web counter The Madness of MokcikNab: Of Java Jive and Muslim Merits
The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Thursday, May 11, 2006
Of Java Jive and Muslim Merits

Hello, all seven of you who still read my blog : let me apologise for being increasingly erratic and horridly un-interesting in my posts.

The whole SSO family is distracted by two main clients -- a government linked VC who is desirous of re-branding and heightened visibility; and a university who, in launching their new mosque, wants us to set up an exhibition on the Muslim heritage of excellence. So you see, we actually have to do work, and work has considerably limited the time spent on things we'd rather do, namely blogging, eating and psycho-analysis; which we sometimes undertake all in one go.

Work, as well as Adam and Aiysha's impending exams, also mean that I'll have to forgo my fortnightly trip to Jakarta. My husband has repeatedly said he wished I could come over despite these responsibilities, which just goes to show that all his strictness with the kids is just a sham, because he'd sooner put sex above all other interests. Of course I miss Saiffuddin, too, but I am surprised to find that I also miss Jakarta, the city of inconvenience.

I mean, I actually yearn to be in the folds of that dusty, noisy, supremely un-navigable place. Every time I get back to KL I thank God, and I thank British imperialists and Malay conglomerates who made a bunch of money out of infrastructure, because I live in a town with wide roads, less people and a better sense of town planning. (Let's not discuss the merits of Singapore at this point) And just like Singapore, KL is swish and modern with all bells and whistles, but it is increasingly losing its soul. Jakarta, on the other hand, is a city whose heart is alive and wildly beating.

Life is hard for most people in Jakarta, and our driver once said that "Jakarta itu lebih kejam dari ibu tiri". But this adversity has made Jakarta denizens such resolute and resourceful people. In Mampang-Prapatan, where people jostle for space with huge drains and wooden factories, you see that most houses still bear the dignity and pride of its owners. Even though their abodes are roughly the size of our low cost flats, and the only front yard is a three feet opening, homes are kept meticulously clean, and usually adorned, either with plants or carvings. (Admittedly, sanitation elsewhere leaves much to be desired lah)

People living here go to work in cramped, cranky buses or mikrolets, or they'll take the rusty bajajs or post-war bimo's, or if they're in a hurry, they'll take ojeks, which means a pillion ride on a kapcai. But I often see them well-dressed for work -- women usually have coordinated shoes and handbags and I hardly see a man without a tie and a tucked in shirt. (With the exception of my husband, who dresses worse than his clerks) Despite the impossible traffic, most drivers are polite and understanding, and this is the absolute truth : I have yet to hear any commuter fling a swear word at anyone on the road.

Of course, there's the shopping, where every mall is a Sungei Wang ten times over. I once bought like, four sets of brand-name lingerie (and by that I mean with garters and stockings and the works) for under fifty ringgit at ITC Ambassador. One simple rule when going bargain hunting in Jakarta - if it says "ITC" (that's eee-tay-say in Indonspeak) in front, leave your husband in the car and go in with lots of money. You'll need every single rupiah, and a husband exhorting moderation and common sense, will just be a nuisance.

But if you ask me the things that I miss the most in Jakarta -- I'd say it's their arts and music; and their food. Oh I miss their food : nasi timbel with lots of ulam and fried sambal terasi, keredok, the sinful es teler, which includes pieces of avocado and buah kabung swimming in sweet coconut milk, and anything from Monami, a cake shop selling traditional kuehs and other pastries. A juice counter near my husband's office makes the best avocado shake in the world : ripe buttery slices of avocado blended in milk and palm sugar, absolutely heavenly and does no justice to your hips. God, I even miss simple things like fried bakwan, which is essentially fried cekodok, but there's the bakwan sold by a nice-looking mas back in Senen which has just the right amount of carrots and taugeh and dried shrimp. Besides, he has a smile for every one and packs his confection in home-made paper bags.

For arts and culture and music, Jakarta is nonpareil, at least when compared to Malaysia or Singapore. For someone who loves the prevalently popular Indo-pop, Jakarta radio is mother-lode. My dial hovers between I-Radio, Radio Kayumanis, Muslim FM, Female Radio and Hardrock FM Jakarta. You can hear live music for free, at food courts in any mall, although my favourites are at Pasar Festival, where on Friday evenings you can hear Ireng Maulana and Friends entertain you with jazz while you negotiate your ayam khalasan; and centre court in Atrium Plaza, where they hold school-band competitions on weekends. Once I was impressed by a band of sixteen year olds who gave a punk twist to the theme song from Crayon Sinchan. And they were cute, too. But the best example of free music in Jakarta must have been the day Dewa 19 promoted the release of their Republik Cinta album by playing in the street, on the back of a moving trailer ala the Beatles and U2, bringing traffic to a virtual standstill on the main arteries of Gatot Subroto and Sudirman. Now that's an album launch.

But if you like, there are endless places where you can pay to listen, but I haven't tried those yet -- I'd like to visit Planet Hollywood and Score! in Cilandak Town Square, and a jazz club in Aston Semanggi the next time I go. And I'd probably also check out a small open air place in Kemang, which gives new bands space to perform every Wednesday, although personally I hate Kemang.

There are concerts almost every weekend, some of them cheap and massive, like the ones they hold in Ancol beach, where people like Slank and Radja and Searius and Cokelat perform, but you go only at the risk of getting your head introduced to the broken end of an empty bottle. Or you can go to the respectable ones at Balai Sarbini, Erasmus Huis or JCC, which has seen the likes of people like Bob James and Lee Ritenour. The last notable concert, which I missed, was of the Tiga Diva -- a powerhouse performance combining Kris Dayanti, TT DJ and Ruth Sahanaya. They have the hugely anticipated Java Jazz Festival every year, and they have the Jakarta International Film Festival. And occasionaly, they come up with gems like a concert of drummers from different bands coming together, or the one which I desperately wanted to watch : Bass Heroes, a bareng fest of 13 bassists, including Thomas from Gigi, Rindran from Padi and Adam from Sheila on Seven.

And then, there's Taman Ismail Marzuki, which is like a one-stop centre for arts and culture : a cinema, a makan place and a performing hall all in one location.

The last time I was in Jakarta, I went to Taman Ismail Marzuki to see Calonarang, a dance theatre, which combined elements of Java and Bali dances, namely the bedaya and the legong. The performance was a testimony to the friendship between two doyennes -- Retno Maruti and Bulantrisna Djelantik, who combined the principles of two different dances to tell the story of Calonarang, and it was nothing like I've seen before. I felt like I was standing before a vast civilization, some of which formed the seat of my own culture, and I knew so little of its vastness.

And I suppose this is where my fascination with Jakarta, and Indonesia as a whole begins : it holds so much knowledge, so many clues about the my own origins, like it is the source from which springs my stream of consciousness. I see myself in the faces of so many people, and I am sometimes surprised by how so many of my husband's colleagues who correctly guess at my ancestry in Indragiri. Everyone already assumes my husband's Acehnese heritage, you can't miss the dark complexion, the broad forehead, the aquiline nose and the quick temper. I see elements of Terengganu words in the Indonesian language, and I am delighted by the similarity in food -- they too, have pulut lepa and temosa ikan, and keropok they call pempek, although the recipe is much watered down. This is where the art of songket weaving originates, before those skills are brought to our peninsular by Sumatran princesses who marry into the royal house of Terengganu (hence, the touch of Indragiri in me) So much of what we are, was born there.

There, lie stories about Bukit Si-guntang, and Demang Lebar Daun and Tun Sri Lanang, and Melayu-Jambi and Melayu Riau, and Paramesvara and Sri Tri Buana. Across the straits there is the romance of ancient kingdoms like Mataram-Demak and Majapahit, and epics like Loro Jonggrang or even Diponegoro. I am going to drown in the sea of antiquity, and I can't wait to explore every cave.

Post Script : There are many things that does annoy me in Jakarta, as there are things that I cherish about KL, or particularly PJ. Foremost among these is the availability of internet -- here there's wireless connection virtually every where. You still have to pay for the web at a Starbucks in Jakarta, and even then the connection is achingly slow. So hurray for Malaysia.


Mokciknab, my keyboard and mouse are now full of drool and sticky with something else, thanks to your prolific and vicarious description of Jakarta's music scene.

Anyway, I've long heard that Indonesia has an amazing music scene. But after reading this I'm even more compelled to visit that place someday. Especially Jakarta. Someday, I guess.

But since I can't afford to do so yet, I'll stick to reading your blog in the meantime, heh.
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