Monday, March 19, 2018

Bengawan Solo

Since doctors rarely receive any good news despite what people may think, the year began with the usual tiresome update that our medical practising certificate would be even more troublesome to renew. Not only did it come with a cutting-edge app that would probably drive the older codgers absolutely batty, there were several bureaucratic hoops and hurdles we had to jump over before getting our renewal.

So it was that I had to scour through the internet searching for a medical conference at least somewhere within the region - far enough that few of my own colleagues would head there so that I could ask for their help - yet near enough that I could just jet over for a brief spell without compromising too much of my regular work.

Serendipitously the name Jakarta turned up. 

Yes, I'll admit to some serious qualms when I saw the name. Utterly prejudiced as I was, all I could think of were dull, humdrum skyscrapers in the sweltering tropical heat of Java - with throngs and throngs, and throngs of people all packed together in one of their infamous traffic crawls. Not exactly a winning tourism slogan for Visit Indonesia but I figured I could easily hack it for just slightly more than a weekend. 

Boy, did Jakarta prove me wrong. 

Sure, most of the worries proved true enough since they did have the torrid weather, the terrible traffic and of course, the sadly indistinguishable gray concrete towers, all in spades. Yet it didn't take very long to see that there was more to Jakarta than just a random Asian metropolis perpetually shrouded in haze. In fact there seemed to be shades of an older, more refined Batavia everywhere I went.

For starters, having one of the hotel employees meet me right at the airport turned out to be an excellent idea since I saw firsthand right from the start that graciousness and hospitality seemed almost ingrained in the people here. From the streetside vendors serving bakso and sate to the most exclusive fine dining restaurants offering Rijsttafel, we only heard the most gentle greetings of 'Ya Pak, silakan.' None of the brash, loutish behaviour we would have associated with some of their less refined brethren working here. 

Also probably due to the fact that I chose to stay at Menteng, one of the more genteel upscale neighbourhoods in Jakarta. Just think tree-lined avenues with gracious colonial bungalows, refurbished hipster cafes and even hipper Indonesian youths. Imagine a dinner of traditional Indonesian fare with two dozen sate sticks from all the bigger islands in the archipelago coupled with artisanal black charcoal icecream serenaded by a group of youngsters playing a string quartet.

Incidentally playing a pop song by Katy Perry.  

Few boys the likes of Nicholas Saputra here unfortunately... but then again maybe they are hiding!

Not exactly what one would have expected from Jakarta.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Hows of Hospitality II : The Gay Uncles

Munching on endless mandarin oranges, feasting on seasonal delicacies and tossing firecrackers would be how most of us would spend the entire fifteen days of the Chinese New Year; but let us all not forget that the most important part of the time-honoured celebration would be the reunion of family members from near and far. Yes, whether or not we actually enjoy their continued presence in our lives - though I'm stodgily old-fashioned enough to believe that could be the time to foster closer familial ties if possible.

We can choose our own family these days but that doesn't mean we should give up entirely on the ones we were given. If you've never actually made the conscious effort to know your close relatives, how can you possibly just turn your back thinking they won't be kindred spirits?

But fear not, this isn't going to turn into a raging diatribe on conservative family values.

Let us hope the three gay uncles had a fabulous new year party all on their own!

It has more to do with the three gay uncles I mentioned a while back. Not even my own uncles but the ones belonging to Diffident David. Perhaps not all gay but elderly bachelor uncles they all are. Since the older generation has gone, it should come as no surprise that the bachelor uncles all have their own reunion dinner separate from the rest of their family.

Coming from a terribly inclusive family, I find it utterly shocking to say the least. Can't imagine what my late grandfather would have said if this had happened in our household! Turn in his grave he would!

Paul : Don't you feel for them? Isn't there a shred of empathy somewhere? 
David : Why? 
Paul : They are gay. 
David : They aren't gay. 
Paul : Nonetheless, they are single and alone. There is basically no one else for their reunion dinner. 
David : So? 
Paul : Aren't you asking them over? 

Sadly, you'd have thought the appalling lack of hospitality I mentioned only extends to random acquaintances but apparently it extends to extended family as well. Hoping that he'd changed his mind during the new year turned out to be futile since they weren't invited over for the reunion at all.

Maybe next year?

Monday, March 12, 2018

How I Got Away With An Art Market II

Initially I think all of us, Trish, Tiny, Toni and I, even with the greatest of hopes and optimism, didn't think very much would come of the very first market we planned.

For such a small town with hardly any artistic gatherings as such, there seemed little chance we would even be able to collect enough promising vendors to form an artisan market. About a handful was all we expected and we planned it as such with a smaller event space than the one before. And even though we had decided to revive a lackluster market that happened semi regularly, the crowd at their very last event had been less than gratifying.

Hardly a ringing recommendation for the next.

Shouldn't come as a surprise then that I didn't have very high hopes for the customer crowd so I tried to reasonably manage everyone's expectations.

Paul : Guys, it's just our first market, a test for the crowd in town, so don't worry if not many people appear.
Tiny : There will be a huge crowd. 
Paul : At least we hope. Nonetheless it's just an opportunity for us all to get together and know one another. 
Tiny : There will be a huge crowd. 
Paul : I really hope you repeating that would actually make it happen. 

Turns out that seemed to do the trick.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the ancient Chinese proverb goes to explain the spectacular talents hidden in people yet undiscovered. A phrase that has certainly turned out apt for our particular situation since artists and crafters came out of nowhere when our first offer went out. Seems like right beneath our noses, we had painters, calligraphers, sculptors etc. all ready to showcase their hidden talents. Didn't take long before we were already getting worried whether we even had enough available venue space to fit them all in.

Like it or not, it was the management of such a diverse group of temperamental artisans with peculiar needs and wants that turned out to be a challenge. Urgent messages on every social media possible went zinging to and fro as we handled the occasional mercurial diva.

Tiny : It's your turn. 
Paul : I did it this morning. 
Trish : I'll do it but you guys owe me dessert. 
Paul : As long as I don't have to handle that melodrama again. 

Not to mention handling each other with our eccentricities since we had only started to know each other - meaning Trish, Tiny, Toni and I.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

How To Get Away With An Art Market

Rather than make a new year resolution that I would probably fail miserably at, I decided to do something far more productive and rejuvenate an art market already present here. After all I've always wanted to run a little artsy bric-a-brac store of my own so why not try out my rusty shopkeeping skills with something a little less permanent, and a tad more substantial than just a pop-up store!

For years on end, I have been a frequent visitor at an annual arts and crafts market here - and yes, I've often wondered often enough why it hasn't become a more regular event rather than only briefly during the run up to Christmas. After all, there seemed to be quite a growing crowd of participants each year. Few could answer me however, though I could easily guess the reason was mainly due to the semi-active participation of a couple of overtaxed expatriate housewives who tended to flit in and out of the town throughout the year. 

Hardly the sort to help make the fledgling market a more formally established item on the city's itinerary. 

Which is where we come in. One of the more determined participants, henceforth to be named Tenacious Tiny, corralled some of the more vocal people into a tight band to jointly organize more art markets here. Through Terrific Trish and Trustful Toni whom I've met on and off through the various events in town, I found my way into this group who hoped to bring together the crafters and creators in Miri under one single umbrella. 

Or at least that's what our main objective said!

Though none of them remotely resembled this fellow sadly. 

Despite my initial misgivings, the number of interested vendors in our market idea turned out to be quite significant; with a rare handful heaving a sigh of relief that someone had finally taken charge to make it more permanent. All I could think of was why hadn't they? Guess initiative is harder to find than I thought!

Several evenings of coffee and brainstorming followed between Trish, Tiny, Toni and I as we figured what to keep and what to change about the upcoming events. Thoughts of shifting the market venue to a more convenient location turned out to be far more tricky than we imagined. Not only did Tiny adore the original rustic location in a beach hut bistro, she as a local agoraphobic native didn't fancy driving more than five metres away from her house. Took a little bit of convincing but we managed to divert to another location closer to the town centre. 

Even the dates of the event kept moving around the calendar as we tried to balance the logistics of preparation with the advent of the Chinese New Year. 

Fortunately with Trish ever so adept at computer graphics, we soon had several posters and ads ready to place up around town; which Tiny and I sneakily plastered up at the more prominent junctions in town. Helping with the social media accounts, I found myself embracing the role of a peppy millennial coming up with wildly animated, enthusiastic remarks to accompany our numerous adverts. 
Gotta admit there were some days I found myself utterly exhausted from being that vivacious- and wished desperately for a cup of thick black coffee. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Gossip Girl

Let's face it, we all love gossip.

Short of being an utterly antisocial hermit huddled on a mountaintop alone, humans are basically social creatures who love each other's company - and once we gather, we tend to talk trash about each other as well. Probably ever since the first grunting cavemen returned to brag about the monstrous mastodon they all escaped from earlier.

Thankfully these days though, we tend to focus less on man-eating predators and more on what's happening in our lives; usually from the more mundane information such as progress at work and possible promotions thereafter to the more salacious details of someone's broken marriage and the reasons thereof.

Cue the trash talk from the ever-fertile rumour mill.

Though some of my more innocent friends usually cry foul to claim that it isn't always true.

Paul : So you know of her but you don't actually know her. 
Barbara : Yes, people have been talking about her. 
Paul : Ah, so what terrible news have you heard? 
Barbara : Nothing!
Paul : Stories about her reached you but there's nothing to tell. 
Barbara : Nothing bad at least. 
Paul : They spoke good things about her? 
Barbara : Yes. 
Paul : Do I look that gullible to you? 

Really? Schoolmates spread favourable news about someone around town.

Girl : Have I got some news for you!
Paul : Ooh pray tell. 

Let's not kid ourselves.

Perhaps if we all lived in a perfect utopia. Undoubtedly tales of selfless heroism and wonderful good deeds do make it onto the front page sometimes but believe the sad cynic here when I say, people rarely gather around the hearth to gossip about that. Virtuous saints do plenty of good that's hardly mentioned but it's their one little known inconsequential failing that gets everyone talking.

After all there's always that little touch of malice in the third retelling.

So despite what our sweetly optimistic Barbara wants to believe, gossip's rarely good.

Fear not though. Though rumours would persistently circulate so long as humans are around, we also have to remember to take what's whispered around about people objectively since generally there are parts that would be wildly fallacious. Like Chinese Whispers, any scandalously juicy bit gets a little added spice as the tale gets spread around so there's usually a veritable feast of scrumptious ignominy at the very end.

Maybe take it with a little pinch of salt.