Thursday, May 21, 1998
  A Letter to Son No.1 - May 1998 In Jakarta

Part 1

May 4th

By the time you read this, I may well have an email address .... My father writes to say that he is "glad to hear that the rupiah has strengthened" ~ it's now 'only' £1 = Rp.14,200 rather than the Rp.18,500 of last year. He's also pleased that Charlton, having just missed automatic promotion with 88 points are in the playoffs.

My salary has been increased and with c.45 hours overtime this month I should should clear c.Rp.7,000,000 (£400 in 'real' money)

NB. I was supposed to part-support Son No.1 financially in his university studies. As the Asian economic crisis began to bite the previous year I transferred £500 to his account. £1 was then valued at c.Rp.5,000, having risen from c.Rp.3,500. I had promised to send more when the currency eventually stabilised. It has now, eight years later - it's c.Rp.16,000, middle rate.

From the little I hear about superstatesman Blair, I'm beginning to think that John Major is/was the better man. The current cabinet is probably much more capable ~ I was acquainted with several of them when they worked in the voluntary sector. Given the propensity for youthful radicalism to transmogrify into "I'm alright, Jack" - Jack Straw was president of the National Union of Students when I was struggling through teacher training college - as is being witnessed in Blair's Britain, it's clear that whoever you vote for, the government gets in.

I do hope that you will be of some 'service' somewhere for part of your working life. I'm not sure what that really means, but your mother and I have never worked for the love of money. Sufficient unto one's needs and tomorrow generally takes care of itself. Health before wealth. I still say that even though there's no pension plan in this house.

Three days later - Thursday May 7th

And not likely to be for a while either. Today's papers report a plunge in the rupiah due to social unrest: the students are revolting ~ aren't you all? The government raised fuel, electricity and transport costs by approx. 70% this week. Electricity was already expensive, but in removing massive subsidies on fuel the economy should readjust albeit only after short-term inflation has hit everybody, especially the poor.

At least anger is now directed at the élite regime rather than ethnic minorities*. We now 'look forward' to housewives joining the students who are finally braving the security forces and taking to the streets, off campus.

My main concern, as always is my personal well-being. I've had the trots since starting this letter but have just managed a bowl of banana porridge so things could be on the mend. The cure?? Cornflour (tepung jagung) which, after all, is used as a thickener in sauces and custard. I've been suffering, too, as I've been clocking up overtime ~ this week 16 hours, last week 18. Still, a major boost to my rupiah funds - whoopee!

It's now five days later (Tuesday May 12th) with a wine hangover courtesy of an Australian millionaire. His access to power brokers means that his conspiracy theories are even wierder than mine.

Like, will Soeharto have a strategic heart attack while he's in Cairo? He does look like the Sphinx, although he acts like a sphincter.

Argentina is thought to be his favoured bolthole.

There are strange tales circulating of a trust fund ($30 billion some say!) in Switzerland left from the Sukarno days. If true, this would be some small compensation for the massive ripoffs perpetrated by the Suharto clan. Trustees are supposed to include Amien Rais and Megawati Sukarnoputri, who'll be launching a People's Front on May 20th.

All this speculation leads to blindness. Watch this place.

*NB I wonder why I made that comment about ethnic minorities. I presume I meant the ethnic Chinese although I cannot recall any incidents that early in the 'revolution'.

Thursday May 14th 9am

By the time you get this, and I'll try to get to the post office this morning, you'll know whether Soeharto and his cronies have gone or whether they've shot a few more students. A mass people march is planned for the 20th and all the signs are that this revolution is now unstoppable.

Suharto has spoken from Cairo: "If I'm no longer trusted (to lead the country), I will become pandito (sage) and endeavour to get closer to God. I will spend my time to guide my children so they become good people ... I will do tut wuri handayani (guide from behind)."

Is this enough?

As I was writing the above, I was rung by the office ~ we're shut for today at least. The British Embassy's advice is to take it day by day. And the news (almost) live on TV is that north and west Jakarta is burning. (Are they attacking the Chinese? Fools if they are!)

NB. They were.

Slightly later: they've attacked a cash 'n' carry, Goro, owned by Tommy Suharto which is just down the road from my office.

NB. Goro was a monopoly established to take over from the state-owned Bulog charged with keeping sufficient stocks of basic foodstuffs, esp. rice. The land fraud in this particular case lead to Tommy being sent to prison for ordering the murder of the judge who had sentenced him to imprisonment.

Grapevine gossip. Flags are flying at half mast because of the dead students and also as a witness, I feel, to the imminent death of a regime. Phones are busy, people are busy filling up there mandis (bathroom water tanks) in case the electricity is cut off. There's little hard news on the TV or radio ~ I wish I was already hooked up to the internet.

I wish, too, I had the guts, or anonymity, to check out the local main/toll road along which Soeharto will have to travel from Halim airport, if he doesn't use a helicopter - he did - to the Presidential Palace. He's due back from Cairo and students and 'the people' are rumoured to be lining the route ready for a boo-hiss scenario - or worse. Whenever, I think they'll be storming the palace gates soon.

And everything seems calm in our street. Boys are playing badminton, very few cars, motorbikes or bajajs ~ it's a bit like a Sunday. Except they ring from Medan, (the hometown of 'Er Indoors) worried about us and could they have some more money to continue building the house we have up there. And the meals-on-wheels - fried rice, bakso (meatballs) and Walls Ice Cream - continue to ply their trade as they pass by.

And Our Kid's feeling poorly. (He was then just a year and a half.)

TV scenes of the army joining the people. But we can't get out of our area. Smoke rises ~ a white BMW on the toll road we hear and furniture stores in Jl. Otista the other side of the River Ciliwung, the BCA bank and a Fuji Image Plaza at the other end of our block. A siege mentality has set in. Thank god we have a good pembantu (maid) and a nanny for Our Kid ~ more mouths to feed but more help with the feeding.

Channel surfing to avoid repeats of the army velvet glove apologists and endless Chinese kung fu movies. And so to bed. Very late.

Friday May 15th

Soeharto has been misinterpreted. Of course he'll step down. Constitutionally. In 2003.

The People's Forum has announced itself - familiar names, but where is Emil Salim's? Oh, and one of the sons-in-law is there.

The airport road must have re-opened because there are no beds left at the airport hotels and no seats available on the flights out. I do have an exit visa, but no credit cards which means a dependence on cash, which is something we haven't stocked up on!

And just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean that they're not out to get you. So at the insistence of 'Er Indoors and my own who-the-fuck-knows feeling I've put the ladder in the backyard so there's an escape route into the backyard of the house behind. This is occupied by a Japanese guy with his Indonesian family. He has a ladder ready to escape into our backyard.

And our local handyman comes by offering to sell our broken TV for Rp.150,000 (today worth £7.50). We'll split it 50/50.

Today is a definite lull - the calm after ~ or before ~ the storm. Lightning flashes across the sky, distant rumbles of thunder compete with the evening mosques.

An announcement is due tonight from the DPR, the legislature under his thumb and reportedly meeting him today.

Fuel prices have been cut, but only by 20% having risen last week by 70%.
Some announcement !!

And very few petrol stations are open in Jakarta.

Saturday May 16th

Reports of hundreds dead, most trapped in the malls and supermarkets they were looting.
Americans, as usual the first, have initiated evacuation procedures.
Our Kid's in a good mood.
Just as the storm hit, we could see black smoke rising, not quite camouflaged by the clouds.

We made it to Bank Universal's HQ ATM, one of only two in service in town. A long but patient queue as the machine was refilled. The bank itself was shut. So we've got enough cash for the duration (?).

A fleet of buses was parked outside the packed Malaysian Embassy but I only noted three cars in the Russian Embassy compound down the road.

Some shops are open, a few, belying the TV news of the city returning to 'normal'.

We hear tell of officials at the airport charging Rp.5 million instead of the official Rp.1 million for the exit tax (fiskal). There are also reports of cars being sold to pay the extortionists. I've got cash so it's a pity I don't drive.

I've put a couple of beers in the fridge for tonight's FA Cup Final.

A ring round. Two colleagues are heading off to Bali ~ and later for 'home'?
Another is heading off, with his Indonesian wife, for the happy hour at Hard Rock Café
Most of us are settling in for a week's siege.

News from the UK is that Charlton, having beaten Ipswich twice, are in the play off final - at Wembley no less - next week. How many games is that - unbeaten? Live, or highlights, next week? Nice to have something else to anticipate.

NB. "The greatest ever game at Wembley" and I have yet to even see the highlights. Charlton 4 Sunderland 4 after extra time. Charlton eventually won 7 - 6 in a penalty shootout.

Half time: Arsenal 1 - Newcastle 0. Great tackle by Shearer on Adams. Ring a friend, he tunes into BBC World Service ~ message: get out now or don't go. I can't get out, not with rupiah. Ho hum. Time for some more substances from war zones.




3:30 pm
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