by Peter Nelson
There’s a great line in a very great movie, “The Year of Living Dangerously”. The narrator says, “A man becomes as a child again when he enters the slums of Asia after dark.”
Indonesia — a total assault on the senses. Overwhelmed by all these sights, sounds, feelings, aromas, tastes — all so new after the relative tranquility of Australia. Especially sounds! Indonesians don’t seem to have any conception of peace and quiet. Each day starts out noisy and just grows in volume until dusk, when things do slow down somewhat. Being a Moslem country, Indonesia is a land of mosques where the faithful are called to prayer five times a day, beginning at 4:00 am. As the cities are large and mosques are few, the traditional method of calling to prayer [a lone man singing from the top of a minaret] has been replaced by a loudspeaker invariably turned up to the pain level. Needless to say, we quickly learned to seek lodging as far removed from the mosques as possible.
In Perth, people have to water their lawns for an hour every day to keep them even a pale greenish-brown, but here every spot not disturbed daily by the feet of thousands, quickly sprouts a variety of thick plants, thrusting upward strong and green. Plants grow on rooftops, moss grows on walls; one gets the impression that if the cities were evacuated for a month, the jungle would creep in and once again claim its own, taking over the land it held for eons before the heavy feet of man trampled it.
Djakarta is perhaps not the best place to begin one’s tour of Southeast Asia. It’s easily the filthiest, most squalid city I’ve ever seen. So big it’s impossible to get around in, and, at the same time, it’s two or three times more expensive than any other place in Indonesia. So it was a huge relief to get out of it and into the aromatic countryside with the scents of frangipani, jasmine, cut lemon, rich wet earth, a million unknown blossoms, a delightful change from the fetid breath of Djakarta.