We have arrived to Jakarta. We find the same hell of a city described in the novel we are reading, The year of living dangerously.
Unbearable traffic, heat, dirty canals, extreme poverty, a very wealthy elite… These days, the threat of terrorism is yet another reason to keep tourists away from the city.
However, the novel is set up in the years of konfrontasi, times when under the regime of dictator Soekarno the whole country, still struggling for independence, isolated itself from the rest of the world. Foreigners (a.k.a nekolim, neocolonial imperialists) were not welcome anymore, and the last ones that stayed there were living some thrilling times.
From Soekarno’s monument in the middle of the city, we see now an Indonesia that has gone a long way in its path to democracy, with a capital that in spite of its problems feels safer than many other big cities we’ve been to.
As Soekarno used to enjoy, we shelter ourselves in the village of Bogor, an Oasis near Jakarta, where at least the air is more breathable.
As you fly into Java from Sumatra, over the Sunda Straits, the most crowded island on earth appears misteriously devoid of human settlement. Indigo cones of volcanoes rise into the clouds from jade territories which seem as empty as those of the world’s dawn. But these are the paddy fields and terraces the people cultivate to the very rims of the craters. President Soekarno, Vishnu’s incarnation, tells us in his speeches that Java’s spirit is the terrible volcano Merapi, which seems to sleep, but is always ready to explode in violence.
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