Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Leaving on a Jet Plane

This week I have had to temporarily depart the urban utopia of my beloved Jakarta and head back to the bosom of my family in not so sunny London. Being a long time expat in Indonesia, there’s always a certain amount of reverse culture shock to deal with when returning home for a holiday. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Firstly I had the terrors of the long haul flight to deal with.

All flights into and out of the UK are now subject to stringent safety regulations in the wake of recent terror scares, A maximum of 100ml of liquids and/or gels are now allowed in a passenger’s hand luggage. That 100ml tube of haemorrhoid cream should also be clearly labelled and placed in a transparent, re-sealable plastic bag so that all of the ground staff and check in crew can have a jolly good laugh at you.

After paying the Rp.1,000,000 fiscal tax/exit charge (when will they scrap this incredibly annoying and unfair daylight robbery?) I boarded my Air Malaysia flight to London via KL. The embattled Indonesian aviation industry, currently banned from running flights to Europe due to safety concerns, could learn a lot from their Malaysian counterparts. From the amazingly stylish and modern new airport in KL to the impressive in flight service provided by their national carrier (this is beginning to sound like an advert) the Malays are well ahead of the game compared with their next door neighbours.

Ultimately though, I hate long haul flights and despite the fancy new computerized in flight entertainment provided, I was starting to climb the walls after about ten hours. After touching down at Heathrow Airport (and not skidding off the runway into a nearby field I might add) it was time to adjust to the lumpen rhythms of life in the good ol’ U of K.

I often have an uncanny sense of déjà vu when I leave Indonesia for Britain. Two years ago, after the various terror attacks perpetrated on Indonesian soil, I returned to London only for the tube train bombers to blow themselves straight to 72 virgin Nirvana about three days after I arrived.

This time, in an uncanny rerun of Jakarta’s biblical (koranic?) floods of last February, large swathes of England have disappeared underwater due to the worst flooding in 60 years. Thankfully my suburban London home has been spared the rising waters but the parallels and contrasts between the two floods have been interesting.

In Britain, as in Jakarta, natural flooding has been exacerbated by an increasing amount of urban development swallowing up water catchment areas. Also, much of the UK’s drainage system dates back to Victorian times, just as Jakarta’s does to the Dutch colonial era, and could probably do with some modernization.

There are contrasts as well though. On the one hand, stranded, rain sodden Brits are more likely to experience an exciting helicopter rescue as opposed to having to just lump it on the roofs of their houses until the waters recede. On the other hand though, when electricity and water supplies are cut, as they have been in areas of England, flooded Brits have the added problem of having no drinking water, reliant as we are on a potable piped water supply.

The sooner global warming driven natural selection replaces our lungs with gills the better perhaps. Ho hum. National disasters aside though, a few other reverse culture shock contrasts also impress themselves on the Nasi addled brain of the returning expat. First and foremost are the prices of…well pretty much everything really. A trip about 3km up the road on the bus is costing me £2 (around Rp.40,000) in comparison with the Rp.2000 it costs to take one’s life in one’s hands on a Jakarta bus; or Rp.3000 if you include a few shekels for the caterwauling buskers. And I’m certainly not jumping taxis at every opportunity, as I would back in the Big Durian.

Another thing that I’m always made immediately aware of when I return home is the quietness of the streets around residential areas. The silence is positively ghostly in comparison with the constant noise, activity and general hubbub of just about everywhere in Jakarta’s densely packed bedlam. It’s kind of nice to have a quiet breather for a couple of weeks although I think that after a while I’d actually start to miss the pell mell frenzy of roaring Bajajs, satay smoke and crouching slackers omnipresent on Jakarta’s streets.

Back to London though, which is also playing host to the 2012 Olympic Games of course. Work continues apace on this colossal project and seems to be going quite well aside from the appalling neo-cubist logo that some agency have come up with to promote the games. Incidentally, an anagram of The London Olympic Games is actually Men Plan Sh** Comedy Logo – clearly I have too much free time on my hands this holiday; still, it beats the horrors of daytime television.

Perhaps Jakarta’s new governor should consider making a bid to host the Olympics. The city administration could probably get the required infrastructure up to scratch in time for the 2396 games. London’s old news; It’s time to put Indonesia on the map brothers and sisters.