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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