Saturday, August 07, 2004

The Wisdom That Comes With Age

The Wisdom That Comes With Age

People worry a lot about growing old; but it is actually not such a bad thing. You see, a lot of things only come with age; after you have been around long enough, people, situations and events exhibit themselves with a certain clarity. You are able to size things up in an instant and be able to see how events will most likely unfold itself in the future.

You meet a person, and you immediately sense his or her past and future. It is like looking at a snapshot of an ocean: you see waves frozen in time but if you are an experienced surfer, you are able to know what kind of conditions that led to the state of motion captured in the photo; and you know how the waves will eventually crash and dissolve, when it is "unfrozen".

As a surfer, you learn how to "feel" the laws of physics that guide the motion of waters. You can deduce its causes and be able to predict the effects of its motion intuitively; and subsequently be able to adjust your body accordingly to tap its energy. All that is done in an instant, without the need for laborious mathematics.

We live in an ocean of action and reaction--what I normally refer to as the "sea of karma". After a while, you gain an intuitive understand of things and events around you. Everyone of us is a surfer--some are better ones than others. The currents of human affairs are complex but you don't need mathematics to understand them. Like a surfer, you need to learn how to feel the energy of its waves. You need experience and wisdom--and that usually comes with age.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Ghost of Kota

The Ghost of Kota

After a very tiring day at work, I decided to reward myself with dinner at Cafe Batavia. Took a TransJakarta Busway from my hotel to Stesen Jakartakota and walked a hundred metres north to Taman Fatahillah, where this colonial heritage building is located.

I haven't been here for a while but as expected, I had the whole upper floor dining hall to myself. Except for the odd bule tourist who would bother to make their way here to peer at the hundreds of framed pictures that adorn its wood-panelled walls; the place is usually deserted. Which was also why I had chosen Cafe Batavia--I wanted a quiet place to read (It is virtually impossible to find a place that's quiet in Kota).

Eating there alone, I remembered dining alone more than a decade ago at a similarly deserted place in Ipoh--the Station Hotel--before it underwent renovations. I had decided to stopover one night at the hotel on my way back from Penang: the rooms were cavernously large and the ancient plumbing emitted strange echoey sounds all through the night. There were probably lots of colonial ghosts roaming its dark corridors outside but I had no time for them--I was so tired that I slept like a baby that night.

These old colonial places have lots of charm and I am extremely fond of them. The E&O Hotel was another one of my favourite hangouts when I was working in Penang. I haven't visited this grand dame since it got renovated but I have many pleasant memories of the place...

Back to these old Dutch buildings in Kota: The Jakarta History Museum, the old Dutch administration center, is located directly opposite Cafe Batavia and the space between them is the Fatahillah Square, what used to be the old town square--the scene of many public executions and massacres. I'm sure a lot of ghosts haunt these places too. But nowadays, it's the irritating pengamins and petty traders trying to sell you fake Mont Blanc pens that you would want to avoid rather than ghosts.

Once upon a time, Jakarta/Batavia city was known the Queen of the East. But now only sad traces of that old glory remains. And there, among the vestiges of neglect and ruin, was a ghost: dining alone in Cafe Batavia, amidst the emaculately empty tables, trying to relive a past that has long fled.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

My Chinese Kernel

My Chinese Kernel

The Chinese, ever-busy and bustling with their businesses is a common sight in any Chinatown in the world. Here in Kota--the Chinatown of Jakarta--there's hardly any hint that the Chinese being deterred by the many massacres and riots against them throughout the city's checkered history.

Everywhere, you'll see their sheer voracity for success, their infinite wisdom in all things financial and their unabashed worldliness. The Chinese are indeed worthy emissaries of materialism.

Sometimes I'd like to think that the Chinese "kernel" that I possess is something that I can turn on and off at will. It is like a secret talent that I can unleash whenever the situation demands it. You see, there are times when it is good to apply a little bit of Chinaman wisdom: For example, when it comes to things related to money, some pragmatism and prudence will never do any harm. I actually have the tendency to take things easy when it comes to financial matters. So, if someone tells me that I do business like a Chinaman, I'll happily take that as a compliment!

The danger with being too money-centric in one's view of the world is an unhealthy attachment to material wealth. Prudence, when practised to the extreme, can lead to selfishness and stinginess. An uncontrolled appetite for material success can easily overshoot into greed. As in everything else in life, balance is the key.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

A Breath of Fresh (Jakarta) Air

A Breath of Fresh (Jakarta) Air

Despite the expected hassle with the immigration at the Sukarno-Hatta airport today, I'm happy to be back in Jakarta again. This time, I decided to stay in Kota--Chinatown itself. I thought it'll be fun living within walking distance to all the popular nightspots there; furthermore, the food in Kota is very good. The hotel is cheap but respectable; well, they don't have in-room broadband access but that's OK, I'll dial up to TelkomNet Instan.

With the TransJakarta Busway system spanning the all the way from Fatahillah to Block M, transport is not going to be much of a problem for me too--there's a stop right in front of my hotel. The other attraction of staying in Kota is that my hotel is within easy access to a lot of historical sights like the Jakarta History Museum, Cafe Batavia, Kali Besar and even the port of Sunda Kelapa.

Kota is indeed where the real "kota" of Jakarta (or Batavia) used to be--the adminstration center of the Dutch. The city of Jakarta grew from the nucleus of the old Sunda Kelapa port, all the way down south. These days all the up-market middleclass enclaves are down in Kemang, Bintaro and Kebayoran Baru--areas that used to be jungles, padi fields and plantations.

Sunda Kelapa today is a sorry sight. It is the gathering point for all the rubbish and filth of Jakarta, washed down by the foul-smelling canals of Kali Besar and the Molenvliet. With some proper planning, the place actually has the potential to look as beautiful as the Boat Quay area in Singapore.

The first thing I did after I've settled down into my hotel room is to take the Busway to Sarinah to have my nasi padang dinner at Sederhana. Feels good to be able to disappear into the chaotic Jakarta street crowd after two weeks of living in the stiffling and sterile yuppie worlds of Singapore and KL. The dirt, fumes and squalor of Jakarta immediately felt like a "breath of fresh air".

Well, maybe it's a good thing that they didn't turn Sunda Kelapa into another Boat Quay.