Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Down in the Park

I went in search of a little green Jakarta this week, a task that required my full attention. The chance to enjoy a few blades of grass and trees, whilst enjoying the pleasures of riding my bicycle through the odd rustic brown dog turd or two takes dedication to the cause but I like a challenge. Apparently Jakarta has a total area of green space that adds up to 9.6% of its total area. The city administration however is determined to increase this figure to 13.9% by the end of this year. I'm not quite sure how they are going to achieve this ambitious figure, possibly by demolishing a few cardboard and corrugated iron shanty towns and then using their former occupants’ dead bodies as compost, but we'll see.

And so I set out on a Sunday morning hangover shaking cycle (every pothole felt like someone trying to jam satay skewers into my eye sockets) and rolled down to the recently renovated park just behind the Jl. Barito flower and bird market near Blok M. Now this particular green area is actually of an almost decent size and features tall trees, cool shade, some rather distressed looking chickens, a few rather phallic looking sculptures (perhaps they hold Dionysian fertility rites down here after evening prayers) and a stream choked with a level of inorganic phosphate and ammonia that positively makes the eyes water. It's not a bad step towards greening Jakarta though and one can even just about get out of earshot of the city traffic (although the familiar bajaj chainsaw orchestra can still be heard through the gentle rustling of the leaves).

Next, I headed up to Lapangan Banteng, a large field just north of Monas for a stroll around Flora and Fauna Jakarta 2010, an annual plant and pet show that always makes for a pleasant afternoon. There may not be a lot of green space around the city but at least you can make your home a touch greener with a few plants and perhaps a nice fish pond, which will no doubt end up being a breeding ground for mosquitoes that will subsequently infect you and your family with dengue fever.

Nature is never easy, although it proved hard to believe that the natural world is so unremittingly bloody in tooth and claw when I came across a stall selling fluffy bunny rabbits in cages. Alas there were no tigers in cages for rich businessmen and regional government heads to buy, as many have done in the past, although I doubt I would have been able to afford one anyway. In any event, not possessing genitalia the size of a cashew nut, I'd have little use for such a dangerous psychological crutch (crutch?) rattling its cage outside my bedroom window every morning.

There was even a chicken corner down at F&F 2010, despite the fact that letting poultry run loose in the city is supposed to be illegal due to the continuing threat of bird flu. I guess this is just another one of those laws that is difficult to enforce, and thus nobody really bothers trying to anyway.

Plant wise, there were plenty of herbs on offer for one to take home and cultivate, including rosemary, lavender and ginger, although nothing that you'd want to stick inside a Rizla, more’s the pity. One stall in particular caught my eye. It was called the Vega Vertical Garden System and included a whole raft of creative ways for covering bland concrete walls with cool greenery, vines, creepers and trellises. Imagine every office block along Jl.Sudirman looking like the clubhouse at Wimbledon, marvellous.

Finally, I headed back downtown to the now empty and abandoned Taman Ria. This huge complex and lake now lies dormant, even the legendary Bugils had to vacate its original home here a couple of years back. The site would make for a superb park and a bit of urban breathing space.

Alas though we learnt recently what plans are actually in store for dear old Taman Ria. Yes, you guessed it, another bloody shopping mall will soon be firing up its gaudy neon logos for an ever consumption hungry public. No doubt they will also fill the lake in with concrete in order to provide parking space for a thousand SUVs and their McDonald's chomping occupants, or perhaps erect some kind of all in one WiFi-roller-disco-net-burger-driving-range.

It's a shame really, just at the moment it's very peaceful down there. Ultimately though, parks and green areas are about more than just having a nice lie down on a bit of grass in the sun, they also create an ecological awareness in city slickers. As people live more and more in artificial, man-made surroundings, they live in an increasing ignorance of natural processes, processes that ultimately we owe our very survival to.

Thus, I propose a new form of reverse eco-terrorism. We should infiltrate the forthcoming new Taman Ria mall's sterile concourses with seeds, soil and fungal spores in our pockets and drop them in out of the way places: down lift shafts, in car parks and ceiling partitions, and wait for a new store filled Hanging Gardens of Babylon to emerge.