Wednesday, September 21, 2005

59. THE ROAD TO CICURUG

Lonely Warung
Warung in Johor by +kay

On a dark and steamy Jakarta street, not far from the Presidential Palace, I dined out one evening with Bob and Anne.

We ate at a warung, a food stall, one of the sort set up in the evenings on city pavements.

This warung was a sort of rectangular open tent containing wooden benches and seats; light was provided by kerosene lanterns; plates were washed in a plastic bucket containing thick grey water; food was cooked on blue kerosene stoves; and there was an aroma of tropical spices mingled with just a hint of fumes from buses and gutters.

The view from our table was of passing cars, pedestrians and a moonlit sky.

"Is it safe here?" I asked, while glancing at the menu.

"Don’t worry," said Anne. "Budi, who does the cooking, makes sure the food is well cooked. But avoid the salads."

"We’ve brought our own dishes," said Bob, as he extracted cutlery and paper plates from a plastic bag.

"I’m having the chicken, which is cooked with coriander, turmeric and coconut milk," said Anne.

"And the Nasi Uduk which is rice steamed with pandanus leaves."

"And beers," said Bob.

We all chose the same chicken dishes, which arrived steaming hot. The pieces of meat were from small thin kampung birds, but there was a good strong gamy taste.

"When you asked if it was safe here," said Anne, wiping away a mosquito, "were you thinking of the food or of the various riots in Indonesia?"

"I was thinking of that one bucket where all the dishes get washed," I said. I have a great fear of bugs and germs.

"But the riots are puzzling," said Anne. "There seems to be a pattern. First Situbondo in East Java, back in October last year; then Tasikmalaya in West Java, in December last year; then Dengklok near to Jakarta, at the beginning of this year."

"How bad was Situbondo?" I asked.

"Over twenty churches wrecked," said Bob.

"It may have been a spontaneous riot," I said. "The newspapers said that Moslems were upset by an allegedly lenient sentence in a blasphemy case."

"There are rumours that a certain group deliberately stirred things up," said Bob, "and that the police and army made little effort to stop the rioting."

"Tasikmalaya was bad," said Anne. "At least four people died. The mob was attacking Chinese properties and churches."

"That started with a protest against the police," I said. "The police were accused of torturing a Moslem teacher. Then, for some reason, the mob attacked the Chinese."

"Look at the opposition to Suharto in the coming May elections," said Bob. "Megawati’s PDI Party are out of the picture. The only opposition comes from the Moslem PPP Party."

"How does that tie in with the riots?" asked Anne.

"Either the riots are spontaneous," said Bob, "or some section of the army is trying to paint the Moslems as extremists; the army may be trying to suggest that strong military rule is required. Get people scared and then people will support rule by the generals."

"Maybe the powers-that-be are trying to distract people’s attention," said Anne. "Make the Chinese-Indonesians the scapegoats for the economic problems. Get Moslems to direct their anger against the Chinese rather than the government."

"The Chinese-Indonesians are an easy target," said Bob. "They’re seen as being a bit foreign and a bit greedy. It’s like the Jews in Europe in the 1930s."

"Only a handful of the Chinese-Indonesians are billionaires," said Anne, "but when you look around the shopping malls it’s nearly all Chinese that you see owning the shops and doing the shopping. People suspect the Chinese are part of some conspiracy."

A youth selling watches from a tray appeared at our table. They were followed by a couple of shoeshine boys and two skinny urchins with banjos. Anne bought a watch for a few rupiahs while Bob and I removed our shoes to have them shined.

The musicians began to sing: "My bonnee lees over the oh-shun. My bonnee lees over the sea." The political discussion came to an end.

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