Sunday, May 25, 2008

Keep On Pluggin’

Time for a shameless bit of self-promotion and a gratuitous plug this week. A sumptuous new hardback book about our fair city has just been published by Bali Purnati. It's called Jakarta, Jayakarta, Batavia and I'm in it! I contributed an essay of my usual bowel shatteringly misinformed invective to the project and can now ship a copy back to my dear mother in the UK to show her that I haven't totally urinated my life up the wall in this country.

Other contributors include Bugils group head honcho and Bule Gila author Bartele Santema, Tempo English edition editor and keen Rotarian Richard Bennett, Late Tanamur owner Ahmad Fahmy and grizzled campaigner and author of Foreign Fields for Ever: the Story of the English in Indonesia in 1945 David Jardine.

The volume's real stars are probably its photographers however. The book contains some fantastic snapshots of the city in all its finery and squalor. My favorite pictures are probably the ones that have been taken from a micro light aircraft by intrepid daredevil mental case Jez O'Hare. The shot of the skyscraping BNI building from just above its spire is breathtaking, as is the aerial shot of the Semanggi cloverleaf traffic intersection which looks surprisingly green and verdant from the sky.

The book is currently selling for Rp.300,000 which is a reasonable price for a large weighty hardback in this country. Books in Indonesia are still subject to a luxury goods tax which accounts for their relatively high price. Reading is considered a luxury it would seem which I guess says a lot about the local elite's sheep herding approach to culture and literacy but I digress.

I first got involved in the book via its publisher, Mr Leonard Lueras, a long-term Indonesian expatriate, writer, publisher and all-around culture vulture. Mr Leonard had left his exotic Pied a Terre in Bali in order to slum it in Jakarta with the likes of yours truly and research the weird and wacky world of this nation's capital. The result is a genre bending book which uniquely mixes historical perspectives with the city's contemporary, deracinated, combustion engine and cell phone culture.

My personal photographic highlights from the book include a shot of a bewildered westerner and his considerably younger local female consort up to their waists in last year's flood waters wondering what the hell their next move should be. Classic. There's also a nice photo of a motherly Ibu (tautology?) Wearing a Jilbab (Islamic headscarf) unloading a few rounds at a shooting range. Just call it psychotherapy. The book's pretty up-to-date too and includes references to Soeharto's death, the Jakarta Post 25th anniversary and newly elected city governor Fauzi Bowo and his all singing, all dancing moustache.

Writing wise, Bugils’ Bart has contributed an interesting essay on Dutch Jakarta, complete with lots of lovely orange photos. David Jardine writes on Jakarta's annual Highland gathering (alas cancelled this year due to lack of funds apparently). Richard Tempo Bennett discusses the city's rabbit warren of gangs and I myself contribute my usual upbeat mix of suicidal pessimism and cynicism into the frame to balance against Mr McBeth's slightly chirpier piece on the modern imperatives at work in this great and grubby city.

There's even a Dutch/Indonesian glossary at the back of the book that reveals the colonial origins of many Bahasa words. Karcis (ticket), Preman (gangster), Tante (aunt) and Handuk (towel), among many other definitions in the glossary, are all of Dutch origin apparently. The word Pispot is also part of the country's linguistic inheritance from the Dutch and has often been a source of mirth to Indonesians wishing to mispronounce my name. Rotten buggers.

Jakarta, Jayakarta, Batavia is currently available at the city's bookstores and is also being specially promoted at Eastern Promise Kemang for the next few weeks. Mr Leonard has turned the bar into a riot of orange and has also erected a display of the book's many fantastic photos. Buy a copy and file it in your personal rest room library today. You won't regret the investment when you're enjoying a two hour, post Satay food poisoning sit down.