Archive for June, 2011

Nongkrong on the corner at Jalan Jaksa

I had just said goodbye to my new friend that I had met through the Couch Surfing website. Although we didn’t end up making it to the Taring Babi house as initally planned it was still a good night of hanging out and seeing some cool Jakarta things. But now, I was alone again on the streets of Jakarta. At 10pm outside Sarinah Plaza I wondered where I should go next. It seemed a good idea to start looking for somewhere to sleep.

The decision was between looking for a street called Jalan Jaksa where apparently all the cheap backpackers stay or to make my way through Kepong Kacang and hopefully find my way back to the hostel that I had stayed at the night before. I wasn’t too keen on trying to find my way through the dark little streets of Kepong Kacang so I decided I’d find this Jalan Jaksa I’d heard so much about. I still didn’t know where it actually was but I knew that if I walked east I’d be on the right track.

After only five or ten minutes of walking east I did end up finding Jalan Jaksa. On the corner, just hanging out and listening to music, were a bunch of kids – probably 15-18 year olds, I don’t know. I can’t remember how it started, probably with a “Hello Mister” or a “Hey! Rokok?!”, whatever it was I ended up being invited to nongkrong, or whatever the Indonesian equivalent of lepak is, and so sit down and nongkrong with the local teenagers is what I did.

They offered me a drink. It was red, but in an Aqua bottle. I’m not sure what it was. I didn’t try it. They also offered a cigarette but didn’t take up that offer either. Remembering that I still had a bag of tempe goreng and pisang goreng in my bag I pulled it out and offered that to my new friends. All except one of them declined my offer quite strongly, I’m not sure why that is, but one of them took a piece of pisang goreng.

After the usual questions of mau ke mana?, dari mana?, sendirian?, sudah punya cewek?, etc. we somehow got talking about music. They had been blasting some reggae through the small speakers of their phones and asked me what it was I liked. Reggae? Metal? I asked them if they liked punk. Specifically, if they liked a punk band called Marjinal. Of course they all knew Marjinal! Fuck yes! Now this is the Jakarta I was looking for! One of the guys looked through his phone to find a Marjinal song while some of the rest of us started singing Hukum Rimba together. He found the song he was looking for and we gathered around to listen, the volume up as loud as it could.

I asked one, or some, if they’d been to the Taring Babi house. Most of them had. One of them told me that on Saturdays they have… um… they have something that my Indonesian skills didn’t quite understand. But whatever it was, it sounded as though I’d like to be there on a Saturday.

One of them then asked if I ever go to protests. They said there would be a protest tomorrow that they were going to attend. One of them told me it was an anti-corruption protest as another yelled out “Fuck korupsi!”. I asked where it was to be held but I didn’t quite catch the answer. Maybe I’d try to google it in the morning. I asked if I could follow them to the demo but their answer wasn’t so certain.

One of them asked about my religion and I told him that I had no religion. He asked if I believed in God to which I also said no. He asked why. The answer to this question is often hard for me to formulate in a way that I consider coherent in English but now I had to try to do it in Indonesian. I tried to start with points about contradictions in holy books (whichever holy books they may be), science and stuff that I’d recently read in Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and made a mental ‘fuck yeah!’ note of. That didn’t seem to work though, so I just said, “Agama ada banyak hukum, saya tak suka hukum, jadi I tak suka agama.” I think that was an adequate answer as he replied “Ah, kebebasan!”. I also explained that part of my dislike of religion is probably a result of going to a Catholic school. He also pulled out his phone and started playing a different Marjinal song that he had and told me really liked Marjinal because they sing about freedom.

Others came and asked the religious question again and the guy I had just talked to or I would repeat my answers. The others were all Muslims. Just for insurance, I told them that although I don’t have a religion I don’t hate people who do. They understood and one replied with, “Kita bersaudara” and another said something that probably translates to “one love” or “love for all”. But we all agreed that if there’s no love then we must fight for it.

They asked where I was from, so I explained that I was originally from Australia but have been living in Malaysia for the last seven months. They asked where my parents were from and I explained that my dad’s parents had moved to Australia from Italy and that my mother was a descendent of the English colonisers. They asked why my dad’s parents wanted to leave Italy and I told them it was because of the war to which one of them replied “Saya benci perang!”

After finding out that I had come from Malaysia, another of the guys told me that he didn’t like Malaysia. He said something about stealing culture, arts, music, etc. I told him that the way I saw it, most Indonesians (at least those of Java and Sumatra), Malays of Malaysia and Malays of Southern Thailand were all pretty much the same. They all speak a language based on Malay, wear baju kebaya and most are Muslim. The only difference between Malaysia, Indonesia and Southern Thailand  are the lines that were drawn by the different colonisers. I had also heard about these sort of anti-Malaysia sentiments earlier when talking to other people.

At about 11.30pm we all said our goodbyes and I followed one of them as he showed me the way to get to a cheap hostel another Australian had told me about while I was hanging out on the corner.

I found the hostel and after checking in I sat on the bed in the dirty room eating the tempe and pisang goreng I had left. Although I didn’t make it to the Taring Babi house I had managed to find some of the ‘effects’ of the Taring Babi house. And that left me feeling a little bit more optimistic about the youth of Jakarta.

Pasta Gigi

I went to a pharmacy to buy some toothpaste.

What are you looking for?
Ubat gigi.
Ubat gigi.
Ah, obat gigi.

Oh yeah, that’s right, they say obat not ubat here.

The worker took me to the chemist area and asked me a bunch of questions that one wouldn’t ask when talking about toothpaste.

Um… toothpaste, ada?
Oh! Pasta gigi!
Maaf, saya dari Malaysia, di Malaysia kami cakap ‘ubat gigi’.
Di Malaysia, namanya ubat gigi?

Masih tak boleh berbahasa Melayu.

All I have is a teh o ais in front of me to show for my ability to speak and understand Malay, even after seven months.

There was a new kakak here at Ammoo today as well as the kakak I call “Kak Az”, though never to her face. I don’t really say much to her at all, usually just a smile, maybe a nod, maybe a nod without the upwards motion so it ends up just being a looking down. Tonight she greets with a smile and a “Hey Boy!” from behind her table of vegetables and condiments and stuff for frying.

The new kakak came to the table I was seated at and asked, “Water?”. I smiled on the inside at her direct translation of the Malay. In Malay, I replied asking for a teh o ais. She then asked what I’d like to eat, this time in Malay. I said the words that I intended to mean “that thing with the rice and that plate of fried tempe and uncooked cabbage and long bean and cucumber with peanut sauce”.

Usually when I say those words the kakak asking would nod and after a few minutes I would get a plate of rice and another different plate with all those yummy things I asked for on it. But this time the new kakak didn’t nod and leave, she started saying things. I got confused which made it harder to understand what she was saying. The shattering of my food dreams made listening to a language I still have a shit grasp over really hard.

I think she told me they didn’t have it and that they only have sambal instead of the peanut sauce but maybe she also said there was no tempe and they only have tempe in the morning and the only stuff they have now is stuff like nasi goreng. It all added up to more confusion. They always have that tempe thing I want at night time, why not now? It didn’t make any sense. I said not to worry, I’d have the teh o ais only.

But I was still hungry. I guess I could’ve easily ordered something else, but I didn’t. Maybe I was hoping Kak Az would come by and save me and say, “Sebenarnya, we have that!” She didn’t though. And when I did finally think I might order something else – nasi goreng without all the animal bits – I was scared the new kakak wouldn’t understand and confuse me more.

The thing I like about that place is that I’ve been there so many times the workers know what I like and want that I could probably make any sounds with my mouth and then in a few minutes i would be given some food that I wanted. But not today. Having to deal with a new kakak ended with me realising how shit I still am at Malay. Seven months on and all I can get is a teh o ais.

I went to pay, at the cash register Kak Az was standing at:

Tak makan?
Tak nak makan?

Kenapa tak nak makan?
Tak tahu.
Kenyang lagi?

Bila balik?
Balik mana?
Tak tahu.

And that was about it. She said something else but I didn’t catch that either.

As I left the shop and walked past the kitchen set up out the front I walk past a plate of fried tempe.

Death! Mural

(Pudu Gaol, Jalan Imbi)

From the 2011 Amnesty International Annual Report 2011:

Courts sentenced at least 114 people to “hang by the neck until dead”, according to reports in the state-owned news agency Bernama and other Malaysian media. The authorities did not disclose the number of executions carried out.

More than half of known death sentences were for possession of illegal drugs above certain specified quantities, an offence which carried the mandatory death penalty. Defendants in such cases faced charges of drug trafficking. Under the drug laws, they were presumed guilty unless they could prove their innocence, which contravened international fair trial standards.

Citizens of other ASEAN nations accounted for one in six known death sentences. This included seven from Indonesia, three each from Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand, and two from the Philippines.

Polite Hardware

polite hardware

(Near Taman Kosas, Ampang)

Hehe. I’m not sure if the trading of hardware is done in a polite manner or if the hardware being traded is polite hardware. Maybe the Chinese will offer some explanation because the Malay just says “Hardware Shop”.

Bye Bye Gudang Noisy. Hello Rumah Api.

Allow me to reintroduce myself, the name’s Rumah Api, A to the P-I!

Here’s a short video made by Shock & Awe Media that re/introduces the main DIY/punk/anarchist/blahblahblah space in Kuala Lumpur (technically Selangor).

There’s going to be a fundraiser gig on June 25 at Rumah Api from 3pm featuring Pazahora from Singapore and nine other bands. It will cost RM12.

Also, the next day, on June 26 there will be another Really Really Free Market at Rumah Api starting from 8am. More Info.

Crossing the Street With James C. Scott

Last week I started to read James C. Scott’s Weapons of the Weak. Most of the book is based field research from his stay in a rice producing kampung in Kedah. It is concerned with examining class conflict between peasants and those who seek to extract labour, food, taxes, rents, and interests from them, however the emphasis is not on outright peasant rebellion but what he refers to as ‘everyday forms of peasant resistance’.

These everyday forms of resistance are those such as “foot-dragging, dissimulation, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage and so forth.” These forms of resistance (or ‘weapons of the weak’) require little coordination, represent a form of individual self-help, and typically avoid a direct confrontation with authority or elite norms. Scott warns that we should not overly romanticise such forms of resistance, however we should not dismiss them completely as they do have a potentially strong impact in limiting the aspirations of states, monarchs and other elite groups (using examples such as draft dodging in post-revolutionary France and evasion of conscription and unpaid labour in Southeast Asia prior to European colonisation).

At the end of the first chapter Scott uses the analogy of pedestrians and cars to illustrate one way in which those with power are not in total control, even if they continue to believe that they are:

A banal example, familiar to any motorist or pedestrian, will illustrate the kind of behaviour involved. The traffic light changes when a pedestrian is halfway across the intersection. A long as the pedestrian is not in imminent danger from oncoming traffic, a small dramatisation is likely to ensue. He lifts his knees a bit higher for a step or two, simulating haste, thereby implicitly recognising the motorist’s right-of-way. In fact, in nearly all cases, if my impression is correct, the actual progress of the pedestrian across the intersection is no faster than it would have been if he had simply proceeded at his original pace. What is conveyed is the impression of compliance without its substance. But the symbolic order, the right of the motorist to the road, is not directly challenged; indeed, it is confirmed by the appearance of haste. It is almost as if symbolic compliance is maximised precisely in order to minimise compliance at the level of actual behaviour.

The next day, I crossed the road and noticed myself feigning haste as I crossed in front of a car while the lights were still green. Now I can’t cross the street without thinking of my actions in terms of outward compliance and inward non-compliance within the symbolic balance of power between vehicles and pedestrians using the road. I like.