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


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