Sunday, August 10, 2008

Green Streets

This week I toddled off to the Kemang Festival which was being held just around the corner from MM Towers (I’m always willing to go that extra mile for the column you understand). The Kemang Festival is a classic summer celebration of street life in the manner of other famous world city fests such as West London's iconic Notting Hill Carnival, albeit on not quite the same scale and with considerably fewer sub woofers shaking the foundations of nearby buildings.

During the festival, Jl. Kemang Raya was closed off to traffic from McDonalds all the way down to Pizza Hut a couple of kilometers down the road. Despite being book ended by these two US corporate behemoths, the festival itself was a celebration of small-scale businesses from the kind of cheap clothing that can be found in any shopping plaza at the less interesting end of the spectrum to some rather more fun handicrafts, curios and ethnic objets d'art.

I ambled down the street checking out various stalls of wickerwork knickknacks before coming across my old friend Mr John, probably the only pale face to be running his own stall. Mr John has an interesting little sideline knocking out smartly framed classic albums and their sleeves to Jakarta's rock 'n' roll cognoscenti. Interested punters should search for Vinyl obsessions on their browser and check out Mr John's lovely homepage which he assured me took him many patient hours wrestling with Dreamweaver and hundreds of cups of coffee to produce.

I rested awhile and watched a smartly dressed marching band pass by. Unfortunately, Kemang isn't nearly wide enough to accommodate a real carnival complete with floats parading down its length. A friend of mine suggested that they might be able to manage it by clearing a few stalls out of the way. They could call it, "Karnival Kemang Nusantara" or KKN for Short (Ho Ho).

Despite the narrow road and the seething multitudes I nevertheless saw five gas powered Bajaj slowly parading their way down the street. Along with specially designated rubbish bins for organic and inorganic trash, these five mean machines were a manifestation of this year's green themed festival. Alas the five vehicles that I saw probably represented the entire fleet of gas Bajaj. I very rarely seem to see these odor free green cuties around and Jakarta’s streets still seem to be dominated by the original orange three wheeled garbage incinerators. I wish the city administration would invest a little bit more money in these environmentally friendly alternatives.

I strolled on a little more and came across the music stage. At that moment a Death Metal band were bellowing obscenities and achieving the impressive 10 snare drum hits per second required of the genre. I'm not sure how green this music is as it's the sort of din that could seemingly make your lawn curl up and die.

Just next to this apocalyptic roar I spied the Westerners' enclave. Several otiose whiteys were living up to Indonesian preconceptions about us infidels and ripping into plastic beakers of ale outside the groaningly named Apaka Bar. I popped in for an hour or so; well it would be rude not to have said hello and it was damnably hot down there in Kemang.

As the evening set in a few drops of rain fell but luckily it did little to spoil what had been a day of great cheer and jollity. Jakarta is a city of much street level smiling despite the often appalling conditions of poverty that exist amid its suburban sprawl.

This city can be the stuff of nightmares and, as every horror movie buff knows, you need an element of the familiar and friendly to make a real nightmare. It has to be your best friend barbecuing cats over the stove, it has to be your mother being sliced up by hooded ninjas.

In Indonesia this element of the friendly and familiar is the Indonesian people themselves, unwaveringly nice folk: cheerful, hospitable, polite. Even the police are nice to you when they are not extorting or beating someone up. The begging kids forced onto the street by hoodlums will beam at you at the traffic lights. Poor wretches sifting through mounds of garbage looking for plastic bottles will give you a cheery, "Hello Mister."

It's an insane world alright. Readers wishing to enjoy more street level fun and squalor should pop along to the Jalan Jaksa festival which should be running today (8th and 9th of August).