Monday, May 28, 2007

Shaft of Hope

After last week’s spa and massage experience I thought that I would move on to the indomitable subject of erections. Specifically, I decided to pay a visit to an oft seen but seldom scaled tourist attraction, Indonesia's national monument, Monas. I was inspired by a JP story this week informing me that Last Sunday (20th) was National Awakening Day and accordingly, a flag ceremony at Monas had been planned. Unfortunately, according to the story, the ceremony was cancelled at the last minute leaving various disappointed high school students sitting disconsolately under Sukarno's concrete phallus, falling asleep on National Awakening Day. This classic RI moment has been brought to you courtesy of the Jakarta Post.

Anyhoo, I disembarked from the busway and first had to gain access to the monument's surrounding park. Several years ago, the park was scrubbed clean of hawkers, vagrants and lady-boys and a fence erected around it in a bid for respectability. It seems to have worked and the grounds are now probably the most pleasantly peaceful place in the city to walk around. However, the deer that the governor introduced into the area seemed to have vanished. Perhaps they were poached in the dead of night and turned into venison satay or alternatively are now giving rides to kids around the perimeter of some plaza food court.

I approached the base of the monumental beast with a due sense of awe and trepidation. It's certainly a grand monument and a powerful national icon. I actually find the functional, rectilinear, modernist minimalism of the whole thing quite groovy. It's the same proud, uncluttered, futurist 60s aesthetic that you see in UK polytechnic buildings or Soviet apartment blocks from the same era. On another level though, the monument also exudes a rather monolithic, autocratic, Nietzschian will-to-power vibe. The grounds around the monument's base are in the process of being very tastefully landscaped gardened. To stretch the phallus metaphor: the new gardens act as a pubic foliage, signifying Indonesia's coming-of-age as a country (or troubled adolescence perhaps).

I bought a ticket and headed into the monument compound. I climbed aboard the elevator first and headed to the top viewing deck to check out the city. The view is indeed impressive although the leaden pall of smog hanging over the capital reduces visibility to a couple of kilometres or so. The people scurry below like ants, the trains pull out of Gambir and the busway buses plough precisely along the edge of the park. It's interesting how putting hundred meters of altitude between you and Jakarta ground zero makes everything appear to work with clockwork, toytown precision. The skyscrapers tower impressively and over in the corner of the park, the huge dome of the Istiqlal mosque bulges proudly like a single Hitlerian teste (to stretch the phallus metaphor so far now that it's in danger of snapping back in my face). I wish I could have stayed up there for a few days. Sleeping bag, flask, binoculars - it would revive my Jakarta appetite for sure.

After the view I headed back down to base camp to join the school kids traipsing around the monument's museum. It's called a museum but in fact there aren't actually any relics or artifacts on display. Instead, there are about 30 or 40 Dioramas (little model tableaus) depicting Indonesian history. It's all very interesting to walk around; however, there are a few bones of contention when we come to the Suharto era. One Diorama depicts,"The foil [sic] of the bloody coup of the Indonesian Communist Party," whilst another tells of how, "On May 1st 1963 the Dutch officially transferred to sovereignty over Irian Jaya to Indonesia through the United Nations Organization after a unanimous vote." The still persecuted children of PKI members and many in Irian (West Papua), not to mention various historians would probably dispute these facts. Official history is always written by its winners though, this much should be clear to most people.

Unfortunately, almost a decade after the fall of the great Suharto, Indonesia's democratic institutions still can't countenance any substantive debate on issues such as these. Books about Marxism or those questioning the official G30S communist coup version of history are swept off shelves or confiscated. Any social democrat organization to the left of Tony Blair (lots of room for maneuver there) are automatically branded communist and attacked by the usual goon squads. Only two months ago the Urban Poor Consortium were pelted with bricks over a demonstration outrageously demanding that the government simply live up to its millennium development promises

The whole reds under the bed thing is looking a little bit tired these days. The prospect of Indonesia going communist in 2007 is about as likely as me being invited for tea at the Palace by SBY because he really digs my weekly digs at his country. I mean, come on, Russian communism collapsed 18 years ago and as for China, well communism is about the only thing that the Chinese are not interested in exporting these days. Is it communism or truly representative democracy that's really feared here? Am I a shining wit or a spoonerism? Answers on a postcard please.

And so concludes another purple faced rant... only not quite because a new section has been added to the Monas Museum. Yes! It's a high-tech computerized stand depicting the clinical integrated efficiency of Jakarta's transport system and includes a busway network map with twinkling lights. There's also an amazing 3-D computer-generated model of what the monorail will look like when it's finished, although that’s currently looking about as likely as shiny eyed Kampung Marxists leading a long march across Java.