Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Allah's Snack Bar

Last week, I was privileged enough to attend a PR fast breaking event, media slut that I am. And seeing that nothing, not even a single garlic roasted peanut or a grain of kerosene and sand fried rice had passed my lips for a full five hours or so, I was eager to get stuck into the buffet.

One has to respect one's hosts however and so I sat at the back of the hall patiently whilst a Muslim preacher banged on about the finer points of morality to a barely audible accompaniment of his audience’s gurgling gastric juices. Possibly the finer points of the holy man's discourse on religious ethics were lost on the congregation, who frankly looked at that point as if they'd have been happier worshipping at the first Episcopalian Church of Colonel Sanders.

Eventually however, the prayers drew to a close and it was every man for himself as the silver buffet tureens were opened and strip-mined of their contents by the faithful in attendance, who proceeded to give that Japanese guy who can eat 195 hotdogs in 10 minutes a serious run for his money.

Ramadan and Idul Fitri are the Indonesian equivalents of a Western Christmas of course. And, as with Christmas, religious observance often seems to lose out to more corporeal imperatives and the reassuring joys of over consumption. The price of staple foods rockets, the roads are even more jammed than usual and plaza food courts come to resemble UN feeding camps.

In other words, instead of meditation and introspection, this is a time of year when social and material tensions are instead exacerbated and the general hurly-burly gradually swells over the month to a deafening crescendo of firecrackers thrown at me by street urchins and Robotronic mosque PA systems who refuse to press the pause button for half an hour so I can hear myself think. Ultimately, this whole Ramadan shebang culminates in the unspeakable horror of everybody attempting to leave town simultaneously. Meditation and peace indeed. Pfft.

Perhaps though it would be enlightening if I divulged the whereabouts of this particular fast breaking gathering. For this pious little media soirée was in fact going off down in Bakrieland, just under the disturbingly monolithic new Bakrie Tower which now looms over the Kuningan area like some Kafka-esque ministry of justice.

Mr. Bakrie and his family own a huge corporate empire of course and Mr. B himself sits right at the top of the political ladder as the leader of the yellow peril, namely the Golkar party. Conflict of interest? Well possibly the victims of the Lapindo mud disaster still awaiting compensation, or those accusing the great man and his companies of massive tax evasion may think so. Alas though such conflicts of interest seem pretty common everywhere in the world. In this context, Mister B is just Dick Cheney without the John Wayne, gun slinging bravado, or a slightly less shag happy Silvio Berlusconi.

This Indonesian colossus should not be misunderestimated though, and so I decided to slip out the back door of the Ramadan rice orgy in order to investigate the Rasuna Epicentrum complex, the jewel in the Bakrie crown. When it’s eventually finished, there'll be five towers, a concert hall, an elite club, a block of exclusive suites, a shopping mall and a river walk (breathing apparatus optional).

The magnetic pull of Bakrie Tower itself proved too hard to resist and so I slip through the main entrance and made straight for the elevators. The Bakrie Tower lifts are extremely high-tech and one has to type one's destination floor into a keypad before being greeted by an anodyne, digitally over-sampled female voice upon entering the elevator itself.

I thought that I may as well go for broke and punched in 47, the top floor. After a high-speed, ear popping Star Trek ride I stepped out into the totally barren pinnacle of the Bakrie Empire. The windows had been put in but that's about it. The builders are clearly working their way up from the bottom. The views that the 47th floor affords over the city's urban cauldron are indeed spectacular though and made me theorize that perhaps something very special is being planned for the upper deck.

Maybe I was standing in the future Death Star nerve centre of the great patriarch's bid to snatch the country from the grasp of Parliament. Maybe Mr. B, the apotheosis of Indonesia’s sleaze ridden political culture, will seize control and run operations from a gleaming, high-tech, top floor base. Here, Mr. B and his henchmen will glare down on the city from its panoptic heights, ready to unleash platoons of storm troopers and laser gun death from the tower's car parks on any dissenters at the barricades. 

And if the worst comes to the worst, he’ll have an escape podule plumbed into the roof, ready to blast him into orbit so that he can rendezvous with the Bakrie Industries space station before rocketing down to his secret hollowed out volcano lair in the Pacific. Better push for that third SBY term perhaps.