Gamelan Cudamani – “Young Man in Love”

July 10, 2010

In the three months since I started writing, I’ve resisted high culture.  But I couldn’t resist showing you this when I saw it.  

This Cudamani group from the Balinese village of Pengosekan has excellent timing and a rich, full sound.  The additional hand movements are also unusual.  The dancer is exquisite.  It’s a superior, professional troupe.  

Although Pengosekan is said to be a low-caste village there must be something in the water there because it punches above its weight in artistic abilities.  The village is also famed for its paintings.

Before starting, the dancer is led by a priest (in white) to make an offering to a barong, which is a kind of Balinese dragon.  As with Asian dragons, the barong is a benevolent force.


Drive Safe

July 8, 2010

Happy travels!

On a rainy day, helping to cart rice husks and there’s no room in the cabin.  These labourers have come up with a solution so they can ride along and not get wet by making a kind of hammock under the overhang at the back of the truck.  What can go wrong?

Jakarta Street Food: Es Cincau (“Grass Jelly”)

July 7, 2010

This is a refreshing snack for a hot day.  You can see the ice is already almost melted by the time the syrup has been poured on.

I’ve never tried what they call “grass jelly” at a Chinese restaurant, only at traditional-style Indonesian ones.  However the idea for this dessert is said to have come from China and spread throughout SE Asia all the way to Indonesia.  The fact they call it ‘grass jelly’ makes me wonder whether it’s really the same thing.  Because in Indonesia they use tree leaves to make it.

Here is the tree where the leaves come from:

cincau tree

And here are the leaves being processed to make the jelly:

Making cincau

I can’t think of any Western food that is made with tree leaves, except maybe those Greek snacks that are rolled in grape leaves – and grape vines don’t qualify as trees.  But in Indonesia there are quite a few.

Dangdut! Dian Ratih

July 4, 2010

Watching this clip I couldn’t understand why Dian Ratih is such a popular performer.  That is, she’s popular in East Java, which by headcount is incredibly popular.

To be fair, production quality is poor, there’s one close up where she’s out of focus and the director hasn’t even excluded passers-by.  It’s like they just turned up to a beach and started shooting without permission.  I’ve always found these music clips, where the performer mimes the words while outdoors, to be strange.  But she seems to make little effort to pretend to be actually singing.

She takes a few rythmic steps in one random direction then a few more back where she came from.  Well, she can’t really dance with that tight skirt she’s wearing.  Thankfully the whole embarassing affair ends abruptly after five and a half long minutes as she freezes and the camera pans away into the foliage.

That clip is dated 2007, so I thought I’d try to find see how she developed from there.  After a bit of searching, I came across this video, but for a while I thought it was a different girl:

Well, it is a different girl, but she’s the same Dian Ratih, changed so much after only a year.  Still awful, but in a different way.  What’s she done to her lovely hair?  What was wrong with her natural black hair?  And what a mess it is.  She wears three costumes, only one of them looks good and maybe thats because the water distracts your attention from it.  Definitely a lot more movement, but meaningless.  Maybe it’s supposed to look sexy?  The way her eyebrows are plucked makes her look like one of those middle aged Chinese ladies you see at the malls.  Perhaps she goes to the same beautician they do.  The kind of beautician that makes you age 20 years?  She still can’t mime to save herself.

If you thought those outfits were terrible, take a look at this:

She couldn’t decide whether the yellow or the blue, so why not both?  Equally horrid.  At least her hair is a bit better this time.  How about the back-up dancers?  She and they never meet.  What were the director’s instructions to them?  ‘Just wear whatever you’ve got.  As long as it’s a skirt.  Oh, and put on some big clunky sneakers, you’ll be dancing on grass’.  Skirt and huge sneakers, how elegant.  At least we get to see some of the attractions of Banyuwangi: a big rock in the middle of the road at 2:40 and a power line at 4:30, really makes you want to go there.

In a similarly awful vein is this clip:

It looks like something from the 1980’s.  The dancers have a nice sand patch to bounce around in their crazy jumpsuits.  At least Dian’s costumes are a bit more tasteful.  Except the one where she’s sitting on the window sill.  She’s lost one of her long glove things and wearing a beret.  For some reason smoke rises outside the house.  Is there a fire?  Are there people smoking outside?  Still a wooden miming performance, not much better than any of the previous clips.

So if Dian Ratih is so awful, why is she so popular?   Finally I discovered the answer is – LIVE!:

She’s a true performer.  On stage she actually connects with the audience and has a presence and energy.  She strangles the high notes and her costume is not very flattering, but it’s a world of difference from her pre-recorded clips.

I’ve saved the best for last:

She really sells this song.  The hair’s back to being a terrible mess and the costume does nothing for her as usual, but her onstage personality more than compensates for that.   There’s a world of difference between the performance in this clip and the one at the beginning of this post, don’t you agree?

With all that going on on stage, I love the way the camera cuts away to those sedate Javanese bapaks (dads) puffing on their kreteks.  They don’t want to go up to the stage for a better view because it would somehow be a sign of weakness to show that they are interested in the performance.

Is this the Way to Treat a God?

July 1, 2010

This video is 15 minutes, but well worth watching all the way through.

I wasn’t aware of this clip when I wrote my post about mental illness in Indonesia.  Lack of treatment of psychotic patients leads to them being chained or imprisoned for years as their families have no other means of restraining them.

I did not know that there are already some Indonesian doctors who have taken it upon themselves to liberate the mentally ill.  This clip shows the miraculous changes that modern medicine can bring to the psychotic.  In every case, they were able to recover sufficiently to contribute at least something to their communities.

Unfortunately, many of the families involved are too poor to afford the drugs.  As the funding for this program has been dramatically reduced, there is a danger that some of them will have to revert to their previous life in chains.  There is an interview with Bali’s Governor, who was responsible for cutting the funding even though his own grandmother suffered the same fate of being chained for her insanity.  I would love to know the true story behind this budget cut (anyone able to enlighten me?).

Every person deserves to be treated with respect.  Maybe not as much as we would give to a god, but at least better treatment than the mentally ill are getting in many countries today.

Tempo Reprints Mysteriously ‘Sold-out’ Edition

June 29, 2010

Cover of the latest edition

A very strange thing happened with the latest edition of Indonesia’s Tempo magazine.  It was a sell out!  Normally a publisher would be pleased to hear that every copy printed was sold.  But in this case, the circumstances of the sales were bizarre.  Shortly after 4am on Monday, groups of men who looked like police officers (but not in uniform) visited all 29 of Tempo’s agents in Jakarta and bought every copy.

The feature article is “Rekening Gendut Perwira Polici” (Fat Bank Account of a Police Officer).  It tells the story of an investigation into the affairs of certain police generals who have acquired vast amounts of wealth.  A check of their bank accounts reveals sums being deposited which greatly exceed their annual salaries.  The total amounts make Gayus look frugal:

Details of three of the generals

Corruption used to be so commonplace in Indonesia that many people on the take didn’t bother to cover their tracks.  Now everyone’s bank account is up for examination and questions are being asked about where these vast sums came from.

The Sunday edition of the Tempo newspaper advertises the main articles of the magazine to be distributed the next day.  So it seems one or more of the generals panicked and ordered his boys to buy up every copy.  Well, they succeeded in buying all the 30,000 copies to be sold in Jakarta, but not the ones that went to other cities, or to places just outside Jakarta, or those mailed to subscribers.  Even if they did succeed in buying the entire print run, the story was available online!

Anyhow, far from being discouraged by the strange events, Tempo went ahead and ran off another 30,000 copies which it distributed to its agents in Jakarta today.  Sadly, nobody was tempted to buy up all of those, so they will be sold one by one, in the usual way.

Tempo has a proud history of breaking stories which challenge the status quo.  Having been shut down for years by President Suharto and sued by Tomy Winata, it was unlikely that Tempo would be intimidated by someone actually handing them extra cash.

Jakarta Street Food: Kue Basah (‘wet’ cakes)

June 28, 2010

Plenty of traditional sweeties here. 

First we have the green dadar guling, which is a pancake wrapped into rolls containing young coconut and gula merah.  Traditionally, the green colouring comes from suji leaves, but in this case it’s so cheap they must use a commercial food colouring.  Even so, it’s still delicious.

The next is the little balls.  They’re made from rice flour rolled in shredded coconut and they contain liquid gula merah so when you pop one in your mouth and bite, the sweet liquid floods your mouth.  It’s quite a nice sensation.

Third and last is kue talam.  It’s wrapped in plastic because it’s so sticky.  The brown part is sweet and made from sticky rice flour and gula merah, the white part is savory a nd made from flour and coconut milk, and salt I guess.

Those are quite common sweets which you’ll encounter throughout Java.  Of course, there’s a huge range of sweeties for you to discover.  Here’s just a small sample of what you can find at the Senin markets:

cakes at Pasar Senin

If you’re wanting to kick on in the early hours after clubbing all night in Jakarta, why not head down to Pasar Senin for some sweet munchies?

Javanese Rhino Fate Depends on Volcano

June 27, 2010

Javanese Rhino

It recently came to our attention that three of the world’s population of no more than 60 Javanese rhinos have died. 

The Javanese rhino was once the most widespread of all species of rhino, ranging from Java as far as the Eastern provinces of India.  Today they survive in two pockets, one in Vietnam, which hosts less than eight, the other in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park where perhaps 50 survive.  One of the dead rhinos was from the Vietnamese group, it was poached for its horn (the horns are used as an ingredient in Chinese herbal medicine).  The other two died of natural causes in the Indonesian reserve, their complete skeletons were found in separate locations.

 The main reason these rhinos no longer inhabit most of South East Asia is because of the loss of their habitat, which is low lying jungle.  The Vietnam War also caused huge deforestation and also the wholesale scattering of land mines.  It also put guns in the hands of every villager.  The rhinos living in Java itself were more fortunate, although they also suffered from loss of habitat and hunting.

After the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in 1883, much of the Ujung Kulon peninsula was devastated and the human population was evacuated.  This allowed wildlife there to quickly flourish and Javanese rhinos colonised the area as their mainland habitat was continuing to shrink.  The government of the time sealed the peninular and declared it a national park and so the rhinos living there were protected.

A survey in the 1960s found 25 Javanese rhinos living in the Ujung Kulon peninsula and by 1980 the population had risen to about 50.  Since then the numbers have been stable.  The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) believes the park could support greater numbers, but the rhinos compete for food with native buffalos.

While the surviving rhino community seems safe enough for now, they really have all their eggs in one basket.  It would only take another unfortunately placed eruption or a tsunami to effectively exterminate the last of these creatures.  The Indonesian government and conservationists are talking about building an electrified fence to enclose a second area nearby which would house part of the existing population. 

The Javanese rhinoceros is not thought to be naturally agressive, but it has been known to attack if it feels threatened.  When this happens, it charges using the incisor teeth on its lower jaw, which are long and sharp and then strikes upwards with its horn.  Normally the horn is used for scraping away mud to form its wallows or for bringing down saplings to eat or for clearing paths through the jungle.

Very little is known about this species of rhino, naturalists are cautious about disturbing them for study for fear that it will affect their habits.  But some less intrusive study is being undertaken now with one group about to set up camera traps in their habitat, so we can expect to learn more about the Javanese rhino in the coming months.

Peterporn: Lots of Threats, No Action So Far

June 24, 2010

Luna Maya was shocked

After 12 hours, I’m still waiting to find out whether the police have acted on their promise to arrest Luna Maya and Cut Tari rather than defend their homes or arrest those making threats against their lives.

If you’ve been following the story, you’ll know that there was a small demonstration of 1,000 (pitifully low turnout by Indonesian standards) members of the ultra right Islamic Defenders Front.  Despite their small size, they manage to grab a lot of media attention because of their menacing costumes and behaviour.   The press were rewarded when they threatened to seek out the homes of the two female celebrities and administer rough justice.

As often happens the police have taken what they see as the easiest way out.  Instead of mounting an operation against the ringleaders of the demonstration and the people who made the threats, they have announced their intention to arrest the entertainers.  This is not good policing, firstly because they have no basis to charge them, secondly because it sends a signal that anyone can make threats against another human without risk of punishment.  How would Fadilah Karimah feel if the tables were turned on her?  How if  someone in the media decided to ridicule her?  (please, someone?).

In fact, I believe it’s more than just a matter of the police preparing an operation and rounding up the ringleaders.  There is a force within the Jakarta elite which sponsors and protects this organisation.  The Front truely is a front, controlled by a puppet master.  There would be consequences if the police took them on.  But public pressure is building for the police to ‘do something’.  So they have done the least they think they can do, which is to threaten the powerless.  Hopefully it will all blow over before they are forced to act on their threat.

The President’s hands are tied since his Information Minister made a huge gaffe comparing the celebrities with Jesus crucified.  He is somewhat hampered by his reliance on some Islamic parties within his coalition government.  So far he has threatened to introduce some form of internet filtering, but nothing certain yet.  As he will not be eligible for re-election, it’s possible that he will not be able to carry through with that anyhow.

There is still no certainty about what the people of Indonesia think about all of this.  Judging from internet responses, the youth are firmly in support of the celebrities.  The only thing that’s sure is that there is a huge culture war building in Indonesia.

Cut Tari - Cultural Warrior

Campur Sari: Traditional Style

June 23, 2010

I’ve featured a few campur sari clips in the past couple of weeks.  The first was quite accessable, but with clear elements of Javanese traditional music, the second increased the weirdness level significantly. 

In this clip the style is far more traditional.  Although even this one is a bit more up tempo than is normal for the Javanese gamelan.  It’s also unusual for the singer to crack a smile, in this performance she can’t stop laughing as she forgets the words.  Luckily her colleague is more than happy to help her out.  The performers are wearing traditional Javanese costumes, the ladies wearing kebayas (a kind of tight-fitting blouse).  Their hair styles are also typical, although not as ornate as you might see.

The song is about a type of tree which has heart-shaped leaves and a girl who has many suitors but only loves one man.  I think you would have to be Javanese to get the point of that.  Anyhow, it’s interesting because its in the form of a parikan – a nursery rhyme, the whole of each word of a verse rhymes with the whole of each word of the next verse.  That would be a challenge if you tried it in English.  Do you know of any English poems or songs that have that form?