Saturday, June 05, 2010

So Hoist Up the John B's Sail

Long weekends, you can't beat them.  I usually elect to head out of town whenever a three or four dayer comes around, as I find such trips a little easier on the liver than the three day long Jakarta bender experience.  And so last weekend I headed down to the beach, specifically Pelabuhan Ratu on Java's southwest coast, with only a box full of duty free tequila and a warung full of Javanese concubines for company.

Spirits flagged noticeably when we hit a 2 km long tollgate traffic jam near Bogor.  I mean, it was only seven in the morning.  Thankfully though, once through the gate, we managed to peel off from the infinitely long convoy of vehicles heading up to Puncak and were able to enjoy a relatively uncluttered road down to the coast.  Not for us the dubious delights of cheesy Puncak resorts full of five-day-old baso fried rice, concrete animal statues and urine filled swimming pools full of fat kids lolling about like sperm whales who’ve just finished the cheese and coffee section of a particularly heavy plankton brunch.  No, it was time to experience Java at its most bucolic, quaint and timeless.

And so we were soon sunning ourselves on the beach and enjoying tumbling in the waves, spitting out mouthfuls of sand.  As traumatic as our 2 km long tailback had been, it was now time to relax.  However hellish journeys were soon back on the agenda when I ran into an old friend who I hadn't seen for many a moon, and who is now working for an Australian governmental organization.

My friend had come down to the beach with his family to enjoy the long weekend, obviously, but also to supposedly educate local fisherman types and persuade them not to give help, assistance and dangerously, if not terminally, rickety boats rides to illegal immigrants who use Indonesia as a steppingstone towards their ultimate goal of entry into Australia. 

The immigrants, more often than not from Afghanistan, usually make it to Indonesia by heading overland from Asia down through Malaysia and then bagging a boat across into Sumatra.  They then head down towards Java’s southern coast in order to book their economic refugee cruises across to the land of opportunity, kangaroos and lager that tastes as if it's been fermented in one of those Puncak swimming pools.

My friend had been distributing posters, T-shirts and the like, imploring locals not to give help to these poor unfortunates, and this is indeed an ongoing problem.  Only last month, 26 refugees from Sri Lanka were found bobbing along in the ocean about 80 miles southeast of Cilacap in Central Java, by all accounts in a pretty desperate condition and quite possibly just about to embark upon the drink-your-own-pee stage of the classic ship lost at sea scenario (good practice for those Australian pubs I suppose).

Pelabuhan Ratu is apparently a popular launching point for these risky voyages.  Are these poor migrants, economic or otherwise, deserving of such vilification though?  Australia has certainly had a fractious relationship with illegal immigrants in recent years and the previous Prime Minister, John Howard, definitely played up to the nationalist knee-jerk gallery by turning many of these poor unfortunates back, housing them on Easter Island or in what amounted to outback gulags.

None of this has discouraged the illegal immigrants though and certainly there is no future for them in this country.  I have illegal Afghani immigrants before around some of the city’s less than salubrious watering holes and, after six years in Indonesia, they are still not allowed to work here legally, despite being married to Indonesian women in many cases.

So what's with the intransigent attitude towards illegal immigrants?  Countries like Australia may play to the Pauline Hanson peanut gallery and a dubious racial purity subtext.  However, countries such as Australia and those in Western Europe are already deeply multicultural.  So this justification has already been worn threadbare.  The developed world is now racially mixed beyond the dreams of our grandparents and even the USA now has a black president (despite the fact that his disappointing presidency has made him seem more like a white man with a suntan).

No, the real reason is by now very clear.  There are haves and there are have-nots on this planet and we can't risk too many of the have-nots coming over and joining the haves. If we did, a more egalitarian distribution of life’s blessings may erode the level of comfort that the West has come to enjoy at the cost of the plunder and propped up dictatorships of many Third World countries, a plunder that leads to the creation of these very refugees in the first place.  Under our current system, I can only foresee a trajectory which leads to the world's richest countries becoming virtually impregnable fortresses, facing down dark skinned, ragged trousered invaders as they rock up at the coasts.  We shall indeed fight them on the beaches.

After reflecting thus it was time to head back to the hotel for a drink and, after paying some luckless young have-not Rp.20,000 to wash my car, I soon found myself in the loving embrace of an all too warm Bintang. Cheers you scurvy seadogs.