Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What this soundtrack leaves silent

In High Fidelity ─ based on a novel by Nick Hornby; two other Hornby novels were translated to the celluloid as well: Fever Pitch (twice) and About a Boy ─ by Stephen Frears we can see the main character Rob categorize events in his life with the help of music. What is the soundtrack of my life? So far I listened today to Herbie Hancock, Björk, Massive Attack, Tricky, Tom Waits, 16 Horsepower. Right now I am listening to And it Rained all Night from the album Eraser by Thom Yorke (also the lead singer of Radiohead, which is also a song by the Talking Heads). What next? New Model Army’s Small Town England or Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata (inspired by Tolstoy’s novel, which in turn was inspired by Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, which in turn was inspired by the violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer) or Motorspycho’s Demon Box? But all these records do not complete my soundtrack. The noise that comes from just outside my window: the construction site, the countless vehicles inhabiting the highway, the call for midday prayer. And when I leave my home there is a soundtrack provided: TVs are screaming of another ongoing war in Babylon. Radios are promoting the latest single of Britney Spears. Many households I visited in Indonesia over the years seem to be equipped with audiovisual equipment that cannot be turned off. In many homes TVs and radios are in a competition for attention, while both seem to be ignored. And in shopping malls Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is played (which is used at a Dutch railway station to scare away the heroin junkies) and inside a shop you can enjoy Puff Diddy or Audioslaves while shopping for apparel or eating a slice of pizza. But this morning I went to the supermarket for my daily milk&bread. Right away I noticed something odd was going on. And I searched for the cause within myself. My vision was blurred, my feet as heavy as bricks. I felt like I was intoxicated with a drug that impaired my senses, sounds came from afar. Only at the cashier I realized that there was no music playing. The silence, the horror. Typing these last words I have turned to DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

My infinite city

Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.
“But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks.
“The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.”
Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: “Why do you speak of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.”
Polo answers: “Without stones there is no arch.”
(From: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

This dog is no anjing

This is Dante. Dante is a member of Gustaff and Reina’s household in Bandung. Dante gives me, and others, always a barking welcome upon entering Gustaff and Reina’s house. Anjing is the Indonesian noun for the English dog (or Dutch hond, or German Hund, or French chien). Anjing does not just refer to Dante and other dogs. Anjing is also used as a swearword. Anjing is also a reference to what the English call an asshole. And it is recommended not to use this word as a curse lightly, you might insult Dante (and others).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Y.B. Mangunwijaya writes: “The people of Java are little different from the mountainous island on which they reside, a chain of volcanoes which at any moment can awaken to cough up a phlegm of burning lava.” (This quote functions as an epitaph in: Indonesian Politics under Suharto; Order, Development and Pressure for Change, by Michael R.J. Vatikiotis.) I wonder what Mangunwijaya (or Vatikiotis) wants to say. Are the people here as irrational as an erupting volcano? Is their violent uncontrolled rage – as amok is defined in my dictionary – of the same nature as the Merapi? I didn’t realize that a mountain can be passionate – or for that it matters: moral. In an authoritarian regime spontaneous violence is the only possible form of opposition, to show that enough is really enough. And this rage isn’t irrational, this passion isn’t immoral.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Paradise: smoke in the face

Indonesia is home to at least one paradise: a paradise for smokers. Smokers here seem to be born with a burning cigarette on their lips. Signs prohibiting smoking are ignored, after all, Indonesians are true anarchists and smoke blue in the face. Male non-smokers are a tiny exception to the rule. It almost seems as if it is a state sponsored program to support homegrown industry. (A package of cigarettes is much cheaper here compared to what one has to pay in Europe, but that comparison doesn’t hold, because a bus driver, for example, earns only a tiny fraction from his European counterpart.) The package depicted above is actually not from Borneo (or Kalimantan, as the southern two-thirds of the island is called), but from the Central Java town Kudus. In and around Kudus are approximately 300 kretek factories (kretek is the Indonesian term for clove-flavored cigarettes). The largest of these factories in Kudus is Djarum. Djarum is the sponsor of many various music and sport events around the country.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

l'Odeur de papaya verte

L’Odeur de papaya verte (The smell of the green papaya, 1993) by Yen-Khe Tran Nu was the first movie I saw in Amsterdam (the next one had to wait a few years until I moved there in 1996). Yen-Khe Tran Nu’s movie hovers around the theme of nostalgia, so it seemed to me. But nostalgic to what? To Vietnam? The director and actor Yen-Khe Tran Nu hails from Vietnam but lived since 1974 in France when he made this movie in a French studio (his next two movies, Cyclo and À la verticale de l'été, were shot in Vietnam). And does the papaya symbolize this nostalgia because it cannot be bought in Europe? Or is the main character in the movie feeling nostalgic? And does the papaya symbolize this nostalgia because it reminds her of her poor background (papaya is a very cheap fruit, unlike, for example, durian, which is considered a delicatessen)?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Untouchable delight

The documentary Dutch Delight (Hollands Licht, 2003) by Pieter-Rim de Kroon and Maarten de Kroon tries to unveil the myth of Dutch light. Dutch light, immortalized by many great poets, painters and photographers. They tried to unravel the mystery of Dutch light. The result is beautiful cinematography. We still try the impossible: to make visible what is invisible. Light is invisible. We know it is there, out there, because we can see those things touched by it. But is Dutch light so different from Indonesian light? In Bali one can experience similar sceneries: blue skies and ever changing formations of cumulus clouds. But here in Jakarta the light is indeed very different. Perhaps due to air-pollution. And the air seems untouched, often greyish. The untouchable delight cannot be unraveled, it can only be shown.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

the heart is a lonely painter

I saw – or better: experienced – Chatchai Puipia’s (1964 born in Thailand) work titled ‘the heart is a lonely painter’ at the last biennale in Singapore a few months ago ( I experienced this piece of artwork through physically, not just intellectually. No need whatsoever to wonder about Puipia’s technique, because this painting is magnificent (it is transcendental). It touches me, the hurt.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

What's this?

“What’s this? I beg you pardon! Huh? Just some human figures you say. No! Can’t be! It is… Yes, it is vulgar. It is porn! So indecent, so immoral. It should be removed. Or at least it should be covered up.” (This actually happened at the tourist attraction Borobudur, nearby Yogyakarta.) “And the makers should be taught a lesson or two; in jail with them!” (For one this would be post-mortem justice.)

The maker of the sculpture is unknown to us, so are his intentions. This sculpture is part of the Candi Sukuh temple complex, which is on the slopes of the Gunung Lawu mountain, close to the Central Java kraton city of Solo. This temple complex is from the 15th century and exhibits some explicit – and, because of the size of some elements, funny – statues.

The maker of the drawing is known: R.E. Hartanto, who is better known as Tanto (1973 born in Bandung, Indonesia; his online portfolio:

So what is this? To call it pornography and therefore immoral is to jump into conclusions. What we instead should try to do is to describe the sculpture and drawing. Pornography is used as a qualification, as a subgroup of immorality. But this skips the step of merely describing in a more matter of fact way before drawing up a conclusion. To use pornography as a description is as if one is blind, one does not really see.

This is common in authoritarian regimes; one is trained to use certain categories instead of having the freedom to use one’s own mind to think and try to decipher and define one’s surrounding. And to see the world shaped through only those categories means one cannot see the world different-wise. One cannot shape one’s world by oneself when the world comes as a fixed package.

A moral judgment says something about our perspective towards the world, it says on the other hand nothing about the world itself. The world as-it-is is amoral. It is nonsense to picture morality as a series of laws of nature.

What’s this? I don’t know. Just two nudes. A man with a giant penis. And a girl on her way to ecstasy.

Monday, January 8, 2007

No more traffic!

In 2014 there will be so many vehicles in Jakarta that any automotive transportation becomes unfeasible. Currently the average speed of 2.5 million private cars and 3.8 million motorcycles is 14.75 km/hour. And every day 300 new cars and 1200 new motorcycles enter the 7500 kilometers of roads. On average 50% of the travel time is wasted at intersections, there are 49 spots of such chronic congestion. If we look at it from the bright side then we just have to go on like this and the solution will be in sight: no more traffic possible in 2014!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

City of dust

Jakarta – the megalomaniac megapolis. The city of omnipresent noise. The city of dust. This city of asphalt, this concrete city. A sixteen-lane highway meanders through Grogol, West-Jakarta, where I live. I became immune – or: stone deaf – for the noise produced by countless vehicles. The exhaust fumes raise the dust though. I kiss the dust every morning, every evening. And living next to a construction site does not elevate the situation. Dust to dust. Desperate – I keep on dusting. A fine grain of dust covers the pages of the books, of the character keys. I go on, and sweep.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Metamorphic fragility

I saw this work for the first time almost a decade ago. It is an impressive piece of art. Especially if you realize that Juul Kraijer (1970 born in Assen, the Netherlands) made this work only with charcoal on 70x50 cm paper. So simple. So complex. Perhaps it is not her best piece, but it is this one piece that got glued in my memory. I was convinced to have seen this particular work in 1995, which is not possible, because it was made a year later and the exhibition I visited was in 1998. (See this website for her work, texts and exhibitions:

Wednesday, January 3, 2007


Today I bought new Adidas sneakers. In 1982 I got my first Adidas. Nothing has changed. Except the size nothing has changed. We cannot say that though, because we live in a progressive age, so it is called retro. That's fine with me, I guess.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Good bye

If you are in a place like this archipelago these days, you pay attention on how to say good bye. It could very well be your last ride. The recurring land slides, floods and earth quakes, the avian flue and SARS, the plane, train and bus crashes, and, of course, the recent ferry that went missing on the Java Sea. (I have never been afraid of flying, but Indonesian domestic flights always give me a fright, the flights are bumpy because the flights are conducted at rather low altitude.) No reassurance is given. Enough reason for despair and defaitism, for running amok (and I haven't mentioned yet the economic Verelendung: the rising prices, the lack of jobs). It is not fair, though, to tell people on whom hardship falls to merely accept their bad fate.

Monday, January 1, 2007

A name, a face

Sometimes I meet someone. We start a conversation. And within the timeframe of the chat I forget the name. Not long after we depart our separate ways I forget the face as well. But anyhow there is a sense of mutual recognition if we meet once again. I do not have the intention to be rude. My focus, though, is on trivial details and there are so many of them that I cannot assemble them together with a firm name, with a solid face. It remains blurry.