Monday, November 8, 2010

Jakarta's Indonesia

Kind of a meat-and-potatoes post, just to get caught up ...

1. I'll be in Jakarta through the end of the week, possibly the weekend, and then out to East Java for a week or so. Merapi's still busy terrorizing the countryside and dumping ash into the skies of Central Java so no immediate plans for return. What that means, I don't exactly know just yet. There's a possibility I might be reassigned but that decision can wait for a little while. I'm hoping it can wait until January if needs be. SMKN1 doesn't have classes scheduled for December so my hope would be to get through the next couple weeks, then deal with December, when I plan to be in Vietnam and possibly Bali, and then get back to the classroom. If Merapi's still a problem in early 2011, and some scientists are suggesting as much, then I guess maybe I end up somewhere else for the remainder of my stay.

2. Obama's here today and tomorrow and I'll be making a very early morning trip to get in the security line outside the University of Indonesia for a speech Obama will deliver, I'm guessing, about 10:30 a.m. Word is there's room for about 4,000 people at the speech—the venue was changed recently; he was originally going to speak in front of about 25,000—and I'll be there with nine other Fulbrighters and about 40 high school kids from West Java. I expect to be the only person in the audience wearing a 1983 White Sox hat but you never know. I'll get some pictures and maybe a write-up of the speech posted ASAP.

3. My school in Magelang is right now functioning as a shelter for people displaced by Merapi. So while it's not safe enough for an American, the place is more than adequately safe for Indonesians. One of the student teachers who just finished a stint at the school—a young guy with really good English—is back for the time being as a shelter volunteer. I don't know about the staff, whether they're helping as volunteers, too. I don't know how many people are housed at the campus but will be talking today to some folks out in Magelang and will see about an update.

4. The three of us who were pulled out of Magelang and Jogja are staying at the Aston Marina Hotel in Jakarta. This is where the ETA group stayed when we first came to Indonesia in late August and it's a little weird to be back without that big group of friends. Also weird to be back now that I can actually read some Indonesian and get around town. A little different city this time. Went to the movies the other night to see the Social Network, which was great even if I still don't understand why Facebook is worth $25-plus-billion and even if the movie deals not at all with the company's repeated attempts to “monetize” personal information. (Quick aside: they writers repeatedly make the point that what's cool about Facebook at the outset is that it's not outwardly commercial; sure, but if you're pushing the site's coolness, and you're painting Zuckerberg's best-friend-cum-sorry-and-squeezed-out CFO as cluelessly driven to make money rather than make revolutions in interpersonal communication, then don't you need to at least hint at the dark side of Facebook's cool? How do they make money without ads? Anyone?) The privacy issues come later in the story but not that much later, and they affect all of us using this boss new social networking cosmos. Zuckerberg's really fucking smart and impossibly socially inept and we're supposed to kind of admire him for his visionary clarity but what about his insistence that we've reached the end of privacy as we once knew it? Default setting: No thanks, Mark.

Anyway, we saw the movie inside the highly polished marble halls of the Plaza Indonesia mall, which makes Water Tower Place look both dated and a little low-end. It's an only-in-Jakarta kind of place, posh beyond posh and completely unconnected to the world of dirty poverty that exists basically right around the corner. There's a BMW X5 on display inside the mall, right in front of Max Mara. Rolex, Lacoste, Diane von Furstenberg. Like Madison Avenue just crammed into a six-story mall. Went back yesterday and bought a New Yorker from the English-language book store (Nov. 1 issue) and read the Remnick review of Keith Richard's autobiography while drinking some kopi susu, or coffee with milk, at the mall's Starbucks. Will probably visit again tonight, or tomorrow. I don't think I'll find a Starbucks again for a little while after I leave, and I'm not ashamed to say I like the comfort of the place. Completely the same as any other one of their cafes; and the wireless is good.

Since I got here, I've had margaritas and chicken fajitas at a decent Mexican place, Starbucks a couple times, visited an English-style pub and later a sweet outdoor beer garden, scarfed down a wood-fired, thin-crust pizza with chicken and garlic, and and had Indian samosas and Mai Tais at a sheik Buddha-themed joint called, inexplicably, Facebar. Jakarta's Indonesia is a little different than Indonesia's Indonesia. Those fajitas are the first Mexican I've had since the third week of August.

5. All around Jakarta, there's red and white bunting for Obama's visit, and down by the Plaza Indonesia there are several American flags flying beside Indonesian flags. One sign hanging from a pedestrian walkway read, “Welcome Barack Hussein Obama, World Peace Maker.” So he's got his fans here for sure and the papers are expecting a warm welcome. Have not seen a heavy police or military presence but that could change today. Will let you know shortly.

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