Saturday, February 23, 2008

I'm standing at the gates of the east / I take my pulse and the pulse of my friend


The common wisdom in Indonesia is that all planes leave late. Name the airline, good or one of the terrifyingly bad ones (of which there are many but more of that later) and invariably they leave up to five or six hours late. And any question at a desk as to why is usually met with a smiling “plane late arriving”, which sidesteps the question of why it was late leaving, or is the whole schedule simply late leaving perpetually and never catches up?

So it was some surprise to Brigid and I to be on an aircraft that left fifteen minutes early. One would hope that everyone had arrived for half full Mandala Air flight RI585 to Surabaya on Tuesday at 8am before it pulled away from the gate at 7.45. Who knows? Do they care? Actually, maybe and they seem to have picked their act up quite a bit. Mandala was the airline that notoriously flew into a village a few years back and, once again, notoriously, offered the relatives of those incinerated on the ground, a few litres of kerosene (I guess as a warming reminder of how Ibu and Bapak had met their end) and a bag of rice as compensation for their loss.

And one would think that Mandala’s track record was a factor when the European Union banned all Indonesian airlines from their air last year (not a European jealousy of Indo airlines as claimed bizarrely by some government minister at the time, citing a planned devious takeover bid of the Indonesian market by the Europeans). All that came to mind when we booked our flight to Surabaya, to connect to another airline, which in turn would take us to Semarang, from whence we would trek north to Jepara for the main purpose of the trip.


However, clearly Mandala has bucked up its ideas, probably something to do with said ban and their intended jump into Australia later this year. Suffice to say the aircraft, an A319, was brand spanking new and of a standard that would put any domestic airline in Europe or Australasia to shame…although one would hope that carries through to whatever is beneath the hood, so as to speak.

So 15 minutes before schedule, sitting in our new leather seats, we headed off to Surabaya

And began this week’s tiki tour through north Java…..

The stop at Surabaya was supposed to be an hour and a half. Because of Indo airlines schedules this could have been tight but we made the assumption that our later flight would be late and we were on the money.

We wandered downstairs after arriving to check onto Sriwijaya Air SJ225, leaving allegedly at 9.50am to Semarang, and the very pleasant girl handed us our passes and, as an aside, as we walked away, said “mister, flight is delayed because of water on runway”….”oh? how long?”..she smiled and raised her hands and shook her head…”go to lounge and check, please”.

So having failed to find a coffee lounge where we could physically see through the kretek smoke (my favourite was the one where the guy was leaning on the no-smoking sign, fag in hand), we went to gate 6c to be told the flight was delayed to at least midday. We consoled ourselves with the thought that perhaps in the bad old days the flight would have left anyway.

fishWe wandered around the terminal and found the perfect gift, a shop selling unwrapped, unchilled, whole smoked fish. These are sold in a loose brown box and, surely, are the perfect carry on item for those nine hour flights to Europe (remember this is an international airport too…KLM and the like leave from here too). For the tourist who needs that last minute gift for the family in Amsterdam, or an on-flight snack.

Finally, after a few delays SJ225 was called and we duly trooped on our rather ancient Boeing 737-200, which was showing its great age rather badly with peeling paint. Brigid remarked rather hopefully that it looked like it had been washed. Sitting in row 1 we were in a prime position to see one of the ground staff come on before we left and earnestly wish the flight crew luck. I just put on the iPod, watched the lady in the Continental Airlines branded lifejacket go through the safety routine and mused over the landing through the water logged Semarang fields.

And waterlogged it was too….the whole dam town in fact. The plane landed, rather well it has to be said, no Garuda 400km bounces here, or those terrifying sideways drifts into Wellington’s odd excuse for an airport, and the land on both sides of the runway looked like wide, rather deep rivers. We thanked the crew, who had been lovely throughout and headed out to meet our driver, Ali, for the trip north to Jepara, one of the furniture manufacturing centres of Indonesia, indeed Asia. Normally a one and half hour drive, Ali said that incessant rains, the worst on record, had partially destroyed the road (part of the coastal route to Surabaya was 1.5 metres under water) and it was now a 2 1/2 hour trek.

waterOn a good day perhaps.

Our first kilometre took the best part of 40 minutes. We needed to get through an under-bridge which was flooded to about half a metre and had stalled cars and a partially overturned mini bus, abandoned by driver and  passengers in mid road. A policeman stood futilely in waist deep water beside a newspaper vender (also up to his waist but touting loudly The Jawa Post and the odd vaguely titillating magazine), directing fuming buses, vans and trucks. Ali thought better of it, despite the fact, as we discovered later, that he too drove like a homicidal maniac, and turned up a side road to avoid the gorge.

When we got through we made steady progress but it was heartbreaking to drive up the potholed, collapsing, often single laned, highway (avoiding the grossly overloaded, barrelling trucks and buses who made no speed adjustment for the coconutmissing road or conditions) seeing the terrible misery the waters were causing for tens of thousands of folks who had almost nothing to start with but whose homes and businesses were now underwater leaving them even less. And then to ponder when, in this democracy of sorts, the government will finally work out that they are there to serve the people, not the other way around.

The rain didn’t stop but the conditions improved dramatically when we finally made Jepara a few hours later. It’s a town which has made a lot of money over the decades and the infrastructure is noticeably a step up from much of Java…wide, clean, tree-ed, pothole free roads. But our host there asked on meeting if I’d read Joseph Conrad? You have arrived, he said, at the end of the river. I didn’t ask where Colonel Kurtz was at tonight.

After sleeping in a villa complex, of some luxury (apart from the rock like pillows), on a very storm swept Java coast I was a little unsure of the breakfast offered:


I had a little rice and passed on the toast.

In the morning we worked then headed wildly south with the very pleasant maniac, Ali, again. He veered wildly across both sides of the road, making sure he saved the overtaking for the blind corners when he could. Gladly the rain had abated so we were able to travel with windows down...well mine at least, Brigid’s got stuck...and look across the endless flat, rolling rice fields, quite unlike anything I’d ever seen in Java before, and I pondered, yet again, how this island of 140 million, little bigger than NZ’s North Island, can be so mostly rural. Yet it is and parts of it almost feel untouched.

At the airport we crawled from the mini-bus into the safest (not as in physical safety, rather just the safety of knowing exactly what is on the plate) looking eating house. Never has a KFC looked so inviting (or for that matter inviting at all) before.

boysSemarang is a big, very grubby, noisy typical Javanese city with a large middle class, and an even larger swathe of very poor folk, and is neither here nor there, although I was very pleased to find a non-smoking café in the middle of the departure lounge at the airport, with a range of Indonesian coffees.

After Sriwijaya Air I was willing to forgive Garuda the Jogja incident and the trip to Jakarta was uneventful, although as usual we passed on the indescribable offered in the blue food boxes inflight.

Having been to the Jakarta on quite few occasions, and quietly enjoying the town that everyone is supposed to dislike, I was happy to be there. Of note are the multitude of anti drug posters and billboards around the city at the moment and it occurred to me that perhaps there was something a little hypocritical in their theme when the same city is also overwhelmed by cigarette advertising, and that perhaps Indonesia is the only country left in the world where you can still advertise that ciggies are good for you, and kids are handed free packets at the door to concerts by the sponsor as an investment for the future.

 jakarta24 hours later, having spent the best part of a half a day in Jakarta traffic (can I say again that Auckland has no traffic issues..and that I never really mind sitting in a Bluebird taxi just watching, but am amused by the TV capable phones advertised everywhere as being perfect for the macet), stocked up at Mangga Dua, and wandered the 24 massive floors of the Pasar Tanah Abang which is devoted to fabrics, clothing and haberdashery…but just wholesale mind….as Brigid did deals in the basement, before heading to the airport to get on the fourth airline in three days, back to Bali.

The plane was late, just to provide some comfort to our expectations…“plane late arriving” the girl in Air Asia red said. We smiled but it wasn’t too late and was largely uneventful aside from the usual flying newbies, the families who have never been on a plane before, leaping out of their seats at the very moment the plane’s wheels touch the runway on landing, and opening the lockers to get off before the crew yelled at them to sit down.

It was raining in Bali, just past midnight on Friday.

That’s what I did this week.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

a mind like a sewer / and a heart like a fridge

I find the relentless efforts of the loopy right to continually attack the death toll estimates in Iraq’s bloody last half decade rather repulsive. There seems to be a glee in the way the likes of the Wall Street Journal and other right wing periodicals attack the likes of the Lancet Report. Such attacks are usually taken up rabidly by the often repulsively nutty right wing blogosphere. IMO such attacks seem to underline an implied sense of guilt….look it’s not as bad as they said….they made it up. Myself I find a figure of 100,000 just as repulsive as a figure of 1,000,000. It’s almost not worth commenting on the implied ugliness of the attitudes inherent in the assertions made by the WSJ and their ilk.

However, John Tirman, the man who funded the Lancet survey, has been much slandered and attacked by these scuzzballs and has a right to hit back. He’s done so, concisely and effectively at Editor And Publisher, and in doing so has neatly shown the WSJ and National Journal, and their fellow travellers for what they are.

It’s worth a read…

Also worth reading this weekend, on the same subject, I think, is Patrick Cockburn's perhaps rather more realistic overview of the progress in Iraq than that portrayed by the likes of the White House and Mr. McCain.

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Columbus too / perimeters of nails

When Russell posted links to my last two posts on Public Address, I was surprised..thanks for the warning, RB. Needless to say that the hits went through the roof and I had a bunch of responses both via the comments box and quite a few via email. Some are best not thought about again, but suffice to say, damn there are some thin skinned folk out there.

However sitting here tonight watching Indonesian variety TV (if you ever wondered what became of those 70s Top Of The Pops sets..and many of the bands that played on them..yep, they are sitting in production soundstages in Jakarta, alive and well) the joy evident on the screen (massed swaying, grinning, singing along headscarves somewhere in Jabotek) there made me feel like I need to be a little more positive this time around, so, having ranted and opined enough, how about the casual playlist that worked for me today….

Blam Blam BlamThe Bystanders
A lovely Mark Bell song from the Blams’ only full album, Luxury Length. I love Mark’s glistening guitar and the loping soft funk groove that so deserves to be sampled. Most of the focus on the Blams is, now, placed upon the undeniable talents of Don McGlashan, often overlooking Mark’s work. I was always a Mark Bell fan…his almost musicianship and songwriting were crucial to the band. A wonderful man too…

John CaleAntarctica Starts Here
This is so slight you almost miss it tucked away at the end of Paris, 1919, an album which stands as Cale’s finest post Velvets moment. Produced by Chris Thomas, this rather forlorn paean to lost fame, with an almost inaudible whispered vocal, is an appropriate end to what is both a lovely and rather moving long player that once meant a lot to me.

signs Joey RamoneWhat A Wonderful World
Yes, its cheesy as hell, but I shed a tear every time I think of poor Joey. His life didn’t seem to be either happy or charmed, and then it top it off he died so young, whilst watching all those who claim him as an influence coining it. I guess it wasn’t a wonderful world for Joey. This is very ironic but wipes that tear away.

The GordonsThe Coalminer’s Song
The Gordons were NZ’s first rave act. Whilst the rest of the world didn’t get hardcore wall of sound nosebleed rave until the late eighties, down in lil’ NZ we had the Gordons from 1980 onwards. Whilst they may not have sounded like a rave act in the latter sense, their intent was the same, and they coupled that with an almost Beatlesque melodic charm (later Beatles that is). This, from their first EP, pre-Flying Nun, was our pre-going out choon for much of 81 and 82.

Thom Yorke - Cymbal Rush (The Field Late Night Essen Und Trinken Remix)
I’m not a Radiohead fan, I must be honest (not since they stopped doing the noisy stuff far too long ago and turned into average prog), but I did rather like the Thom Yorke solo release from 2006. More to the point I liked what he did with it, in retrospect a clear pointer to what R/H were to do last October. This, from a single, is a killer re-rub courtesy of The Field (whose own album last year was rather good) and is probably a better shot at what Radiohead have been trying to achieve in the past decade than anything R/H have done themselves. Which must make this both satisfying and frustrating for Thom, no?

hercules Hercules & Love Affair - Blind (Frankie Knuckles Mix)
Without wanting to seem overly trend conscious, I’m waiting with some anticipation  for the album from these guys. I bought the single before this and loved it. And then downloaded this from an mp3 blog. I will buy the album because I like it. Isn’t that how it works? It's like radio (which no-one listens to much anymore the figures say, although I'm not 100% sure about that). And isn’t that what the paranoid home taping, home burning, downloading is killing our music crew miss? This Knuckles mix is stunning.

The shadow of old school Bristol bass-meisters, Smith & Mighty hangs over this. I don’t know what dubstep is…seriously…it all sounds so retro, but I’m told its very modern. Whatever, the Pinch album was another of 2007’s moments for me. I guess when you get very, very old, you think you’ve heard everything least that’s what my dad used to tell me.

Elvis CostelloAlmost Blue
Just to confuse matters, not from the EC album kwerkof the same name but, perhaps, my favourite Costello album produced by Geoff Emerick, Imperial Bedroom. There is a killer live take of this from the fast fading Chet Baker (Elvis wrote it for Chet), which I like to play when I’m morose, but not today. Elvis’s soft piano led shuffle is fine.

KraftwerkThe Model
The live version from the Minimum-Maximum double from 2005. The studio version of this is what it is but I love this take which adds, bizarrely enough, an almost human funk to it. On this album, they play the songs we all know, love and were influenced by as if they were a touring rock band, complete with mistakes and missed words. They almost, god save me for using the phrase, rock. Quite something…

Aretha FranklinIt Was You
For the past two months I’ve been 51BTy6d4ZUL._AA240_besotted with the incredible recent double album of Aretha outtakes, Rare & Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul (surely a shorter title was available???). This was the unreleased stuff, for gods sake....listen to the track I’ve sampled above, and them buy the whole damned thing. The voice, the voice….she may have had a patchy post Atlantic career, but listen to this stuff, there was a time when Aretha wrote the book, and no-one has come close.

Ok that'll do.....