Saturday, March 06, 2010

Beers, Steers and Queers

I'll start this week with a personal plea to any policeman who may happen to have read last week's effort. I swear I had no idea that the copy of Windows 7 that I recently installed on my new Quadcore behemoth of a computational beast was on the wrong side of the law. I bought it with the best of intentions from a handsomely stocked disc shop in broad daylight and have the receipt to prove it. Anyway, I'm very sorry officer but if you really want to clamp down on illegal activities in Jakarta then frankly, if you've got enough yellow plastic "Police Line: Do Not Enter" tape then it would be far simpler to just run a ring of the stuff around the entire city.

Let us move on though. This week I wish to address the subject of booze. Whilst many of Indonesia's more outlying provinces are in the process of adopting Sharia style prohibition, Jakarta seems to have been drunkenly lurching in the other direction of late. A real drinking culture seems to have developed in recent years, especially amongst the young. Wine bars now dot the city and Kemang is now full of middle-class youngsters hitting the bottle as if it's going out of style. I decided to investigate.

Only last week, young Sinetron ingénue, Cinta Laura, could be found in this very newspaper discussing how, "JIS (Jakarta International School) kids like to go out on a Friday night in Kemang." it was time to check it out and seeing as I'm only 17 and a half I knew that I would blend in just fine.

My first stop was a new bar called Bremer which is apparently very popular with the new breed of young paraffin guzzlers. I’d hoped to catch sight of Miss Laura emitting a Margarita fuelled rainbow yawn into the bushes before assuring me that I was her best friend in the whole world but alas it wasn’t to be. Me and my companion headed down a narrow alleyway and found ourselves in a lovely beer garden packed with drinkers.

The place reminded me of a British beer garden in fact although with fewer opportunities to get glassed in the throat for looking at someone’s girlfriend. At the bar, one could purchase a metre of ale (even beer’s gone metric) which turned out to be not one of those long, thin chemistry lab tubes but a meter long wooden rack full of about ten beer glasses. Nobody appeared to be drunk and disorderly although the staff’s bottle openers were clearly being kept very busy. I ordered up a bottle of a beer I’d never heard of before and immediately regretted it. It was a new local brew called Kuda Putih (white horse) and was the cheapest in the bar at Rp.22,000. It seemed to have been knocked up from Anker dregs collected from half drunk glasses and possibly actual horses were involved in the brewing of this tipple. 

A while later we headed down the road to a new shop called Boxmart which has ingeniously cashed in on the youngsters who like to sit outside Jakarta’s many branches of Circle K drinking beer of an evening. Boxmart is basically a Circle K with chairs, tables and even a mini stand up bar outside. We sat down and were immediately accosted by eight year old beggars. Still, at least in Jakarta the beggars and the Circle K street drinkers are separated out into two distinct groups, in contrast to many formative experiences I’ve had in London. Here at least, dishevelled middle aged men don’t stagger up to you breathing alcohol fumes in your face before inquiring in a slurred voice, “Excuse me pal, could you spare us Rp.10,000? I need a new pair of Bintang…SHOES…sorry I mean shoes”.

So why is there this apparent polarisation between increasing puritanism and prohibition in the provinces on one hand and an increasing prevalence of folk in Jakarta getting completely steampigged at every available opportunity? It's a complex problem I'd guess. However, in one sense, perhaps these two opposing behaviours are reactions to the same cultural malaise. This is namely the sense that, to quote a piece of poetry from one of my favourite bands, "The car's on fire and nobody is at the wheel."

By this I mean that there's perhaps a general, either conscious or unconscious, understanding that the planet is sleepwalking towards oblivion and that our politicians, mired in incompetency, corruption and a growing totalitarianism (and also punch-ups in Jakarta this week) completely lack the moral authority and compass to renew a globe that is spiralling out of control. Nowhere can this feeling be more acute than in Indonesia I would wager. One reaction to this creeping collective paranoia is a misguided attempt to purge society of its perceived decadence and to revert to the strictures of religious dogmas. Thus ten years after winning their freedom, many Indonesians seek to once more emasculate themselves under the lashes of Sharia's whips.

Another reaction to the sense that no one's really in charge though is to fiddle while Rome burns, blot it all out and overdose on hedonism before a sobering future arrives. Bottoms up.