Friday, October 13, 2006

Xmas Cheer

So here we are. Christmas is upon us and the last Metro Mad before the holiday is now inflicted upon you. Christmas ay? Christmas time, mistletoe and wine (available from duty-free shops only), with logs on the fire (turn the AC down for that authentic winter glow). Yes, no matter how long you've lived in Indonesia and how at home you are here, it always feels little strange, as a Westerner, to wake up on Christmas morning (or afternoon depending on how the Christmas Eve shenanigans progressed) to the prospect of a Nasi Goreng and a sweaty run down to the Warung for some Krating Daengs and a packet of Gudang Garam.

The best policy for most festive expatriates is to huddle together like Lapland penguins at someone's pied-a-terre and drink themselves into a traditional Yuletide stupor whilst munching on stringy turkey, listening to an MP3 compilation of Christmas hits and trying to avoid contracting dengue fever. Alternatively, one can head out of town, which can make for a pleasant Christmas break, despite the fact that the experience will be considerably less festive than the previous option. Hardcore Santa groupies may opt to head to a five star hotel and pay through the nose for an impersonal Christmas lunch with all the trimmings whilst some unctuous jazz pianist bashes out White Christmas in the corner. Bali can be a genuinely decent option for an enjoyably festive and fun Christmas and New Year’s break and usually there's a real party atmosphere in the air. Between Schapelle Corby and Jemah Islamiah though it could be a bit quiet there this year. I had better think of a plan quickly I guess unless I want to be crying into my fried rice whilst watching Bule Gila reruns come the 25th.

Then, of course, it's the New Year's Eve frenzy a few days later. Your chance to blow a cardboard trumpet into someone's ear until they snap and insert it into you sideways. Your chance to reflect upon another exciting year in the good old R of I. And yes, what a year it's been in Indonesia. Not all good, it has to be said, but never a dull moment I trust you will agree. 2005 started, of course, with thousands of poor Indonesians picking up the pieces of their lives after a colossal wall of water ripped into them on December 26th. It wasn't the happiest of conclusions to 2004 and was interpreted by certain fundamentalists as being God's punishment on Indonesia for letting ladies wear bikinis in Bali. Let's hope though, that a post-war, post tsunami Aceh doesn't inflict too much Sharia style misery on its citizens in the form of public canings for courting couples and Ojeg drivers caught playing dominoes for a few hundred rupiah. Give these people a break, I say.

So what else has been grabbing the headlines this year? Well SBY showed that he had the balls to scrap the country's fuel subsidies and, politically at least, the gamble seemed to pay off as people didn't run amok burning down shopping plazas as they did when Soeharto tried the same trick seven years previously. The jury's still out on whether Mr, Susilo is actually a decent President though. We'll talk again next year, provided of course that my orange juice isn't spiked with arsenic on my next flight back to the UK. Yes, there was the Munir story too of course. The human rights activist who had his seat upgraded to Garuda's new hemlock class. The verdict upon the alleged pilot poisoner, Mr. Polycarpus,
is due next week but who was pulling the strings? The whole episode shows that New Order era forces of darkness still stalk the land with impunity.

What else happened? There were more bombs, naturally. Sidney Jones earned herself some handy frequent flier miles and the opportunity to buy a lot of duty free Scotch. Indonesian athletes didn’t do themselves particularly proud at the recent SEA Games. Inul Daratista’s 15 seconds of hip gyrating fame expired. More bloody shopping plazas opened. The city became even more gridlocked, despite the fuel hikes and, to cap it all, Indonesian’s in far flung provinces have just started to drop dead of starvation this festive season.

All doom and gloom then? Perhaps, but that’s just the nature of newspapers and TV news I’m afraid. The more life affirming stories never make the headlines in this rough and tumble world. If you’re lucky, you may get a segment about Ollie the skateboarding duck or something at the end of a half hour news cast filled with AIDS, terrorism, war and global warming but generally it’s unremitting negativity. However, there’s still a whole lot of beauty, love and fun out there ready to be experienced in this weird and wonderful country for anyone who’s willing to put on a clean pair of underpants, fill their pockets with small change and march out bravely into the flow. Happy Yom Kippur everyone.

Simon Pitchforth