The Second Version

12/12/08

Scenes from Jakarta

An alley between two row of houses, which I cannot tell whether it's a public way or an extension of private houses: the alley has a roof - of disparate materials- and there are seats and sinks, people washing their stuff and one old lady preparing some sort of food. Between one house door and the other, a tiny hairdressing salon. Deeper into the alley, a woman sits behind a little stall, selling top-up cards for mobile phones, and at the same time talking to a stark-naked, chubby kid of about 10 years. The people there don't pay much attention to the rare white guy among them; what makes me stand out the most are probably my trainers, in a world where 90% of the people wear sandals or flip-flops - or no footwear at all. Except security guards on duty, proud of their black and white boots.

On the streets, a number of trucks, from mid-size to 18-wheeled monsters. The majority of them old and worn, roaring aloud, dented and eaten by corrosion, patched up with layers and layers of caulk and paint, rough arc weldings, iron wire, and whatever material was handy at the moment. Yet, in a display of what seems to be a deeply ingrained aesthetical sense, a number of these trucks and trailers are painted in combinations of bright colours, and often decorated with elaborate paintings and fancy-shaped protection grilles. The rear of trucks and minibuses often carry funny or irriverent writings too, painted or stitched.

A market somewhere in the town, a concrete building, floors and pilalrs and ceilings covered in crud. Tiny passageways separate stalls loaded with any kind of stuff: food, knives, strange fruits, kitchen utensils, handicrafts, tools, enormous stone mortars, traditional medicines, coffee. Small eateries diffuse the smell of frying oil and spices: we sit at a bench in one of these to have a meatball soup and a dish of steamed chicken, stir-fried mushrooms and noodles. It tasted good and produced no ill side-effects. The market takes its electricity from a precarious, inestricable tangle of wires atteched to the roof and pillars. In another area, a gutter full of putrid water emits an unbearable stench. At the margins of the market, stray cats wander around, while a guy stands in the middle of a rubbish skip, sorting plastic waste from the rest - with his bare hands.

Along another road, a young boy is propelling forward a waste cardboard cart: it obviously is a metal box fitted with two bicycle wheels and joined to the frame of a mountain bike. In the cargo, another young boy is enjoying the the ride listening to music from a portable player.

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