Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mount Merapi

As you may have heard, Mount Merapi, a volcano in Central Java here in Indonesia is looking worryingly like it's about to blow its top.

I would research this post, quote statistics of people killed over the last hundred years or so from Merapi's eruptions, location, height, and all of that stuff, but a journalist friend of mine, Chad, is out on the slopes of the volcano himself and he'll do it better than I ever could...

So check out his new experiment in blog based (and hopefully, for his sake, net funded) journalism at http://www.mountmerapi.blogspot.com/.

This would work better if I actually had an audience...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Tahu Tempeh and Reggae in Indonesia

I was sitting at a warung on the side of a little street just off Thamrin (Blora, Purworejo, or something like that) with a friend of mine the other week and another friend of his called Ho turned up.

Ho is a skinny Indonesian guy with long dreadlocks, a beat up guitar and a harmonica. He spent quite a lot of time on the street as a kid, and now makes his living busking on buses and along the streets of Jakarta.

We spoke about life, music, politics and so on and then traded songs for a little while. I played some Johnny Cash, he played some Iwan Fals, I played some Ween, and he played this. It's a pretty simple reggae song that Ho wrote about the wonders of cheap, tasty tofu and tempeh (and, in obligatory reggae style, a random reference to marijuana).

Why reggae is so popular in Indonesia is one of life's little mysteries. Any guy on the side of the street can play you No Woman No Cry and can mumble vaguely English sounding words to just about any Bob Marley song you'd care to name.

The standard off-beat skank in reggae is a very natural rhythm, you hear it in all sorts of musics all over the world. Possibly most notably for the purposes of this post, it is also very prominent in all sorts of Indonesian music, especially Sundanese Jaipongan. You even get the reggae triplets and other rhythmic figures that people would consider idiomatic to reggae.

I guess it's a credit to Om Coxsone and his buddies way over there in Jamaica that the style of music they developed can be so universally accepted and timeless.

If you're on the lookout for good reggae in Indonesia then fear not. The two most famous reggae bands in Jakarta at the moment are Tony Q Rastafara and Steven & Coconut Treez (who I randomly met at a party last night, or at least Steven and a coconut tree). You can catch them at a bunch of different places around town, but most often BB's in Menteng, some place in Citos I've never been to, and Wapress in Blok M.

Failing that, just stop by a warteg when you see a dude with a guitar and try your luck...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

On Homesickness...

Homesickness is a funny thing.

I was reading the blog of a friend of mine the other day who arrived in Indonesia relatively recently and she wrote recently her struggles with fitting in here and it reminded me of my own troubles finding my own little niche.

I think the reason that it hit me was precisely because I didn't expect it. I was very fortunate in that I already spoke the language pretty fluently, and had some great family friends that I could call in on and get a good meal, etc. Even so, I guess I should have expected it considering I was leaving all of my friends, a girlfriend I'd been with for 5 years, a job I quite liked, and a city and the associated lifestyle that I'd grown comfortable with...

For quite a while I think that I thought that the quantity of "friends" I had here made up for the qualities of the friends that I was missing in Melbourne. The realisation that I shouldn't give my number to anyone who asks was actually quite a revelation to me. Periodically, my policy of being passively friendly to people I had nothing in common with and had little interest in actually got me in trouble to the point where I had one bona fide stalker that took me 14 months to finally shake (well, shaken for 6 weeks and counting), and a number of borderline ones.

About 4 months after arriving here I met Stephi, the first western person within 5 years of my age I had met, and was having dinner with her and a bunch of other people at Amigos Kemang when the band started playing a cover version of UB40's cover version of Al Green's Here I Am (Come and Take Me).

I said, to no one in particular, as no one that in particular had paid attention to these little asides in the last 4 months so I was getting used to it, "Man... The Al Green version of this is so much better...".

"Yeah, I know..."

Suddenly I felt more at ease than I had in months and it struck me: even though I had been living in and around Indonesian culture for more than half of my life, and I knew how to adjust to their culture and make them feel at home, they didn't know how to do that for me; and now and then, I need it. My cultural response to so many things is a world apart from that of most Indonesians, even those who have lived in Australia, the US, or whatever.

McDonalds, littering, smoking, oral sex, drugs, George Bush, literature, politics, religion, synth keyboard sounds, 80s style fusion jazz, using cutesy alternate spelling when writing smses, cover bands, alcohol, homosexuality (or Gaydom as one friend put it), women, mobile phones, fashion, punk, romantic comedies, and innumerable other things conjure completely different images in my mind than they do for most of my friends here.

Stephi and I don't have that much in common, in fact, I don't think I've seen her more than twice in the year or so since then, but just the fact that she had heard of Al Green (a seemingly trivial fact) was like a big flashing neon sign that said My Cultural Experience Of What You're Culturally Experiencing Is Broadly In Line With Your Cultural Experience Of What You're Culturally Experiencing*.

The revelation I had over that dinner still wasn't quite enough to make me decide that, yeah, actually, I do really want to try and make it work here and I'll take these steps to do so. I didn't start really actually enjoying it until a few months later, when I had a surprise typhoid fever caused trip back home and brought over my guitars, got my own apartment, met a couple of expats a little more like the people I had been friends with in Australia and actually decided that I really did want to give it a genuine try; and here I am a year later loving it...

Homesickness and culture shock hit everyone in different ways at different points in time for different reasons. There's no one cure-all, in fact a good chunk of people don't get over it at all, probably 20% of people who come here get miserable and give up after 6 months or less, but if/when you get used to it, it's a hell of an experience...

Postscript: For no particular reason here is a song I wrote around the time I described above. I recorded it on my work computer in my kost room with my crappy travel guitar with a microphone I bought from Carrefour for Rp. 20,000 and it sounds like it... That said, it's a pretty accurate picture of how I was feeling at the time for anyone who cares, so there ya go...

*I wish I remembered enough javascript to know how to make that flash like an actual neon sign... Stupid Computer Science degree... Be More Useful!