Image of the Week – 147 (Statues)

Although this photo was taken two or three weeks ago during Jakarta’s most recent floods, I saved it for now because a. I like it and b. it sums up last week for me.

There’s a glimmer of hope that things are about to happen after a long period of going nowhere fast.

And this is a message for those in the know: Hapus Dydd Gwyl Dewi.

Jokowi must listen

Pak Jokowi.

You’ve fed the nation lies in order to appease the corrupt politicians who surround you.

Now listen to the youth of Indonesia and take the moral high ground.

Depression Session

For most of my life I’ve been an unashamed idealist. I once had a lapel badge proclaiming that, and have always thought that life is an index of possibilities.

However, last week, I dived uncharacteristically into a black mood and vegetated for a day slumped unseeing in front of my TV.

The day before, my team had believed that we’d finally, after much persistence, cleared all the obstacles in our path to fulfilling the application requirements for a government project. This involved uploading documents to department website where, presumably, a human checked them. That evening I received an email telling me that we’d done something  wrong with the process. Just what was not stated. The address was “”.
This blog will be eleven years old next month, and through its life I’ve chronicled my perception of life here in Jakarta. When I started in 2004, blogging was the relatively new ‘social media’, and the spirit of reformasi following the abdication of Suharto, witnessed here, was still in the air. Indonesians who had not been free to challenge Suharto’s thought control, now felt able to put their thoughts in writing. For some, it was an opportunity to voice concerns and suggestions about a better caring and sharing society. These took the form of opinionated rants, witness accounts, commentary and analyses, and you’ll find all those in the some 2,400 posts in my archives.

For example, the lack of adequate sidewalks is a topic I first tackled ten years ago. I’m pleased that this week the Jakarta Post is sufficiently aggrieved to feature the ongoing problem.

For many other bloggers it was on the level of ‘kissed the cat and hit the boyfriend’ or about ‘lifestyle choices’ and selebritis. It saddens me that my post ‘Sabrina‘ from June 2008 is still the week’s top read.

Of late, I haven’t had the mental energy to write polemics; the issues which concern me are now mainstream and much of what I want to say is said by others, and can be read in the English language media here, the Jakarta Post, the Jakarta Globe  and Tempo. That really pleases me; the only occasional blogger of note about Indonesia affairs is Elizabeth Pisani, the author of Indonesia Etc.and she is based in London.

Apart from a few writing commissions which come my way, which do get posted here, my writing is now more of a ‘selfie’ nature, rather than the world at large. There is my series of Images of the Week, Jakartass’ Music, a new venture of uploading compilations of music from my extensive library, putting my Travel Diaries online. There are also my FaceBook Pages: Jakartass (for snippets), Green Indonesia, Save Balikpapan Bay, andI also occasionally contribute to IndoJazzia.

So why my title, you may ask.

It wasn’t so much the WTF moment which, as a friend once suggested, are delivered on a daily basis, but the shared feeling that reformasi is stalling.
Since his election last year, President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo has had it tough. Elected by the people because he was not seen to be part of the Suhartoist establishment, he kept reminding us that his priority was to ‘change the nation’s mindset’. Good, I thought. Not that I have the vote, but I figured that as Jakartass I’d played my part in that process.

Jokowi settled in with a reputation of listening to the rakyat and of getting things done during his tenures as mayor of Surakarta and as Governor of Jakarta. What many of us overlooked in our optimism was that Jokowi’s strong suit has always been the art of compromise. As a self made millionaire through his furniture making business and through his political reigns, he’d had to compromise. Now he has to bend to the desires and diktats of the politico-business élite who stalk the corridors of power. Unfortunately, they and the rakyat have one thing in common: the lowest common denominator of self-interest.

It’s relatively easy to understand why he prevaricated over the choice, Megawati’s choice, of a suspected’ corrupt policeman to be the chief of police. This has lead to a recurrence of the Cicak lawan Buaya (Gecko versus Crocodile) standoff between the National Police and the Corruption Eradication Commission last seen in 2009. But that is merely dispiriting.

There are a few explanations for Jokowi’s intransigence in not considering clemency for a number of prisoners on death row. Although I am opposed to capital punishment on many grounds, which I don’t intend to set out here, it is Jokowi’s stance which really bothers me; he indicates that “the political cost is too high for him to grant such pardons.”

After the apparent indecisiveness of SBY, perhaps Jokowi wants to be seen as a ‘strong leader’. That foreigners are among those awaiting a firing squad creates diplomatic tension which in turn heightens the fervour of innate nationalism among the rakyat. That favours those in power.

However, commuting death sentences to, say, life imprisonment for humanitarian reasons would demonstrate power as well if adequately explained. It would indicate high moral standards, something sorely lacking in a country rife with corruption and ‘selfies’, and would do much to change the nation’s mindset towards the positive values of community and unity in diversity.

I’ve railed against the moral corruption which pervades the nation umpteen times over the years. What really concerns me is that Jokowi is either cynically lying to the country about why the executions should go ahead, or he lacks the essential critical thinking one expects from a leader. I suspect the latter because, after all, he was raised in the Suharto era, as were his parents and teachers.

Is there really “an emergency situation” with drugs? Have a look at this scan of a cutting from the Jakarta Post and first consider this. Last year, the Health Ministry estimated there were 4.6 million drug addicts. For the last two months, Jokowi has given a figure of 4.5 million as a justification for executing drug traffickers. Last week the National Narcotics Agency gave a figure of 4.2 million addicts, and a couple of days ago this became “some”‘ four million. These figures alone are an indication that the President and his government departments are clueless about the rate of addiction.

Jokowi has also said: “Every day 40 to 50 of those drug users will die a tragic death.

Really? Where do such figures come from? Perhaps he’s got confused with the number of deaths from tobacco related diseases every day.

Now do some simple arithmetic.

BNN predicts that the country could see an additional 75,000 new drug addicts each year. Over the 12 years of the rehab programme, one already enshrined in the 2009 Narcotics Law, that totals 900,000.

At that rate, it would take 60 years to reach 4.5 million. So, far from being an emergency, there is another indication of a decreasing trend in drug addiction.

I have no way of knowing if my conjecture is correct, but then neither does Jokowi, or any of the supposedly educated politicos braying for mob justice.

If Jokowi does continue down this path, then it will be time for the Jakartass of yore to return to action.

Image of the Week – 146 (Fish Market)

Fish for sale in a market in Central Kalimantan

Image from, a regular source of news and reports which I post on Green Indonesia.

Grebeg Sudiro festival


Image of the Week – 145 (Valentine’s Day 2015)

An Iraqi woman walks past a shop displaying preparations for Valentine’s day in Baghdad
Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, last Friday, regional governments and the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI)  banned the celebration of Valentine’s Day, citing its potentially harmful effects on the morals of young persons.

That reinforces the notion that many leaders in the political and Muslim sphere have one-track minds focussed on (their) penises and the receptacles of (their) ejaculations.

If they weren’t so blinkered and did some minimal research by asking an internet search engine “Who was St. Valentine?”, they could well decide to promote the day which commemorates his execution.

In the year 269 AD, Valentine was sentenced to a three part execution of a beating, stoning, and finally decapitation all because of his stand for Christian marriage. The story goes that the last words he wrote were in a note to his jailer’s daughter, signing it, “from your Valentine.”

Ok, maybe Muslims don’t wish to see a Christian saint being commemorated. However, they should note that Valentine is the patron saint of married and affianced couples.

Furthermore, during the period known as the High Middle Ages, the period of European history around the 11th – 13th centuries which had a tradition of courtly love. (Think ‘King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table‘.)  In essence, courtly love was an experience between erotic desire and spiritual attainment that now seems contradictory as “a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent.”

That description can be equally be the raison d’être of the Muslim fasting month of Lebaran.

Isn’t it sad that the edict emphasises the profane rather than the profound?.

As for me, I don’t like the prosaic aspects, the crass commercialisation of St. Valentine’s Day which suggests that love can be bought for a meal, a night in a five star hotel, a pink greetings card or a red teddy bear.

Dwiki Dharmawan – Gig & Album Launch

Date: Tuesday 10th February
Place: Sohanna Hall, Energy Building, Central Jakarta.

The occasion was the launch of a four track ‘sampler’ of a new album by Dwiki Dharmawan, Passion, Love, Life,  recorded just four weeks ago in California under the auspices of New York based MoonJune Records.

The album features two Americans, Jimmy Haslip (bass) best known for being a founder member of the Yellowjackets, and Chad Wackerman (drums), best known for his work with Frank Zappa. Both have recently been the sidesmen on the Stateside recording date for Indonesian guitarist Tohpati’s Tribal Dance, also distributed internationally by MoonJune. Tohpati is on three tracks of Dwiki’s full album on which Jerry Goodman, the violinist in the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, will be added to one track.

The Gig

Jakarta was suffering the after effects of the previous day’s floods, so there had been fraught conversations about whether the gig was going to be happening. I got there at 7, ready for the gig at 8. As the audience settled in, it was clear that this was more of a generational family gathering than a public affair. Wives and selebritis wore their finest public garb; fellow MoonJune artists Ligro, rising stars in Indonesia’s jazz firmament Sri ‘Aga’ Hanuraga and Elfa Zulham, other musos, assorted promoters and sponsors, recording studio technicians et al, students from Dwiki’s network of Farabi Music Schools, MoonJune’s Indonesia representative Arlo Hennings, and your scribe: we were all there for the occasion and obrolan (society gossip).

The show opened with a group of Farabi Rising Stars, who certainly are. As a group, they gelled, each proving their grasp of technique and jazz genres. Alifar Ikram (bass), Bima Adhitama (drums) and Syaravi Dewanda (guitar) deserved the applause for their solo spots. On piano was Yarra Annes who proved that she can hold an audience with her singing too. However, my eyes and ears were caught by young Fakhri. Centre stage, this diminutive figure was playing electric violin with astonishing fluidity. Depending on the music flow, he reminded me at times of Geoff Richardson of Caravan and Jerry Goodman of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

(In conversation after the show, it was agreed that Fakhri has the potential to match the international profile of Luluk Purwanto, long resident in the Netherlands.)

The Whale

With an audio-visual backdrop, which included the names of the group members, Dewa having lost the ‘D’ in Budjana, Dwiki launched himself energetically at his array of keyboards, which included a moog, Hammond organ and Korg. Following the order of tracks on the distributed CD, this was Return Of The Lamafa. If it hadn’t been for his jeans and black shirt, I would have been reminded of the theatrics of Rick Wakeman in Yes mode. However, perhaps his dexterity owed more to Keith Emerson of ELP.

Yes, this was prog-rock, a reminder of one of the foundations of Indonesia’s current creative jazz scene.

The next tune was, according to the back screen image, NYC 2050, and I began to focus on the thunderous rhythm section while Dwiki moodled on his moog. Dewa appeared to be the only one not reading from the chart, but it was clear that the empathy between all that Chad and Jimmy had survived their trans-oceanic journeys.

Bromo was calmer with Dewa introducing the distance views across the plain with an ethereal ambient calm, with the organ swelling before taking the lead. The audio-visual meditation was soon displaced as the volcano erupted.

Dwiki then spent a few minutes at the mike thanking all and sundry for coming, and cajoling Tohpati to come up on stage and join the band.

With Dark Of The Light, the band caught fire. Chad and Jimmy made up the trio for Tohpati’s Tribal Dance, and he is good mates with Dewa; the three guitarists cut loose from their charts thus setting up some really fine grooving. Dwiki joined in on Hammond and moog, and with Chad behind propelling everyone along and Tohpati keeping up a constant fast one note strum in sync with the bass, we experienced the power of an express train.  Wow … and I regret that the track on the CD doesn’t have the same intensity.

Whale Dance washed over me, but the closing number, Arafura, didn’t. The tune along with Dwiki’s playing reminded me of Dave Sinclair of Caravan in some passages. Dewa and Tohpati were a duo of duelling guitars with a telepathic understanding. Jimmy Haslip on his 6 string bass demonstrated power, and why he is one of my favourite fusion jazz bassists. It was then the turn of Chad to be the crowd pleaser. I noted at the beginning of his spot that I’m not a fan of drum solos, but I was soon locked in; how could he keep up that driving double off beat for so long? Did he have two bass drums? For once, rightly impressed at Chad’s dexterity, I joined in the crowd’s loud applause while the band played on.

All in all, it made for a fascinating evening in a great venue, one I hadn’t been in before. At times the music captured me, and at other moments I quietly observed the two guys who sat next to me. They had arrived too late to set up their gear for the anticipated DVD of the evening, so they focussed on their texting machines, only looking at the stage when Chad had his spotlighted moment.

After the show, I complimented Dwiki on having pulled together the evening in such a short time, and wished him well for the next two gigs, in Bandung and Bali.

I hope the full album proves to be a grower, and has more of the dynamism we witnessed live.

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