JOHAN JAAFFAR: Crippling realities bring out human side of Jakarta - Tourism Indonesia


Friday, December 28, 2007

JOHAN JAAFFAR: Crippling realities bring out human side of Jakarta

I HAVE always believed Jakarta is one of the greatest cities on earth. Depending on how you define it, it certainly has all the trappings that will engulf, engage, entertain and frustrate you. It is a bustling metro-polis where anachronism abounds. It is a city where happiness and misery are in abundance and where greatness and pettiness collide.
The inhabitants made Jakarta into what it is today -- a city teeming to the brink, unable to cope with the onslaught of humans utilising whatever little space left. Millions are attracted to the glitters of modern life -- yet many are left at the periphery, sometimes for their entire lives, unable to make good the dream to succeed in the cruel, uncaring world of Jakarta.

To many Malaysian writers and dramatists, Jakarta used to be the centre of their cultural universe. They looked to Jakarta for inspiration. There were no boundaries then -- we were but brothers in literary and cultural arms. We accepted Indonesian writers, poets, artists and dramatists just like our own. Many among us were influenced by the works of Indonesian writers -- Rendra, Iwan Simatupang and Pramodya Ananta Toer to name a few. When Rudolph Puspa came with his Teater Keliling (literally "moving theatre") troupe in the early 1970s to Kuala Lumpur, the influence was hard to ignore. As a young dramatist, it left a lasting impression on me.

I spent a lot of time in Jakarta back then. Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) was everyone's dream of a unique cultural centre. I watched plays and poetry readings there. It was the idea of the former governor of Jakarta, the legendary Ali Sadikin. Everyone worth his or her salt wanted to be part of the action at TIM. Jakarta was a lot simpler then. And a lot less expensive. For those in government service, the only affordable hotel in lieu of our entitlement was the Sabang. It was within walking distance of Jakarta's major landmarks -- Tugu Monas, the Triangle (comprising of its major boulevards, Jalan Sudirman, Jalan Gatot Subroto and Jalan Rasuna Said), not to mention affordable shopping arcades, halal food and a robust nightlife.

Jakarta has changed over the years. But many things remain. The kampung kumuh (slums) are still there, so too the macet (which is getting worse) and the nightlife. Jakarta is redefining itself every day. It is a city that is least understood yet standing out as one with a character of its own. Jakarta is not about high-rise structures and chock-a-block slums, it is also about culture and the art scenes. Jakarta is a city where ABG (Anak Baru Gede or young girls) are trying to find space as much as the demonstran (demonstrators) trying to make waves on the slightest provocation. Just look at its newspapers -- it has the freest press this side of the globe, and the 300-odd gossip and celebrity tabloids to distract you.

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