28 August 2012

Idul Fitri brunch — or yet another reason why I haven't lost any weight in Jakarta

The streets of the city were eerily quiet last Sunday morning [tempus fugit: this was 19 August] when we took a Silverbird taxi to the newest boutique hotel in town, The Keraton (palace). It's tucked neatly — and almost invisibly from the street — into a recess next to Plaza Indonesia. Michael had spotted an article in the Jakarta Globe before he left to join me in Pennsylvania extolling the contemporary ambience and food at this luxurious new hostelry/watering hole (http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/lifeandtimes/at-the-new-keraton-a-chance-to-be-the-king-of-the-castle/531637). The Keraton lived up to the hype.
Below, a serving table for kopi luwak, an exclusive type of coffee bean harvested from civet excrement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak). I'm not a coffee drinker, but Michael has sampled it several times. He must not have had the genuine article, though, because he was unimpressed. He does like the Indonesian brewing device shown here, though, used at the coffee bar in Pasaraya.
 The room where we waited half an hour for the restaurant to open its doors at 11:30. It's amazing what a difference mudik, the mass exodus of Jakartans to their hometowns elsewhere in Indonesia, makes to the time needed to get around this usually congested metropolis. The serious downside of this momentary respite: 820 people dead and 5,308 injured as an estimated 8.3 million left and returned to Jakarta.
On the walls, some very clever display and framing techniques we've never seen:
 The metal lacework is on the outside of the glass.
11:30 arrived and we ascended to the Bengawan (Javanese for river) restaurant, empty as the roads. We were the only guests, far outnumbered by the staff, until a party of three arrived just as we were leaving. Great service, needless to say, and great food. Many thanks to Putu Sudarmayasa and his crew for such a wonderful Sunday morning.
The beer cart. We, however, opted for mojitos, properly muddled.

Everywhere you looked there were temptations.

  Michael's first plateful, after he decided to concentrate on the display above. What I neglected to get photos of is the delectable orange juice and mint drink that was served in small glasses as we started to eat. The mint was chopped small enough to qualify as a powder. I'm not sure whether this was done by machine or, labor being cheap in Indonesia, by hand.

Then we ordered our eggs. Being virtuous, Michael asked for the egg white omelette, thinking he would get the one listed on the menu with crab. Instead it was assumed he wanted the full English breakfast, which came with a choice of eggs. His wife was luckier: I specified scrambled eggs with lobster, shown below.
Three people presided over the production of our eggs. 
 Then we tried the foie gras on toasted brioche, with apple compote and glazed shallots, so temptingly laid out right in my line of sight. No way we were going to miss out on this.
 A velvety pumpkin rosemary soup. Superb!

Tender lamb is hard to get hold of in Jakarta, so this was a real treat for Michael.
 Chili crab — even better than what we had in Singapore.
 Indonesia lobster, actually more like crayfish but still very good.
 Other Indonesian offerings in their rustic clay pots.
Desserts. I was full, so chose only to sample Indonesian es cendol and an exceptionally good fruit macaron.

 Time to explore. This is hotel pool and a view of the city.
The bar, source of mojitos and that memorable orange-mint drink.
  Extravagantly tropical tiles in the ladies' room.
 If we can find these mattle black faucets in Europe, we'll be using them when we redo our bathroom in France. Suddenly the idea of black and white, with easily changeable color supplied by towels, etc., has a new appeal.

Since the Hotel Keraton is so centrally located, we made a beeline for Alun Alun in Grand Indonesia Shopping Town. The roads may have been empty, but the mall certainly wasn't. This is yet another of Jakarta's upmarket shopping centers, where you stroll by Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Loewe (maker of the bag of Irina's that Cheri and I so admired), Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, looking for a store that you would feel comfortable entering. Alun Alun (marketplace) fits the bill. Our purchase was far from cheap, but we wanted to buy one more fabulous silk weaving from Tenun Imam, based in Bali. This will join two others once we've redone our London bedroom in shades of grey, bronze, and cream.
 Two last photos to show vehicles parked right at the mall entrance, clearly owned by wealthy Indonesians who could easily afford to enter the shops that we walked by so quickly.

07 August 2012

Jakarta burning

Firefighters and local residents work to extinguish a blaze in Karet Tengsin, Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta on Monday night. The fire burned through more than 400 homes and 200 kiosks. (Antara Photo)

Images of wildfires in Colorado and Catalonia have been dominant features of the news this summer. While our "zone rouge" house in the Pyrenees is always at risk during the dry season, we weren't too worried about the London flat or our possessions in the Ritz-Carlton. As a reminder not to get complacent anywhere, though, last night we spotted this raging fire from our window here in Jakarta. We weren't really threatened by the blaze, but flames that high and intense definitely give one pause.

Exploding Cell Phone Ignites Massive Blaze in Central Jakarta

Lenny Tristia Tambun | August 07, 2012

More than 400 homes were heavily damaged Monday evening in a blaze in Karet Tengsin, Central Jakarta, that was reportedly sparked by an exploding mobile phone, an official said.

“The fire was caused by a mobile phone that exploded while it was being charged,” Paimin Napitupulu, head of Jakarta Fire and Disaster Mitigation Agency said. “It caused a short circuit and the sparks ignited the blaze, which was spread by gas and strong winds. The house was made of wood and was located in the middle of the neighborhood, so the flames spread quickly.”

Firefighters began battling the difficult blaze with local residents at 7:35 Monday evening. The fire was under control by 1:25 Tuesday morning after some forty fire trucks arrived on the scene.

“Our firefighters found it difficult to combat the fire because of poor access to the location,” Paimin said.

As many as 1,665 people were left homeless by the blaze, which burned through some 405 homes and 200 businesses. Some residents fainted after seeing their home ablaze.

The Jakarta Social Agency and the Indonesian Red Cross Jakarta chapter were on location Monday helping the victims.

The owner of the mobile phone was taken into protective custody by police, Paimin said.

“He was not detained, just secured in anticipation of street justice,” he said.

24 May 2012

Derailment ahead?

Indonesia has huge potential. Its leaders aren't exaggerating either the natural resources or the human capital that could see the country taking its place at the table with the big guys. But — the author of this article is also not exaggerating. We all moan about the traffic here in Jakarta, but issues like this are a far greater problem.

From The New York Times, reprinted in the International Herald Tribune [capitalization or lack thereof for "the" copied from the Old Gray Lady herself].

Op-Ed Contributor

Indonesia's Rising Religious Intolerance

Published: May 21, 2012
He faces the possibility of up to six years in prison, charged with blasphemy, disseminating hatred and spreading atheism. Radical Muslims came to his office, beat him up, and called the police after reading about his views on Facebook.

Alex is the first atheist in Indonesia to be jailed for his belief, but his case is symptomatic of a wider increase in religious intolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. The previous Sunday, I joined a small church in Bekasi, a suburb of Jakarta, for a service, but found the street blocked by a noisy, angry mob and a few police.

The church, known as HKBP Filadelfia, was forced to close a few years ago, even though the local courts had given permission to open. The local mayor, under pressure from Islamists, has declared a “zero church” policy in his area. For the past two months, the congregation has been blocked from worshiping in the street outside their building, and the atmosphere has grown increasingly tense.

When I was there, I felt it could have erupted into violence at any moment. The radicals in control of the loudspeaker shouted “Christians, get out,” and “anyone not wearing a jilbab (headscarf), catch them, hunt them down.”

World leaders and commentators like to point to Indonesia as a model of tolerance and pluralism and an example of how Islam and democracy are not incompatible. To a certain extent they are right — Indonesia does have a great tradition of pluralism, a generally tolerant brand of Islam, and has made a remarkable transition from authoritarianism to democracy.

The majority of Indonesian Muslims remain moderate, and are appalled by rising intolerance. But three factors are undermining religious freedom: the silence and passivity of the majority, growing radicalization, and the weakness of the government at every level.

It is not only religious tolerance and freedom that is under threat, but also the rule of law. Another church, GKI Yasmin in Bogor, an hour from Jakarta, has approval from the Supreme Court to open, but the local mayor, again under pressure from Islamists, refuses to allow it. A district mayor is in defiance of the Supreme Court, and no one says a word.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community is perhaps the most persecuted. Violent attacks against this group, whose beliefs are considered heretical by many conservative Muslims, have increased significantly. Last year I met victims of one of the worst outbreaks of violence, an attack on Ahmadis in Cikeusik on Feb. 6, 2011, which left three people dead.

One man described how he was stripped naked and beaten severely and a machete was held at his throat. He was dragged through the village and dumped in a truck like a corpse. Another man fled into a fast-flowing river, pursued by attackers throwing rocks and shouting “kill, kill, kill.”

He hid in a bush, dripping wet and extremely cold, for four hours. A third suffered a broken jaw, while a fourth, pursued by men armed with sickles, machetes and spears, was detained by the police for three days, treated as a suspect not a victim.

Of the 1,500-strong mob that attacked 21 Ahmadis, only 12 people were arrested and prosecuted, according to The New York Times. Their sentences were between three and six months.

These are by no means the only cases. Earlier this month, radicals attacked a lecture by the liberal Canadian Muslim Irshad Manji. In Aceh, 17 churches were forced to close.

I met other church pastors who talked about their churches being closed, and a woman, the Rev. Luspida, who was beaten while one of her congregation was knifed. “We have no religious freedom here anymore,” she told me. “We need to give a message to the president. He cannot say the situation is good here. We need to remind him our situation is very critical, and he should do something for the future of Indonesia. Support from outside is very important to pressure the president.”

As Indonesia faces its Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council — a process applied periodically to every member state — serious questions should be asked about the country’s future. If action is not taken, Indonesia’s accomplishments over the past decade could be jeopardized.

It is not too late. There are some excellent Indonesian Muslim organizations such as the Wahid Institute, founded by former President Abdurrahman Wahid, and the Maarif Institute, whose work should be supported.

If President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono acted, he would have the silent majority behind him. His government made progress in tackling terrorism, but it should not shirk its responsibility to fight the ideology that underpins terror. His government should stop giving in to the radicals and start protecting the rights of all Indonesians to choose, change and practice their religion, as provided in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I went to meet Alex Aan because as a Christian, I believe in the freedom of religion, which includes the right not to believe.

Benedict Rogers works for the international human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide, based in London.


I had half a suitcase full of oleh-oleh (souvenir gifts) to take back to London with me, but the largesse had to be whittled down to accommodate all the files I need for our tax returns — processing the raw material for our accountants is the reason I need to spend a month in the UK before heading to the States.

Unexpectedly, I found myself a recipient of oleh-oleh as well as a future distributor. Agus phoned the other evening to request that I drop down to Kem Chicks if I had time. I did and was presented with snacks and an extraordinary coconut shell handbag. With his wife and two daughters, he had been visiting Rajapolah, an area in west Java famed for its traditional handicrafts. The local artisans work mostly in natural materials, coconut, rattan, bamboo, and water hyacinth, considered an invasive weed in most places but creatively processed by clever Indonesians. For anyone who, like me, has no idea what woven water hyacinth fiber looks like, this is it, via Google Images:

Here is Agus when he met Myrna in March, in his usual smart shirt and tie:
And here he is in what could easily be Californian vacation mode:

Our snacks. The ones on the right are sweet, and one bite transported me instantly back to eating Sugar Smacks when I was a child. Wikipedia check reveals that this cereal appeared in 1953, when I was five; almost sixty years later, it's still around but now billed as Honey Smacks.

 I may have quoted this before somewhere, but there's a saying that the coconut is Allah's most useful creation. You can drink its liquid, eat its flesh, turn the shell into an eating vessel and then, if all else fails, use it as a begging bowl. As I now know, there's also the purse possibility. Ingenious use of materials!
 A close-up to show how painstakingly made this is.
I asked Agus for photos of the family on holiday. He obliged with the one photo of himself above and others of his wife and daughters, Vera,  Fathiya, and Athifa.