Monday, December 25, 2006

Deep and Crisp and Even

The snow and ice and warm woolen scarves of another Indonesian Christmas are upon us once more. Admittedly, seasonal cheer may perhaps be a bit thin on the ground in a Muslim country and this is only to be expected of course. The plastic trees and spray on snow on display in the capital's shopping malls are the only real reminder of the winter festival and are of course indicative of the true meaning of Christmas, namely consumption. And while we're on the subject of consumption, I certainly know a few expatriates who will be using the holiday season to consume their own weight in Bintang Christmas cheer (the ones that live in Jakarta anyway, those in the supposedly now dry Tanggerang might have a few more problems tracking down Santa's magic sauce).

in any case, let us hope that the spirit of peace and goodwill to all men (and women) will not be sullied by any bombing shenanigans this year. Apparently police have found evidence of such dastardly intentions in Mr.Azahari's terrorist hideout and are warning everyone to remain vigilant. Ho hum, Tis the season to be merry and all that.

Looking back over the last 12 months, it's been another fascinating year in the grand old R of I of course and plenty of weird and wonky news stories have kept us on our toes. Natural disasters still stalk the nation like two big stalky things of course. The Aceh tsunami disaster was revisited in Pangandaran on the south coast of Java this year and billions of gallons of sea water were ignominiously dumped on the poor local populace. Bird flu has also continued to hover ominously around the front pages and will probably make a resurgence now that the rainy season has arrived. Disaster of the year award though, would have to go to the mud geysers that continue to coat an ever increasing area of East Java in sludge. The whole debacle was totally manmade too, very impressive. On Mother nature's more positive side though, a whole treasure trove of new species have been discovered by naturalists exploring in West Papua and I myself have managed to discover a similar amount of new species down in the Blok M area.

On the social stage, debates, conflict and much soul-searching have arisen between the Playboy bunny at one extreme and the Shiaria-ists at the other. Indonesia's own version of Playboy is frankly so tame by Western standards that it may as well feature a Jilbabbed (veiled) playmate of the month in every issue. The Draconian Porno-Aksi bill continues to be debated by the politicians and threatens to take the country one step closer to Islamic republicanism although there seems to be a growing backlash to the legislation.

On the political stage, the SBY honeymoon is most definitely over and people are once again becoming frustrated, as they were under Megawati, at the slow pace of reform. Meanwhile, Vice President Kalla continues to display a George Bush like talent for the eminently quotable howler. The two I remember most are his recommendation that West Javanese widows be pimped out to Arab tourists and, most recently, his advice to the population to lead healthier lives and thus improve their genes.

While we’re on the subject of Mr. Dubya, George Junior himself flew over for a presidential summit this year and drew the ire of many Muslim protesters. In one voodoo ritual, a goat's throat was slit, a snake and a black crow were stabbed and all of the blood produced was stirred together with spices and broccoli and eaten by some black magic weirdo or other. Yum Yum. Very tasty no doubt but it's perhaps slightly ironic to employ a non Islamic voodoo ritual as part of a Muslim protest against Mr Bush. Mr Bush didn't drop dead on the spot in Bogor or become possessed by demons, although I guess that if news of this rite had actually reached him it may have put him off his lunch. Meanwhile, up in Aceh, the population has made its feelings known by electing ex-GAM (Free Aceh Movement) candidates to the local legislature and thereby giving Javanese rule the finger.

Back in our beautiful city of Jakarta, Governor Sutiyoso (sooty ozone?) has been presented with an Asian clean air reward for his busway brainwave. The Governor will be history next year as his second five-year term in office expires, although the busways will be a fitting legacy for him….and you can take that appraisal anyway you want.

So 2007 now beckons with open arms. No doubt it will start raining like an absolute bitch in January and the flood season will start in earnest. Me? I'll be waiting for the mother of all floods; the huge biblical deluge that will clean the streets of this city once and for all. I'm going to build an Ark out of old Bajaj parts and set sail for the sunset with one woman from every Indonesian province on board. Together, we will we repopulate the Archipelago and sing Dangdut songs all day. AA Gym eat your heart out.

Simon Pitchforth