Vacation in My Mind

If you’ve noticed, I’ve strayed from the world of prose lately, posting only photos. Reason: We had a 9 day break for the Muslim holiday, Idul Fitri. Only, um, I didn’t go a.n.y.w.h.e.r.e. ADUH!

I did manage to really concentrate on ways to improve my photography. Am I a geek? Probably. I lived on the ‘net self-educating as much as I could. More about that later (tomorrow maybe).

A few days I went around taking pics in the kampung (village) area of Tanah Merah near Kelapa Gading. It’s an area in extreme poverty, built on a landfill. The stench of rotting garbage and burning tires is pervasive. That’s where I managed to get those photos on this page – the power line photos and “warhol” shots were taken there, and more are on the way.

It’s always interesting to see the reaction to some bule walking around with a camera in an area which I highly doubt has seen a foreigner in a decade. “Halo Mister” is, of course, the most creative and varied announcement shouted from the guys my age. But, I suppose they weren’t aware that the other dude 10 meters away just said it, so they thought they were the first.

I’d much rather talk with the elders. Many older men will approach me and simply speak to me as another human, not with surprise or with hesitation, but more with curiosity at why I would want to photograph their environment. What do I find interesting in this landfill? At this point, it’s tough not to feel condescending, but to resolve this, I simply show them the LCD on my camera and explain that the colors are so much more vibrant than the guarded complex I live in. I go on to tell them that I’ve lived here for over four years and think it’s a shame that so many of my friends will work here for years and never see this side of life. Jakarta is the kind of place where an expat can be sheltered from the poverty. The 5 star hotels, flights to Bali, maids, drivers, fitness clubs, bars, restaurants; they all cater to that facade.

I explain that in their area, people are out doing all sorts of interesting things. Encountering children in these kampungs is always a delight. Many will run up to me, uninhibited, and ask me to take their photo. As expected, they can barely stand still long enough for me to snap away before pouncing on my back to see the photo on the LCD. Walking down the street, it’s not long before an army of a dozen children snakes behind me announcing the arrival of a bule to the rest of the street. Hard to remain inconspicuous, even after half a decade.

In my affluent neighborhood, people lock themselves indoors and rarely even take a stroll in the evenings. They live in air conditioning with maids and drivers to cater to their every whim. The people of Tanah Merah and most other kampung dwellers, welcome their home to visitors. They have the doors opened, the chairs are out in front of the house, kids are playing in the street (there aren’t really any yards unfortunately), and overall it seems as if most people are more friendly than the Benz crowd. No, I shouldn’t generalize like that, as I’m sure most of my wealthy neighbors are as kind once you get to know them – but that’s just it – they don’t offer that chance when barred in their homes. Me? I hang out in the park across the street from my home almost on a daily basis. No joke. I string up a hammock between two trees and either take a nap in the setting sun or read a book in the last minutes of daylight. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen my next door neighbor’s 16 year old kid step foot in the park. Not once in 4 years. Damn shame.

I won’t go on to say that money can’t buy happiness, or pretend to think that these smiling kampung children are living a better life than those locked in their air conditioning with a playstation glued to their hands, scarfing down McD’s. Why bother. The truth is that there’s so much disparity here, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

I won’t bother trying to be poetic about all this; I’m just trying to convey what I observe while on my walks through this fascinating land.