Saturday, October 17, 2009

Is It Rising, Son?

I've written much, of late, about the great Indonesia - Malaysia scrap. At the end of the day, maybe these nations are, in Shaw’s famous formulation of the US/UK divide, two countries separated by a common language. Last weekend however, I found myself in the midst of an altogether rosier bilateral relationship when I went for an afternoon stroll around the base of Southeast Asia's most prominent Freudian symbol, namely Monas, to the 2009 Jak-Japan Matsuri Festival, which was being held in the grounds of the park.

I was presented with a fetching plastic hand fan upon buying an entry ticket and, after fanning my lightly perspiring brow for a few moments, headed inside for a few cheap Land of the Rising Sun thrills. There were stalls a plenty to check out as well as entertainment on stage and various Japan themed costumes on show. A bunting of Japanese and Indonesian flags had been hung everywhere and, all in all, one could safely conclude that relations between the two countries had come a long way since Japan's World War II annexation of the Archipelago.

The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1958 and most recently established a bilateral free trade pact in July of last year. In fact, Japan has more investment tied up in Indonesia than in any other Southeast Asian country and Tokyo is particularly keen on accessing Indonesia's natural resources. Indonesia is currently Japan's largest supplier of liquefied natural gas, for example. Indonesia has also reciprocated by sending a whole load of care workers and nurses over to Japan in order to bed bath the country’s ageing population. And who wouldn't want to be cared for by a Javanese maiden in their dotage?

Japan's influence over Indonesia is indeed substantial, as the festival reflected. Years ago, I was once strolling along the road with my local girlfriend of the time when she suddenly remarked, "You know, I just thought, all these cars driving past are Japanese aren’t they? And in my house, my television, my fridge, my air-conditioner, my CD player, all Japanese, none of them were made in Indonesia and yet we use them."
"Erm... yes that's right," I ventured cautiously, not wishing to niggle any nationalist nerves or provoke any prickly pride (or indeed inflame any inferiority complexes). And it is indeed true that the post-World War II phenomenon that is Japan does pretty much sit at the opposite end of the Asian technological and industrial spectrum from Indonesia.

Mind you, my own country, England dear England, once the crucible of the industrial revolution, now sports a rapidly atrophying industrial and manufacturing base. These days, back in the perfidious Albion, those dark satanic mills have been replaced by the perceived sexiness of the service sector: financial schemes that you need a degree in mathematics to understand and the infinite, and yet ultimately insubstantial, Moebius strip of information technology.

Back at the Matsuri Festival, the Yamahas and Panasonics of this world were out in force, but so were smaller Japanese companies selling everything from boilers to tinned seafood. The snacks on sale were also as Japanese as they come. Octopus balls anyone? Presumably they have eight each.

A few Indonesian youngsters dressed up in that effete, androgynous, heavily made up Japanese teenage style were also wandering around, reflecting the influence that Japanese pop culture has also had on its Asian neighbours.

The real Indonesian - Japanese story of the hour though was conspicuous by its absence down at the Matsuri. I asked some of the DVD vendors at the festival whether they had anything starring Maria Ozawa AKA Miyabi but alas, to my great chagrin, the cupboard was bare and so I was left with only the Panasonic AC units and the boilers to admire which, fascinating as they were, lacked that human interest element that I was looking for. Having looked Miss Ozawa up on the Internet, I can testify that she certainly isn't a boiler.

Miyabi, a Japanese porn starlet, has been cast to appear (fully clothed I might add) in an Indonesian production entitled Menculik Miyabi (Kidnapping Miyabi) to predictable fundamentalist uproar. In fact, the FPI (Islamic Defenders Front) had this week even threatened to accost the poor wee lamb at the airport, which may have led to her recent decision (Wednesday’s paper) not to come at all. Damn shame.

And in other news from the misogyny desk this week, I note that newly crowned Miss Indonesia, Qory Sandioriva, has also received many warm messages of support from her local clerics in Aceh. The great evil beast of female sexuality strikes again it would seem. Personally, I doubt that the fundamentalists would know what to do with one virgin let alone 72. And of course, they are all most likely virgins themselves. It's that old psychic hydraulic system striking again: push down and repress male sexuality and it bursts out with renewed vigor elsewhere, twisted into new misanthropic shapes and religious foment.

As for myself back at the Matsuri, I was on my eighth octopus ball by this time and starting to feel a little nauseous. Miyabi-less and snowed under by plasma TV promotional materials, I headed for the exit feeling like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. Domo Arigato and see you all next week.