Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pass the Porridge

Back again faithful reader (singular). I was a bit snared up last week but I've returned to vent further spleen over another busy week in the capital.

The Jakarta governor's election will be upon us next month and many of us will be glad when the whole candidate grinning, baby kissing, Kampung bribing spectacle is over. My local area has been liberally pasted with the stickers and posters of various candidates and their running mates. The sooner they peel off in the next floods the better as far as I'm concerned; they've been creeping me out slightly, these cats in hats, Cheshire grins beaming out from under their traditional Pecis (Muslim gentlemen's headwear) covering every square inch of concrete surface. And what's worse, the campaign period hasn't even officially started yet. In about a month's time the city will be one big sticker.

To choose an example at random, Adang Daradjatun and Dani Anwar's posters simply enquire, "Bosen Macet?" (Are you bored of traffic jams?) Well indeed I am Messrs Daradjatun and Anwar. So what's the big plan this time then? Hot air balloons? Donkeys on roller skates? Your posters seemed rather light on the details.

In fact, I attempted to check out the new Jakarta boatway that was supposed to be undergoing trial runs last weekend. I trotted off the busway at Dukuh Atas and walked the few hundred yards to the canal only to find.... nothing. What's more, nobody seemed to know anything about it either. Hey ho. I sat down for a Teh Botol and a rest. Perhaps the water level was too high... or too low. Rumor has it that if the water in the river is too high then lady passengers will be snagging their headscarves on low bridges. Conversely, if the water level is too low then the selfsame headscarves will be sprayed with raw sewage as the boats’ propellers get snared up in the turgid turd strata that cover the riverbed.

I suppose we'll see if the whole riverboat shuffle project pans out over the next few weeks but personally I think it about as likely as incumbent Governor Sutiyoso sporting a bush whacker's hat with corks dangling from it and opening meetings at City Hall with a hearty, "G'day mates". Mr. Sutiyoso's recent brush with Australians who wish to remind him of the military's dark Suharto era past serves to remind us all of the continuing invidious influence of soldiers on the country's political scene.

I guess I'd have to reluctantly plump for the current lot who run Jakarta though, in all their corrupt, thug backed inefficiency, if the alternative is the Shariaists encroaching on the city from their surrounding suburban powerbase. Between a rock and a hard place ay? Any non-Islamist group running on an anticorruption, help the poor ticket would automatically be branded commie and have their trouser bottoms set on fire of course. And I don't even get a vote! Why bother!

In an attempt to cheer myself up I headed off to Lippo Karawaci last Sunday for the 30th Annual Highland Gathering. Yes, for 30 years since 1975 (with a couple of years off for good behavior) Scots from all over South East Asia and even from Scotland itself have gathered in Jakarta in order to chop wood, toss cabers, play rugby and enter tug-of-war contests. The Scottish are in their ascendancy at the moment. They have their own parliament and Tony Blair is finally stepping aside to make way for the true Tartan talents of Gordon Brown.

Unfortunately, Gordon didn't turn up at Lippo Karawaci to toast the event but the Highland gathering remains an enjoyable afternoon out for Jakarta's ragtag expat. community and a chance to catch up with people you haven't seen in, oh, about 12 hours. People bring their families along and stroll around the perimeter of the games field, stopping in at the various hospitality tents and watching men in kilts doing butch things with large pieces of wood. The tents either belong to Jakarta bars such as Eastern Promise and Amigos, or to the event's sponsors, namely various investment and insurance companies trying to ensnare potential investors with the promises of prize draws - I put down a false name on my ticket though, so they'll never get me!! Also sponsoring were oil companies such as the controversial Halliburton, no doubt flush with Iraqi reconstruction money, but again, as with Mr. Brown, there was no sign of Dick Cheney in a kilt anywhere.

I plonked myself down in the Jakarta-Java Kini tent and enjoyed their very generous hospitality. The up market lifestyle magazine was very sportingly giving away bottles of Storm - the beer brewed in Indonesia that actually tastes like beer. Apparently this fine brew, previously available only in Bali, will soon be on sale in the capital. Roll on the good times. There was also Bali's Hatten wine on offer but I wasn't quite as enthusiastic about that. After a few more ales and tug-of-war contests, the sun finally set on Karawaci. Bekilted men lit the ceremonial bonfire which was the cue for an impressive fireworks display to start.

After that I managed a gulp down a few free Margarita's that the Amigos' tent was giving away as it closed before I become emotionally unstable in a taxi on the way home. Scotland the Brave will return next year.