Sunday, October 12, 2008

Say It with Flowers

Thank the Lord that another holiday season has limped to a close in a colourful blaze of dangerously substandard fireworks, chilli sauce induced heartburn and 17 km long road tailbacks. If you returned to your home village, I hope you had a lovely time and managed to discourage your various relatives from returning with you to the Big Durian by informing them honestly that Jakarta's streets are not, in fact, paved with gold but something altogether browner and sludgier.

If you attempted to drive out of town for reasons other than that of filial duty then what the hell were you thinking? Actually, what the hell was I thinking when I agreed to accompany a friend on a drive up to Puncak on the Wednesday of Idul Fitri itself. The journey up into the hills wasn't too bad however and the drizzle only added to the delicious coolness and relief of reaching an altitude superior to the capital's warm fart ambience.

We were going to stay in one of Puncak's huge holiday villa complexes for a couple of days. The one we were staying in was called Kota Bunga (Flower City). After a nightcap or three and a hearty sleep I awoke and went for a stroll in order to familiarise myself with the Kota Bunga experience first hand in all of its prefabricated, garish hideousness.

The complex covers a huge area and is arranged into neat suburban cul-de-sacs of houses that are seemingly exactly the same as the full-time Jakarta pied-a-terres of the families who come to stay here. The only discernible difference would possibly be the vibrant hues of the houses’ exteriors and the postmodern mishmash of cutesy architectural designs that proliferate like a Walt Disney acid trip.

The Flower City seemed to be mainly populated by aspirational Chinese Indonesian families of a familiar type (just to delve into the unconscionable world of racial stereotypes for a moment here). Big Mercedes, Dad in a bright nylon T-shirt, Mum's hair extravagantly coiffured into a vertiginous gravity defying quiff and two Nintendo brained children having ice cream and noodles shovelled down their wide bore gullets by a Javanese girl in a nurses uniform.

Stereotypes don't always hold though. I was actually visiting the flower city with the Chinese Indonesian friend of my own and his girlfriend. He is in his 40s and as yet unmarried and so doesn't really fit into the charming family unit model depicted above. He does however usually try to avoid meeting these bi-ethnic nuclear families due to the endless enquiries as to why he hasn't got hitched yet that repeatedly punctuate the conversation like a skipping CD.

Strolling around Kota Bunga's yellow brick road type boulevards it became clear that any expression of West Javanese culture had been tastefully airbrushed from this theme park in search of a theme. Admittedly there was an area in the complex called Kampung Budaya (Cultural Village) although its cultural reach didn't seem to extend beyond an overpriced KFC and a swimming pool full of urinating kids.

Further up the hill we came across the focal point of Flower City, a lake full of banana boats and a mini Mississippi steamer. Around the edge, a post-modern apocalypse of ersatz Greek friezes, old English lamp standards and mock European architecture all clashed in tasteless hyper reality, stripped of their original meanings and transplanted into this toy town fantasy. Pride of place though went to the scale mock up of Mount Rushmore that perplexingly loomed 30m high over the lake. The chiselled faces of the four US presidents surveyed the scene before them sternly as if about to pass judgement.

Later that evening we drove down the road to another Puncak mega villa complex, this one called Green Apple, where loud music blared over fake bright yellow castle turrets and battlements whilst hordes of Green Apple residents shopped for cheap T-shirts and high cholesterol snacks.

A more intense vision of hell I had never seen... until the next day that is when it was time to drive back to town. We got the timing wrong and ended up in traffic jam Armageddon as we descended down the hills. This must be what really happens in hell. You sit in a four-hour traffic jam, shouting imprecations at the dashboard, before reaching your fiery destination and burning for a few hours. You then stand up, dust yourself down, receive a new set of car keys from the Devil himself and start the whole process again.

I need a holiday.