Saturday, June 26, 2010

Muddied Oafs at the Goal

Well my little durians, I’m now in Cape Town enjoying the World Cup and the whole South African experience. It certainly makes a nice change from Jakarta’s terminal urban purgatory. The South African winter is fresh but often sunny and bright and the city itself is quite spectacular.

The flight down was uneventful aside from a transfer in Dubai, which is more like an interstellar spacestation than an airport, its vast network of hi-tech concourses, shopping levels and departure lounges succeeding admirably in confusing the hell out of me.

Then it was a nine hours to Cape Town, a hook up with my friends at the airport, straight out for a drive through the beautiful city to the stunning stadium and then straight into the match... mainlining pure adrenaline I was.

Alas the match in question was England versus Algeria, which ended in a 0-0 draw and which was a match so utterly lacking in what makes football fun to watch that it already seems to have passed into footballing folklore as one of the most bowel shatteringly tedious in history. The adrenaline levels took a slight dip at this point.

I was damned, however, if I was going to let England manager and chief organ grinder, Fabio Capello, and his simian charges ruin my holiday, and so the next day we headed down through beautiful countryside, coast and mountains, to the Cape of Good Hope to straddle the Atlantic and Indian oceans. And who did we see down at the Cape enjoying the sights with all of the other tourists? It was none other than Fabio himself, out for a spot of sightseeing! Alas, we were too surprised at seeing him in the flesh to push the dear fellow over the edge of the path to a watery death.

A couple of days later it was time to go and watch Portugal demolish North Korea 7-0. This was a lot more fun than the England game. I'll take seven goals over zero any day of the week, although it was not perhaps the most evenly matched contest. There's a huge ethnic Portuguese community in Cape Town and they were out in numbers.

Our attempts to get hold of a North Korean scarf or flag around the stadium proved in vain alas. We were really keen though to show our solidarity with the Democratic People's Republic and throw our support behind the small block of 100 or so supporters who, according to some reports, were actually Chinese actors who were being paid a couple of thousand dollars a day.

I wonder how the match will be reported back in the Democratic People's Republic itself. Possibly they'll broadcast that their brave boys won 7-0, instead of losing by the same scoreline. That should confuse matters sufficiently. This is, after all, a country whose Supreme Leader was once reported in the North Korean media to have played a round of golf in 18 shots (which was followed by the birds on the course singing the national anthem in Korean).

The following day, my colleagues and I headed to the centre of town and the famous Fan Park in order to watch what turned out to be South Africa's final game against a French side who had so far proved every bit as dismal as the English. In fact, there had been rumours that the French side was on strike and I had visions of them walking around the pitch reading newspapers whilst Bafana Bafana won the game 200-0.

In the event, Bafana Bafana whipped the French 2-1 and the Fan Park went wild. It was a bittersweet victory however as it the team was out of the tournament having failed to garner enough points during this group stage. It was party time in Cape Town though and the Windhoek lager flowed freely.

The next day, after a glorious sunny walk around the coast, we retired to another local hostelry for another England performance. Yes, masochistic glutton for punishment that I am, it was time to watch the boys again. Watching my national team was becoming like rubbernecking at a car accident.

It was time for action after all the endless press conferences, soul-searching and general rending of garments. After the USA game, the time for talking was over. After the Algeria game, the time for talking about how the time for talking was over, was over. This time however, the lads actually managed to pull off a 1-0 victory, securing a place in the last 16 against arch nemesis Germany. Oh God.

I'll be back in the Big Durian next week folks for more tales of Indonesian urban woe and I hope I haven't missed too much in my absence. A few quick logons to the Globe website would suggest not as we’re clearly at the media saturation apex of the great Peter Porn curve. Hopefully, the gentlemen and the two ladies in question will be immersed in vat of boiling tar on national TV during the RCTI World Cup final halftime show and Indonesia can then fully devote its energies towards hosting the 2022 tournament, or failing that, the 2822 tournament.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Robson, Crapper, Dewhurst, McIntyre, Treadmore, Davitt

As one could hardly have failed to notice, the World Cup is here. For some it’s as if Christmas has come everyday for a month, however not everyone’s so keen. It’s the ladies I feel sorry for. This is a time when girls the world over either make an attempt to follow the football with their square eyed beaus, vainly asking their men folk what the offside rule means, or give up and head out on a month long hen party with other football widows.

I don't want this to sound sexist though because in fact I’d say that it’s to most women's eternal credit that they don't waste their lives on this stuff. So many chaps are currently living football, breathing football, eating football and excreting footballs (very painful) that it almost seems like a form of collective insanity.

It was with some irony then that I noticed in my local mini mart that Indonesian condom brand, Fiesta, have released a collection of party hats in the various World Cup team colours. Surely relations between the genders are rarely frostier than they are during World Cup month and so I can’t really see the need myself. In any case, I’d certainly think twice about putting an England rubber on my old fella, as appalling flaccidity would surely ensue

In order to watch the matches at home, I, like many of you I'm sure, have had to unplug my cable TV box and go rummaging around the back of the set trying to stick a bloody coathanger into the telly's aerial socket, as you can't watch the games on RCTI or Global TV via cable. Clearly these two channels think that it sheds them in a good light if it appears as if there are 44 players on the pitch kicking the ball through a blizzard. Bah.

And speaking of wintry weather, the Indonesian national team aren't in the World Cup finals of course, as the upper levels of hell haven't yet been covered by a sheet of ice. However, there is still plenty of enthusiasm for the World Cup here, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.

Indonesia are no Brazil it has to be said but should they be? A romantic view of poverty and football is often trotted out regarding the mighty Brazil, the idea that starting off in some shantytown kicking a tin can round the street imbues one with some kind of Nietzschian footballing will to power and puts steel in the soul. If that was all it took, then Indonesia would have won the World Cup ten times by now.

I watched the opening match of this year’s tournament, South Africa against Mexico, down the pub naturally. Drinking whilst watching World Cup games can be a dangerous pastime however as the big match atmosphere tends to inspire one to prodigious feats of dipsomania. Seeing the host nation sink the first goal of the tournament was a sublime moment though.

The next day it was my boys’ turn. Watching England’s first lukewarm performance against team USA, which will be remembered, of course, for its epic goalkeeping howler, I was reminded of the scores of other mediocre England performances that I've watched during my life. This is, by now, a largely unbroken chain of pain stretching back almost 30 years to my very earliest memories.

The trajectory of our national soccer squad is perhaps a metonym for Britannia’s own century long decline. Trying to enjoy my Saturday evening in front of the TV, the England team reminded me of that old quote, “One day I sat there thinking, ‘Cheer up, things could be worse.’ so I cheered up and sure enough, things got worse.” Ah well.

The following Tuesday I decided that I needed some authentic African atmosphere and so I headed down to Ali's Bar on Jalan Jaksa in order to watch Didier Drogba's Ivory Coast versus Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal. The assembled Africans certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves and the Guinness flowed freely. Thankfully, the commentary had been turned down and some irresistibly sunny African pop music permeated the bar.

I’ve saved the best until last however because as you read this, I will have just touched down in Cape Town on the holiday of a lifetime. Fortuitously enough, my long-time Jakarta housemate is both South African and a massive football fan and has got me tickets for three games at a not unreasonable US$80 a pop. I’m also sleeping on his family sofa for the next 11 days which should save me a few shekels. So I’ll be taking in some top soccer and enjoying the sights of South Africa before heading back Asia side. 

Hopefully I'll be able to file a report from the World Cup next week in time for Saturday’s Metro Madness. In the meantime, wish me luck. Or, if you don't like the columns, wish that some tanked up English football hooligan knifes me in the kidneys and I never come back. See you soon folks. As for a prediction, North Korea are going all the way this time, you mark my words.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I Read the News Today Oh Boy

Last weekend, this very newspaper, the Jakarta Globe no less, held a little soirée down at a new bar called Marley's. It proved to be a very jolly affair and there was a dangerous free flow of beer on tap (although nothing stronger than this, as the bar's name might suggest, in fact I'm still looking forward to the day when I can walk into a convenience store with my head held high and order a pack of 20 Marley's).

In any case, I managed to finally meet up with the fine body of men and women who've been putting this delightful, and now award-winning, paper together ever since 12th November 2008. I even managed to win a couple of tickets to Sea World which I was made up about seeing as it's the only door prize that I have ever won, as well as the fact that I am a keen amateur dolphin mind melder.

Alas, I did also have to confess to being the person behind this column to a few people at the party, so now they can put a face to the name and walk the other way the next time they see me coming. Actually, a good tip if you’re a budding writer is to claim that there’s someone out there with exactly the same name as you going around stirring up trouble with their opinionated piffle.

So, a whole year and a half of the soaraway Globe, and what a useful source of information it’s been. Only this week I learned that a member of the group Peter Pan has been filming himself on the job. My primary concern with this story was that the two and a half minute duration of the film was in fact the length of the entire sordid act. I sincerely hope that young Ariel was able to keep the wolf from the door for a little bit longer than that before hitting the vinegar strokes. I mean you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

We also learned this week that Uncle Obama has cancelled his Indonesian trip for a second time, refusing to leave the US until the BP gusher is sorted out. Which is fair enough really. Alas, the same concern for country hasn’t been shown by some over here. Mister Bakrie, for example, hasn’t refused to leave Indonesia until he’s sorted out his mud gusher. I mean, if that were true he would have spent the last four years in Indonesia. Maybe he did, who knows? Most likely he's paid a visit to the holy land and made a down payment on his stake in the great afterlife real estate scam.

Back to all matters Globe though, what does the future look like for our favourite Jakarta read? And, more broadly speaking, are all newspapers doomed? Over the last month, we've seen the Apple iPad and iPhone 4G being unveiled and both devices will root the internet reading experience even deeper into the fabric of modern life. Antipodean Antichrist Rupert Murdoch is currently attempting to buck the trend by introducing charges for his papers' online content, but surely this will prove a huge mistake.

The news media are in a massive state of flux at the moment and many are trying to push the envelope. The website True/Slant, for example, uses a digital speedometer to match content on its site to trending topics on Google or Twitter. Pursuing a different model, Demand Media generates assignment lists for journalists based entirely on search terms. There’s also a site called Global Post, which hopes to charge readers for direct access to its foreign correspondents. It's a strange time alright and as Google's chief economist, Hal Vanian said, "The three most important things that any newspaper can do now are experiment, experiment and experiment."

Perhaps some tedious new business model for Internet media will evolve in the near future however the science fiction view of the information ultra highway is far more fun, namely that every information synapse (biological or silicon) will soon be connected to every other synapse on the planet until humanity becomes one huge ever growing pulsating brain that rules from the centre of the ultraworld before it eventually gets sucked through a "2001: A Space Odyssey " stargate of its own making into a higher dimension. We won’t need those Marley’s when that happens.

The Globe has been doing a good job over the last year though in terms of getting its name out there. Perhaps being an English-language daily in a non-English-speaking country puts it in a different category from the currently folding US dailies. The Globe’s slick website and strong Facebook and Twitter presence no doubt encourages many people to read its stories who would never think of buying an English daily normally, and this is surely a good thing. 

Hopefully the Globe will continue to offer probing news and buck the trend of consumers around the world who mainline pop entertainment news like it’s heroin, which in turn leads to newspapers squandering fewer and fewer of their precious editorial resources upon investigating political and corporate corruption whilst the societal role of the fourth estate dwindles to nothing. Happy reading.

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.