Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Jakarta – Inferno/Paradiso?

Since 2003 I am in Indonesia, and I live in Jakarta since a year or so (while I still commute to Bandung to teach). To start of this blog I searched for some scattered bits and pieces of my relationship with this city – this megapolis (a city with a mind of its own, no stranger to megalomania): inferno or paradise? The strange thing is that while the feeling remains that I am out of place here (where is my heart? in Bandung?) I start to feel at home here – the dust, the heat, the dirt, the jams, the noise – the thrills for the urban junkie. Enough, enough. Here are some bits and pieces:

In Jakarta no birds sing. In Jakarta all birds are caved. And we? – We sing illusions. We go by air-conditioned taxi to a mall. To see a movie. To have some noodles. Or have a coffee with our peers. Here, equality means people like us. Strangers – we see them, we have nothing in common. We see without awareness. The public is invisible since it is privatized. We exhibit our trivial selves. No communication can be based on uttering mere me. No public is possible when our primal concern is ourselves. And the impossibility of a public makes democratic politics unattainable. (First published in 2003 at

And a poem inspired by a poem of the Indonesian poet and essayist Goenawan Mohamad (see his poem ‘Dingin Tak Tercatat’):

De hitte

Een zonder weerga
weergaloze warmte

Deze stad, slechts stoffige hitte

Een licht langs de straten jaagt weg
stuurt heen, wij, echter, blijven

standvastig daar. Ook als

de hitte verdwijnt
en het licht wijzigt

mijmer ik met schaduwen

en ik vraag, waarom toch
waarom toch gelukzaligheid?

And a photo. I am a walker, a wandering walker. Which is considered odd. They say things. “You will get suntanned.” You will get robbed.” “You will get dirty.” I can confirm the last one. And yes, I get dirty, sometimes I slip and get all muddy. The pollution is a brilliant sunblock though. And so far I have been lucky when it comes to being robbed (and I have to say, I feel safer here than in Amsterdam). Still, I walk. And sometimes I get my hopes up, by the sight of a sidewalk being constructed. To beautify the city, they say. And by the time the sidewalk is finished they plant huge flower pots on the sidewalk. At the end, I still have to walk on the street. And a pedestrian is like that animal at the bottom of the foodchain – politeness and traffic seem not to be a matching pair in this city (the good part is that I don’t have to go to a lunapark to release stress by screaming foul language).

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