Saturday, March 28, 2009

Toys R Us

Browsing a down-market shopping plaza can be tremendous fun on occasion. Strolling around a cheap mall and buying a big plastic bag full of low-grade tat can be so much more enjoyable than the depression and ennui I feel when taking a turn around some of the snobby boutiques and designer lifestyle outlets of the city’s more anodyne, high-class consumer pleasure domes. My negative feelings are at least partly related to the parlous condition of my bank balance, but that’s life.

The city’s ITCs are always good value for a spot of bargain hunting though, and are the modern equivalent of the traditional pasar , only without the appalling smell of course. Walking around one recently, I came across a fascinating little store selling all manner of knickknack. One can perhaps deduce a lot about the Indonesian capital from the items on sale at this fascinating counter.

There were lava lamps, practical jokes and horror masks aplenty (and what is Jakarta if not some horrific practical joke?), as well as a veritable library of replacement TV remote controls.

I also came across several types of what are known as marital aids or adult requisites. This adult Toys “R” Us section contained a number of large as life pleasure devices for both genders (batteries not included). Also on display were boxes of what appeared to be Viagra (but were probably dog deworming tablets), as well as various intimate creams and even inflatable chums.

I briefly considered buying a blowup lady and installing her in front of the TV watching a sinetron drama while I went down the pub for a pint, to see if married life agreed with me, but thought better of it. I was rather under the impression that such items were banned in Indonesia for being “culturally inappropriate,” as the phrase goes.

Mind you, many things that are technically illegal here are not in fact hard to track down. Dirty films, for example, are obviously illegal in this nominally 90 percent Muslim country. The reality though would seem to be that Indonesians are vociferous consumers of “Jazz movies.” One certainly doesn’t have to look very far in order to find the things. In fact, if you’re a white-skinned man looking through the latest Hollywood blockbusters at a roadside stall they’ll usually find you.

A typical conversation usually goes like this:

- Can I help you, sir?

- I’m just looking for some new films, thanks.

- How about this one, sir?

- “Vanilla Sky” featuring pint-sized, perma-grinning Scientology nut job Tom Cruise. It’s a bit old isn’t it?

- How about this one then, sir?

- “Bottom Capers 9,” ay? Is that with Tom Cruise too?

- No, sir.

- Excellent, I’ll take a copy.

Meanwhile, men in pecis, or Islamic hats, walk past on their way to the mosque. I love this city of contrasts alright. From G-spots to jihad without batting an eyelid.

We are now living in a post-porn law Indonesia. Not that you’d notice if you went for a drive around some of the city’s more infamous streets. Stall after stall can be seen selling Viagra, condoms and “special interest” DVDs along JalanHayam Wuruk, while girls totter up and down the sidewalks. Perhaps strange considering that even mildly risque attire can theoretically get one prosecuted under the new pornography law.

In fact, some surrounding countries have been moving in the opposite direction from Indonesia in recent years. In Singapore, for example, a country known for its prohibition on oral sex (how do they enforce that one?), lap dances and a new sexual freedom seem to have become the order of the day. Even in China, homosexuality, previously a great taboo, has entered the realms of debate in recent years. Indonesia, with its new law and Shariah-based regional edicts, rather seems to be kicking against the pricks in this sense (actually that’s a rather unfortunate turn of phrase to use).

I digress, though. What else is on offer down at my ITC stall? Well, there are some frightening personal security devices, including Tazers and telescopic metal coshes. A Tazer is a hand-held gizmo that delivers a massive electric shock to would-be assailants, causing them to drop to the floor like a sack of potatoes. The coshes also look quite fearsome. Which one should you buy though? Both are going to hurt, although presumably the cosh is less painful if you accidentally leave it lying on the sofa and then sit on it. A 2,000-volt shock to the buttocks is one bottom caper probably best avoided. It would seem though that there’s a growing market for these weapons. Mind you, some of the marital aids I saw on sale looked potentially just as lethal as any Tazer. Personally, I opted to save my pennies and headed for the food court. Honest.

Would I lie to you?