Monday, April 24, 2006

No to Zero Culture

For those who have just joined us, a relatively small but very vocal and increasingly violent and confident minority are trying to pass an exceptionally restrictive "anti-porn" law with definitions of pornography and "pornoaksi" so vague that will serve no purpose other than legitimising the violent and illegal actions of certain extremist groups (Front Pembela Islam, and recently Forum Betawi Rempung, among others) including hassling women for walking unescorted after dark and accusing them of being prostitutes, stoning the offices of Playboy Indonesia, and generally resorting to thuggery and intimidation to get their way.

What they don't realise, or maybe they do and the conspiracy theories are true, is passing laws like this which are supposed to "protect women and children and protect the moral health of the nation" will oppress those people and effectively tear the country apart.

I'm no expert in politics or social theory but, more than anything else in the last 5 years or so, I feel that this is a watershed in Indonesia's development as a nation. Anyone with a vague knowledge of Indonesian issues knows that Indonesia is having some national cohesion problems at the moment, much of these stem from a feeling of resentment at the perceived dominance that the Javanese and increasingly, the Sumatrans have over "Indonesian Culture". Regional languages and customs are dying out, transmigrants from Java are seen as invading regional areas (sometimes with disastrous consequences, Madurese in Kalimantan, case in point), and more and more societal and moral norms decided in Java are being forced on people who could care less that the state sanctioned religions that they have to choose from don't include Wektu Telu, their particular brand of Islam, or whatever. For some bureaucrat in Jakarta to decide that from now on, a good percentage of Papuans are breaking the law by wearing what they've been wearing every day for most of their lives, can't do anything but stoke the fires of independence that they've been trying to put out for the best part of 4 decades. That's not to mention Bali, or other regions dependant on tourism for their way of life.

So yeah... In opposition to the RUU APP (R-something Undang-Undang Anti Pornografi dan Pornoaksi), a committee of concerned individuals thought they'd put on a parade to oppose it.

At first, I was a little hesitant to head down there, I mean, the FPI and other fundamentalist organisations already see the evil foreigners as paragons of sin looking to corrupt the innocent youngsters with sex, drugs and liberal thought at any opportunity. For me to be wandering around actually joining in any protesting would probably do more harm than good. Also, it's not really my fight. As much as I want to see Indonesia develop into a cohesive, successful bastion of democracy in South-East Asia, it's for the people of Indonesia to make that happen. Not me. So I went down to observe.

My limited experience with these sorts of protests in the West normally amount to mass fornication in the streets unlikely to convince anyone who wasn't a rabid supporter in the first place, and likely to alienate anyone on the borderline. As my buddy Dave put it "well, I wasn't sure about the homosexual lifestyle before, but that fat, hairy guy with the cock-ring and biker boots makes a good point".

Fortunately (with the possible exception of the dude front and center in the photo above, zoom in if you can't read what's on his t-shirt), this wasn't anything like that at all.

The theme of the parade (which I prefer to refer to it as, rather than a protest) was No to Zero Culture, and that's exactly what it was. Instead of thousands of angry young men running around trashing pot plants and causing mischief, this was a true celebration of the wonderful diversity of culture that Indonesia has to offer that will be threatened by this ridiculous law.

There were literally tens of thousands of people in attendance, from trucks full of Waria (Wanita/Pria - Woman/Man - a sort of Transexual/Transvestite catchall), to trucks full of guys from Aceh playing traditional Gayo music, to hundreds of old women wearing jilbabs, to a truck full of guys with dreadlocks smeared in paint (I don't know either).

The whole event culminated in a big gathering at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout where a stage was set up for different groups to give cultural performances. We had some dances, some music, a pretentious poet, and last, but certainly not least, Inul (the one who is most often cited as the reason the bill is needed. For more information on her check out this article from TIME magazine)..

While I was overcome with joy to finally see Inul in the flesh, it is with heavy heart that I report that I was unable to get a photo with her despite hanging around for half an hour while she was hassled by TV cameras... Very sad.

Anyway, here's to hoping that people understand what's at stake here, and get active.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Do you think?

Do you think that if you swallow a whole lot of air and stored it in your stomach, you would be able to hold your breath longer than if you hadn't?

I think there are two issues to consider here:

1) The regurgitation factor

At first thought, it might be possible to regurgitate some of the oxygen containing air out of your stomach and suck it into your lungs, but considering the fact that there's no way to create the negative pressure in the areas you require it to affect the transfer, I'd say it's impossible to play an active role in getting the oxygen containing air in your stomach to your lungs.

2) The incidental absorption of oxygen

As far as my understanding of pulmonary evolution goes, we wouldn't technically need lungs if we had a much, much larger surface area:number of cells ratio and had our capillaries much closer to the surface of our skin.

Sure, a stomach doesn't have the enormous surface area of your average lung, but surely it's better than our skin... Then again, I imagine there's some kind of mucus layer between the stomach acids and the actual stomach itself.

Maybe if you could somehow fast-track the passing of the air to the upper intestine, that would help. There are all sorts of blood vessels there.

Just wondering...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Mak Erot

I was in Pelabuhan Ratu the other weekend with the Little Lady who thought she'd spend a grand or so to come up from Australia and see me for the weekend. I guess when you live in Canberra, you'll do whatever you can to get away.

We'd just pulled into town and were meandering our way along the coast looking for somewhere to find some lunch when a guy on a speeding motorbike suddenly appeared to our right driving in the middle of the lane going the wrong way banging on our window and yelling "Maerot, Maerot".

It doesn't sound like any Indonesian word I know, so I start running through the 15 or so Sundanese words I know to try and find a match. He seemed so excited about whatever he was yelling I was beginning to get a little worried. "Bridge out ahead", "new bombing in Jakarta", who knows?

Our driver seemed unpeturbed, waved him off and we moved on. We had a bite to eat and made our way to the strangest hotel in the world.

After booking into our room, a flourescently coloured canvas dome on a 20 metre high pole out at the end of a 5 metre long, 1 metre wide bridge from what the owner claimed was the highest free standing wooden structure in Indonesia, if not the world and comforted us by assured us that "no architects or civil engineers were involved", I wander down to the car to tell the driver that he can go for a wander if he wants because we're going to be there a while.

As I get down there, he and one of the caretakers are laughing about something.

kenapa pak?

what's up

yang tadi teriak-teriak tuh, anu, teriaknya "Mak Erot". Dia mo anterin kesana

the guy that was yelling before, he was yelling "Mak Erot". He wanted to take us there.

Eh, apaan tuh

Um, what's that?

Mak Erot, orang sini. Pernah denger?

Mak Erot, she's from around here. Have you heard of her?

Oh, Mak Erot. Gah pernah, kenapa dia?

Oh, Mak (Grandmother) Erot. Never heard of her, why?

Dia bisa gedein barang

She can make things bigger

Gedein barang?

Make things bigger?

Iya, barang...

Yeah, things...



Iya, barang... Anu, barangnya laki-laki.

Yeah, things... Um, men's things

Barangnya laki-laki?

Men's things?

Iya... Anu, kemaluan. Ah...

Yeah... Um, the, uh, private parts (lit. the shame). Um...

Ah, barang... Uh, gimana ya?

Oh, things... Uh, how does this work exactly?

Ya, diurut.

Well, she massages it. (makes motions not unlike the milking of a cow)

Diurut? Sama Mak?

Massaged? By a grandmother?

Iya. Katanya laku dia.

Yeah, word is she's pretty busy.

Terus? Makin gede, barangnya?

So? It actually gets bigger?

Iya. Tapi nggak bagus tuh, nggak alami. Paling dua, tiga hari kembali lagi

Yeah, but it's not really good, not natural. After two or three days it goes back to normal.

Apa nggak sakit? Kok diurut aja bisa makin gede?

Doesn't it hurt? She just massages it and it gets bigger?

Ya, kasih minyak, trus diurut.

Well, she puts some oil on it and massages it.


I see...

Anak-anaknya banyak tuh, di Jakarta. Tapi banyak yang palsu juga. Ini yang asli

Her students (lit. children) are all over Jakarta. But lots of them are fake. This is the real one.

Well... If you're looking for something unique to do next time you're in Pelabuhan Ratu. Keep an eye out. The guy's who know the way are near the first bridge when you're driving along the beach after passing through the town.