Sunday, October 28, 2007
  I'm being seduced ....
... and I'm not sure that I want to be.

Esia had a half page full colour ad in the Jakarta Post recently for their own brand handphone at (only) Rp.199,000 (c.$20). Apparently this phone has 32 polyphonic ringtones, a voice and conversation recorder (eh?), a speaker phone and "predictive text input in both English and bahasa Indonesia".

The little I know about handphones is a little too much in my opinion. After all, they are the most anti-social dumbing down contraption ever invented. The only real use I can think of is to be able to ring someone to say you're stuck in a traffic jam and will be late, but I'm not sure I even need it for that. The last time that happened, I borrowed the taxi driver's.

There was an occasion some dozen years ago when my glasses got broken at a football tournament in Ragunan. I borrowed someone's brick-like contraption to ask 'Er Indoors to bring my spare pair with her, not that I actually needed them. I was fairly useless at most sports with or without glasses, and I can't see too well with them either.

But still I'm tempted by this latest offer. The phone seemingly does without internet access, a camera, an MP3 player, games, fancy colours, wallpapers and TV remote control. In other words, it appears to be a phone, and 'appears' seems to be the operative word.

One look at the Esia website and it's obvious that it is a typical Indonesian mishmash of high density graphics ~ 32 images, with ten requiring a Flash player and/or Java. In other words, the site is perfect for the very few in Indonesia who have a broadband connection and have, and can afford to have, unlimited access. And it's of no earthly use as a conveyance of information.

The newspaper ad gives rise to questions apparently not answered on the site, but which I want to ask when (if?) I ever get to an 'esia service center'. For example, among those 32 ringtones, is there one that sounds like a telephone ringing? And can the phone really predict my text? I mean, if it can really do that, why has it got a keypad for inputting words? And if there is a conversation recorder, what is the voice recorder for? Karoake?

I can see the advantage of having a portable phone but I wish it were possible to have a phone with just those features that I need. One that has a voice mail for those occasions when I want to talk at some other time to someone ringing me, or I don't want to talk to the person ringing me, or I'm in need of a bit of quiet privacy when writing articles such as this one.

So is a speaker phone really necessary? Hearing one side of a conversation bellowed across a crowded street or bus is bad enough, but eavesdropping on both communicants? No thanks. Why should anyone think that I'm interested in broadcast banalities? Ask yourself, have you ever been remotely interested in an overheard phone conversation?

I have, just once.

"To look at him you wouldn't believe he's a Jehovah's Witness, would you?"
(Overheard in a Vietnamese restaurant in London on a blind date. Hi Erika.)

Something that is rarely considered in Jakarta, if ever measured, is noise pollution. From the hells cherubs zooming along sidewalks on their unmuffled 90cc souped up Suzukis, to mega speakers outside department stores, to TVs that are never switched off, Jakarta is one great cacophony. The only exceptions that I am tolerant of are the vendors of meals on wheels, the kaki lima, because they offer a very public service whilst obviating the need to leave the comfort zone of one's home.

But even there you might not be safe. According to a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report, "The Noise Environmental Burden on Disease", some 3,030 people in the UK died last year from heart attacks brought on by noise in their homes. The WHO compared households with abnormally high exposure to noise with those in quieter homes. It also studied people with problems such as coronary heart disease and tried to work out if high noise levels had been a factor in developing the condition.

Apparently, again according to WHO, the noise threshold for sleep disturbance is 42 decibels (dB) or above. As a comparison, the noise of light traffic is 50dB and the sound of a whisper is 35dB. Intrusive noises add to stress levels which, for those with cardio-vascular problems, is dangerous

I can vouch for that. A disturbed night's sleep certainly adds to general grouchiness and the following day can easily turn into a day of high stress. Stressed people are more likely to eat unhealthily, exercise less and smoke more, and these can increase the risk of developing heart disease in the first place.

That's my mind almost made up then. Buying a handphone may lead to an early grave. But there is another reason why I'm biased against joining the chattering classes.

Esia is a Bakrie enterprise. We haven't heard anything but excuses from their representatives in Porong, East Java, when it comes to compensating all those poor souls whose homes and businesses have been inundated by the volcanic mudflow. What chance have I got for a decent after-sales service in the event of a malfunction in a cheap Esia phone?

Methinks probably esia said than done.


8:30 am |
  The above post was submitted a month or two ago to the Jakarta Post for inclusion in their Sunday edition. Rather than allowing it to linger in the limbo of their in trays, I figured I may as well publish it myself. This is, of course, one of the benefits of blogging.

What worries me somewhat is that the Post editor doesn't have the courtesy to inform contributors if their invited articles are not going to be used. The Sunday Post is really nothing more than a glorified advertising broadsheet with blurbs about museums in Austria, beaches in Hawaii and vineyards in South Africa. One can expect little of substance on the front page because seemingly little newsworthy happens on a Saturday.

Pesta Blogger did take place yesterday and the Minister of Communications and Information, Muhammed Nuh, made what will hopefully be a long-lasting commitment. Apart from naming October 27th National Bloggers Day (but surely every day is a bloggers day?!?), he said, "Blogs can be educational, empowering and enlightening. That's why I can guarantee you curbing blogs will never happen in this country."

That's a bold statement and an issue I'll return to another day ~ perhaps as an article for the Jakarta Post. It is worth noting, however, that blogs have been curbed to varying degrees in fellow ASEAN countries Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand, plus near neighbours China, India and Pakistan. If they haven't been curbed here, except by the occasional severing of an undersea cable, perhaps it's because telecommunications are generally, and for the majority of the country, crap.

Anyway, the lead story is that apparently Indonesia 'needs younger leaders' as they are less likely to have been contaminated for too long by the New Order régime. Ah, but their teachers and parents will have been. Accompanying this story is a strange dichotomy of a photo: a junior high school choir is seen practicing, presumably, the national anthem, Indonesia Raya, whilst in the foreground, veteran musician Idris Sardi plays a violin that was used by the composer of the national anthem Wage Rudolf Supratman. Were the choir leading Pak Idris?

Sports stories feature on the back and back inside pages, many of which are about sports which you know nothing about and only gripping in their elusiveness.

For example, do you what sports today's headlines connect to? (Please leave your answers in the comments.)
a. Schnyder downs Chakvetadze in Linz
b. Matsuzaka set to make history
c. Flying Without Wings
d. Red Sox mania grips Boston
From Irish folk dancing to red-dyed goatees, Boston Red Sox fans are rallying behind their team's quest for ....

There are a number of columnists who I do regularly read; Simon Pitchforth of Metro Mad, Kadek Krisna Adidharma with Walking Home and Priya Tuti who's Keeping Mum. Of occasional interest to me is Ibu Suryatini's column about regional foods; even though I'm not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination, it is of interest to note how localised Indonesian culture can be.

I very rarely read what Jeremy Wagstaffe writes as I really don't have an interest in techie stuff, but today's column is about a handphone, the Nokia 1100, which, he says, is just that, a phone that makes and receives phone calls and text messages. What is more, it apparently costs $20, roughly the same as an esia.

Of course, there are features I don't want, such as Picture Messaging, Stopwatch and countdown timer, built-in alarm and reminders, full-size animated screensavers, and two built-in games. There are also at least 49 accessories available.

So, here's my dilemma: should I buy an esia or a Nokia 1100?

Your comments on their user-friendliness and the after-sales service, especially here in Indonesia, would be much appreciated. Otherwise I'll do what I usually do.



8:29 am |
Thursday, October 25, 2007
  Sour grapes?

Mark your place in history, it says in the Jakarta Post ad today, and be a part of this exciting, first ever, all-Indonesian bloggers' gathering. No matter what kind of blog you have, whether it's a serious blog or just a simple online diary, you surely don't want to miss this historic event.

Meet up with 500 other Indonesian and neighbouring country bloggers, exchange your thoughts and ideas and be part of the new voice of Indonesia. See you there.

I won't be there, nor will the majority of non-Indonesian passport holders who blog from our homes in Indonesia because we have been specifically excluded from participating in the Pesta Blogger 2007 by the initiator and main organiser of the event, Ong Hock Chuan. He blogs as Unspun and is 'technical advisor' to a PR company, Maverick, based here in Jakarta. He stands to benefit from the kudos of organising a 'successful' event as that will keep him in the good graces of his main sponsors, Microsoft and Nokia.

The theme is “Suara Baru Indonesia”, whereby we’d like to celebrate the birth of a new generation (bloggers) who have used a new media (blog) to express their thougths in a new paradigm (that is more informal, personal, and opinionated), and have started to form an influential role over the Net.

Great sentiments which are to be applauded. Since March 2004, I think I've done my bit with Jakartass. I've had a few scoops, I've blogged about the lack of customer service, about the hypocrisy and the lack of forethought of bureaucrats and business folk alike, consistently espoused environmental concerns and, perhaps above all, decried the consumerist society created here in Jakarta at the expense of the majority of its citizens.

So, yes, I'm opinionated and, like everyone else, I have every right to be. My writing has lead to a book contract ~ Culture Shock - Jakarta (in which I've actually given Unspun a plug) ~ and I've had several articles about Indonesian issues published in the print media. I've also been interviewed by the BBC, essentially as their blogging correspondent in Jakarta. They've also interviewed Nick of the Bali Blog after I put them in touch.

Nick is excluded from Pesta Blogger, as is Brandon of the truly excellent Java Jive (which started five years ago this month and predates Jakartass as well, I expect, all but Enda), Indcoup, The Reveller, Simon Pitchforth of Metro Mad and all other long-term residents here - because we are not Indonesian!

We all welcome and, I would suggest, have actively promoted and encouraged the massive growth in the number of Indonesians who are now writing online, partly, it must be admitted, because the software of Blogger, Wordpress, Facebook, Friendster etc. makes it easier ~ assuming we have reasonable access to the telecommunications networks.

Writing about oneself is the first step to writing about one's environment and then examining causes and consequences and thereby becoming a critical thinker. In a population which has been blinkered by authoritarian forces and formulaic schooling for far too long, this is truly remarkable and should certainly be celebrated, but surely not as an ego-fest/love in.

Thanks to Enda Nasution as the Chairman of Pesta Blogger 2007 and all steering committee members: Budi Putra, Fatih Syuhud, Lita Mariana, Nukman Luthfie, Priyadi, Ratna Ariyanti, Wicaksono, Wimar Witoelar, and Yosef Ardi who have shaped-up Pesta Blogger 2007.

Part of the agenda on Saturday is giving awards in various categories. These include: Bridge Blogging (apparently Indonesians writing in English), Celebrity Blog, Current Issues, OnLine Marketing and Sales, Pendatang Baru Terbaik (Best Newcomer), Personal Blog (Aren't they all? If not, why not?), Technology, Women's Issues.

Two of the five nominees in the Bridging Blog category are Enda and Unspun. Quel surprise! (To be fair, Enda probably deserves a special plaque or something as he was certainly one of the first bloggers in this country ~ except he was then based in Thailand.

The celebrity bloggers include Indra Lesmana. (I wonder if he's enjoying the John Surman CD I gave him a couple of years ago.)

Two of the five nominees in the current affairs category are Priyadi and Wimar W.

In the Newcomer category there is Juwono Sudarsono, currently Republic of Indonesia Minister of Defense since October 2004. But is he a blogger or someone who archives his thoughts and speeches online? Nought wrong with that, but he's hardly a newcomer having set up his site (or had his site set up) in April 2006. Since then there have been just 16 posts, barely one a month.

The Women's Issues category is predominantly devoted to blogs about cooking and fashion, domesticated housewives' choices in other words. For a blog about real women's issues (breast cancer anyone?) I recommend that of Pelf, who is doing an M.A. in Environmental Science and is also a contributor to The Giving Hands. Of course, she wouldn't be invited to participate in the Pesta Blogger as she doesn't hold an Indonesian passport.

She's Malaysian.

As is Unspun.

So, sour grapes? Nah, everything's peachy in Jakartass Towers, thank you very much.


2:30 pm |
Monday, October 22, 2007
  SBY and Kalla agree with Jakartass.

Yep, it says that right here in today's Jakarta Post, or words to that effect.

Govt. not yet ready to go nuclear: VP
JAKARTA: Vice President Jusuf Kalla has said the government has no plans to start work on the controversial nuclear power plant in Mount Muria in Jepara, Central Java.
---"It is only an idea to have a nuclear plant in the future. President Susilo Bmbang Yudhoyono has not issued a permit on the project," Kalla said in a teleconference to celebrate the Golkar Party's 43rd anniversary on Saturday.
---He made the comment after Bambang Sudono, chairman of Golkar's Central Java provincial chapter, urged the government to drop the plan.
---"The government will seek first approval from the House of Representatives before constructing the power plant, Kalla, who is also the vice president, said.
---Kalla said that the government would still prefer to develop alternative forms of energy to meet future local demand.

So that's alright then.

Isn't it?

If you are intent on reading the 10,000 words or so that I've put together on Indonesia's hybrid seed industry, please do but read them in order. Start with the post on October 16th, then work your way upwards. I intend to tidy the thread up and either host it elsewhere, or put it into a compact .pdf file for downloading.

Alternatively, read them in order here.

Incidentally, the share price of PT Bisi International is showing a drop of 3% today, the first full day of trading here since Idul Fitri.

Was it something I said wrote?


4:30 pm |
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
  "Rice is not a water plant."

Q. So why are rice fields, paddies in English, flooded?
A. To keep down weeds.

A study published by WWF two weeks ago, with a focus on India - a country which faces a major water crisis, yet has the world’s largest rice cultivated area - found that the system of rice intensification (SRI) method has helped increase yields by over 30% - four to five tonnes per hectare instead of three tonnes per hectare, while using 40% less water than conventional methods.

The system is based on eight principles which are different to conventional rice cultivation. They include developing nutrient-rich and un-flooded nurseries instead of flooded ones; ensuring wider spacing between rice seedlings; preferring composts or manure to synthetic fertilizers; and managing water carefully to avoid that the plants’ roots are not saturated.

The method was initially developed in the 1980s in Madagascar and has been demonstrated to be effective in 28 countries.

The report suggests that major rice-producing countries - such as India, China and Indonesia - convert at least 25% of their current rice cultivation to the new system by 2025. This would not only massively reduce the use of water but also help ensure food security. In addition, this will reduce significant amount of methane emissions. SRI fields do not emit methane as is the case with the more conventional system of growing rice.

Nigh on two years ago I focussed on Bayer CropScience who were full of themselves for helping develop "a more sustainable and holistic agricultural production system" involving secondary crops which would keep pests at bay(er).

This year, the webpage I quoted is much reduced and Bayer now dedicate all efforts to helps people living in a healthier and more comfort environment with wide range of professional and consumer products such as pesticides which are always approved by WHO and FAO.

So that's all right then. Their "innovative agricultural technologies and solutions" include the insecticides spiromesifen, ethiprole, and clothianidin, the fungicides fluoxastrobin and prothioconazole and the sulfonylurea herbicide mesosulfuron, and genetically modified crops.

Nowhere on their website is the acknowledgement that there exist more environmentally appropriate agricultural technologies, such as SRI, which are, unfortunately for the Bayer shareholders, better both in financial and health terms for crop growers and consumers.

Consumer acceptability is a crucial factor that needs to be respected, especially with regard to biotechnology crops. Our biggest challenge lies in not only developing ever better technologies, but also in addressing the societal acceptance of our products. We will need the cooperation of governments and other partners and stakeholders to shift towards science and risk based regulations and decision making that foster more sustainable technologies.

At least, they recognise that they're not very popular.

Unfortunately, the sustainable technologies they tout aren't. Biotechnology, including genetically modified seeds, is as 'addictive' as, say, heroin, in the sense that you always need more and it can take years to recover good health. Companies like Bayer market genetically modified seeds that are dependent on pesticides, herbicides and, I'm tempted to say, genocides. These hybrid seeds, cannot be harvested and saved for the next harvest thus forcing farmers to be dependent on the suppliers.

Rice has been the foundation of cultures and civilizations in many parts of Asia. Rice was first grown in the river deltas of East and South Asia thousands of years ago and it was the productivity of wetland rice that gave birth to the first civilisations in India, China and along the Mekong Delta. Rice has evolved together with these communities and today, come in a myriad of colours that range from white to brown to red to black; textures that may be grainy or sticky, and flavours.

Variety and diversity are the keys to survival among all living organisms. With ever-changing environmental conditions, one can no longer say that only the strongest and fittest will survive because they cannot be predetermined, so new strains of rice are always welcome. Obviously, being dependent on just the one will inevitably lead to disaster.

According to the executive director of Biotani Indonesia Foundation, Riza Tjahjadi, Bayer has been growing genetically modified rice in East Java and elsewhere since 2003. This is disturbing in that they have now withdrawn from the UK and much of the EU following reports of environmental damage, including the growth of "super weeds" and the eradication of wildlife.

The gene flow from a cultivation could not be managed satisfactory, so to ensure existence of all different agricultural practices in EU, including organic farming. In the same way the gene flow to wild relatives would be impossible to prevent.

So how come the Indonesian government continues to allow foreign companies to take over agribusiness? According to today's Jakarta Post, there is a plan to use "181,121 hectares of prime rice fields, mainly in East Java," for planting hybrid (GM) rice "to meet the local demand for rice".

Bayer is ready.

In Indonesia, BioScience offers Arize hybrid rice seed and Nunhems vegetables seed. Nunhems seed is market leader in Europe and has been operated in Indonesia since 2003. Arize hybrid rice seed started to established on 2004, and now has two registered hybrid rice named Hibrindo R-1 and Hibrindo R-2. On 2006, BioScience are ready to introduce Hibrindo R-1 in main rice area like East Java and West Java.

Bayer CropScience has many field staffs which are spread in many province like East Java, Central Java, West Java, Lampung, South Sumatera, Bengkulu, Jambi, West Sumatera, Riau, South Kalimantan, North Sumatera, North Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi and South Sulawesi. These field staffs promote all Bayer CS product in the daily activities.

According to Riza, seed will be imported from the Philippines, China and India. All these countries have been affected by the introduction of GM seed. In India, there has been an 'epidemic' of suicides among farmers who have found themselves in serious debt. Could the same be in store for Indonesian farmers?

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has come out in favour of organic agriculture, something that Riza, through Biotani, has been promoting for several years. With the acceptance of SRI, is there any justification for Bayer's antics here?

BTW. Today, October 16th, is World Food Day. Remember, you are what you eat.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)

This post lead me to examine in some depth the hybrid seed industry here in Indonesia. I originally posted another five articles in this thread but I have now transferred them to Green Indonesia, for reasons of ........ .
Monday, October 15, 2007
  Get A Life

On an overcrowded and overheated Earth, humanity squabbles over scarce and rapidly diminishing resources, goaded by politicians in thrall to businessfolk who take orders from the gods created by their own delusions.

Axis of Greed

That is surely the only way sane folk can interpret deforestation, the rapid depletion of non-renewable minerals and energy resources, impoverished tenant farmers growing cash crops for export rather than food for their families, the manufacture and worldwide distribution of non-essential knick-knacks and the obsession with celebrities dressed in tawdry fashions.

This post is intended as the Jakartass contribution to the annual global village initiative, Blog Action Day (which is today). I have added a year round links resource to my sidebar for all those Indonesians and friends of Indonesia wishing to protect, preserve and enhance Planet Earth for future generations of all species.

Any omissions are a result of poor telecommunications rather than deliberate choices. Please email me with details of organisations you feel should be included, preferably those with an internet presence.

"Al Gore has proven very eloquently that you don't have to be president to change the world."

Indonesia: Environmental Issues and Outlook 2007

Indonesia possesses a remarkable and valuable natural environment. The country is home to the world's largest reef system and one of the world's largest rain forests, both of which are home to thousands of unique species. Moreover, Indonesia's huge forests function as one of the world's main "carbon sinks" (natural means of sequestering world carbon emissions). The preservation of such sinks is an important aspect of avoiding climate change.

Two decades of rapid economic development, significant population expansion, and regulatory neglect have placed much of Indonesia's environment in jeopardy. As the country recovers from the economic and political turmoil of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Indonesian government faces the challenge of enacting and enforcing stricter environmental legislation

While the Indonesian government already has had some environmental improvements, such as the elimination of leaded gasoline in Jakarta, considerable scope for improvement remains. In particular, Indonesia will have to address the infrastructure-related problems of deforestation, renewable energy, and inadequate sewerage.

I would add many other priorities, such as the enfranchising of communities by respecting local cultures and customs, and by seeking local input in development plans. There is an urgent need for national education programmes about waste disposal, energy conservation, sustainable development and ...... the list is nigh on endless.

Poverty eradication is undoubtedly a key, but only insofar as the distribution of wealth does not breed a new greedy class. Corruption must be eradicated at all levels, but this can only be achieved through a radical change in mindset from all sector of society, including theologians who must re-examine the role of their religions.

Could Abidah Setyowati have an answer?

His project aims to conserve critically endangered, endemic species and their rainforest habitats in Sumatra through an innovative approach to community outreach that incorporates the importance of religious beliefs towards nature conservation. Local religious and traditional leaders in Sumatra have a far-reaching influence on the daily lives of a large number of people. Training and support will therefore be provided to these leaders by conservationists to use the Islamic principles on biodiversity conservation to promote sustainable natural resources management in West Sumatra.

Make every day an Earth day.

(Bloggers in Indonesia joining in the Blog Action Day can be found here and here.)
Friday, October 12, 2007
  A Moment, Please

Around 6pm, jam magrib, is my favourite time at Jakartass Towers. As the sun dips over the house yonder and the sky turns a golden-pink, the street goes quiet. This is the time when folk believe that ghosts and spirits are abroad, so the hells cherubs park their suzukis and children are taken into the inner sanctums of neighbourhood dwellings. The meals on wheels vendors wait and do not click, bang, rattle or roll their wares.

This twilight zone generally lasts about a quarter of an hour, time enough for me to go and sit on my comfortable front terrace with a cold Bintang. It's my time for musing, to gently cogitate and, if I'm lucky, to scrawl a passage like this.

Woe betide strangers in our midst who sit in air-conditioned splendour revving their engines, or those neighbours opening and slamming car doors whilst loudly bidding their guests goodbye. Now is not the time for me to lose my cool with you.

You have my permission to get underway when the neighbourhood mosques start to broadcast their messages heavenwards. As one fades, another rises in volume. I feel I'm lucky to live at sufficient distance to take some pleasure from their ambient musings.

I feel particularly lucky at this time of the calendar as Ramadan comes to an end. The quiet evenings are twice as long as folk break their fasts indoors, time perhaps for a second cold Bintang. And then the mosques vie in the vigour of their recitations. Rejoice, they seem to say, you have full stomachs. They are accompanied by the farts, crackles and pops of illicit fireworks sent aloft over the kampung.

We have another week of relative peace. Offices and schools are shut so pollution is much less and we can breathe a little easier in a cleansed Jakarta. Families and friends gather together and photographs are taken. Others are published in the national press of empty highways.

It's my favourite time of the year.

Selamat Hari Raya Idul Fitri.


9:00 pm |
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
  Blog Action Day

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Blog Action Day on October 15th is about bloggers around the world coming together around a common theme. This year, the theme is the environment.

The best way to participate is to post on your blog something that relates to the environment. Your post can be about anything to do with the environment. So you could write a post which is off topic for your blog OR relate the environment back to your topic in some way.

For example, if you had a blog about programming and technology, you could write about applications used for the environment, how to make your office more sustainable, how to stop wasting paper, why technology will save the environment, or just write about an environmental issue which has nothing to do with programming!

As another example, if you wrote about restaurants, you could write about kitchen practices that make for a more environmentally friendly workplace, food packaging, produce made from sustainable farming or any of a multitude of topics.

What works best is to keep writing as you normally would. Your audience reads your blog for a reason, you don't need to suddenly change your voice, style or emphasis. Simply find an angle on your regular postings which relates to the environment.

Our aim is to get people thinking, discussing, questioning and talking about the environment, from every angle, niche, viewpoint and personality.

Don't forget to register your blog.

Blog Action Day is and will ever be, simply a vehicle for bloggers to work together to create a better world.
If you do register, please email me, preferably before Hari Raya Idul Fitri this weekend, and I'll add your site to the host of 'green links' I intend to post.

Caveat: This has absolutely no connection with the Pesta Blogger which is being organised by a bunch of non-co-operative self-promoters.


8:00 am |
Monday, October 08, 2007

Good idea, methinks, except that it's organised by Taman Wisata Mekarsari (Mekarsari Tourist Park) whose website is one of those very flashy efforts which uses up loads of electricity and kilobytes and whose physical site you can only get to by leaving a bloody great carbon footprint on your way.

What worries me a little more, however, is a familiar gripe and, given that the following advert in today's Jakarta Post is supported by them, one that is surely avoidable - bad English. I think that the project is basically worthwhile, but it suffers from the lack of a haporth of tar.

Read on ..........


Not only animals are rare, plants in Indonesia such as the Bisbul (a red fruit from Bogor), Gandaria (plum mango), Kepel (link courtesy of Mr. Snag), and other numerous plants are now rarely seen. Even if we don't protect, it's not impossible if these plants might extinct.

(If the problem is just about understandable, what about the solution?)

That is why we ask your institution to join our Corporate Social Responsibility named Indonesia Eco-schooling which is the planter of the rare Indonesian plants by using the empty lands at schools. Indonesia Eco-schooling is an 'ex-situ' conservation program. The pupils of schools will participate to take care and protect these rare plants. No plants, no life ... and whoever plants a tree plants a hope.

If the schools proposed are in urban areas, then they are unlikely to have "empty lands", and even if they do, do they have enough space for trees? Surely there are more immediate needs, such as sports facilities, extra classrooms or quiet study spaces? Or a car park?

Aren't there more appropriate spaces, such as front yards? I'd be more than happy to give space to a gandaria or two and maybe a kepel, a tree so rare that I can find no translation of it in my online dictionary, nor its pseudonym burahol.

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4:30 pm |
Sunday, October 07, 2007
  A New Broom?

Sooty and Sweep

Today is the last day of Governor Sooty's régime and his erstwhile deputy, Fauzi Bowo, who likes to be known as Mr. Moustache for some reason, takes over. This past week, the Jakarta Post has been trumpeting Fauzi's supposedly stupendous feat* by asking readers to SMS or email their expectations of him. I submitted this article to the Jakarta Post a few weeks ago, but it wasn't published, even though it's topical, to the obvious detriment of my bank account.

But hey, if you're the only readers of it and you like it, then email me for details of my non-existent PayPal account.
I had a conversation a week or two ago about our governor-to-be and I had great difficulty in not calling him Fauzi Bodoh (stupid) or Fauzi Bozo (a clown or, in my Sarf Lunnon argot, a prat). I was near Harmoni, a busy thoroughfare which hosts a Busway interchange above the stinking sewer that is the River Ciliwung in these parts.

We agreed that if Fuzzy Bear had ever ridden the Busway, he would not have been through the experience of queue jumping, or of almost tumbling down the gap between the shelter and the bus. Nor would he have experienced strap hanging as his fellow passengers are jolted along the special bus lanes. These are now pitted, potholed and rutted on most routes thanks to sloppy workmanship or, more likely, the criminal diversion of construction funds into the pockets of bureaucrats and contractors.

Nope, he would have enjoyed a seat alongside his cohorts. The rest of the citizenry would have been shunted to one side and onto another bus as his entourage set the example of how to get ahead in the queue. No doubt too, his ride would have had outriders, possibly a formation of those Harley Davidson motorbikes he's so fond of. (They're presumably a salary perk.)

It's quite probable too that he would not have had to navigate his way along the sidewalks in order to get into one of those pre-fabricated bus shelters. He definitely won't have entered the bus at Atma Jaya University in Jalan Sudirman, which has recently been given an award as "the best street in Indonesia". That's because the footpath is virtually non-existent. The bridge giving access to the bus shelter in the middle of the street takes up the entire width of the pavement so that pedestrians have no choice but to walk in front of those buses which occupy the 'proper' road, being denied the special bus lane.

The bridge itself could comfortably accommodate those going up and those coming down, if there were no hawkers selling handphone accessories and outdated magazines. They, of course, do not occupy those places through which the ground below can be seen. Nor do they squat on those sections where the rivets have gone and it would be so easy to trip up.

Recently, Harvard graduate Zenin Adrian wrote a critique in the Post of the design of the shelters. He ought to know what he's talking about because, with his wife, he runs an architecture design office based in Jakarta, which "operates on green design platform with specialization on complex geometry and digital fabrication" - whatever that is.

His main focus appeared to be that these shelters do not achieve 'locality', passengers have a hard time distinguishing one stop from another. That could be, of course, because bus stops are generally designed with functionality in mind. And if passengers are confused, then they can listen out for the announcements which precede each shuddering stop.

In English one can faintly hear, "Next stop, Tosari (or wherever). Please change your belongings and step carefully when exciting." That I'd never heard of Tosari until the arrival of the Busway is beside the point. That the Tosari busway stop on Jalan Sudirman is at least 500 metres from the Sudirman train station is more relevant.

Functionality has to be about meeting public needs. I'd like to say expectations, but a public used to a self-serving administration can expect very little. The public needs are secondary to those of the public servants. After all, these functionaries have made their fortunes from mark ups in the budgets rather than from the tax revenue.

Statistics published recently in the Post show that the original aim of the Busway project, to reduce the number of cars on the city’s streets, has yet to be achieved. This is symptomatic of the blinkered approach practiced by city planners since the days of horse-drawn carriages.

Only 7% of the passengers surveyed actually owned cars. And fewer still would have left their cars at home because there are few feeder routes from the outer areas. Folk have to struggle to even get to the Busway ‘corridors’. The rest of the passengers have merely changed their preferred mode of public transport because parallel services have been rerouted.

It’s so easy to complain, and complain I do. I’m not someone who’s going to allow myself to be swept aside on the sidewalk as a phalanx of Hell’s Cherubs drives past because their bit of roadway is typically macet. I am quite happy to remonstrate and sweep them back in the road where they belong.

There’s a simple answer to the Busway woes too, one that’s observable in many cities. Mr. Moustache doesn’t have to go as far as Bogotá in Colombia, which is where Governor Sooty borrowed the Busway idea from. Nope, all he has to do is open his eyes on one of his regular shopping trips to Singapore.

Firstly he needs to create a Public Transport Authority, one which not only sets the ground rules but also ensures that they are followed by all public transport operators. This PTA must set minimum salaries for drivers and conductors; if bus crews have a guaranteed salary, then no bus needs to wait for every seat to be filled before departing, creating traffic jams in the process.

The PTA should also create exclusive bus lanes for all buses at the side of the road rather than in the middle. Make each bus stop an indentation, allowing the limited stop service, the Busway buses, to pass. Bus shelters must be accessible and allow each passenger to wait in comfort, even if this means that itinerant hawkers are banned and that no motorcyclist can drive by.

If the Busway were part of such a co-ordinated public transport policy, I would be even more of a fan. And you too?
Whilst on a buy-a-lot-of-pirated-DVDs expedition yesterday with Our Kid we observed a large number of repairs to the various sidewalks, including those in front of Atma Jaya University. Whether this will make them passable with eyes aloft is a matter of conjecture (and serious doubt on my part). Sections of the busway lanes were also being relaid.

* The election of Governor Fauzi Bowo has been applauded as a demonstration of democracy because another pair stood against him and his minion, whose name most of us have forgotten already. Firstly, he isn't ex-army. Secondly, he has risen through the ranks of City Hall. As this merely proves that his nose is browner than most, electors should be asking about the source of his declared $4.4 million wealth, which isn't bad for a career bureaucrat.

But then, Governor Sooty has done so well for himself that even before he's passed the keys of his office to his recent underling, he's declared himself ready to challenge for the nation's presidency.

Citizens, be scared, very scared.

Mind you, the joy of all this is that, as Vice-President Kalla (another candidate-to-be for the Presidency) has pointed out, all bets are off. The public is now free to examine Sooty's probity and records of self-perceived achievements. (Fencing off Monas anyone?)

There are two years before the next Presidential election, time enough for an honest, trusted candidate to present herself. (Obviously someone other than Ibu Mega Shopper.)


8:30 am |
Thursday, October 04, 2007
  Lonely No Longer

For those of us growing up in post-war Britain, there are a number of distinct eras. There was food rationing which meant that few ate meat, and I remain a vegetarian to this day. The end of rationing was seemingly celebrated with the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. My parents bought their first television for this event, we were given the day off school and neighbours came to watch.

But we still ate spam and powdered egg, often with mashed potato made from granules and, a special treat, powdered milk. And TV viewing was also rationed in our house. (Come to think of it, I still ration my viewing.)

In July 1957, just as I was starting an extremely miserable seven year stint at a semi-independent grammar school, the Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, informed we Brits that we'd "never had it so good". For my parents' generation, maybe, because they'd "fought the war for the likes of us". Incidentally, their parents thought they had fought "the war to end all wars". They were wrong.

I'd always felt an urge to challenge certain complacent acceptances but as a teenager I lacked the ability, or courage, to argue with war heroes. Mass entertainment on the Radio and TV had hitherto been of the "are you sitting comfortably?" variety, or oddly surrealist. But then came the Sixties and in 1962 Ned Sherrin, who has died this week, created TW3 - That Was The Week That Was - in which sex, politics, royalty and religion were all targeted.

He wanted an unstructured, uncontrolled programme, almost deliberately offensive, "necessarily an irritant to some", as Sherrin wrote in his original memo to BBC bosses, "and if we are going to make people scratch, the object of the programme would be to give them something worth scratching".

This mindset ushered in the era of Harold Wilson and the Sixties and a time of social revolution, including student demonstrations which unfortunately (?) passed me by. However, the Swinging Sixties, of Michael Caine, David Bailey, Twiggy and Mary Quant, the Beatles and loads of 'working class heroes' who didn't talk proper like, were more interesting to me. It was another era of hedonism marked by a fashion sense which was supposedly individual but was rather uniform. The 'chicks' had short permed hair and the guys wore suits.

Then the quaint mantra of 'tune in, turn on and drop out' became more fun, largely through the use of pleasantly hallucinogenic drugs enhanced by 'mind-blowing' visual and musical forms. Everyone who could afford it, and many who couldn't, grew their hair long and opted out of the rat race of career, pension, and a planned future. Life was too exciting, with opportunities galore, if only one knew where to look. Often that was within.

I became a teacher because I'd hated school so much as a student, so my life up until then had been somewhat institutionalised - school, teacher training college, school. During my lengthy breaks from the classroom, I'd thoroughly enjoyed exploring Ireland where I'd experienced much hospitality and good humoured hostility as the most recent 'Troubles' erupted.

Aranmore Island 1968

But in 1970, I decided it was time for me to explore the much wider world.

they tried to persuade me not to cross
the curious hills, finally shrugging
called me foolish, stubborn.
that's how it is, I said, I'm going
where my pig is headed
(fr. my travel diary March 1971)

I spent a few months tidying up my affairs, withdrawing my contributions to a pension fund and doing some minimal research. There were few travel guides in those days, not for those of us wanting to follow the dope trails through Turkey, Iran into Nepal and Afghanistan, or those wanting to work on an Israeli kibbutz.

What I did find were a few duplicated sheets of travel hints handed out at BIT Information Services in Ladbroke Grove, West London. They weren't much use to me in the end as I went wherever, including a wonderful Celtic music festival in Malataverne in France. I finally ended up in Ibiza, setting for the film More, with music by Pink Floyd. It was then the hideout of Clifford Irving whilst researching his hoax 'autobiography' of Howard Hughes and bedding Nina van Pallandt, once part of twee duo and parents' favourite, Nina and Frederik. Also there at that time was Howard Marks, purveyor of very pure hallucinogenics and host of one of the most memorable parties I've ever been to.

However, those few duplicated sheets of travel notes were of value to some folk, in particular Tony and Maureen Wheeler, travelling overland to Australia. They have since managed to parlay them into a massive enterprise. In 1972, they set up Lonely Planet which now publishes around 500 titles including specialist activity guides and phrase books, has a website which receives 4.3 million visitors a month, a travel video site, lonelyplanet.tv, which enables travellers to upload their own videos and also produces and develops factual programming for international broadcasters through its Lonely Planet Television operations.

(Just over 20 years ago I backpacked around the world and found their book on India useful. Thereafter I made a point of getting to places they, or their crew, hadn't been to. It seemed to be much more interesting that way.)

And now BBC Worldwide has bought them up aiming to build on the group's franchise around the world with the extension of the travel guides across multimedia platforms.

It's a lonely planet no longer. Explorers can have their hands held every inch of every mile.

But me? I've still got my pig.


1:30 pm |
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
  English and Exotic Food for Thought

The English food
I refer to is for nostalgic expats who now have different diets.

There has been a tin of Colman's mustard in my larder for as long as I can remember. I can't honestly recall the last time I used it. I'm sure it is probably still all right, but the label on the tin is starting to spot in places, like a second-hand book jacket.

The above is true, even though they aren't my words.

The Marmite jar is as much a national emblem as the black London taxi and the Routemaster bus. It is a national emblem, at least for those who have the taste for it.

Why liking or not liking a staggeringly salty, yeast-derived spread only edible in minute quantities should be a sign of one's patriotism is debatable. I am not sure the test even works, as I love the stuff beyond words yet I am hardly what you might call an Anglophile.

The above is true, even though they aren't my words. I've got a supply in, but I've also got three supposedly empty jars for when I need a sniff or a taste.

Curious, too, that even when the pot is empty, it is never truly empty. If you pick it up and poke around long enough with the end of the knife, you will always, always find just enough for another round of toast. Just.

Other folk have other national emblems. I can't be sure what the Indonesian one is, though, as there are so many regional variations, even extremely local ones from a particular kampung, that I find it hard to define Indonesian cuisine. Would it be the ubiquitous ABC or Indofood brands of instant noodles? Or Padang food?

In a week or so Jakarta will seem virtually empty as much of the population goes (does? performs?) mudik, the journey back to the home town or village to celebrate Idul Fitri, the end of the Muslim fasting month. This is a week or so of bliss, with very few traffic jams to contend with. And as the holiday ends and folk straggle back they bring oleh-oleh, snack foods as gifts for family, friends and colleagues.

Most of the stuff that arrives in Jakartass Towers is from Medan ecause, a) 'Er Indoors comes from there and b) because everything from Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, is, she says, the best in Indonesia. I would agree about a couple of things.

Receiving a bag or three of freshly ground Sidikalang coffee is a special treat because it isn't packed commercially, but is fresh from a farmers' co-operative up in the hills towards Lake Toba. It comes in plain plastic bags tied off at the top. The brew, a couple of spoonfuls in a mug with recently boiled water added, stirred briskly and then drunk once the grounds have settled may not be in the style of purists with their percolators and filters. But, hey, it's the way it's drunk by the growers and it's the way we like it.

Then there's the strangely named bika Ambon - strange because Ambon is the capital town of a different province a thousand miles away!

Another welcome oleh-oleh is marquisa (passion fruit) juice which is also a favorite offerings as they are used as drinks offered to guests when they visit in the season month. Several brands popular and produced in Medan are Pohon Pinang and Sarang Tawon. However, you may choose other brands to offer, there are also home-made marquisa but the packaging may not be as good to offer as gifts.

Sumatra does offer an amazing range of views, foods and cultures and is well worth a visit. Read the account of a lengthy trip undertaken by Indonesian food lover Sri Owen a few years back for a flavour of West and North Sumatra . However, for those wishing to spare themselves the hassle of actually going to Medan, there is a network of bika Ambon shops in Jakarta.

If I were back in Blighty, I could expect different foods as presents, some more welcome than others. For example, there used to be Psschit, a juice drink from France, Semtex, a popular fizzy drink from the Czech Republic, a salty liquorice treat found in Denmark called Spunk and sweets from Egypt called Spurt - banana flavoured chewing gum with some gooey syrup in the middle that 'spurts' out when you penetrate the outer ring of gum.

I think I'll stick to Marmite.


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