Saturday, October 10, 2009

New Jack City

Alas these are sad, sad days in Indonesia once again. Last week, I had a few periods with no electricity due to PLN's problems however this is as nothing in comparison to those in Padang who have been left with no electricity, no water, no walls, no roof and, in many instances, no family. As with the famous Krakatau eruption of 1883, not to mention the Aceh tsunami, natural disaster seems to have once again pushed many into the arena of the divine punishment thesis. This is a conclusion almost as depressing as the disaster itself.

All that I can add to the debate is to say that I actually get updates from God on Twitter (or Twod, as he may well come to be known. Go and check, he really is on there). Anyway, I can assure everyone that I have received no Tweets from him declaiming, "All you sinners perish," or even, "Sorry, my hand slipped."

Let us be clear. It is an analysis of plate tectonics and a look at different types of building structures and materials, plus the formation of a rapid response disaster team that would be the most helpful future insurance against loss of life. Stopping young girls and boys from being able to meet each other will not still the shaking ground. Simple. May help come swiftly to the victims and may donations be generous. May the government also work on plans for the future, just as they have previously on the tsunami early warning system. Let us hope that the city of Padang and its beautiful surrounding countryside will rise again.

Moving on, I think that we all need a little cheering up and with this goal in mind, I this week trekked off for a meal at Toni Jack's, the new burger joint that has sprung up with ill advised confidence on the city’s streets. Toni Jack's is owned by the controversial businessman, Bambang Rachmadi, owner of 13 McDonald's outlets as well as the recently liquidated and beautifully named Bank IFI (pronounced, "Iffy”). A franchise dispute has forced Mr. Rachmadi to part company with McDonald's and come up with a new name and concept for his burger joints. Consequently, Toni Jack's has now been hastily launched on an unsuspecting public.

The flagship McDonald's Sarinah branch has for a long time been something of a landmark in Jakarta and was the first-ever McDonald's to hit the country in the early 90s, symbolizing the country’s developmental aspirations. However the joint now sports a temporary Toni Jack's pirate motif banner that has been draped over its newly defunct golden arches.

When it opened, this trailblazing branch of McDonald's was frequented by the rich and famous. When I first caught up with it on a few 4 a.m. post clubbing missions a few years later however, the place had become a horror of disheveled hookers and drunken stumblers pushing cardboard fries into their faces under the unforgiving glare of the dining area’s ultra white strip lighting. Wrong time of day perhaps.

Everything has now changed though and Ronald the clown's malevolent Cheshire cat grin has been replaced by Toni, the childhood nickname of Mr. Rachmadi apparently. I'm guessing that Mr. R doesn't drive a little car with falling off doors though. The Toni Jack's slogan is, "Better than 'that one' " which is hardly the catchiest of taglines although full marks are surely due for barefaced cheek. So was it better than 'That one'? I ordered an Ultra Jack (Rp.22,200) from an assistant rather awkwardly wearing a black Toni Jack's pirate bandana on top of her jilbab and sat down for an artery clogging munch. The Ultra proved to be a superlatively average experience and I was also disappointed that there was no slice of gherkin in it, surely the best part of a McDonald's burger. It would not surprise me though, given the corporate hegemony currently chewing up the free world for fun and profit, to learn that McDonald's has actually patented the gherkin’s DNA for its own exclusive use.

And so Indonesia proves that it can create fast food every bit as flaccid as its Western counterparts. What's wrong with a good old Soto Ayam I'd like to know? As for McDonald’s, well they seem to have been replaced by Starbucks as the bĂȘte noire of the so-called anti-globalization movement (as its been dubbed by the world's advertising enslaved media). Personally, I'd be inclined to describe people banding together across national borders in order to stick up for an increasingly desperate lowest strata of society as a globalisation movement as opposed to an anti-globalisation movement, but hey ho, horses for courses, which brings me right back to Toni.

Presumably, all of their burgers are ‘halal’. In purely environmental terms, beef is apparently far more destructive than either pork or chicken is, due to the amount of grazing land needed. It's also common practice to feed cows with chicken droppings, I’ve recently learnt, a fact that's been rather putting me off my beef ‘rendang’ in recent days.

All things considered though, I'm sure that TJ’s can make a go of it if they can find a decent gherkin substitute. Perhaps the classic Indonesian single slice of tomato and two slices of cucumber will suffice.