The joke goes like this:
Ronald Reagan asked God how long it would take to fix America and God replied fifteen years. Knowing he would be out of office, Reagan cried.
Margaret Thatcher asked God how long it would take to fix Britain. God answered ten years. Margaret Thatcher cried.
Susilo, the Indonesian president, asked God how long it would take to fix Indonesia. God cried.
Tragic sounding to the West, Indonesians split their sides laughing when someone tells this joke. With rampant poverty, massive overcrowding, mind-numbing traffic and increasing right-wing fundamentalism, Indonesia is not on the brink of a rebirth. Several commented to Kian that they pine for the days of General Suharto, whose corrupt dictatorship ruled Indonesia from 1966 until 1998. “Things worked more smoothly and money was easier,” one taksi driver reported.
One thing that does not move smoothly is traffic. With no real mass transit, the oppressive volume can cost drivers hours even if traveling only a few blocks. Like chit-chat about the weather, traveling times are a staple of conversation. Kian’s high school friends traveled only a couple kilometers but spent nearly three hours crawling in traffic. Mothers with babies will stand at the side of the road offering their presence in your car to comply with the mandatory three-person morning commute law. Jockey 3-in-1, as they are known, will collect $1 and be deposited when you reach your destination.
Despite the hard living, people seem remarkably cheerful. Maybe in the face of hopelessness, when the Universe weeps for you, the only thing is to smile.
Our own slow commute yesterday took us back to the modest house of Chris, a bird farmer, competitor and creator of the Info Perkutut website. http://info-perkutut.co.cc/about/ Nestled in a narrow alley, Chris’s birds hang next to the street and his bedroom curtains open to a view of the breeding cages. Gunawan mentioned that Perkutut competition is an equal sport, all (men) can compete. (Although he mentioned two women raising birds in Surabaya.) While this may be true at some level, it clearly takes money to get the top champion birds. Chris is not rich, but he is in the game. He will compete two birds in Solo this weekend along with Gunawan and others. We will be there.
Filming at Chris’s was a major sound challenge. Every few minutes a motor bike would pass in the alley and street vendors were constant. With patience, and the prompting of a Perkutut ringtone on Chris’s phone, the little birds obliged with some sweet cooing.
The Perkutut voice has three parts – the lift, the body and the decline. The syncopation of the coo during the body is what seems to count in competition. A slow start is good, but a slow finish is better. I will try to upload some video if I can make it to the hotel lobby’s strong wireless before we depart Jakarta for Bandung. (this is not our video below – the connection is too slow…)
Kian stopped a street vendor today and we staged a scene. The boy, named Tri, has a bike with a sewing machine mounted on it and goes door-to-door offering tailor services. The scenario had Tri riding by calling, “Vermak, vermak” (alteration in Dutch) and Chris running out after him to get some shorts hemmed. Tri knew his trade well – not a hack. We then interviewed him about the experience in front of the camera and handed him the camera to ask us any questions. (“Why would this interest you?”, “Are you married?”)
Off to pack now – Jaya will be coming soon to bring us to the farm of Henry Manila in Bandung (I saw a t-shirt declaring it the “Paris of Java”). We will stay in a guest house he has there. More soon.
Chris’s daughter tries her hand at filming; Perkutut ID tag
Chris’s family; Tri interviewing us