Monday, July 02, 2007

Fairway to Heaven

I thought I'd have a well earned rest from trying to get on the ruddy boatway for a while and instead paid my first ever visit to Jakarta Fair this week. However, this first entailed a busway ride from Blok M all the way up to the other terminus at Kota Station. The ride itself was fine but the rush hour wait at the busway terminus in Blok M bus station was a touch unsettling. The crush of humanity and high temperatures made me feel dizzy and the only way out was via the Busway. Once you've committed yourself to the crush, there's no escape. I felt like I was in a scene from Schindler's List although to be fair, urban rush hours in London and Tokyo can be just as sardine like. In Tokyo, they even crowbar them into the subway trains with big sticks.

Back to Jakarta Fair though, as I said, this annual festival has always managed to pass me by before. The fair used to be held at Monas (the national monument) apparently but its current location at the expansive Kemayoran fairground area is a little out of the way for me as I'm sure it is for many other Jakartans too. That said, over 2 million people, it has been predicted, will visit Jakarta Fair this year. With this in mind I elected to visit the fair on a Monday evening when I thought that it would be quieter.

Ha, fat chance of that as it turned out. It seemed to me as if the 2 million visitors had all decided to at turn out at the same time and the whole place was a riot of people, color and noise. God alone knows what it must be like on weekends. The fair itself covers a huge area, both indoors and outdoors, and it took me a couple of hours of traipsing around, promotions girls foisting snack foods on me all the while, to see everything.

Jakarta Fair is basically a cross between a huge shopping mall and a funfair, with the accent on the shopping mall side. Everything you can possibly think of is on sale inside the cavernous halls of Kemayoran: motorbikes, furniture, watches, televisions, chocolate, electronic gadgets, bicycles, computers, clothes, the lot and most are at discounted prices. Yes, take a break from the usual shopping malls and enjoy this annual opportunity to go and see.... a really huge shopping mall.

But it's not all about conspicuous displays of material consumption. Well actually it mainly is, but there are some entertainments to enjoy too. As well as a few funfair rides there is a tourist train that circumnavigates the fair and which the kids seemed to love. There's also a main stage hosting non-stop entertainment including plenty of slinky hipped Dangdhut singers; the dads seemed to love that one.

At the rear of the fair there's a motorbike safety course which I think that every Jakarta biker should be forced at gunpoint to sign up for, although it would probably take several centuries and several thousand hospitalizations to achieve this aim. On a similar but slightly more dangerous biker note, I was amazed and amused to see that one of the fair's attractions was a good old-fashioned wall of death. I watched a few daredevils whizzing round and round before starting to feel dizzy and heading off for a feed.

As with any fair, there's plenty to eat here, from salmonella hot dogs and grotty teeth rotting sweets to the slightly more palatable fare available in the food court area. Boy was it ever busy in Kemayoran though and on weekends it must be even more so as family groups spend quality time together masticating on peanuts, drinking virulent blue soft drinks and entrenching their psyches even more deeply into the soft belly of the material consumer lifestyle as they ogle the products on sale together. Don't come here if you're looking for a bit of rest and relaxation. I came away with a throbbing headache although I quite enjoyed confronting the racket, hustle and cheap glitz of the Jakarta Fair experience. It was kind of like a concentrated version of the whole city itself.

A ticket for the fair will cost you a mere Rp.15,000 and it’s open between 3 p.m. and around 10 o'clock on weekdays and all day at weekends. You've still got a couple of weeks left to check it out. A few aspirins and earplugs may come in handy though.