Monday, June 25, 2007

I Love a Man in Uniform

Boatway news first. Last Saturday, I made another unsuccessful attempt to go sailing on the new Jakarta transport solution. I arrived at Dukuh Atas (near Plaza Indonesia) and noticed that a dinky little quay had just been plumbed in on the canal bank along with steps leading down to it from the bus stop on Jl. Sudirman above. "Right," I thought, "This time it's finally going to happen."

I had arrived at the right place at the right time; nothing was going to stop me. I stood on the quay and took in the immediate surroundings as I waited for a bearded, pipe smoking ship's captain to hove into view, skippering his speedboat with barnacle encrusted fingernails. The canal actually sports quite a pleasant tow-path alongside it that is clearly being kept in a reasonable condition. The water itself though looked extremely turgid (turd-gid?)

Many of the globe’s citizens are currently voting on a new, modern seven wonders of the world. Personally, I'd like to see the Ciliwung River nominated as it’s clearly a wonder that the thing flows at all, so thick is it with the city's detritus. Anyway, after about 10 minutes of waiting on the mini quay, I suddenly noticed a handwritten message nailed to a nearby tree. It said that there wouldn't be any boats that day due to the water level being too high. My masochistic desire to go sewage surfing had been foiled again; I had been hoist by my own petard, so to speak.

I'll try once again next week but frankly this journey has started to assume mythic proportions for me. The handwritten note on the tree in particular has lent the whole operation a Robert Louis Stevenson, buried treasure map kind of atmosphere for me. I'm half expecting an Indonesian Captain Red Beard (if that's not a physical impossibility) to whisk me away to a pirate cove full of Spanish doubloons and smuggled Chinese DVD players.
The saga continues....

The Jakarta governor’s election has also been hotting up to the point of utter tedium as well this week, and an ever-increasing acreage of stickers and posters continue to be pasted up around town. New rhetorical campaign slogans currently raising my hackles, spotted this week were, "Takut Banjir Lagi?" (Are you frightened of more floods?); "Susah Cari Kerja?" (Having difficulty finding a job?); and, most enticingly for the credulous public, "Hidup Sulit?" (Is your life difficult?) This last one in particular had me scratching my head. The Jakarta elections are now being reconceived as a panacea for all of our ills. I wonder what the candidates responsible for this all-encompassing slogan plan to do if I breakup with my girlfriend and feel a bit down. Perhaps Prozac will be dispensed free of charge at selected busway stops.

Anyhow, on with the show. Last week I took my life in my hands and went for a stroll around one of the city's most enormous, smelliest and dingiest markets, namely the labyrinthine concrete edifice that is Pasar Senen. It's a fascinating place to be sure and there must be literally thousands of businesses nestling here, deep in the huge building's catacombs.

You'll find all of the usual mobile phone stands, bra salesmen, T-shirt vendors and Padang restaurants expelling clouds of sulphurous chilli sauce gas over the unsuspecting window shopper. Senen market is best known, though, for selling military clothing and equipment (alas, no guns unfortunately). While I was there I noticed a few closely cropped soldiers strolling around in combat fatigues and army boots. A couple of them were walking up and down trying on their new, intimidating footwear, probably trying to ascertain whether the boots would feel comfortable when stamping on villagers’ heads.

Indonesia loves it uniforms, of course. Uniforms here instantly confer authority upon the wearer and serve to speciously paper over the cracks of social disorganization and disintegration that lie beneath. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise to learn that many other non-military uniforms are also available at Pasar Senen. Police, Sat. Pam. (security guard) and even parking person uniforms are also up for grabs. I toyed with the idea of buying a white Sat. Pam. shirt complete with a whistle and personalized name tag above the pocket but good taste prevailed in the end.

Also available are political party uniforms and blazers resplendent in their assorted, bright, partisan colors. I can't really imagine political fat cats such as Akbar Tanjung or Yusril Mahendra driving their BMWs down to Senen to pick up a new blazer but perhaps they do. Again, I considered purchasing a bright yellow, sleeveless Golkar party body warmer but then thought that such an item of haute couture may attract the wrong kind of limp wristed attention in certain discos (or even shopping plazas).

So I came home empty handed in the end. Even the kitsch watch I found with a photo of General Wiranto on the face didn't really appeal. Now, if they had had a nurse's uniform though.....