Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Here in My Car

Last weekend, I managed to hop over the pond and take in the rather spectacular Singapore Grand Prix. As well as leaving my eardrums as perforated as a postage stamp, the sojourn also afforded me the opportunity to put Singapore and Jakarta head-to-head in a little compare and contrast contest. Not a fair match perhaps, but since when was fairness ever an integral element of life in the Big Durian?

Arriving in the interstellar space station of Changi Airport is certainly a good place to start, seeing as the hub is regarded by many as the best airport in the whole world. All of Singapore's ruthless efficiency and technocratic conformity comes together at Changi and one feels as if one has been let loose inside the sterile sci-fi world of George Lucas’s seminal THX1138. Soekarno-Hatta, by contrast, is alas more Bronze Age than space age.

I proceeded to take the subway into the city centre, which is obviously not an option in good old Batavia. In fact, I learnt this week that Jakarta is the largest city in the world to be deprived of a metro system. Metro madness indeed. Emerging on Orchard Road, underwear clamminess soon became an issue and I think it's fair to say that Singapore is even more humid than the Indonesian capital.

Despite the soaring temperatures though, everything runs like clockwork in Singapore and the dropping of a single cigarette butt on the street results in an alarm going off down at the nearest police precinct and sees the offending miscreant hauled off for a heavy session of electric shock therapy until the requisite balance of narcotized late capitalist docility and conformity has been re-instilled in the subject.

As you may have guessed, I'm not totally sold on the whole island state weltanschauung and rather feel that they've gone a tad far in their technologically mediated mind control. In fact, I tend to see the place as something of a canary in a coal mine for the increasingly regimented, CCTV regulated 'last man' joylessness of my own homeland.

Still, not being confronted with luckless, dollar-a-day, hand-to-mouth, head lice infested plebeians on every street corner could be considered a plus point in Singapore's favour. In any case, I soon headed down to the Grand Prix qualifying session and found a space trackside in the Marina Bay area.

As the sun set, a truly breathtaking night vista took shape. The towering skyscrapers, the sprawling Esplanade art complex, the waterfront bars and restaurants stretching all the way up to Clarke Quay, the huge Singapore Flyer viewing wheel, the towering new Marina Bay Sands complex just across the water with its three huge towers and enormous surfboard style deck stretching across the top of all three shooting laser beam arcs across the heavens, the famous Merlion fountain. It was a vision of urban utopia second to none, and I almost wet my pants with excitement, which would have no doubt netted me a $1000 fine from one of the Southeast Asian stormtroopers on duty.

Anyway, I inserted my Formula One earplugs and the cars were soon on track hitting 200 plus mph and generally giving me a cricked neck as I tried to swivel my head fast enough to see them go by. There are a few other street circuits on the Formula One calendar, including the legendary Monaco Grand Prix of course, and they are all a tremendous advertisement for the various cities that host them. Alas, the race itself the following evening saw my boy Hamilton crashing out after being shunted up the butt to by an Australian (not a fate I’d wish on anybody). This has probably ended his chances of taking this year's title, but such is sport.

It was a truly enjoyable evening of speed though, which was helped along enormously by the couple of tins of 7-Eleven Amsterdam Maximator super-strength lager that I had smuggled into Track Zone Four (perhaps Jakarta's new 7-Elevens should start stocking this 11.4% strength mind wiper, although I should stress that it’s not the most palatable beverage out there).

Could Jakarta ever host an F1 street race though I wonder? It'd certainly put the Indonesian capital on the map. A couple of years back, an A1 race was scheduled to be held on the streets of Lippo Karawaci, but was alas cancelled at the last minute after concerns over track safety were raised. What another truly surprising Indonesian anti-climax.

Lippo Karawaci's no good however, you've got to have the cars steaming down Jl. Sudirman at full pelt whilst banging over potholes that cause them to flip over spectacularly. Navigating this city's cratered roads would undoubtedly be a technical challenge for the competitors akin to making them all get stuck into the winner's champagne before, instead of after, the race. The inevitable deaths of several hundred spectators would surely be a small price to pay though for a bit of national pride, and the busway provides a ready-made pit lane of course. There's Indonesia's bid for the FIFA World Cup to get out of the way first however. One ludicrously unrealistic fantasy at a time please.