004



Spending my last night in Jakarta blogging from the cybercafe. Feeling quite relaxed after completing my job here; I also managed to meet most of the people that I had planned to meet and had sampled most of my favourite food during this trip.

This morning I decided to take the Busway to Block M to meet up with Ibu Titi. As I was making my way across the overhead pedestrian bridge to the Sarinah Busway station, a demo by one of the political parties was building up along Jalan Thamrin. Perched on top of the bridge, I had a good bird's eye view of the whole event--a street-long parade of placades, banners and chanting demonstrators. I was fortunate that I brought along my camera with me; so I snapped to my heart's content.

Over the past years that I've been staying near the Sarinah area, I've witnessed countless demonstrations. They are often held on Saturdays when the traffic is light. Usually these are very peaceful and well-organized affairs--in fact, there's even a carnival-like atmosphere about them, with lively participants marching briskly and chanting slogans, dressed uniformly in their brightly-coloured party T-shirts, accompanied by waves of motorcycles and cars blaring their horns. After the whole circus ends, food packets will be distributed around to all its participants. It's a simple, easy and even fun job for the participants--many who actually do this for a living.

Because demos are such frequent affairs, people hardly bother to notice which party is demonstrating and what is it that they are demonstrating about. Whenever there's an unexpected traffic-jam, people just assume that there's a demonstration going on somewhere. After a while these demos can quite tiresome. Like what the papers like to say, instead of practising proper democracy, the people are simply demo-crazy.

I guess the demo I witnessed this morning made my short trip to Jakarta a complete one. Last week I had already experienced one of the most massive traffic jams in recent years. Mission accomplished. Time to go home.

Friday, April 30, 2004

Corporate Backpacker

Corporate Backpacker

Another weekend--a long one--is coming up. Weekends make no difference to me these days; I actually prefer weekdays, as everyone else is at work and the neighbourhood is a lot more quiet. And the malls on weekends are cauldrons of madness. I try to avoid them as far as possible.

I am guilty of spending too much of my weekends working and too much of my weekdays on non-productive activities. Weekends have become a time to catch up on work.

Somehow I find that my utilization of time is also a lot better when I'm on the road. I did a lot of my work last time in hotel rooms and business centers. But if your colleagues happen to be travelling with you on the same trip, it's a different story. Often a business trip is an opportunity to indulge in an orgy of gluttony and late-night drinking--all on company's expense. Some lucky individuals spend their entire corporate careers jetting from one city to another, staying at five-star hotels and partying at all the latest nightspots in town.

But corporate travel can hardly be called travelling--you move in a pampared world of luxury and comfort. After a while every airport and hotel begins to look similar--that same air-conditioned sterility of lounges, lobbies and limousines.

Being the solitary creature that I am, I have no qualms about travelling alone. I can understand the happiness which Theroux describes in The Great Railway Bazaar when he finds himself alone in a train compartment for the entire journey. I am perfectly comfortable--even blissful--staying alone in strange hotels in faraway lands. Being alone gives me more time to observe and study my surroundings. I get more opportunities to loiter around the city aimlessly and this allows me to observe local habits and customs more closely.

Now that I'm no longer working for a multi-national, I don't enjoy the perks and privileges that come with their kind of corporate travel. This could be a blessing in disguise--I can avoid those disgustingly luxurious hotel and turn business trips into pseudo-backpacking adventures.

But still I have to maintain some measure of "respectability". I can't tell my customers that I'm staying at Hotel Labu in Kota, even though some of the best Chinese food in Jakarta is located around the area. Hmm, maybe I can consider staying at the 3/4-star Mercure Hotel near Mangga Besar next time--respectable enough, not too expensive and close to all the interesting places in Chinatown...

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Indonesia Boleh

Indonesia Boleh

It is drizzling outside and everyone feels edgy, afraid that another massive congestion is going to build up when people start going home at five or six. With the intolerable traffic, cramped living conditions and the heavy pollution (third most polluted city in the world), it is amazing that there are people who still choose to live in Jakarta. Maybe some don't really have a choice, because most of the job opportunities are here.

Yet, despite all its inconveniences, Jakartans in general don't complain as much about their city as Singaporeans or KLites do about theirs--at least that's the perception I get. Well, they do complain, but their tone is slightly different: When Jakartans talk about the ineptness of the authorities, the corruption in the government, and the lackadaisical attitude of their fellow citizens, they tend to laugh it off as something that's almost inevitable, as if nothing can be done about it, as if it is the nature of Indonesians themselves.

I also sense a certain lack of self-belief among locals about their own strengths and capabilities. They always look to more "advanced" neighbours like Singapore or even Malaysia as models. Many of my Indonesian colleagues here are equally if not more capable than I am, but they sometimes prefer me to be the one to present to their customers because Indonesian customers tend to believe what a foreign "expert" says.

Well, one can also say that this inferiority complex is an Asian disease but it seems to be a lot more pronounced here. This leads to situations where some foreigners find it convenient to abuse the respect that locals accord to them. I find that extremely deplorable.

Indonesian society has such depth and diversity. There's certainly no dearth of talents. Their achievements in certain areas, like in the arts and literature, surpass that of her neighbours. The people are resilient and are quite capable of hardwork. Sometimes I feel they need another Sukarno to rouse the greatness that's inherent within them.

The path towards lasting peace and prosperity is certainly not any easy one for a country as vast as Indonesia. But the starting point has to be self-belief. Without it, the battle is already lost before it is even started.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Bahasa Rojak & Gado-Gado

Bahasa Rojak & Gado-Gado

The Malaysian Arts Culture and Heritage Minister, Datuk Dr Rais Yatim is worried that we are polluting the national language by our habit of using "sekerat belut, sekerat ular"--mixing Malay and English--in our daily usage. This bahasa rojak thing has been a hot issue recently with the banning of songs like Seksis and Diva by Anita Sarawak from our national airwaves.

I am certainly guilty of using bahasa rojak myself. It is a common Malaysian habit and I think some of our cabinet ministers are the biggest culprits. For as far as I can remember, we've always used the word "belanjawan" for budget, why in the world would we want to use the extremely ugly and unintuitive "bajet"?

To be fair, Dr M did give a reason for switching from "belanjawan" to "bajet" in his 2003 Budget speech. But I suspect that there is a fear that the word "belanjawan" might bring connotations of "over-spending" or a "spending spree". Indeed the word "belanja" is used in Indonesia to mean "shopping". If you want to give your Indonesian friends a treat, they'll be quite confused if you say "belanja makan". "Traktir" is the word for it.

One can say that this mixing of languages is inevitable in this age of globalization. In Indonesia, it is common to find books with English titles and Bahasa Indonesia contents. The runaway bestseller here last year, "Jakarta Undercover"--an expose on the sex industry in Jakarta--despite its inviting English title, is completely in Bahasa. On the local channel Metro TV, the primetime news-slot is called "Headline News" but if you're expecting to at least see the headlines flashed in English, you'll be quite disappointed.

Perhaps many consider it hip to sprinkle a few words of English here and there. "Busway" is definitely more catchy than "Jalur Bis". Go to any Indonesian foodstall, the menu will most likely contain items such as "nasi goreng spesial" (with extras such as fried egg and friend chicken) and "nasi goreng komplit" ("complete" with everything thrown in -- fried chicken, satay,slices of bakso (meat balls) buried under a mountain of krupuk crackers).

We Malaysians would cringe if someone uses "pasar" words like "gua" and "lu". In Jakarta it is considered casual and even cool to use them (usually pronounced and spelt "gue" and "lho"). The Chinese influence in the Betawi dialect is especially strong. Not many locals who eat bakso (sometimes spelt baso) realise that it is Hokkien for meatballs. You will also frequently hear people say "gopek" for 500 (or 500K) rupiah. Well, if ours have become a rojak language, theirs, with their Dutch, Chinese and Javanese influences have certainly become gado-gado.

What is more worrying to me is the growing divergence between the flavours of Bahasa Melayu spoken in Malaysia and Indonesia, and to a lesser extent Singapore and Brunei. Only yesterday I was reading a Bernama report about UKM don Dr Ding Choo Ming lamenting the fact that Indonesian students coming to study in UKM are forced to take courses in Bahasa Malaysia!

Since the Anwar incident, every Malaysian knows the word "liwat". Go to any Javanese restaurant, you'll see "nasi liwet"--a specialty of Solo--on most menus. I don't blame a Malaysian if he thinks "nasi liwet" goes together with "sop buntut" (thank God we call it "sup ekor" in Malaysia).

I studied at a local university at a time when they were trying to push Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium for education. In exams, we were often forced to answer "at least two questions in Bahasa Malaysia". So I ended up learning strange words like "perisian" for software and "tetikus" for mouse. In Indonesia, the word for software is "perangkat lunak". If you read computer section of Berita Harian in Singapore, they have a preference for the word "sofwe". I think the top prize goes to the word our lecturer used for "debugging"--NYAHPEPIJAT.

I suppose the emergence local variants and dialects is a natural development for any language; but If Malay is to be championed by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka as one of the official languages in United Nations by 2020, then we'd better start doing something to prevent this lingua franca of the Nusantara from splintering. Actually I'm not sure if this is even possible.

I won't be surprised if one day the Indonesian language would sound no different from Tagalog to Malaysian ears--one could still trace a smattering of similiarities but on the whole, quite imcomprehensible. That will be sad indeed.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Love Connection

Love Connection

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways", goes the first line of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's most famous poem, from Sonnets to the Portuguese.

All of us express love to our loved ones in different ways. Some like to show it with grand gestures of affection, some in a more subtle and indirect manner. Whatever way we choose to express our love, the act of loving is one where a soul reaches out to connect to another to form a more complete and stable "system". (I know, I'm such a geek).

Being alone, we always feel that we are incomplete. At a mundane level, we all need friends--we need to connect to other people. We need to feel that we belong to a group or community. By doing do, we achieve a sense of stability and a feeling of belonging to the world where we live in. By uniting with other souls, we evolve together and share a common destiny.

I am fond of comparing the soul and its ego to the natural phenomenon of gravity. Planetary systems, binary stars and galaxies are basically Nature's way for matter to cluster together to achieve temporary stability. Similarly, at a molecular level, bonding occurs--hidrogen and oxygen atoms choose to stick together as water molecules because it is a far more stable compound under normal conditions.

We often start with physical bonding but as we evolve higher, our software becomes more developed--the emotional, intellectual and spiritual layers awaken. These layers within us yearn to seek connection too. As I've mentioned in a previous posting, a soulmate is someone we can connect to on all four different layers.

But such a perfect layer-to-layer matching is very rare indeed. A couple who decides to be together for life often have to make compromises. There are areas where they connect perfectly and they are others where they don't. That is OK. A successful couple is not the perfectly matched couple--they are the ones who know where the strength of their relationship lie and build the rest from there.

We will all continue to show our love in different ways. Some gestures will be appreciated and some won't. We learn and fine-tune along the way. A relationship is but a lifetime learning experience. As the Carpenters song goes, "Let's take a lifetime to say, 'I knew you well'".

Monday, April 26, 2004



Hitched a ride back to my hotel with a colleague rather early today to avoid the traffic jam. The 3-in-1 ruling which requires three passengers per car during rush hour to enter areas where the Busway system is operating has really disrupted traffic everywhere. The strange thing is that cars that are already inside the business district are also required to have 3 passengers to get out.

The 3-in-1 ruling has been around for many years. But since the Busway transport system has been introduced--effectively removing one lane from each side of the main thoroughfare from Block M to Kota--the ruling hours have been extended and also imposed on traffic travelling within the business district.

So many people are forced to stay back in the office until 7.00pm when the 3-in-1 period ends. Those who still want to drive home alone has to use back exits to avoid coming out from Jalan Sudirman, causing enormous congestion on those backalleys that are already cramped with hawkers and urban kampung houses.

Jokis are an interesting sight in Jakarta: these are people offering themselves at all entry points into the 3-in-1 area to be the extra second or third passenger, for a small fee. You can see them standing by the side of the road with raised index fingers--indicating an offer of one passenger. Some are women carrying babies--I suppose that counts as two passengers.

Locals joke that the 3-in-1 system has created a lot of job opportunities for jokis and also generated extra income for policemen who stand vigilantly at all the entry points nabbing drivers who violate the ruling.

Since most cars have heavily tinted glass here, I suggested to my friend to use life-sized dolls or mannequins as extra passengers to fool the policemen. I also had another wild idea: perhaps cars here should be equipped with built-in inflatable "passengers" on the front and backseats--instant companions at the push of a button. That will be infinitely more useful than an airbag.

All this while Jakarta drivers have also been happily driving around without having to use seat belts ("sabuk pengaman"). But looks like this has changed too--now everyone is required to buckle up. And of course, every new ruling is a "business opportunity" for the law enforcement officers here.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Simple Pleasures

Simple Pleasures

I was pleasantly surprised last night to find Liverpool beating Man U 1-0. Never mind if the winning goal was only a penalty. Perhaps subconsciously I didn't want to watch the match--the excitement of a Liverpool-Man U encounter is often too much for me to bear--when I decided to meet Marlyn for dinner at Sarinah.

I had planned to spend every available moment of mine here in Jakarta to catch up with old friends. So far I've met Setiawan and my former colleagues. I hope to see Ibu Titi, Wiwik, Arman and perhaps Rosi over the next one week that I'm here. Marlyn kept me updated on her love life (her latest boyfriend is a Betawi-Chinese mix) and the latest gossips about the people at the hotel (Intan, my favourite housekeeper is back to work after giving birth, Nadia from sales department has left, Punthia at the front-desk has been going slow with her Malaysian boyfriend, curvacious gym instructor Mira is still going out with bules and Dije's present boyfriend is an Arab).

Also high on my Jakarta to-do list is tasting all my favourite Indonesian food again: soto Betawi, nasi timbel, nasi gudeg, nasi uduk, bakmi GM, rawon and soto sulung. Not forgeting Indomie rebus with kopi tubruk at the warung-- the simple pleasures of Jakarta life.

Bouyed by Liverpool's victory last night, I spent a productive two hours working on my laptop at the Phoe Nam cafe this morning while enjoying my usual roti bakar and teh susu. Phoe Nam cafe--owned by a Hainanese from Makassar--is one of the few places in Jakarta where I can find a decent cup of tea with milk. Jakartans drink a lot of tea (usually without sugar--"tawar") but they rarely drink it with milk.

I'll probably watch a bit of football on ESPN tonight and do my duty as a Liverpool fan, rooting for Newcastle United to lose to Chelsea. Exciting soccer matches, good food and the pleasant company of old friends in my favourite city-- I don't think I can't ask for more from life.