Saturday, October 03, 2009

On The Frontline

They say that it's the pessimist that sees the half empty glass, however Jakarta's annual semi-emptying out during the Islamic holiday is largely a source of relief for those who remain behind. The near deserted markets, boulevards and plazas become like some post-apocalyptic science fiction scenario, a concrete ghost town marking the end of days. The capital's population now seems to be restored to its full glory however, no doubt with a few extra residents added as various greenhorn villagers attempt to chance their arm scraping a living together in the big city selling The Botols.

I'm actually quite glad to see Jakarta restored to its full multibillion quota of bodies. I'm not just being perverse here, rather it's just that there’s never any shortage of intrigue with which to fill 850 words of weekend wallpaper with, and I need inspiration at times I can tell you.

This week, I visited a friend who lives uptown on the coast. Most of you have, I'm sure, trundled up to Ancol before for some fun and frolics with the family. Just along the coast however, you'll find the rather less well-known Pantai Mutiara. Hit to the toll road aiming for the airport and then peel off to the right onto the large eastward bending fly over before turning left into Pluit. Head through Pluit itself for another 15 minutes or so and you'll eventually arrive at the posh Pantai Mutiara marina stroke housing complex.

Pluit is known as a predominantly ethnic Chinese area of town. I've talked of Indonesian-Chinese and Chinese-Indonesians before and have heard both terms been used interchangeably in the country. Our US cousins like to talk of African-Americans however, and these people are most definitely not Texan cowboys living in Nigeria and so I'm presuming that Chinese-Indonesian is the more correct term. Many Indonesians just called them Chinese of course, omitting the Indonesian altogether, which perhaps shows you that the country has some ways to go towards integrating its racial politics into one big happy family.

But I digress. The marina complex is well worth a stroll around of an afternoon. The complex itself is well over two decades old and was built on land that has been entirely reclaimed from the sea. According to my Chinese-Indonesian friend, who has lived in the area since the late 80s, a cement factory was the first thing to be built at the site. The plant churned out God alone knows how many hundreds of millions of concrete blocks, all of which were simply dumped into the sea until eventually a brand-new mini peninsular was formed. On this was built some quite spectacularly huge bolt holes for those who have managed to squeeze quite a lot of rupiah filled camels through the eye of life's needle, as well as some more modest townhouses.

Some of the mansions even have their own mini quays out the front so that residents can park their motorboats next to the Mercedes in the driveway. The complex has had a few subsidence issues in recent years (as has the rest of Jakarta in fact) and a wall has been built which prevents flooding from the sea but which also blocks out many of the residents' views of the ocean.

Out on the long Marina promenade itself, take a long stroll down to lands end and enjoy the cool sea breeze before heading back to the seafront restaurant/cafe for a cleansing ale. Admittedly, the sea just off Jakarta isn't the bluest of hues but you can't have everything.

At the tip of the reclaimed peninsular, sits the spectacular new Regatta the Icon complex. This interesting new landmark has been built around a yacht sail motif and sports huge triangular edifices which jut from its roofs and which lend Jakarta’s coastline a Sydney Opera house vibe.

Me and my chum soon found ourselves at this impressive construction after our stroll along the promenade and stood awhile looking out to sea lest we spot a Malaysian armada attempting some kind of D-Day landing on the shores of Jakarta, possibly the next escalation of aggression in the current spat between these two great nations.

Fortunately, the coast appeared to be clear, however the city administration may wish to consider installing a few machine-gun nests on the shore line, just in case. Be warned, if you're considering purchasing a plush condo up at Pantai Mutiara then you may find yourself on the frontline.

Indonesial, as the country has been dubbed in retaliation for the Malingsia pun, looks more likely to strike the first blow however. According to an article I read in the Globe last week, an elite cadre of a couple of hundred unemployed layabouts (many of whom are wheelchair-bound interestingly enough) claim to be ready to storm Malaysia’s ramparts, possibly in full batik combat fatigues, and then it's game on. Perhaps a Mohamed Atta kamikaze death spiral into the Petronas Twin Towers is also on the cards as the ASEAN region makes a bid for its own 9/11. We will fight them on the beaches.