In hindsight, leaving my stash of Aceh’s finest behind – I had strategically positioned it on my table next to front door so I wouldn’t forget it – was my biggest mistake. There can be only one thing worse than ‘mudik’, I thought – going bush sans medicinal herb.
My dilemma was compounded by other oversights, such as failing to check if Age of Empires III would actually load on my laptop (it didn’t) and that the West Wing mini-series I had taken was worth watching (it wasn’t – and even if it was, most of the DVDs, of course, wouldn’t play).
With beetle nut discarded as a suitable narcotic replacement due to a constant case of the red dribbles, and drinking warm, aged beer alone as too visible a display of substance abuse among the extended Javanese transmigrasi community I found myself in in southern Sumatra, there was a single option available; attempt to integrate (Cue Rocky Horror Picture Show music).
Earlier, as is often the case when confronted with absolutely nothing else to read, I had sadly wasted half a silver dollar on departure day purchasing the toilet paper that is the ‘Sunday Jakarta Post
’, finished it within five minutes and stuffed it into my backpack; retaining it only in the knowledge that if I dumped it in the single rubbish bin on the Java to Sumatra ferry it would quickly become part of the Sunda Straits ecosystem.
It was only later as I was desperately searching through my backpack for anything resembling weed or crumbled ecstasy, that I again happened upon the aforementioned toilet paper and reread (you can understand the desperation) a piece of beetle nut drivel from Danny I. Yatim, a ‘Post’ favorite unfortunately, titled ‘Homecoming and Jakarta-centric news coverage’.
Danny asks the question, “But what is so great about ‘mudik’ and why should it become national news?” and then attempts to answer it by saying that some unnamed people view it as a holy pilgrimage when, he argues, it is not. (I should point out that his paper does, which for three days in a row ran front page photos of people looking out the doors or windows of trains?)
Danny wonders if “the going home phenomenon is just a news commodity for the media” he then “comes to realize” how “Jakarta-centric our television news can be” Nice one Danny, putting the word ‘television’ in there (Wouldn’t want to bite the print media hand that feeds you).
Of course ‘mudik’ is a “news commodity”, what else is happening apart from the usual bullshit that afflicts this largely failed state?, and Jakarta-centric. All roads lead to Jakarta, the colonialist capital of the Javanese archipelago. However, strangely, he seems to be arguing against dismissing “the beauty of ‘Leberan’ in Jakarta”, which is, if nothing else, Jakarta-centric.
‘Mudik’ in the small farming community I have found myself stranded in without anything to numb the senses other than the pace of life and burning plastic, is not about Jakarta at all; it is more, in my opinion, about the masses escaping the struggle for existence in the ugly, polluted megalopolises of Java and the other larger islands to the welcoming arms of family and childhood friends in ugly, polluted kampungopolises.
If traveling vast distances either crammed like ‘kue’ in a traditional ‘Lebaran’ biscuit jar in anything with wheels or packed four on a motorcycle home to their birthplaces and the loving, unjudgmental arms of their family (including the children, wives and husbands they have been forced to leave behind for year after year through no fault of their own) then I don’t know what a ‘holy pilgrimage’ is. A trip to Mecca funded by corruption and the misery of others?
And another thing, what do you think Danny means when he calls Jakarta a ‘wonderful city’? Is he taking the piss?
Lastly, I want to call out Miss Sassy and her (I am assuming she is a she) ‘Lifebites’ column, all 1,500 words of it on the birthday of Winnie the Pooh and her relationship to him (I think). Alah. If she was writing about the tellietubbies I might at least understand, given the affinity many Indonesians of newspaper-reading age have towards those four crazy cats. Myself, I need a sneaky hit or two of gunja first.