Monday, October 12, 2009

A New Look for ‘Jakarta Inside Out’

In his introduction to “Jakarta Inside Out,” author Daniel Ziv writes that he dreamt up the book as “a love letter” to the city he has “been proud to call home for nearly a decade.” It reads as a letter to a longstanding love — not the naive, starry-eyed infatuation one feels for a new amour but the warts-and-all, love-you-despite-your-faults (and sometimes because of them) type of love.

As a resident of Jakarta for a little over a year myself, Ziv’s book made me reassess this capricious city with a more tolerant eye. He sugarcoats little, makes fun of much and brilliantly illustrates the contradictions one constantly finds here with the many beautiful photographs contained in the book. Each picture here is worth a thousand words, if not more, from the skeletal figure of a slum dweller in the doorway of his shanty house to images of the vibrant, affluent business area and homes shown elsewhere.

The chapters of the book are arranged alphabetically, ranging from “Asongan” to “Wartel and Warnet,” and are also cross-referenced. There are no entries for X, Y or Z obviously, and Q and V also missed the cut.

The descriptions are humorous (bajaj are “undoubtedly the cockroach of the automotive world”) and sometimes cynical (Jakarta’s banks “tend to resemble laundromats more than prudent financial institutions”), but always worth reading. I am obviously not the only person to think so as this is basically a revamped and updated fourth printing of the second edition, put out because the last printing has been out of stock for about a year.

One of my favorite characterizations is in the chapter on “Bule” (foreigners). “Some bule are arrogant, bossy or patronizing,” Ziv writes. “Others are politically correct to the extreme, culturally oversensitive or just totally neurotic.”

Adrian Darmono — a friend whom Ziv describes as a “cutting-edge Indonesian designer, blogger and Certified Bule Observer” — contributes a chapter titled “You Know You’re a Bule with a Mission if You ... .” The cutting but all-too-true examples include “Rant about how Nike exploits its factory workers in Indonesia by paying them $35 a month,” closely followed by “Rave about how you can have breakfast in Indonesia for 35 cents.”

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