Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Carnival is Over

After the leafy, expensive restaurant lined gaiety of the Kemang festival two weeks ago, but I thought a bit of compare and contrast would be in order. So, in order to demonstrate my social mobility, I exchanged by designer label boxer shorts for moth eaten Y-fronts last weekend and headed to this year's Jalan Jaksa Festival, officially known as the Festival Seni dan Budaya 2008 (Art and Culture Festival 2008).

Ironically located uptown of the bourgeois bolthole of Kemang, Jalan Jaksa is ostensibly Jakarta's backpacker central. Backpacker numbers have dropped off in Indonesia over the past decade, this is possibly due to global perceptions of the country but also no doubt because so many young people are far too busy with their Face Book accounts these days to bung a few pairs of socks in a rucksack and head out on a global gallivant.

Jaksa is also frequented by many more permanent foreign residents of Jakarta as well of course who head to the strip (located just south of the national monument, Monas) in search of cheap booze, cheap food and even cheaper conversation.

I personally love the place and can enjoy chatting to my comrades there over a cheap Bintang without the expense, deafening sub woofers and achingly hip poseurs of the city's trendier clubs spoiling my evening. In darker moods however I tend to see Jaksa as a dangerously inflammatory mix of alcoholic whiteys, unconvincing female impersonators, female-female impersonators, dodgy local gangster types and the kind of Africans who are often arrested for illegal, "Horse," trading (if you catch my drift).

Nevertheless, the street will always hold a special place in my affections and has just recently been enlivened by some new businesses. Cocktail and Friends is a pleasant and relaxing outdoor cocktail bar, the popular KL Village serve some great Malaysian food and just round the corner on Jl. Wahid Hasyim, Melly's Bar is proving popular with both locals and expatriates alike. The future of Jaksa remains uncertain though as rumors of impending Carrefour supermarket developments and some much dreaded gentrification continue to circulate.

But what of this year's festival itself? Well, despite being considerably smaller than the recent Kemang festival in terms of scale, the energy levels seemed equally high. The street was thronging when I rocked up in my classic, orange, emphysema inducing Bajaj. A large stage had been erected and several local bands were battling it out. Some expatriate acquaintances of mine were also playing a set under the charming moniker of Bob Viagra and the Terrorists. Hmmm.

Moving right along there were plenty of small stalls selling clothes, jewellery, knick-knacks and food which served to add a bit of color to the inevitable impersonal cigarette and mobile phone network promotions. Muslim apparel was on offer for more pious Jaksa heads and there were some lovely displays of traditional costumes.

It was the rock star T-shirts that really caught my eye however. Jalan Jaksa has long housed an infamous hairdresser called Piss Salon complete with a neon lit sign planted proudly outside. The salon's owners remain seemingly unaware that they cannot spell the word, "Peace," correctly, either that or they can’t be arsed to change it. Alas this unfortunate phonetic misspelling seems to be spreading. At the festival I came across a stall selling T-shirts promoting the iconic Indonesian rock band Slank. The garments in question proudly bore the legends, "Slank Say Piss," and, "Slank Baby Piss". The latter T-shirt also featured a picture of a seemingly dry infant. Perhaps this is all deliberate though and the group are in fact moving away from their former hippie idealism and pursuing a more anarchic, "Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols," type direction.

The festival did indeed rock hard and even the street's famous bearded Cambodian parking attendant seemed to awaken from his familiar standing slumber stance.

Halfway down the strip I came across a young local guide offering tourist information and daily trips around Jakarta and Java. He implored me to give him a plug to my 10 readers. He informed me that his name was, rather implausibly, Rocky Montana although on his leaflets I found out that it was in fact, Adi Pagessa. Interesting green horns should e-mail

After a hearty local Batavian snack of Kerak Telor (perennially weird egg type thing) I dived into one of the street bars and slaked my thirst until the wee small hours. The carnival season continues next week's folks with my report on the city's Independence Day festivities. Hopefully Bob Viagra and his Terrorists will be back for another set of Crystal Gale covers then.