Young ladies / my Mercedes

I think I wrote elsewhere on this blog that it was a crime, nay, offensive, that the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame doesn’t have space for the New York Dolls, perhaps the most important rock group, in sheer influence that the USA has produced since the Velvet Underground

As flew into Jakarta last week I had similar thoughts about Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. I saw them some 25 years ago in London and it was a personal life changing moment.

Steinski did a fantastic Sugarhill mix a couple of years back, released as an album, which really twists and turns itself around the live funk elements evident in so much of the best early hip-hop. No studio bozos rhyming over Good Times here; and its peaks when it drops into Superappin’, which just propels the mix, gives it unbelievable momentum before dropping you exhausted into the next track. On the headphones anyway …

The energy of Superappin seemed to be a perfect way to tumble through the smog into Jakarta. A prelude to the madness and intensity of this great city, beginning at the airport as you head for a taxi and the touts swamp you relentlessly.

I guess I sound like a Jakarta virgin, the way I enthuse naively about the town. So what – I am and am happy to be so, revelling in it all, and right now I understand the guy (an Indonesian friend who has spent years in and out of the place) who said to me you can spend your whole life there and never know it.

We go to Jakarta for a holiday. If you live in Bali, it makes perfect sense, so we do, this being our fourth trip in the past twelve months.

This city is personified by our hotel, or at least its surroundings. The Alila, exquisitely designed, but not expensive by Western, or even most other Asian standards, sits just north of Merdeka Square, the governmental nerve centre of the nation, surrounded by third world alley ways and sometimes, although not always, squalid food stalls in the street.

In the same way, turn off the wide green boulevards of the so called golden triangle that run through central Jakarta, complete with dozens of massive skyscrapers, and lush, watered gardens, and you can be anywhere in urban Indonesia in a matter of metres, with its chaos and noise.

I’m not sure how I feel about it, although I know that Jakarta, and indeed the country as a whole, needs this wealth to grow, assuming of course, and it’s a big assumption when the cops on the roundabouts on the boulevards are still pulling drivers over for alleged and often imaginary offences to boost their personal coffers, that there is some eventual filtering down of said wealth. One can but hope.

We shopped but the frustration in JKT is, as always, the lack of a decent guide to the city. There is not, as far I can work out, a decent printed or online reference as there is to most cities half its size. So you rely on pointers from others and instinct. But we walked and explored and shopped. Bulés get strange looks from the locals walking the back streets but so be it. Down in South Jakarta we wandered the streets looking for the market that we were taken to a year back in the back of somebody’s car without taking much notice of where or how you get there. With the help of a slowly (very slowly) increasing vocab of pidgin Bahasa we found it, and of course finding it was more than half the fun.

There is at times, a bizarre logic in the city too, although not a profound logic. That the dozens of street stalls selling, not very discreetly, hard core porn, also sell Viagra, blatantly advertising the items makes sense. Although it would make more sense not to have them all centred in the main boulevard of Glodok, one after another, perhaps a little more geographical disbursement might help expand (such a word may not be the most appropriate when discussing Viagra) business, especially for the guy who sits in the 35th stall along the street, selling the same items as the first 34. Then again, this is Indonesia. We found the plastic paddle pool stall street too – all the same, one after another, go figure.

Restaurants were doing a similar trade as, but we were shocked by the incredibly drunk Japanese salary-man being dragged screaming into his car. Throwing fists and kicking violently at all near, until they propelled him in, with some violence, to the back seat of the Kijang. I wondered how he would feel about his friends the next day when he saw the bruises they’d given him as their fists impacted with his head.

Once again we had to leave, this time to the airport, where we found that it took 30 minutes to get to the airport instead of our allotted two hours, we were four hours early for our flight, which was then delayed for an hour. Is there much to do at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport for five hours?

I read Robert Fisk, listened to the iPod again as I did on the way in, and we finally arrived back in Bali about 1am. That strange taste was the fresh air….

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