Monday, June 18, 2007

Buses in Space

I was scratching my head this week and wondering which of Jakarta's manifold tourist attractions I haven't written about yet. The boat-way has finally started a trial run now after my failed attempt to use it two weeks ago but I wasn't feeling keen last weekend, despite having a cold and a stuffed up nose which would have served me well on the pungent cruise. It strikes me though, that this new initiative is destined to become more of a tourist attraction than a genuine urban transport solution; I mean two boats with a capacity of 25 passengers each aren’t going to make a noticeable dent in the traffic jams. I've decided to forego the pleasures of riding the boat through the flotsam of half submerged couches for another week however, especially as they have been having to stop every 100 m to clean the clogged up propellers.

Incidentally, the boats are appropriately named the Kerapu III and the Kerapu IV, according to a report in last Monday's JP. I think that someone’s taking the pissu there. Not only that but according to the same report, the Kerapu's captain is called Anas... you couldn't make it up could you? Whatever happened to Kerapus I and II, that's what I want to know. Bogged down in Davy Jones's toilet no doubt.

Anyway, I spared myself a case of canal dengue fever for another week and decided instead to head for TIM (Taman Ismail Marzuki) on Jl. Cikini Raya the centre of Jakarta's artsy-fartsy community. The complex hosts plays, concerts and movie festivals and wondering around last weekend I noticed that TIM's impressive new auditorium is nearing completion. What I had come for, however, was to experience the mysteries of the universe at Jakarta's very own planetarium. I can clearly remember visiting London's planetarium (next to the more famous Madame Tussaud's Waxworks Museum) when I was still running around in short trousers and enjoyed the experience immensely so I thought that's Indonesia's very own space dome would be a fun way to kill half an hour.

The planetarium's shows start at 10.00, 11.30, 13.00 and 14.30 on weekends and at 16.00 on weekdays. Admission will only cost you a mere Rp.10,000. Inside the planetarium dome, the audience reclines in comfy chairs which tilt back to angle their field of vision towards the heavens. Cosmic images are then projected onto the dome and reach all the way to the side walls, creating a total surround effect.

I took a seat and the auditorium darkened. The constellations glittered above, just as they do in reality (or just as they don't do through Jakarta's pea soup of a troposphere). I began to feel nostalgic for Bali holiday nights spent staring at the stars and drinking their bottled equivalent. Just as my eyelids were starting to droop, the Indonesian voice-over commentary started.

My Bahasa is quite shaky but I managed to decipher a fair amount of what our cosmic MC was intoning to us from the pellucid depths of space. He used a lot of humor and Indonesian imagery in an attempt to make astronomical and astrophysical facts lucid to us and the audience found him great fun to listen to. Pictures of the constellations were superimposed upon the star field in front of us and our voice-over man told us that mythical half man/half horse Pegasus didn't have to wear trousers because his bottom half wasn't human.

We also learned of meteors crashing into the earth's atmosphere at 50 km per second and were told that if we could travel from Jakarta to Bogor by meteor, then we'd arrive in less than one second. Roll on the Meteor-way project! Sticking with the transport analogies, our host then took us on a brief tour of the solar system and informed us that Saturn's rings consist of lumps of rock the size of Metro Mini buses (only not orange presumably). If only it were possible to take all of the real Metro Minis off the streets of Jakarta and station them in orbit around Saturn too, I think many of us would feel a lot happier.

Then, accompanied by the cosmic synthesizer cheese of hairy, Greek techno God Vangelis, we were transported to the atmosphere of Venus. Venus is perhaps the most interesting planet vis-à-vis our current apocalyptic fear of global warming. Despite being further from the Sun than Mercury, Venus is actually hotter and is made so by the huge concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in its atmosphere. Is this the future of our world? Perhaps, although I've found that it's actually possible to recreate a Venusian microclimate in your clothing here by eating a heavily spiced bowl of instant noodles at a roadside food stall at midday.

Eventually the lights came up again and we all trotted out blinking into the afternoon sun. Planetariums maybe relatively old hat these days and utilize old technology by the standards of our current flat screen, RAM packed, hyper-edited techno society but they still have a charm and magic all of their own as they majestically reveal the secrets of the universe to generations of school kids. Just think, 100 billion stars in our Galaxy and 100 billion galaxies. That's a lot of beer.