Friday, 16 May 2014


Imagine country comprised of nearly 17.000 islands lined up along Ring of Fire - the most geologically active tectonic rim on Earth, marked by volcanoes like chimneys of geological factories shaping their fate in constant cycle of creation and destruction, fertilization and death, speaking 500 different languages and dialects (most of them on just one Island-Papua, the most ethnically diversified piece of land on Earth. No wonder Jared Diamond found it so intricate to settle there and investigate history of humankind), spread over 5200km with countless local traditions and beliefs lurking in the shadow of Islam (apart from Bali) and inhabited by nearly 250 million people (more than half of them on Java, one of the most densely populated area on the planet) and you have an idea of this mad, fascinating mosaic called Indonesia.

Jakarta, capital city, mad, chaotic, choked in traffic and pollution megalopolis, municipal virus spread over 600 square km and holding in its claws over 20 million people is like an architectural nightmare. Saigon was swarming with motorbikes but it seems like a countryside now. Crossing the street, which is usually wider and busier than it looks is a gamble and narrows with a suicide. If you think you're ready to dodge incoming traffic, flowing like a crazy tsunami wave from every direction because you have spent some time in Asia you're playing with your fate. Heat, humidity and fumes from all types of vehicles infer your senses and sponge your brain. It's a pure municipal challenge aimed for the toughest city-survival junkies.

Kota- the oldest part reaching back to a Dutch occupation (Batavia) looks like quintessence of slams now (apart from Taman Fatahillah, nicely trimmed for tourists main square). Neighboring Glodock is even worse contrasting enormously with Central Part of Gambir and Merdeka with its rich mansions and embassies and looking like a different world if compared with Senayan with its shiny, modern show-off shopping malls where looking for a dream therapy wanna-be's hide from surrounding chaos. Contrast between rich and poor is not surprising but still strikes with the same force. From one hand: uneducated dirt- poor Nobody's leaving below any standards with 6 kids in cartoon house under the bridge, selling whatever they can on the street or prowling all day for easy money and from the other: hedonistic zombies from upper class, cruising around town in their SUV's like tanks in the ghetto, megalomaniacs plagues with the same Western complex as their more developed clones in Singapore, taking selfies in front of Louis Vitton kitsch displays to make valuable daily contribution to their dream life on facebook.

Nobody walks in Jakarta. Walking is for losers. You take your motorbike to visit shop around the corner. Don't forget your face mask though - pollution is a horrible inconvenience. Sidewalks are either non existing or resemble ditch under construction where you can trip, fall into a hole or break your leg. Walking on the street is also impossible as per above. There are bajajs or taxis fortunately - you can sit, relax and experience legendary traffic enjoying long, long way to your destination.

People in Indonesia are as diversified as everything else but there is one thing they have in common - smile. They will wave, greet or try a random chat even if using body language only (and most will be genuinely surprised that you don't speak Bahasa Indonesia like it's a must! Truly admirable patriotism:)). Annual research conducted in cooperation with American psychologists place Indonesians on the third place of the most happy nations in the world (criteria are not transparent though). In the world of volcanoes regularly killing thousands of people and destroying their households, poverty, corrupted government and oppressive police system people remain kind, helpful and extremely friendly. It seems to be reversely proportionate to the financial status all over the world. Maybe living on the geological ticking bomb make them understand more deeply that life is fragile and temporary and we are all part of the same system (Tat Twam Asi)? Mixture of deeply rooted Hinduism and Buddhism (with Borobudur and Prambanan as its remnants) which highlights importance of present life in determining future cycles and Islam historically glorifying tolerance may also play a role.

Constant threat of natural disaster make Indonesians more attached to the nature and fuels traditional, animistic beliefs in forces we spoiled by civilization and city incubators arrogant individualists ignore. Sad it doesn't make them understand that this connection to nature and place in macro-cosmos comes with responsibility. Do they have to destroy it first and loose what they take for granted like in many other cases to notice and appreciate what they have? Trash contaminate landscape just like in Myanmar. Not long ago everything was wrapped in banana leafs so there was no recycling issue - technology has changed but habits' die slowly...

Volcanoes blemish face of Java like bubonic nodes.They are destroyers but also creators. Capricious rulers of land, fertilizing soil to sustain overpopulation by spewing valuable minerals in constant tectonic recycling process, re-shaping land or forming new Islands (like Krakatoa explosion in 1883 or the biggest ever recorded - Tambora on Sumbawa in 1815 which lowered original mountain by half and affected global weather system causing year without summer), gates to the different world inside Earth's crust. Once you stand on the edge of Gunung Penanjakan overlooking smoking crater of Bromo with Semeru in a background - the highest volcano in Java, you can't help feeling shrunk to insignificance, same feeling you face when looking through a telescope or Hubble images of distant galaxies.

Food won't blow you away (especially after Thailand and Malaysia). Soto Ayam, Nasi and Mee in all shapes and forms are served in traditional warungs. It's usually family run business so there is no restaurant atmosphere. You can often serve food to yourself from the stall. Sugar is an essential ingredient of every decent drink, don't ever try to fight with it - if not gula condensed milk in your coffee will make your teeth crumble anyway.

It should be called Islanesia for the 2 main features: Islam and Islands. Such a similar words, they seem to fit here perfectly. World of nature, magic, diversification and permanent threat where even farmers get stuck in traffic when leaving their rice fields. Fascinating and overwhelming, the whole world in its own taking years to discover...