Monday, March 30, 2009
  Election Fever

That larger parties rent planes to get them around this vast archipelago makes sense, so why comment on it?

In the past few weeks there have been a number of non-fatal airplane mishaps. Sriwijaya Air has had a few recently. Last April, one of their Boeing 737s overran a runway and rolled into the adjacent field, injuring 13 passengers. Then, a week or so ago, Sriwijaya was forced to cancel a flight after a bird was sucked into one of its engines just before take off at Radin Inten Airport in Bandar Lampung, South Sumatra. And last Monday, engine failure caused a Sriwijaya Air plane to make an emergency landing at Batam's Hang Nadim.

Golkar, the former Suharto political group/political party, is lead by Jusuf Kalla, the Vice President. The party has chartered a Boeing 737-300 plane from Sriwijaya Air.

“Actually we rent our aircraft to NAC (Nusantara Air Charter), but the aircraft is likely to be used by Golkar,” Sriwijaya’s public relations manager Ruth Hanna Simatupang said.

And who owns NAC? Why, none other than Solihin Kalla, son of Jusuf.

Prabowo Subianto, the former head of the country's Kopassus special forces, and once Suharto's son-in-law, is notorious for human rights abuses.

Although he has denied accusations that he organised terror squads in East Timor during Indonesia's bloody 24-year occupation and that he orchestrated riots and mass rapes of ethnic Chinese women in Jakarta prior to Suharto's fall, he has not shied away from responsibility for the kidnappings of student activists in the last days of his then father-in-law, telling foreign journalists last month his "conscience is clear" over the abductions.

There's no way he can deny it - the army command kicked him out and he went off to build up his fortune in the Lebanon. Much of his wealth is being spent on a media campaign which, if his party gains a sufficient percentage of the votes, will enable him to campaign for the presidency. This election is in July.

What makes this of particular interest is that two of the kidnapped activists are now legislative candidates for Prabowo's party and another heads up his media centre.

Of the 23 activists abducted in 1997 and 1998, one is known to be dead and 13 are missing.

Raharja Waluya Jati was held in a cell for 45 days and tortured in what he suspects, but is not sure, was Kopassus headquarters.

At night, he communicated by yelling down the hall to the three kidnap victims now with Gerindra, and to friends who never returned.

"Prabowo needs the victims to get legitimacy and wash his bloody hands," Jati said, adding the alliance was likely motivated by the victims' own thirst for political power.
"I have four friends still missing now and when I talk to their families they just want to know about their sons. Prabowo knows about everything, including my friends who are still missing."

Apparently, psychiatric hospitals are gearing up for a surge in patients. Individual candidates, by and large, have had to fund their own campaigns and there are bound to be many who end up bankrupt having forked out for stickers, banners, media adverts et al. Those who do end up on the gravy train will be seeking to recoup their outlay, and then some. Hopefully all new legislators will be monitored very closely by the Corruption Eradication Commission.


6:30 am |
Saturday, March 28, 2009
  Sequacious (pron: sirkwayshous)*

Lacking independence or originality of thought; unthinkingly following another; servile.

The adjective started out simply enough in the seventeenth century to refer to a person who was inclined to follow a leader; almost at once it took on the idea of slavishly or unreasoningly following the ideas of other people. It's unusual but still around.

I could discern omens of nothing newer than the old fate of the sequacious: to be for ever at the mercy of the exploiting proclivities of the bold and buccaneering in their bullying and greed.
[Prelude to Waking, by Miles Franklin, 1950]

As Indonesia suffers yet another manmade disaster with the dam collapse on the borders of southwest Jakarta, along with thoughts of sympathy for the bereaved families there has to be a consideration of the causes. And these must surely lead to a change in the mindset of those who 'allow' such events to occur.

Much of what follows is taken from today's print edition of the Jakarta Post which hasn't posted the articles I'm quoting online as I write this.

This disaster was foretold long ago. Ridwan Saidi, a native Jakartan (Betawi) wrote in 1994 in his book Orang Betwai dan Modernisasi Jakarta that "men have caused ecological change. Yet the negative effect has not been felt. However, possible flash floods loom on the horizon as we can see from now."

Situ Gintung Lake, fed by River Pesangggrahan, was originally 31 hectares and a favourite recreational site. Until Thursday night it had shrunk to 21 hectares due to Greater Jakarta's "demands for more space for housing." The lake was also shrinking due to sedimentation and had become heavily polluted due to poor adherence to waste treatment regulations by industry and the general population. A further four lakes in the area have been filled in "due to the administration's lack of control over illegal occupation by local residents and housing developers."

These housing estates were generally up-market, but such development always attracts a labour force. This disaster therefore affects both rich and poor, although it must be noted that the upper classes tend to live on higher land. As always, it's the poorer folk who have suffered the most.

What has exacerbated the disaster has been the blinkered approach of administration officials. The dam was constructed during Dutch colonial times, without cement. Naturally it needs constant monitoring and maintenance. Not unexpectedly, it pains me to say, this was not considered important enough by the responsible agency.

Residents say "they had long been concerned with the condition of the sluice gate, which was rotting in parts and had not functioned properly for two years."

"We first reported the leaks in early 2007 to Pak Naseh, an official at the Tangerang Regency Irrigation Agency who daily control the lake."

Obviously they don't as no response was forthcoming.

Last year, through a "river and lake normalisation program, the government built an embankment jogging track on the lake's eastern shore, while the feeble sluice gate to the north was ignored."

SBY, Kalla, Bakrie and other major politicos yesterday took a break from electioneering in order to grab a photo opportunity and offer sympathy and 'promises' to rebuild the dam, and design it in "a proper way so that it will not cause any further public concerns."

Much as the Dutch did 76 years ago presumably. Except that they had civil servants who ensured that planning and other laws were enforced.

If only the current public officers were not sequacious.
The Jakarta Globe has a special section on the disaster here.
* With thanks, again, to Michael Quinion of World Wide Words


9:25 am |
Friday, March 27, 2009
  Pin The Tail On The Donkey

The editor of the Jakarta Post has kindly provided us with An Incomplete Idiot’s Guide To Voting on April 9. Because I'm an incomplete idiot I thought I'd better try and simplify even further his simplification.

There are 38 political parties contesting these elections at the national and local levels (44 parties if you are in Aceh). To confuse matters, the total number of candidates contesting the elections at the national and local levels is estimated to be 800,000 - even the national elections commission (KPU) is so confused that it could not give an exact figure.

Most Indonesians will have four ballot papers to cast, although Jakartans will have (only) three.

As an example, in the South/Central Jakarta voting district, seven seats are up for grabs and 38 political parties are fielding 164 candidates, all vying for one single vote to represent citizens in the national legislature (DPR). There is another ballot paper for the more than 40 candidates hoping to become one of four DPD (Regional) representatives from Jakarta, and another paper for the representative to the DPRD Jakarta (City Hall).

For the first time, electors get to vote for individual candidates. Those who get the most votes, assuming the political party they represent achieve 2.5% of the overall vote nationally, will be deemed elected. This is somewhat better than voting for parties who used to reserve jobs for the boys - and occasional girl. Except, few know who the candidates are.

The plethora of stickers, banners and hoardings have been of little help. The eyesore on our streets has been a sensory overload and I'm further bemused by one or two candidates who stare at us from hoardings which dwarf office towers. In the case of former army chief Wiranto, while the scars of the mass rapes committed by his forces in May '98 remain, one could suggest that asking residents of Chinese-Indonesian areas to vote for his party is barefaced effrontery. Or intimidation.

There are other candidates who I certainly wouldn't vote for based on corruption allegations or their perceived roles in human rights abuses, but perhaps the biggest drawback in this election is that there is a new voting system - ticks are expected instead of the previous coblos, holes stabbed in the paper.

'Er Indoors says that with these changes, plus the fact that apart from vague statements about pluralism or the maintaining of certain religious values no-one actually knows what the parties' policies would be if they gain sufficient seats to actually have legislative power, neneks would effectively be disenfranchised. When I pointed out that she too is a nenek (grannie), she said that she'll have no problem. She has simplified her choice to those candidates from North Sumatra, her homeland.

Thus, my post title is apt.

in The Tail On The Donkey is an easy game to play.

1. Draw or purchase a large image of a donkey without a tail.
2. Mount the donkey image on a vertical surface, such as a wall.
3. Blindfold one player.
4. Spin the blindfolded player in circles for a few seconds until they get a bit dizzy and lose their sense of direction.
5. Have the blindfolded player try to pin their donkey tail on the end of the donkey, trying to remember where the donkey was hanging. When they place the tail, remove their blindfold.
6. Allow the second player to take a turn. Leave all the donkey tails wherever they had been placed, until all players have had a chance.
7. Determine the winner. The winner is the player who placed their tail closest to the correct spot on the donkey (often marked with a target or "x").

My Websters provides this colloquial definition of a donkey: a person regarded as stupid, foolish or obstinate.


9:00 am |
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'm part of the last generation for whom handwriting was taught as a vital skill. All through school, it was an important part of our lives: you had good handwriting, or you had bad handwriting – at some level, the way you wrote was a part of you, and was judged. That identification with my own script has never left me.
From a review of Script and Scribble : The Rise and Fall of Handwriting by Kitty Burns Florey

A couple of days ago I asked well-known local writer Dave Jardine if he could remember the last time he handwrote a letter, went to the post office, bought some stamps, licked them and pasted them on an envelope before consigning his missive to snail mail.

He thought, and then told me that it might have been eighteen months ago.

It may well be longer for me. And you?

When I went to teacher training college I had a fairly well-developed style, but I was then coached, drilled almost, in the nicely rounded print style developed by Marion Richardson, mainly as an aid for young children. An example can be seen here in the banner. It's easy to see from afar and may be the reason that I prefer sans serif to serif, Arial to Times New Roman, for all my two fingered typing.

An example of Marion Richardson script.

Having spent all but fifteen years of my adult life outside my home country, I've generally kept a diary to remind me where I've been or, as with Jakartass, where I am. I spent a year or so backpacking around the world in the late-80's and every month I'd write, or have compiled, a missive for Son.No.1 back 'home'. It was, if I say so myself, highly legible. In fact, my first teaching job in inner London back in 67 was, as the headmaster told me, partly because he liked my handwriting. Whether he'd submitted my application letter to a graphologist, as Eisha Sarkar did, I don't know.

My pen of choice was a Platinum fountain pen, firstly with a small lever on the side which squeezed a rubber sac inside to create a vacuum in order to suck up ink, probably Parker Quink in blue or black. Later one could buy cartridges. These pens were a great advance on the nibs attached to a short stick which one dipped into an inkwell fitted in our school desks. These primitive upgrades of the feathered quills used by our forefathers also made fairly dangerous darts. Being being picked as ink monitor was almost a mark of prestige.

Later came disposable ballpoints and with them came a drop in handwriting standards. As there was less friction needed to be applied to the paper one tended to scrawl. As a teacher, later I noticed that using chalk instead of whiteboards and markers produces a similar effect. Incidentally, it was as a kid that I observed that chalk left brown stains on the teachers' fingers. I thought it was a bit of magic, of alchemy, not realising until much later that the job could be so stressful that it made many nicotine addicts of us.

Whatever, perhaps it's the need for greater control as well as the friction but handwriting needs more time to produce than digital txting and that time is generally well spent in thinking. Mind you, being able to cut and paste and instantly delete is certainly a boon in the production of prose and I'm not sure I'd have been able to rewrite Culture Shock-Jakarta without my home computer. The notion of wading through reams and screeds of prose in order to check what has already been written or researched is too daunting for me to consider, but Shakespeare and Dickens did it.

However, diarists such as Samuel Pepys would, of course, have kept a blog.

In the past ten years or so, schooling authorities have determined that incessant testing is the key to egalitarian education. They're totally wrong with that notion, which must be the topic of another post, but multi-choice exams do not allow for anything other than the memorising of 'facts' from a set curriculum. Instant responses need instant tools.

Creativity and critical reasoning need a little extra time and handwriting gives time for reflection.

I've got a callous on the side of the top knuckle of my right middle finger. It took years of holding pens and pencils to acquire and I value it because it does take years to reach a definitive and personal, handwriting style. It's therefore part of my identity.

Can Twitterers say the same?


1:00 pm |
Monday, March 23, 2009


During my eclectic reading moments, I regularly find myself nodding in agreement and muttering yeah, right on. It is irrelevant that I'm probably using them out of their original context because even in our individual paths and obsessions, we all share moments of clarity which we adapt to our needs.

All, that is, except religious fanatics who would have us believe that they are recipients of the one true faith. If there is a heaven, I don't want theirs. I've got my own nirvana to look forward to.

(I wonder if the executed Bali Bombers discovered that the virgins awaiting them were actually septugenarian Catholic nuns.)

These are a few of the quotes I've garnered recently but haven't used in my multifarious posts.

Michèle Roberts, novelist.
Librarians are necessarily heroes and warriors - albeit in disguise - battling the contempt for intellectual life initiated in the Thatcher years.

Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, an independent UK school.
We have to fight always a triumphalism of separateness.

Jay Rayner, restaurant reviewer.
There is a particular word I could use here, but I refuse to denigrate the honest pleasures of self-abuse purely to make a point.

Jay doesn't like the notion of Buddha Bars either and I have already posted his review, but as Miko commented: Superb, I am going to plagiarise that line shamelessly.

Bob Ricard, writing about restaurant design.
The world is suffering from a mass psychogenic malaise: we have - for the time being - lost the future.

Probably what Jay was referring to.

Tom Waits
, gravelly-voiced singer-songweriter about American low life.
We live in an age when you can casually say to someone, 'What's the story on that?' and they will run to the computer and tell you within five seconds. That's fine but I'd just as soon continue wondering.

Emory Cook - notes to LP Music Boxes, Carousels, and Hand Organ
Sound is a way of day dreaming - an escape into the wild blue.

Tanya Gold, a freelance journalist who gave up her mobile phone and computer for a week.
You don't need mobile phones and internet to live. You don't! Nothing terrible happened to me this week, well, nothing more terrible than usual.

She wrote her article in longhand, on paper.


6:00 am |
Sunday, March 22, 2009

To mark five years of Jakartass, I'm offering loads of links which I haven't, in the main, used before.

Welcome Visits
I regularly check to see who visits Jakartass through a search engine, and I can then see who's interested in the same topics as me. These are a few of them:

Public Toilets In Jakarta
......... the water in the river was cleaner than in the public toilets
......... the public toilets in the slum community on Pandan Street don't have septic tanks
......... I've already mentioned that I had a huge culture shock in Jakarta, and I want to talk about toilets here. All public toilets in Jakarta were ...... (yes???)

Email contacts of charity associations in Jakarta


Issue on Indonesia broadcasting

Where does milk come from?
Non-answer: It's not 'the supermarket'.

Placenta Transparent Soap Shops in Jakarta
Don't ask me, Ask Miree.

Paul Scholes penis
Don't ask.

You've just met a new acquaintance, who has recently moved from a far-away land. While she is quite intelligent, she has never seen shoes with shoelaces before, and she asks you about them. Please describe, in detail, how she can tie her shoes.
Is this the longest Google query ever? Strangely, Google can't answer this question, but merely comments 'tie' (and any subsequent words) was ignored because we limit queries to 32 words.

A Few A-list Blogs Worth Checking Out

About Indonesia is by Mike H. who emailed me: Making websites and internet marketing is how I make most of my money.

So this is another aggregation of news with commentary.

Aliksir is "trying to make sense of things" with some sound writing and a well designed page. He's tagged the following categories: opinion, business news, Indonesian news in English, current events, pornography law, goodies, travel.

Aroeng Binang often posts about what he sees in his neighbourhood, which also happens to be mine. I really should give him a permanent link - again. It somehow got 'lost'.

Ask Miree because she helps newbie expats find tatto (sic) parlours



6:00 am |
Friday, March 20, 2009
  Five Years On

Jakartass is officially five years old tomorrow.

When I started it was because I rarely got to meet other expats and wanted an outlet for various thoughts giving, as I put it in my opening post, a flavour of life here in Indonesia in post-Suharto Indonesia.

I have always kept a diary of sorts about my time out of England, but snail mail was generally my medium. An example can be found here, the letter I started writing to Son No.1 in England in May 1998 when the hell erupted which only subsided with Suharto's abdication.

Jakartass wasn't the first blog here in Indonesia. I'd already discovered Enda Nasution, Isman in Bandung and Brandon Hoover's Java Jive, possibly the first expat blog here.

We're all still at it and loads of others have joined us and stayed their course. Do explore my blogroll to the right for more of the flavour.

After May 98, the next major disaster to hit was the tsunami at Christmas 2004. I posted immewdiare reactions and thoughts of lost friends, but perhaps a more important initiative was the Indonesia Help blog set up by Enda, to which I contributed. It was an indication that the blogosphere had a hitherto unrecognised role to play in communal activism, although I had recognised this back in 98 when I'd wished I had an internet connection.

Unfortunately, apart from the the Yogya earthquake in May 2006 and the publication of student details on the net by Indonesia's Education Department last year, I don't think the Indonesian blogosphere has been as politically active as, say, in neighbouring Malaysia.

Jakartass was voted the Best Indonesia Blog 2004 with a grand total of 188 votes. Now that is less than my daily readership, the majority of whom are subscribers. Although, according to my archives, I've posted roughly 2 posts every three days - this is post number 1385, statistics don't matter*, although I am more than grateful that I have a readership beyond family and friends.

I'm also grateful that my writing has become more professional so that being Jakartass led to a commission to rewrite Culture Shock-Jakarta, originally put together by my good friend Derek Bacon who is now gainfully self-employed with his exceptional graphic skills.

Comments on my musings have generally been to the point; there have been few malignant trolls and about the same number of spammers, which I suppose is a measure of respect.

I hope I can maintain this for a while longer, so again, thanks for your coming.



6:00 am |
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
  As Speedy As Snail Mail

We regularly get calls from telephone sales people, and maybe you do too. One firm which is persistent is PT Telkom which offers a so-called Speedy service, which is, I understand, a split in our phone landline.

Well Telkom Speedy Isn't is what I wrote way back in August last year, and since then, we've been plagued with telephone sales folk from Telkom ringing up twice a week at the usual inconvenient times. Our standard reply has been to request a brochure or email giving the various packages and prices. As I blog and check my emails from home, I obviously don't need a business deal.

What I do need is service. Don't we all?

One day last week, when I was out, 'Er Indoors reiterated the request and whoever was on the other end of the line actually made the effort to send round a couple of brochures stapled together. He was also informed that I'd be working from home today and promised to send someone round.

Reading the brochure(s), we were surprised - and this is an ironic word - to note that there is a special offer of free 'activasi' which started on January 1st and expires at the end of this month.

Because no-one has come, we've just rung them back, one of those usual hold periods of Kenny G puke muzak followed by a rerouting through a couple of departments to someone who informed us that I'd have to go to a Telkom office to register. Balls to that, 'Er Indoors politely responded, and the lass at the distant end finally compromised by typing in my details on the computer in front of her.

Now we have to wait three days.

Do you think I'll have a slightly wider bandwidth before the special offer expires?



11:30 am |
Monday, March 16, 2009
  The Pleasures Of The Open Road.

Ah, nostalgia. Cruising on my MZ 250 through the landscapes of northern England, the Peak District of Derbyshire, the Yorkshire moors and the lakes of Cumbria: freezing my butt and fingers off in spite of my fleece-lined boots, Belstaff waterproofs and three layers of thermal underwear so that I'd walk robotically into convenient transport caffs for
warming grease-laden carbohydrates.

In my early days here I had a Suzuki 250cc, but no thermal underwear, so I could motor southwards along the byways to the cool of the surrounding mountains. Around that time, the Jakarta administration introduced a bylaw requiring all motorcyclists in the city to drive with dipped headlights on in the daytime hours. A sensible rule, which I'd faithfully followed back in the UK as it enabled drivers to take note of your presence.

Here, however, having been pulled over umpteen times by roadside cops and told to switch my lights off, presumably because no lawmaker had informed the law enforcers, and the latter had more clout and emptier wallets than the bureaucrats, I decided to follow the street rules.

Anyway, I soon gave my vintage bike away having seen the Harley-Davidson mechanic I'd entrusted its servicing to attempting to prize off the cylinder head with a sledge-hammer and cold chisel.

This past week, City Hall has launched a campaign to enforce the 20 year old bylaw. Check this hyperspace in 2029 to find out how successful the bureaucrats have been.

Another regulation of interest to motorcyclists introduced this week concerns crash helmets, not the wearing of them, but their quality. Locally made ones can be bought from the back of a lorry for as little as Rp.25,000 ($2.10). Anyone with a brain in their skull would know that the skull would have minimal protection, but, hey, they are cheap and wearing a helmet is the law and, inshallah, we'll be ok. Won't we?

The government is set to mandate the Indonesian National Standard (SNI) on motor cycle helmets sold in the domestic market, said Minister of Industry Fahmi Idris on Thursday after visiting a helmet factory in Cikarang, West Java.

"Starting March 25, all helmets, be they locally produced or imported, must comply with the SNI."

I haven't got any details of the SNI, such as construction, materials and "assessments", but Indonesian Helmet Association (AIHI) chairman John Manaf said six of AIHI's seven members were ready to have their products tested.

"Our products actually have complied with standards established by Europe. They are safe as long as they are correctly fastened while in use."

I'm prepared to accept that at last some sense is beginning to prevail. From now on, helmets on sale will have to be embossed with the SNI logo, and this should have some, albeit a little, impact on the fatality statistics.

There is, of course, much more that needs to be done. The government's programme fast tracking of infrastructure developments, thanks to the current economic recession, will hopefully see better roads with fewer potholes. Alas there are few signs of better public transport provision which would obviate the demand for private conveyances.

However, again mainly thanks to the recession, total motorcycle sales are expected to be down 20-28% this year.

Astra Honda Motor, a unit of Indonesia's largest automotive distributor PT Astra International Tbk, expects total motorcycle sales of between 4.5-5 million units in 2009, down from a record high of 6.215 million in 2008.

Of course, there is more that needs to be done to protect motorcyclists (and the pedestrians they may hit.)

Firstly, as noted above, better standard helmets should be ok - as long as they are correctly fastened while in use.

Then there is the need to install some discipline, or commonsense, into the newbie Hells Cherubs on their 90cc machines.

There may be a Highway Code for Motorcyclists somewhere in the Department of Transport archives, but as I am unable to locate a copy I am including the version published in Culture Shock-Jakarta ~ an unashamed plug. I hope it is revised soon - the Code, that is, and not the book.

Five On A Bike

1. This means of transport is convenient for the whole family. Your 3-year old can sit on your lap and your wife can ride side-saddle behind you whilst breastfeeding your newborn.

2. Any motorcycle, especially a cheap Chinese 90cc one, is versatile enough for commercial use. You, or your pillion passenger, can comfortably carry 50 live chickens and/or 3 televisions and/or plate glass for your shop window and/or 100kg of used plastic bottles. If you don’t have a pillion passenger, place the load on the back seat, drape it over the rear wheel and tie it securely to the exhaust pipe with colourful plastic twine.

3. Wear your crash helmet on top of your head; otherwise you cannot smoke a clove cigarette (kretek) or use your handphone.

4. If you see someone leaving a bus or car stopped by the curb, do try to squeeze through the gap. It will save you a lot of time. In fact, any gap in the traffic is yours for the taking.

5. When available, use the sidewalks.

6. Carry an umbrella in case it rains.

7. Special rules apply during the rainy season.
---a. Use your umbrella to keep your kretek and/or handphone dry.
---b. Drive as usual along the white lines with no lights on.
---c. Park anywhere on the road under a footbridge.
If you cause a traffic jam, do not worry. At least those car drivers who cannot squeeze through the one remaining lane are dry.



5:00 am |
Saturday, March 14, 2009
  I'm Drunk

... albeit not through the consumption of alcohol, but through general befuddlement caused by my deep and often meaningless research into this post.

Following the many comments in my last post about the Buddha Bar, I thought it might be interesting to explore the various attitudes of religions to the consumption of alcoholic beverages here in Indonesia.

We already know that Buddhists seek internalised enlightenment, but what about the other religions found here?

First up, one needs to know about the market for booze here and a report entitled Alcoholic Drinks in Indonesia should be useful.

Volume sales of alcoholic drinks continued to increase at a stable rate in 2008, although it was much slower than the rate in 2007. This was caused by significant increases in fuel prices from the first quarter of 2008. Purchasing power, especially among lower-income consumers, was significantly diminished, and this caused weaker growth in cheaper products which targeted lower-income consumers. However, the standard and premium segments were less affected, because most of the consumers in these segments are tourists, expatriates, and affluent Indonesians.

Demand exceeded supply in 2008

The sole importer responsible for handling imported alcoholic drinks, especially duty-paid products, into Indonesia, changed from Perusahaan Perdagangan Indonesia to Sarinah PT in 2007. This shift caused some products to become unavailable for a period of time in 2008. However, surplus stock and locally-manufactured products were able to cover the surge in demand caused by the increased number of tourists in Indonesia.

Apart from the Buddha Bar which, being a recent addition to Jakarta's plethora of bar/restaurants presumably had its own stockpile, the many complaints from bar owners and the like was just a storm in a glass. Everything is ok and there is enough booze to go round, except for the proles who presumably have to drown their sorrows in other ways.

I found 28 pages of academic research, or rather the abstract, among American students which sort of seeks to demonstrate that it seems that while biblical literalness forces individuals to internalize and hold strong moral convictions, religiosity itself might not. Thus, biblical literalness might be more strongly tied to internalized morality, which induces shame, while religiosity might be more strongly tied to socially approved morality, which induces embarrassment.

I've always thought that alcohol was ok for Christians because Jesus turned water into wine because his Mum had run out of refreshments for the guests at a party she was holding at her place. But I've now been disabused of that notion.

look up the greek translation of that miricle wine there is translated as old english and is actually refering to grape juice. also in other languages such as italian vino is used for both wine and grapejuice. sorry to let you down i recently discovered this myself and stoped consuming because of it.

Yep, me too. I've given up all those grape-flavoured teas and ice lollies. But, then what about those Christian groups which offer 'bread and wine' as holy sacraments.

I suppose Wikipedia is probably the authority.

Some religions - most notably Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, the Bahá'í Faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Theravada and most Mahayana schools of Buddhism, some Protestant sects of Fundamentalist Christianity and Hinduism - forbid, discourage, or restrict the consumption of alcoholic beverages for various reasons.

The Jewish religion uses wine on Shabbat for Kiddush as well as in the Passover ceremony and in other religious ceremonies, including Purim, and allows the use of alcohol, such as kosher wine. Many ancient Jewish texts such as the Talmud even encourage moderate amounts of drinking on holidays such as Purim, in order to make the occasion more joyous.

Ah, the key word is there - joyous.

I view alcohol, my choice being Bintang beer, as a social lubricant. I have no intention of converting to Judaism, but there is another choice, apart from my already ingrained atheism.

Many Pagan religions have actively promoted alcohol and drunkenness as means of promoting fertility and sexual lust. Alcohol is seen to increase lust and sexual desires and to lower the threshold of approaching another person.

Sounds good, which may be why Blok M has been so successful in combining the two.

Except .... somewhat paradoxically, one pharmacodynamic effect of alcohol is that it actually reduces sexual arousal.

Perhaps those fundamentalist nutcases who revel in trashing bars should revel inside them and down a few bevies instead.


12:00 pm |
Thursday, March 12, 2009
  Bye Bye Buddha Bar? Hello ...?

I don't wish to claim any influence in the matter. After all, I very rarely blog about anything which isn't current and it may be entirely coincidental that my rant about the Buddha Bar has been mirrored, in less sardonic language, by journalists and the Minister of Religious Affairs.

It's quite possible too that the issue has been highlighted in umpteen other local blogs which, sorry, I haven't had the time or bandwidth to peruse.

The Minister, Maftuh Basyuni, said, “If they don’t close this place down, I am afraid we could see other bars emerge like a ‘Christian Bar’ or an ‘Islam Bar'.”

The Jakarta Representatives Council (DPRD) has also asked for the management to halt their operations to keep peace between followers of different faiths.

They are talking about revoking the business licence given that the original agreement was expected to be a partnership between the public and private sector.

Lin Che Wei and Marco Kusumawijaya, in a very thoughtful article, quote Aurora Tambunan, the head of the city’s Culture and Museums Agency back in 2005, promising that the agency would work with private management to transform the building into a ‘unique venue’ where all Jakartans could hold activities.

Unfortunately, this pledge has never become a reality. The building is not a unique venue for all Jakartans. It is a unique venue for some Jakartans - the upper class ones.

The whole building - not only a part of it - has become the totally commercial Buddha Bar. It is interesting to note that a daughter of former governor Sutiyoso now runs the operation.

Physically it has returned to its former glory, but spiritually it has lost its soul and its place with the public. As citizens of Jakarta, now we now know what the city administration means by private management.

Quite right too, and Indonesian Corruption Watch has launched an investigation into the nepotistic angle.

Perhaps more interesting is that it is reported that Indonesian Buddhist Students Association (AMB) negotiated with the management which sealed the Buddha-Bar ... and it will remain closed until the matter is resolved.

A commentator on the article praises AMB.

I'm a Muslim but I salute the Buddhist community for taking action on what they think it's right. Yes, of course the concept of 'Buddha-Bar' itself can be seen as heretical to Buddhists. But, even more impressive is that they managed to achieve their goals via peaceful means of negotiation, and not through violent threat, unlike some of the hard-liner Islamic groups around. I think the latter groups ought to learn from the Buddhist community in Jakarta about tolerance.

So peaceful citizen action is seen to be effective.

The Buddha Bar is, probably, no more. What will take its place, under the same or a more accountable management remains to be seen. One may also hope that this will lead to greater transparency in the management of the city. After all, City Hall should be protecting the interests of all Jakartans and not just those with intimate connections to City Hall.

As Lin Che Wei and Marco Kusumawijaya say, "We strongly believe that all Jakartans have the right to enjoy the building – the Jakarta administration must ensure that only a part of the building is used for the commercial purpose and that the maintenance of the building comes with a Public Private Partnership scheme which is more accountable and does not rely purely on nepotism."

I hope to be able to visit the magnificent refurbished building soon, not to see Buddhist artefacts, but solely to admire the public space and whatever public exhibitions and performances are on offer.


6:30 pm |
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
  Back Of Beyond Belief

Oh my, gods. The Islamic Republic of Malaysia is reintroducing its fatwa (edict) forbidding the use of the Arabic word Allah, meaning 'god', by all but Muslims - thus denying other Arab abrahamic followers - Christians and Jews, if there are any there - the right to invoke the name of His Singularity.

The editor of the Catholic Herald magazine in Malaysia, Father Lawrence Andrew, claimed that recently gazetted Internal Security Act signed by the Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar on February 16 permits them to use Allah in its publications.

The next edition of the Herald will contain the word Allah, and we will print the words For Christians Only on the masthead so as not to contravene the Act.

Nice one, Father. However, he has failed to point out that the word Allah, for God, was in use by Christians for many centuries until 622AD, the year of the hijra, or emigration, which marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Christians could, therefore, demand that Malaysian Muslims should refrain from using the word in their devotions. Or, at least, to refrain from being so blinkered.

Here in Indonesia, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) is
unfortunately following on the Malaysian path of illiteracy with more sanctimonious and semantic drivel.

At the International Bali-India Yoga Festival, which finished on March 10th, Utang Ranuwijaya, the MUI research and development head, said the country's top Islamic body was "smoothing out" the declaration on banning yoga and would soon legitimize the edict it issued earlier this year banning Muslims from practicing certain aspects of yoga.

Unlike the edict in Malaysia, which banned yoga outright, the MUI edict allowed Muslims to practice yoga as an exercise, though under certain requirements.

"Only strictly physical yoga may be practiced by Muslims. Yoga must be completely sterile. In fact, Muslims should not be saying 'Om' - a word used in Hindu to represent the gods - while performing yoga," Utang said.

Utang pointed out that Muslims should pray rather than meditate.

"Meditation is a specific practice for a specific purpose that is not in line with Islam," he said.

He added yoga centers should avoid referring to yoga as an attempt to unite the mind and body.

"There is no such thing as uniting the mind and body," he said in all sincerity. "In Islam, there is just being khusuk - a tranquil and immersed state of mind while praying."

I first took up yoga nigh on thirty years ago at an adult's evening class held in a local secondary school. I was the only man in the class of maybe twenty. The other participants, of all shapes and sizes, generally wore leotards, exercise clothing. Such is the practice of yoga, the need to think about one's own body. I have regularly had back problems* and this weekly class did much to improve my posture.

I didn't pray or chant, although several of the asanas (positions) made me grunt and groan. However, the overriding memory I have of those evenings is the serenity I felt afterwards whilst wending my way home.

My mind and body were one, but then they generally always have been. I don't take my brain out of a bedside glass in the morning upon awakening. We are as one, and if the practice of yoga is a means of reinforcing one's identity, of being in tune with the universe, then that is my khusuk, my sublimation to my god. Whoever she is.

Utang also warned yoga trainers at the Festival to segregate men's and women's classes, and told them to remind the latter to conceal their skin and body curves while exercising.

As for covering one's body to "conceal ... skin and body curves" I totally agree.

There are some disgustingly flabby ulemas around, which is probably why they're generally dressed in sarongs and loose fitting clothing which is, strangely ideal for yoga exercises.
*I have since discovered two more exercise routines beneficial to those of us with perennial back problems - swimming and sex. The breast stroke is recommended for both.


3:30 pm |
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
  Our Kid Is Exceptional

Yeah, I know - we all say that about our children, but in one small way, he is exceptional.

He's quite happy to get uo at 4.30 in the morning and be ready for the school bus which comes just over half an hour later. That his school is in Bekasi, just beyond the city boundary means that he doesn't have to be there until 7. Travelling against the incoming traffic flow, a regular journey takes about half an hour, but then we live at the furthermost reach of this particular school bus route.

He says he's happy because he gets to socialise with his classmates en route.

That's as maybe, and I suppose I'm fairly happy that we didn't enrol him in a school here in Jakarta. As I've noted before, rather than expanding and modernising Jakarta's network of public transport in order to minimise private transport, school hours were unilaterally changed by Deputy Governor Priwanka, so that children and their teachers have to start studying at 6.30am.

What makes this worse is that no consideration appears to have been given to the biological clocks of children and, especially, teenagers here who would actually benefit from starting school at, say, 9am.

This is the start time of UK schools, but it is proposed that they should start at 11am.

Russell Foster, an Oxford professor of neuroscience, tested the memory of 200 secondary pupils at 9am and 2pm using pairs of words, and discovered a 9% improvement in the afternoon. Students correctly identified 51% of word pairs in the later session, compared with 42% in the morning.

Tayler McCullough, 15, one of the test subjects, said the majority of students would welcome the extra hours in bed. "I'm extremely hard to get up in the morning. One or two people like to get to school early, but most of us would be up for going in later. I'm sure it would make a big difference to our learning ability."

What students actually learn has to be the topic of another post, but do spare a thought for the stressed out students here in years 6, 9 and 12 who are undergoing intensive training, brain washing almost, in order to 'pass' multi-choice tests next month in order to graduate to the next level.

They could certainly use a lie-in, if only because sleep is the best way to memorise the 'facts' that their teachers are trying to inculcate.


6:00 am |
Monday, March 09, 2009
  Am I Being Intemperate? Hardly!

Being ever so careful that I offer a balanced blog, allowing other opinions - assuming they are broadly in agreement with mine - I'm taking the liberty of posting a review of the London Buddha Bar by Jay Rayner who had to go as part of his job. Fortunately, I have the choice of not going.
Beyond belief

Clumsy, pricey and tasteless, Buddha Bar is enough to test the serenity of a deity, says Jay Rayner.

One of the curiosities of this week's restaurant - along with 'How do they live with themselves?' and 'Why isn't there a baying mob outside with pitchforks and burning torches?' - is that it should be named after a deity whose followers are famed for their serenity and yet should be capable of engendering in me such a blind, raging, spittle-flecked fury. There will be casualties in the restaurant trade as a result of the current economic turmoil; I sincerely hope London's Buddha Bar is one of them.

I should have given up after the hassle of booking. Not merely the five minutes of thrashing hold music nor the irritating demand for my first name (and my usual reply that I only wanted to book a table, not be their pen friend), but also the requirement that I supply an email address. Why? 'Because it's the only way we can confirm you have a reservation.' Really? So putting the name down in a book, the method that's worked for a century or more, isn't good enough? Absolutely not, for when the email arrives it reveals that any table booked before 10pm must be given back within two hours and that, while there is a bar, they don't guarantee you'll be allowed in to it. There is a particular word I could use here, but I refuse to denigrate the honest pleasures of self-abuse purely to make a point.

The London Buddha Bar is part of an international chain. Previously I visited the outpost in Dubai and was struck there by the late middle age of the male clientele, and the oestrogen-rich youth of their friends, who were doubtless their nieces. Here, as there, hedge fund-sized buckets of cash have been spent on filling an empty space (under Waterloo Bridge) with gargantuan Asian artefacts and then turning the lights down so low you can't see any of them. The only one you can see is the enormous Buddha; even as a diehard, to-the-barricades atheist I find the exploitation of a religious symbol like this offensive. There is just enough light by which to read the pan-Asian menu, which was a shame, because it meant we could order.

The food is that killer combination of stupendously clumsy and grossly overpriced. £10 worth of wok-fried salt and pepper calamari and frog's legs was leathery, greasy and unrelenting. The only contrast came from the frog's legs, which promised a little light haemorrhage as the hidden bones punctured your mouth. Worse, and £5 more expensive, was the crayfish and crawfish summer roll, speaking gloomily of an Icelandic summer of wind and rain and general hardship: flavourless crayfish, mushy avocado, dull shredded carrots. The rice-based wrap was so dry as to be edible, but only if you had no choice. We did, so we didn't.

Next, some sushi: £3 a piece, minimum order two pieces. I looked at the unglossy lozenge of tuna. I ran my finger along its edge. It was hard, as if it had been cut long before being plated. Eel and turbot were lifeless. Of the main courses the most cynical was £26 for a meagre portion of Korean seared beef, tender but tasteless, then smeared with a pungent - read unpleasant - tomato sauce. In an attempt to complete the tour of Asia we also had a Thai-style red curry with shrimp, and it was indeed in the style of a Thai curry much as Zimbabwe is in the style of a democracy. The small shrimps - seven of them for £16.50 - were served mixed in with rice inside the husk of a coconut, with the slick of red curry sauce in a saucer on the side. I genuinely do not understand how any self-respecting kitchen can serve up trash like this, at these prices, and still find the will to get up in the morning.

And so to dessert, 'the best part of the meal' as the waiter said. We live in hope, I replied. Only to have it dashed, for the Buddha Bar is where hope, like the ingredients, goes to die. A chocolate fondue for £12.50 - sorry to go on about the prices, but really - brought something congealing in a bowl, without a burner to keep it moving, some friable, dusty meringues, a couple of crumbly biscuits of the sort that are served after Jewish funerals and a little flavour-free fruit.

Was there anything to recommend the place? Yes, our waiter, who was cheerful and efficient and completely wasted here. Save yourself, my friend. Get a job elsewhere. You don't deserve this. And frankly, neither did we.

Buddha Bar
8 Victoria Embankment, London WC2
Meal for two, including wine and service £175.


5:00 pm |
Sunday, March 08, 2009
  Make Mine A Buddha.

There are times when the sheer effrontory of the self-proclaimed élite here beggars belief.

Since the abdication of Soeharto nearly 11 years ago, freed from the tightly controlled corrupt nepotism of his Cendana Clan, named after his family home in Menteng, the central district of Jakarta where Barack Obama spent his early childhood, generals, crony oligarchs and politicos - many wearing all these hats, have enriched themselves without regard for the hoi polloi.

As news comes through of yet another national legislator arrested in the act of receiving a hefty bribe, rather than seeing to important legislation, The Post is highlighting an issue of both religious insensitivity and the arrogance I'm referring to.

For over 100 years, the Dutch Immigration Building at the apex of two streets in Menteng has drawn admiring looks, even more recently as train commuters into town gazed at its dilapidated state. Latterly it served as a bureaucrats' den and, apparently, as a museum. I've always thought that a sensitive restoration could have turned it into an exhibition cum performance space. There are few enough historic buildings left in Jakarta's public domain, and the arts certainly need concerted support from the powers-that-be.

In 2005, during the reign of Governor Sutiyoso the administration, led by former head of culture and museum agency Aurora Tambunan, promised the agency would work with private management to transform the building into a "unique venue" where all Jakartans could partake in all sorts of activities.

The Jakarta administration spent Rp.28 billion (c.$3.2 million) in 2002 to repurchase the old building and poured an additional Rp.6.1 billion
into restoring it in 2005.

Arie Budhiman, the head of the city tourism and culture agency, said that the building still belonged to the city administration and remained a historical public place.

"It used to be a neglected building until the administration decided to restore it a couple of years ago. Because of our limited budget, we decided to team up with the private sector to support the project.

"We gave the bar management permission to turn the place into Buddha Bar because they were willing to help us restore the building.

"It is open to the public. Everybody can enter the building since it is a restaurant-cum-art gallery," he said.

Ah, but is it really open to all?

When the Jakarta Buddha Bar, an international franchise, opened last year, with a suitably adulatory puff piece in the Post, they had occupied the entire building.

Modelled on the original Paris version, Jakarta's Buddha Bar is about the experience, about stepping out of this world and into another one – one that massages your senses with sights, sounds, textures, tastes and the sheer darn size of the place. No cozy intimacy here: the Jakarta restaurant seats 240, and the lounge and patio can take 700 – still allowing room to wander around looking at the art.

But if you want to share the experience, you have to dress for the occasion. The Jakarta franchise might not (initially) have guest-list-only entry as in Paris, but not just anyone can wander in.

The rules are simple - you’re not getting through that door if you’re not dressed to the nines. And tens and elevens. It appears the Buddha Bar clientele are as much a part of the décor as the Enlightened One himself.

Who will be there every night, of course, a grand unique antique, overseeing the festivities in a purely unofficial capacity.

“It’s not at all religious,” the owners repeat, perhaps needlessly, for with the Buddha Bar such a temple to luxury and sensuality, it’s unlikely anyone ever seriously thought it was.

No, of course not.

That's why there's a vast network of Jesus Joints throughout Christendom and exclusive Mohammedan Mansions in the Middle East. It can only be time before the success of our Buddha Bar encourages their entry into the exclusive enclave of Menteng.

Except, Jakarta's Buddha Bar is not a success. Those inveterate French bar-hoppers of Jakarta 100 Bars are not big fans: they think it's "very predictable".

And what's in that name?

The Indonesian Buddhist Student Association believe it's "sacrilegious".

Association chairman Eko Nugroho said that the new bar and restaurant in Menteng violated laws related to insulting religions and should be shut down.

He said the Jakarta administration should have considered the law regarding the misuse of religious symbols before issuing permits for the restaurant.

Of course it should have, but then who are the owners of the Buddha Bar? Why, none other than Renny Sutiyoso, the daughter of current presidential aspirant and former Jakarta governor General (ret) Sutiyoso who authorised the whole deal, and Puan Maharani, the daughter of former president.Megawati, who appointed Sutiyoso to the governorship.

The comments on the puff page are worth a lengthy read.

Two caught my eye.

1. Sutiyoso is still desperately looking for a decent political vehicle to join the presidential race, while (although) Megawati is enjoying high popularity as presidential candidate, (she is) consistently on the second rank below the current president SBY.

It is interesting to know whether both persons would like to risk their candidancies for a 'mere' franchise run by their daughters.

It's a bit late for that. Their names have long been mud down our way.

2. The conceptor of this restaurant really do not understand Buddha teaching which (is) against luxury and any kind of attachment to high life style.

This cruelty to offend Buddhist will give them bad karma by not giving them any luck in this business.

The place will be closed down itself in short time.

I hope so.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to enjoy the short stroll past the glitterati to Ya Udah, just round the corner. We don't go there to be seen but to enjoy the convivial company - who are not posers. So I won't need my platinum card and pearl earrings to gain admittance.

I've been alerted by Anita, a regular reader, that today is International Working Woman's Day. She has sent me this link to a list of the Top 100 Women In History. Obviously it is subjective and I can't say that I approve, not so much with the choices as with the whole notion of 'positive discrimination'.

After all, women have proved they have balls, that is the power to move nations to war, since time immemorial. Think Queens Cleopatra, Boedacia, Elizabeth 1, Victoria, and Margaret Thatcher.

And the women were watching as the men went off to war.
(Song by Anthony Phillips.)

Some years ago, when the Women's Lib movement was burgeoning, I was asked at a job interview for a new NGO involved in housing the homeless how I felt working with someone of the opposite sex. I quipped that as long as they didn't flaunt it around the office, I had no problem. I got the job.

However, I wouldn't want to work for the two bad girls of the Buddha Bar. After all, these two daughters aren't going to feature on anyone's list of influential women. They're merely girls who flaunt their influence.

NB. The pic is of Fiona at the BB


9:00 am |
Thursday, March 05, 2009
  Greetings Richard.

I read your article in today's Guardian - To describe online discussion as a 'burble of banalities' is unfair - with interest.

Worrying about the state of the UK's youth, Jackie Ashley asks: "Where is the narrative in a life reduced to a never-ending stream of bite-sized thoughts?"

Worrying about developments here in Indonesia, this has been the focus of several of my recent posts,

You, however, disagree with her and suggest that "the web has democratised comment and given young people a much-needed voice." I can't disagree, but then I'm looking from the perspective of a country which has only had a 'free press' for the past ten years.
Independent thinkers have been exiled and/or imprisoned until recently, and there have been signs that the political élite aren't yet ready to adjust.

However, the essence of democracy is very much the right to be banal. I also believe that young people are being reduced to banality, which I take to be the paucity of analytical thinking and the ability for creative thought, by the results orientation of schooling - computerised multi-choice tests being the obvious manifestation.

I would also take issue with you on one point you make. Please do not lump blogs in with comments and updates. Look around the web and you will discover that far from saying you've kissed the cat and hit the boyfriend, many, if not most, blogs nowadays are carefully wrought pieces of writing. often with a particular focus, e.g. Diamond Geezer on London and my blog, the observations of an expat living in Jakarta. Both of us have a greater number of subscribers than visitors online, which is an indication of the 'value' of our muses.

The "impassioned debate" you applaud does not come from an instantaneous sound or word byte. They are merely associations of the 'my father knew Lloyd George' variety. Debates of any value generally start with reasoned arguments which emerge after a period of gestation. What you are probably referring to are arguments which can spring up at a moment's notice and are rarely not impassioned.

I can't see that instantaneous, rather than contemplative, responses have much value, let alone rationale, especially when they intrude into more 'social' activities, such as personal interaction on a face-to-face basis. This suggests that the 'rules' you mention, but don't outline, have yet to be defined. Perhaps this could be a suitable topic for your next article.

If you do consider writing this, you may find that you agree with Jackie Ashley. Indeed, perhaps she should join you in framing the rules for digital discourse as it would certainly be fascinating to see how much in sync you two undoubtedly are.




Richard has commented on my open letter on his blog.

He has also expanded on his response to Jackie Ashley, who in turn was responding to a speech by Baroness Greenfield in the House of Lords.

Incidentally, he is thinking of writing a book on the "de facto and understood" rules of digital dialogue.

That will either be very short, or encompass an assault on corporatism, an indictment of the schools curricula, seemingly based in both the UK and in Indonesia on management practices, and an analysis of changing communications technology.

I dread to imagine a world wherein we're given a brain implant at birth so we can telepath our mindless babel.


5:30 pm |
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
  Don't Pick The Flowers.

But then there aren't any, so picnic instead.

Still, never let it be said that I don't look after my constituents. In this election year, as Jakartass, I am pleased to announce that my nigh on five years of lobbying City Hall and its varied municipalities here in Jakarta has produced some positive thinking and potential action on behalf of all we expats living in South Jakarta.

We are so deprived of recreational facilities that thanks to AZ Harahap, head of the South Jakarta tourism office, the renovation of Ayodya Park is for the 5,000 expats living in the municipality.

"We should use Ayodya Park as a new spot for them to picnic," he said.

Well, that's most kind of you, dear sir.

But, this being Jakarta, not everyone is happy, and a thought must go out to the street vendors who were evicted to make way for we expats.

The park has been a part of Kebayoran Baru since 1948. One by one, vendors who sold pets and flowers started to surround the park in the 1970s, until there were about 100 shops in the 1980s.

They were forced to move from the area last year and they haven't yet been allocated an alternative area.

On a recent Monday, the new park looked deserted despite the sunny weather. Only seven people sat under a big old tree in one corner of the 7,500-meter-square park.

Lia and Ema, office workers from a nearby building, said it was their first time visiting the park. They both said it would be nicer if the flower vendors still operated.

Personally, I'd love to have a picnic and buy flowers, but then, although I do live in South Jakarta I can't say that travelling through the crowded and polluted streets in order to sit in an area which is poorly designed, at least according to Basuki Triwidodo, winner of the landscape competition who said he was not involved in the development of the park, would not be my cup of tea.

Or thermos of Pimms.



6:00 am |
Monday, March 02, 2009
  A Load Of Crap

I've spent many an hour in the Jakartass Towers loo cogitating, which means that I value my privy because it's where and when I get to read the crap published for our consumption. Once I've finished my business, I have something which, when torn into squares, has a further value.

Seriously though, I use toilet paper because I always have. I have never ever thought of using my left hand. That's not because I'm right-handed but because the mere thought of doing so gives me constipation, thus defeating the purpose of my visit.

America is home to the most obese people in the world and not only are they giving themselves immense grief to their bodies, but they are also causing great environmental damage.

The tenderness of the delicate American buttock is causing more environmental devastation than the country's love of gas-guzzling cars, fast food or McMansions, according to green campaigners. At fault, they say, is the US public's insistence on extra-soft, quilted and multi-ply products when they use the bathroom.

"This is a product that we use for less than three seconds and the ecological consequences of manufacturing it from trees is enormous," said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

"Future generations are going to look at the way we make toilet paper as one of the greatest excesses of our age. Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution." Making toilet paper has a significant impact because of the cutting down of forests and the
chemicals used in pulp manufacture.

The New York Times reported a 40% rise in sales of luxury brands of toilet paper in 2008.

Paper manufacturers such as Kimberly-Clark have identified luxury brands such as three-ply tissues or tissues infused with hand lotion as the fastest-growing market share in a highly competitive industry.

Scented toilet paper? Eh?

Toilet tissue manufacturers are catering to a fast-growing demand.

It's worth noting that the new USA administration is not anal retentive. On her recent visit, as part of her charm offensive, Hillary Clinton visited a toilet-provision project sponsored by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in Petojo Utara in Central Jakarta.

I can't tell you what brand of toilet paper is provided, if any, or whether she used the facilities. Nor can I tell you if there is a standard charge of Rp.500 for their use, which is what these poor people have to pay.

Many years ago, I had to use the toilets at the Gare du Nord in Paris. There was a matronly concierge in charge of both mesdames and messieurs who issued tokens for the locks.

After a while there was a thunderous banging on the door of my cubicle and the harridan demanded to know how much longer I intended to be ensconced inside.

" Madame," I replied in my then fluent French, "If I must pay to cater to the demands of nature, I will take as long as nature intends."

A round of applause echoed around the hallowed hall.

I only mention this because cheapskate airline Ryanair is considering installing coin-slot locks on the toilet doors of its fleet and charging
£1 (c.Rp.17,000).


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