Friday, May 29, 2009

Tealeaf Grief

Just recently, my comrades and I and our crumbling South Jakartan pied-à-terre have suffered a grave insult to our hallowed, if grimy portals. We have been burgled, three times to be precise, in the last few months. Money has vanished but also high-tech gadgetry such as fancy MP3 players and the like. On one of this trio of violations, our light fingered nemesis entered into our house and rifled a friend's room whilst he was actually in it (admittedly he had been passed out on the bed at the time after a taxing evening on the Teh Botol).

Such acts of brazen illegality could not go uninvestigated and after a CSI type house meeting we eventually settled on the likely culprits, namely the builders renovating the property directly abutting our own. These suspicions were confirmed a week or so later when, increasingly on our guard, we saw an agile chap shin down the wall from the builders' den and sneak into our back garden.

Alas, hoist by the petard of our new vigilant security measures, my friend was unable to unlock the back terrace door quickly enough in order to rugby tackle this objectionable fellow before he made good his escape over the front gate. Interestingly, and in true Cinderella fashion though, he had lost a mouldy old flip-flop in his panic. We took the offending item inside to the forensic laboratory that we have permanently set up in the garage in order to validate the veracity of the various molestation claims that are frequently leveled at the house and its residents.

We considered bringing in the local police and subjecting out kleptomaniacal construction crew to a Cinderella style identification lineup. "Whosoever this flip-flop shall fit will have his face punched and his behind kicked all the way back to Central Java," something along those lines. Ultimately though, we decided against the cops as a first line of defense. Fine bodies of men they may well be in their intimate figure hugging, "I love Village People" brown shirts however in my experience Indonesian policeman usually create more problems than they solve, especially if palefaces are involved.

This left us with only one recourse, namely our local security man and neighbourhood chief or Rukun Tetangga (RT). Alas, as I expected, our man could only spout the usual Orwellian Suharto era bilge about us having to report our guests to him 24 hours in advance (something that I've never heard of anyone ever doing in Jakarta, but perhaps some fastidious reader could set me straight here).

Having so many security men and Sat Pams in the area is perhaps a good thing however our agile criminals were entering our premises via the back garden, thus obviating the need to assail the house from the road at the front at all. Later we saw the police patrol car that we often see crawling through the neighborhood, parked outside the construction site. Further investigation revealed a couple of cops talking to some of the builders. Hopefully they were having the hard word put on them and their ID checked.

It's hard for even the most sanguine of people (of whose number I certainly don't count myself) not to be enraged by theft. Indonesia thieves have to be especially stealthy as they commit their foul acts however as they run the very real risk of being mobbed and kicked to death by locals wearing flip-flops, a painfully slow way to have one's account closed and perhaps a rather excessive punishment for the crime of taking a chicken, or even a motor scooter.

In my native UK on the other hand, the delicate balance between law abiding members of the public and burglars has perhaps tilted too far back in the other direction in recent years. My own family home in London has been burgled twice in recent years in fact and wicked young vermin (or rat boys as they are colloquially known) have even taken to dropping their trousers and leaving a, "deposit" on the floors of the homes that they rob. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Our intruding construction worker was probably on about Rp.40,000 per day, as I believe the going rate is, and is no doubt supporting a wife and a litter of mewling puppies back in Central Java somewhere. As such, perhaps some leniency is due, I mean, at least he didn’t curl one off on our living room floor. On the other hand though, if I ever catch him red-handed, I’ll be sorely tempted to re-enact the old Idi Amin tactic and force him to eat his one remaining flip-flop. I feel somewhat conflicted in other words.

Of course, our man hasn't been set a very good example by the country's real thieves. As some bright spark once noted, “A thief passes for a gentleman when theft has made him rich." As the presidential election looms large and various people are investigated for golf caddie related murders, let us hope that the Indonesian Corruption Commission (KPK) is able to continue with its fine work and can help create a more inspiring model for our single soled sadsack to aspire to. Amen.