Saturday, December 19, 2009

Down in the Park

About a month ago, I attempted to attend an invite only private screening of the film “Balibo” at the Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFFest) only to find that the showing had been cancelled at the last minute. The film is about the appalling events that took place in East Timor during the 1970s.

Well, there's always a punchline in Indonesia and it came when I found a copy of “Balibo” on sale at my favourite DVD stand in Pasar Festival. "We have many copies Mister". Excellent! I picked up “Balibo” along with "South Park Series 13" and "Big and Bouncy Volume 37". I haven't got round to watching the movie yet though as I've been enjoying terrific South Park episodes such as the Elizabeth Gilbert lampooning, "Eat, Pray, Queef", so I'll have to get back to you on that one.

I also popped into a bookshop last Sunday and picked up a copy of something called, "The Green Map of Jakarta", which commendably strives to guide people around the city's green areas. When I first spied this map in the racks I thought that it must be a joke along the lines of those books called things like, "The Wit and the Wisdom of George W. Bush" which are full of blank pages.

Thankfully, the map didn't turn out to be a large foldout piece of paper with bugger all printed on it and so I snapped up a copy for a mere Rp.15,000. Many of the green spots on the map are pretty tiny by international city park standards however and I’ve probably mowed larger patches of grass with lawnmowers in my time. Let’s give this brave attempt at a green guide the benefit of the doubt though and have a look at some of the more bucolic chill out zones that feature on the map.

Taman Menteng (3.4 Hectares)

I thought that I’d pop down here first to take a look at the new statue of Mr. Obama as a Menteng schoolboy that was unveiled a couple of weeks ago. The park itself is pretty tiny but a not unpleasant little spot. The new statue was the centre of much attention and the subject of many amateur photo shoots. Underneath Obama, there’s a plaque proclaiming, "A young boy named Barry played with his mother Anne in the Menteng area. He grew up to be the 44th President of the United States and a Nobel Prize winner. Barack Obama." The Nobel Prize is a bone of contention and the subject of fierce debate at the moment of course. Previous recipients of the prize include Henry Kissinger, which brings us right back to East Timor (and Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos) and so maybe the prize is a somewhat poisoned chalice. There are also those in Indonesia that are apparently less than happy about the Obama statue itself. Hey ho.

Ragunan Zoo (154 Hectares)

Naturally, the zoo features on the map as it is by far the biggest park in town. It's well worth having a stroll around Ragunan for this reason alone. I certainly wouldn't recommend going for the animals at any rate which are mainly rather sad and seem to have stress-related alopecia. There is also a high, "Hello Mr." factor here and if you are a pale face visiting on a busy weekend you may start to wonder which side of the cages' bars you are on.

Taman Medan Merdeka (80 hectares)

We all know the park that Monas sits in. Monas itself is basically an enormous sundial with an ice cream cone on top. The surrounding park is tidy but rather sterile and there aren't many trees to add a bit of pubic topiary to Sukarno's impressive column. To be fair however, you have less chance of being murdered or raped here than if you were strolling round a park in New York or somewhere like that.

Taman Suropati (13.5 Hectares)

This popular Menteng hang out is supposedly used for, "Light sport". Ultimately however it’s not much bigger than a traffic island. In fact, it is a traffic island as the park basically sits in the centre of a large roundabout. A brief mention should go here to Jakarta’s soon to be newest and smallest ever park. Down at the Semanggi cloverleaf, the gas stations are in the process of being dismantled as the area is turned "green" (how heavy can you get those inverted commas Mr. Editor?). So head down and breathe in those fumes. Ahhhh!

Senayan (279 Hectares)

The Senayan complex is certainly large on paper although it's hardly a park. There are a few green sports fields but the rest is taken up with concrete stadiums, the Jakarta Convention Centre, ever encroaching shopping malls and parking space for about 9 trillion cars. Not my idea of a fun picnic spot.

Kota Tua (Zero Hectares by 2040)

Jakarta's old town is of great historical and architectural interest of course, although it would hardly count as a green area of environmental interest, so I'm not sure exactly how it made it on to my map. In fact, the area more closely resembles some slow motion coastal/urban ecological disaster in the making. Give it 50 years though and the submerged Art Deco buildings will make superbly cinematic artificial reefs. Then the area will finally be green.

So here's to the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Let's hope that we don't blow it as good planets are hard to find. Let's pray that that irascible old goat Kurt Vonnegut wasn't being characteristically prophetic when he said, "We could have saved the earth but we were two damned cheap." He’d obviously visited Jakarta.