Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Haunting of Merapi

Well, I sold my first spot for NPR yesterday. I’m sorry to say I don’t know when it might play (likely already), and it won’t be archived. If anyone out there heard it, please let me know. It was a 35 second reader (no recorded quote from a source) about a huge volcano about 300 miles east of here that’s about to blow. I’ve been asked to contact them again if the story develops, so I’ll post a warning on this site if anything happens. For those with parental concerns about a potential eruption, let me add that Jakarta is a safe distance away, even if it pulls a Mt. St. Helens. Feels good to make a little money. I’m following plenty of other story threads at the moment that I also hope to spin into gold.

I've also included another sound postcard. It’s a “live mix” of motorcycle, bajaj, and the call to prayer. It was recorded in the evening after coming out of a movie theater at an arts center in Jakarta. I think it's a good fit with the photo of Mt. Merapi. Ancient Javanese legends say there's a kingdom at its summit.

Click here to hear an urban call to prayer.

The winning collective noun entry for lemurs, by the way, is "A haunting of lemurs". Thank you to Nick, who writes "...lemur comes from the Latin lemures, meaning 'ghosts.'"

Monkeys are Funny

Here are some monkeys. Monkeys are funny, and I love them. They live in a rare patch of green between a busy port and a highway. We discovered their little habitat by accident. It was as though we’d discovered some lost world, a phantom of Jakarta’s primordial past.

We wanted to find some big cargo ships, maybe some harbor traffic to watch, maybe an ocean breeze to clear our sooted lungs. Unfortunately, we ended up taking a little truck-taxi (“angkot”) into a traffic jam and stewed in the blue of the motorbike smoke for more than a half hour. I thought I might pass out from asphyxiation. I have a special fascination for the architecture of maritime industry, but by the time we arrived at the pier, the last thing I wanted to see was an industrial landscape. On our way out, we stumbled on an abandoned military training camp, the sole guardian of which was a blackened dummy holding a paper attack rifle.

Jakarta harbors one of the oldest working wooden schooner fleets in the world, called Sunda Kalapa. We toured the pier, but were horrified to find a pod of naked boys jumping into the murky blue-grey water. It was a slow day at the port. A tour guide said the fleet had been grounded because of some legal battle over logging in Kalimantan. I’m afraid we felt not so much moved by the port’s 800 year history as we felt unmoved. It was hot, and the pier didn’t afford a view of the open water as we’d hoped.

Discouraged but determined, we got into a cab. Not a proper salve for either condition. For the next hour, we drove onto the toll road, then off the toll road, back along a parallel service road, up a canal road, and back onto another highway. The young driver didn’t know where we were going, and neither did we. We kept pointing to a postage stamp of green near the water on the map. Jakarta cabbies, and we’ve heard Indonesians in general, don’t know how to read a map. “Dekat air besar.” I thought I was saying: “Close to the big water”. He didn’t seem to think I was saying that. We drove around and around until we finally just told the guy “okay, stop here”. “Ma’af,” he said again and again, apologizing, clearly embarrassed. He let us out next to an enormous guarded gate of a marina for the implausibly wealthy. We asked the armed security guys if we could walk around inside. I also asked if we could just go down to the big water. They laughed us away, pointing toward the road. Hilarious. I thought. Lost bules are funny.

It turns out, as we found out later in bhasa class from our teacher, that although “Air besar” literally means ‘big water”, it’s used commonly to mean a movement of the bowels.

By that point in the day, we’d both earned ourselves a formidable smog headache. Walking and hazy along the busy highway, we found a path that led into a low forest. “Maybe we can just get away from the road in here,” I said.

The path turned into a rotting bridge over a vegetated swamp, crowned by a canopy of green. We totally bathed ourselves in the smell of forest air. Then I found myself nearly eye to eye with a huge male monkey. It took me more than a moment to name the thing in front of me. At first my head saw a dog or a raccoon. He squatted on a railing, politely waiting for the humans to pass. Then a second, skinnier and bolder monkey jumped up to the railing too.

As we scrambled to get the camera out of the bag, a whole tribe of a dozen or more passed over the bridge, two of them carrying babies. We spend a long time there, watching them swing around in the trees, scavenge for fruit, and wrestle among themselves.

I think I have found my favorite place in Jakarta.