The Stench Of JakartaIt is too apparent that notwithstanding many persons and considerable sums of money are employed for cleansing the streets yet they grow daily more offensive with dust and unwholesome stenches in summer and in wet weather with dirt .... washed into the common
[drains] and passages and thence into the
[rivers].- John Lanyan writing in 1654, as quoted in Restoration London by Liza Picard (pub. Phoenix 1997)
Ultra Tupai of the Jakarta Urban Blog
has alerted me to a Japanese-language website
which pinpoints and describes smells from all over the world, mapping them using Google Maps.The site's nearly 200 registered users - who self-generate the scent dispatches - have produced smell-o-grams from all over the globe, reporting on spots that smell of "steam coming out of a rice cooker," "used socks in the summer," "toasty odor of cow dung" and "cats with halitosis."
UT asks, "But what about our fragrant chunk of the world?"
To be honest, I am immune. If I want to go somewhere, I don't follow my nose because there is no part of the city which attracts me. I can recall no enticing come hither corner of roasting coffee, but I can think of a few nauseous cosmetic counters in department stores. There are occasional taxis which overpower passengers with sweet and sickly "air fresheners", all the better to disguise the pungency of passing buses belching out black exhaust. Also, as my good friend Del recalls
, one of the first things you notice
(is) the smell of burning polystyrene boxes and plastic bags
Whenever I leave the city to head for the hills or pastures new, I am fully alive to the freshness of my surroundings, the cleansing of my lungs. I am also aware of how I switch off my olfactory senses when I return.
Given that I'm not sure about fragrancy, I'll merely comment on the flagrant stench of corruption.
The recent publication
by Transparency International of their perception of Indonesia's corruption not surprisingly highlights the police. There are also the usual suspects
- the judiciary, the Customs and Excise Office, the Immigration department and sundry bureaucrats, legislators and elected governors. What has surprised many however is that high up in the rankings of low behaviour are those guardians of Muslim behaviour, the National Ulema Council (MUI).
Transparency International reported that 10 percent of their 177 transactions between September and December last year were settled using bribery.
The MUI are upset by this and are threatening to sue
TI-Indonesia. Anti-corruption activist Teten Masduki said that their threat to sue would be counterproductive.“Transparency’s announcement is an index of people’s perception about these institutions, including the council. People think that way because they experience extortion when dealing with these organizations, or hear or know about it from media,” he told the Jakarta Post (
which is my main news source here).“It’s a reflection of people’s feelings and is supposed to be used as feedback to be a better organization. So, rather than laying the blame on someone else for the mistakes, they’d better show that they are willing to change.”
And change they have.
At a special meeting in Padang Panjang, West Sumatra, on Sunday the MUI concluded
that smoking was haram
for Muslim pregnant women and children, and also haram
for Muslim men to smoke in public places.
They also decided that practicing yoga is ok if you don't chant "om", which means 'uncle', and that it's unMuslim to not vote as long as elected leaders meet certain criteria. As these are "being Muslim, honest, brilliant and ready to fight for the people" I think it's fair to predict an unprecedented low voter turnout at polls this year.
Still, at least one thing is clear: if all good Muslims agree to stop smoking in public, then Jakarta's air will be less of a stench.