Skylines, gardens and memorable floor tiles

Slice of JK skyline.

Jakarta is getting richer and the divide between the rich and poor is said to be decreasing, but ever so slowly. There’s so much money and and plastic here. Cleaning products are stacked in supermarkets from floor to ceiling and all of it terribly toxic and no doubt ending up in rivers and oceans!

I’m fortunate to be living for the moment in a kind of roomy, urban villa, which gives one the impression of being far from the sprawling, congested malaise that is Jakarta.

I spend most days working from a pristine courtyard that bridges the house to the kitchen at the rear of the property. Lush gardens on either side of me and a pool next to the kitchen make for a pleasantly cool setting from which to forage my working day though. Yet one is never too far from the scavengers, the poorest people in Jakarta, who make what could hardly be called a living from everyone else’s waste. Hauling large carts they appear late afternoons at the front of the house, ensuring nothing of value is left to idle in our rubbish, which is accessible to them by means of a hatch fashioned into the sturdy fence.

Of the 140 cities on planet Earth, Jakarta is rated the 123rd most liveable, or 54th in Asia. The top five Asian cities are Osaka, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. I’d go do Tokyo at a drop… Japan… Osaka… languid evenings on push-bikes along delicately lit river-banks flanked by bars and restaurants, the rare squadron of firefly’s, escapees from the farm they are bred in near Takadanobaba where I lived a few weeks… Let me digress a moment and reflect on a most magnificent month I’d spent in Japan, pretty much two years ago to the month.

A thought on Tokyo

Despite what many say, I found Tokyo affordable. If you sub-let via craigslist, ride a bicycle, shop and eat with the locals in the back-streets and outer suburbs Tokyo life can be cosy, healthy and entertaining.

Clothes are cheap too. Unlike Jakarta, one can find men’s sizes to suit slightly wider and taller blokes like me. Shopping for men’s clothes in Jakarta is like shopping for children. Shorts and shirts are cut tight and tiny! In almost all stores I’ve poked around in, an XL sized shirt in Indonesia is no larger than an M.

2nd last weekend in Jakarta

It’s 27 degrees and thunderstorms are expected. Yesterday an earthquake monitoring organisation released data recommending the kind of weights required to be engineered into new buildings throughout the archipelago given the sharp increase in tremors and quakes. Jakarta is sinking at a centimetre a year and still the skies are cluttered with cranes, new office blocks and malls. They may sink, but they may not fall should the perilous “ring of fire” burp.

It’s humid and as much as I tend to work well in such environments, for some reason the atmospheric mix has stimulated a fungus that continues to eat at my feet and hands… is if it were dining on me alive! A lizard creature just ran down the wall from behind a large painting hung above my desk, startling me for a moment. As much as I’m gradually warming to Indonesia, in spite of the lack of summer clothes and the state of my skin in parts, I look forward to the winter, rain water showers and clear skies.

Did I say how fortunate I am to be staying in Menteng? This house was built by the Dutch in a rather unassuming palatial style with art deco resonances that, in 2010, one could describe as bohemian earthiness at it’s nooks and far reaching crannies. This is further amplified by Heidi’s substantial art collection, some of which we hung throughout the house just as I returned from Bali.

Detail - floor tiles, Menteng villa.

The tiles on the floor of my room, for instance, could have been lifted from any Turkish bathhouse, or perhaps inspired by traditional Javanese batik. Kind of crazy to look at, but strangely appealing!

The gardens are lush and ample, a veritable jungle for the two cats that have kept me company on my late evening writing sessions and the few occasions I’ve had the entire premises to my self. The house is so comforting and cheerful, with its courtyards and open lounge and dining areas that I find it entirely unnecessary to step out. I can sit at the rear of the premises by the side of the pool, as I am now, and practise my guitar, read or write… or head back to my room if I need a does of air-con, which is rare given the cool calm and serenity of this tiny slice of Menteng.

Getting to the weekend was a worthy pursuit as was the week prior to it. Friday polished off a week of preparation for a day with peers and partners of EngageMedia, leading community and activist media makers from mostly Jakarta based organisations. Much of the day focused on discussion around the future of video as a social justice tool here and Asia-Pacific, the results of which I’m writing up over the coming week.

Workspace, Menteng, JK, Jul 2010.

Weekend highlights include starting out on my first novel by South Africa’s, J.M. Coetzee; hanging out with Sydney – Indonesian based sound artist and all round open source minded technology dude, Dan Mackinlay; and completing preliminary ideas for a track on South African producer, At Nel’s next album.

AKA Somerfaan, At was co-founder of the infamous industrial outfit, Battery 9. I’d first heard of Battery 9 via Benguala’s Alex Bozas who,  in his opinion, had produced “the best” remix on Benguela’s, Chop Sui, also featuring a remix by Burnt Friedman. Looking over the album I’m not sure which artist can be attributed to Battery 9. Electronic musicians have a tendency to release an assortment of works under a variety of different names. In any case, Chop Sui is worth a listen, as would Bengeula’s latest offering, Black Southeaster, was coincidently launched last night to be launched next weekend in Cape Town.

A weekend for music in the hemispheres… Some how, South Africa never quite leaves me.

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