Sunday, 19 July 2009

Jakarta terror and other things Indonesian

Friday 17th July 2009 - Jakarta!
Second visit to Jakarta in nine months. Who would have thought it would turn out like this. That's just it isn't it? One never knows how close one can get into the thick of things. A meter-deep crater says it all.

Jakarta reacted appropriately. I mentioned to concerned friends that this a huge city and the ripple effect is non palpable. Life goes on as usual. Breaking news is detailed and the general population seems level-headed about the whole incident. By Day 2 the news hype was back to normal.

It seemed preordained to be a bummer. It got progressively worse when an aggressive Indonesian immigration officer started to get picky about my passport not having any empty page for him to stamp. As it turned out, I had checked before travelling and there was one empty page and a half available.

By then my partner was summoned forward. The officious man was going on about infringement of International immigration laws in strained English. He refused to reciprocate when spoken to in Bahasa Indonesia and proceeded to advise taking the next flight back! Be warned frequent travellers out there.

Upon requesting to speak to his supervisor, I was ushered to a nearby interview room. You know what they say, "Never go unaccompanied to a police station. . ." Well queasiness set in big time but fears were preconceived. I was asked the duration of stay and reason for visit. Satisfied with my answers, he advised renewal of my passport on returning home. My passport was finally stamped in an overcrowded page, leaving the blank page empty. Very considerate, I should say.

In the next counter, a distinguished member of our group was asked up front by a young immigration officer "to leave some spare rupiahs for him" seeing as how he was a flush international golfer. Meanwhile the corridors are plastered with anti corruption posters of the new administration.

One can't help feeling that there is a shift these days in Indonesian hospitality. Malaysian - Indonesian relations are not at its best with recent issues facing the Indonesian domestic help industry, namely cases of maid abuse and less than optimum regulatory policies.

The other current issue of a marriage gone bad between Manohara, of Indonesian-American parentage, and a certain Malaysian State Royal has led to bipartisan reactions. The media coverage on both sides of the Straits of Malacca add fuel to fire. In the markets of Tanah Abang, a popular local shopping district in Jakarta, Manohara T-shirts are on sale for 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah or RM 20.

Our tour guide, Surya, was a refreshing change. Instead of the usual golf or gender biased jokes, this pleasant Chinese Christian Indonesian, told the true story of Indonesia in an unaffected style. No Surya is in blue jeans, watching on as MJ does his thing.

He introduced Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as the first President Elect to be affectionately know by all Indonesians as SBY (es-bey-yeh). A first where the respectful term of Bapak is dropped for a VVIP. Man of the people? He gave an emphatic no nonsense address after the incident and was visibly moved. Impressive leadership role that has been missing in these parts for a while.

Our guide then went on to inform the group that Indonesia was not an Islamic state but secular, and respected all religions. When asked if the Kartu Tanda Penduduk Republik Indonesia (KTP) or identity card stated race, the answer was an emphatic no. Only religion is recorded. As for halal food - this is not stated categorically nor is it required by law, however it is ingrained in the Indonesian culture to slaughter following Muslim practices. This take caused a certain amount of anxiety amongst the group as the belief system was being challenged.

Not withstanding that this picture was taken in a Jakarta hotel lobby, and this image brings about an uneasy deja vu feeling, it shouldn't. These are just a couple of satisfied golfers who had successfully organised a 36-strong three day friendly golf tournament in Jakarta, and were about to check out of the hotel.

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