Saturday, July 3, 2010

Jakarta, Again

My first day back in Jakarta, a city I first came to in 1983, was spent in shopping malls and at church, two places I'm not known to frequent in the US.  After a combined flight/transit time of about 32 hours before arriving the previous night, I hadn't planned to spend 8 hours in various stores before going to a 2 1/2 hour mass--dressed in shorts, flipflops, and a T-shirt--to say farewell to Jakartas cardinal and welcome his replacement. 

Apparently the cardinal had come to Jakarta the same year I had, 1983, and was to retire after 27 years service.  We were there ostensibly to say hello to his personal secretary, Romo Padmo, the priest my wife and I knew from Pulau Galang, and who had married us in Surabaya in 1993.  He, of course, was extremely busy arranging the mass and we could just say hello to him at the end.

27 years from when the cardinal and I first arrived, the airport is further from the city.  There are more cars, more malls, more of a middle class yearning for more goods and services, but the heart of the city is the same.  You wouldn’t confuse the traffic of Jakarta for the traffic of Kuala Lumpur or Saigon.  The city consumes itself; new development blossoms in one section while older sections are collapsing upon themselves.  It is a living organism that has compartmentalized itself.  New malls sprout up offering KFC, Pizza Hut, designer clothes, and Starbucks while families live in shacks beside stinking canals of black water.  Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s stories of life in Jakarta in the 50’s are as true a depiction of life in Jakarta today as they were then. 

While stuck in traffic, I noticed the billboard advertising a film scheduled to open the next day.  Obama--Anak Menteng (Obama, Child of Menteng--Menteng is the middle class enclave in the heart of Jakarta where Obama attended school as a child).  The film is advertised as an inspirational story for Indonesian children and opens during school holidays. 

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