I went on the most fascinating bike ride yesterday. It’s so odd how you can live in a place for years and never venture into some of the hidden corners of your surroundings.
I entered a gated complex and felt as if I’d been dropped through the rabbit hole. The extremes in poverty and wealth were astounding – not that I haven’t been surrounded by it for three years, but generally not in quite a concentrated area as this. Generally here, when construction begins on a mansion, the construction crew builds temporary shelters on the land, lives in the house, and constantly hang around the premises – meaning that you’ll see Jaguars and Mercedes next to those without a home. I cruised down one such street and almost ran over a huge white rabbit. Chasing behind was a squealing maid wielding a massive stick attempting to urge it back in the yard. Ok – weird scene #1.
Further down the street I heard a blaring speaker system announcing a birthday celebration. 50+ kids were swarming around a loudspeaker the size of Mini Cooper – happily blowing their eardrums to smitherines with shrieks of delight. I turned my head and caught a glimpse of a group of what appeared to be quadruplet albinos, but turned out to be Indonesian clowns sitting on the curb having a smoke. Apparently they’d escaped from the jaws of screaming toddlers and needed their nicotine fix – but still managed the required, “Hello Mister!” – weird scene #2.
Venturing further down another corner I came upon a security guard’s tower. It must have been 30 feet in the air. After working up the courage, we eagerly climbed the slippery steps to take in a view that can only be described with images. (of course I didn’t bring my camera – I’ll go back later this week). From this vantage point I could see all of where my life has taken place in the past three years. To my north is the Indian Ocean (or South China Sea – never know which one officially). The cranes in the harbour hovering like iron giants among the rubble of commerce in the shpping yard below. To my west the sun was setting over the gated complex I’ve called home since 2002 – with it’s hulking structures they call homes and canal systems dotting the land, care of the Dutch. To the south I could see the massive malls of North Jakarta, including the now infamous,”Southeast Asia’s Largest Mall” – sucking the life and allowance from every teenager in a 10 kilometer radius. And to the east was a garbage landfill hidden from sight of anyone on ground level – but as I studied more closely I noticed a family of four browsing through the trash hoping for remnants of plastic to sell to recyclers. The man was accompanied by a small woman holding a baby wrapped in the stench of others’ waste.
They say that Java is the most heavily populated island in the world. This land formed from volcanoes forces its inhabitants to seek out floodplains like Jakarta – and breed and breed and breed. From this vantage point, I had no doubt in my mind there is truth in that statement, but it remains only a figure in writing until you actually view it with your own eyes, when it is no longer a statement in writing, but rather a glimpse of the lives of millions.