Thursday, September 28, 2006

Brown, Brown Ocean: Getting the Most from the Coast

They may call Jakarta a malodorous, contaminated, metropolis but such naysayers usually overlook the city's very own beach "Resort" namely Ancol. So, to celebrate reports in the Jakarta Post this week that the railway line to Ancol is to be reopened soon, a look at Jakarta's slightly celebrated seaboard is perhaps in order.

Taman Impian Ancol, the entertainment complex on the city's north coast, can be found cowering behind the concrete abutments of a toll road, which is probably a better way of getting there than by slogging it up through the jams of Pasar Baru and Mangga Dua. It costs Rp.10,000 per person to gain access to the sprawling complex itself and then you are free to enjoy, well… not much actually as you then have to pay again for whatever entertainment venue you finally end up in. If you are on a budget though you can stroll around the Pasar Seni (art market) for your initial Rp.10,000 down payment. Pasar Seni is an endearingly cheap and cheerful concourse of budget restaurants and clothing stalls which is dominated by a large central stage upon which the odd Kretek cigarette or Extra Joss sponsored Dangdhut concert, usually featuring some over made up, caterwauling tart with a big bouffant hairdo, takes place.

Alternatively, one could take an afternoon's constitutional along the beach front promenade and enjoy the brackish, ammonia scented ambience of Ancol Bay's radioactive waters whilst drinking in breathtaking vistas of turds bobbing up and down and the Three Mile Island like power station belching smoke into the atmosphere just down the coast. However if you squint through half closed eyes you can almost imagine that you are in Bali. It can, in fact, be quite agreeable to sit on the promenade with a beer and watch the sunset late on a Sunday afternoon. There's also a cool cable car which will give you a 20 minute long, vertiginous ride over the beach and the whole complex for Rp.20,000. If you wait until the evening and you have your own automobile you may also wish to join ranks with the amorous, motoring couples who like to park up at Ancol and indulge in what is locally known as "car shaking". This is a suspension testing, hand-to-hand combat sport much favored around Jakarta’s shores. These days, however, most of the shaking on Ancol's beaches is caused by the 6000 MW sound systems of frequent outdoor rave party's.

If cable cars, shaking cars or pilled up techno parties don't do it for you then you're just going to have to stump up some more money for a decent day's entertainment. The most popular part of the Ancol complex is probably Dunia Fantasi (647 12000). A day ticket for Dunia Fantasi (World Fantasy), or Du Fan as it's known, costs Rp.60,000 during the week and Rp.80,000 at weekends or on public holidays. Inside, while not exactly Disneyland in scale, Du Fan can be a surprisingly enjoyable place although it's jam-packed solid on public holidays. There are some pretty respectable rides to enjoy including a looping rollercoaster and a log flume. One word of caution though: it’s perhaps not best to go to Du Fan on the Sunday after heavy Saturday night session. I tried it once and after a turn on several nausea inducing rides undertaken in Jakarta’s merciless midday sun, I felt pretty much as near death as I ever have: sweating, heart palpitations, dizziness and my trousers about to become a log flume all of their own.

Other Ancol attractions include various animal show arenas --dolphins doing sums on blackboards, monkeys on tricycles, seals hang gliding, etc etc. One almost expects a parade of bearded ladies or an elephant man to be topping the bill at these freak shows. Ancol's Sea World, on the other hand, really is a treat for tourists. Sea World is a sizeable aquarium/oceanarium centre whose highlight is a fantastic underwater tunnel through which you can watch various fish, rays and mini sharks slipping by. Ancol also features a waterslide park which can be a good laugh, although it’s often too crowded and is apparently a haven for pickpockets. Entrance to Gellanggang Renang, as the slide park is called, costs Rp.45,000 at weekends.

Lazy golfers are also catered for and can hire one of those electric golf carts that fat Americans in slacks seem unable to manage without, in order to take them around Ancol’s full size course. Finally, no coastal resort would be complete without a marina and Ancol's marina (tel: 640 1140) is full of the aristocratic white yachts of the stinking rich. However, it also houses boats that will ferry you to the cleaner waters of the very wonderful Thousand Islands (Pulau Seribu) for a day trip or for a whole weekend. A weekend trip usually costs Rp.251,000 per night including food.

So there's plenty on offer at Ancol to keep you amused for the day, just don't go swimming in the sea itself if staying out of hospital is important to you.

Simon Pitchforth

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

mall hell

The great Jakarta makeover continues apace. A new busway has been built near my domicile in Mampang which I will no doubt be able to use soon. As of now though, it remains just a smooth, raised concrete lane alongside the rest of the road with the odd Jakartan walking or cycling down it happily, amazed at the only real sidewalk in town. Maybe they should forget about the buses and just keep it as a cycle lane forever.

Also, new shopping plazas keep springing up at the rate of about one per month. My own plaza strolling time has tailed off enormously in recent years as I'm of the opinion that, in the words of the old joke, once you've seen one shopping plaza, you've seen a mall. However, Jakarta's valiant citizens, if a recent article in the good old Jakarta Post is to be believed, can't get enough of the places and claim that hanging out in plazas is their favorite activity. This seems like somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy to me. If there's nothing but malls in the city then, unsurprisingly, people will go to malls. In this respect Indonesia once again exemplifies all the worst elements of late capitalism: Its capital city being woefully bereft of parks, libraries, theatres or public sports facilities and instead being crammed with temples of vapid materialism. Plazas spewing forth expensive consumer durables and dodgy food court rice; circuses and bread for the modern generation; the new church (mosque?) of the emerging middle classes.

This week though, I trundled my plaza prejudices along to the brand-new Senayan City. Malls seem to be getting bigger and bigger and Senayan City makes old Plaza Senayan just across the way look like little more than a glorified gazebo in comparison. It's absolutely enormous, more like an international airport than a shopping mall. I was greeted by branches of Top Man/Top Shop and Debenhams and although I was slightly unsettled by seeing these rather proletarian UK shops being scrubbed up and repackaged for the Indonesian petty bourgeoisie, I headed through the Star Trek sliding doors into the mall's cavernous interior.

As I headed towards the main concourse, I felt the wave of agoraphobia sweep over me. You could go hang gliding in here. In keeping with high-end malls full of expensive shops, Senayan City is also dazzlingly white. This clinical sterility is perhaps appropriate because when I enter a place like this I feel like I’m being dissected and examined by 1000 hidden security cameras in an effort to ascertain my purchasing power. The Plaza paranoia was taking hold in earnest but I pressed on and headed up a huge high heeled shoe like escalator which transported me up a whole two floors, deep into the belly of the beast. Senayan City, a bright shining world unencumbered by the guys with guitars, potholes, diesel fumes and dried on Sambal stains that prevail outside. An odourless nirvana of boutiques and juice bars, computer motherboards and security guards in ill fitting uniforms, ready to pounce if they see a single bead of perspiration break out on your forehead.

In fact, as I walked around on my bad Plaza acid trip I saw that much of the retail space hasn't actually been occupied yet. Is Senayan City a mall too far? There has to be a limit to this ever expanding retail infrastructure. There are only so many Prada purses that the city can collectively purchase, surely?

Then I saw it. The shop that summed it all up. The clincher that presages doom for Jakarta and the whole world and codifies the impending extinction of the human race itself. It was called Kiddy Cuts. Evidently a clip around the ear and a chastisement along the lines of, "Keep bloody still when you're at the barbers," will simply not suffice these days. Instead, the offspring of the wealthy, the nation's future leaders no less, need to be pampered with little cars in which to sit and individual video screens showing cartoons whilst their little Lord Fauntleroy locks are sheared and maids in nurses' uniforms spoon-feed ice cream into their ever ravenous gobs.

I had to leave. I'll give you a full report on my vasectomy next week.

Simon Pitchforth