Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

First Things First

My father, and he was not unique in this, was a big believer in first impressions. He spent time going over the best handshake, not too firm (aggressive and over-confident) nor too mild (the dead fish, a sure highway to derision and casting out). I don't suppose Stephen Hawking paid too much mind to such things, nor Bill Gates. Perhaps not mean advice though perhaps shallow. It did serve in reading Death of a Salesman - "Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want."  Oh Willy, you poor, sad sack of American pipe dreams. I recall a pair of interviewers at my last job fair who said I "presented very well" as a gentle way of telling me they had hired someone else. Apparently they had trained themselves to look past my perfected hello grip. We fathers so desperately want  our sons not to be somehow left behind. Who amongst us is not guilty of promoting, consciously or not, getting ahead.

What is the use of first impressions, really, unless they reveal the longterm self? I know. The proverbial foot in the door. A chance to prove oneself. But there is another, more pertinent idiomatic saying:  Truth will out. Shakespeare, natch. Is there anything the man did not know?

Side bar- you are going to put Shakespeare and Mozart into a room- who is the visual artist included? And should it be Mozart? Child prodigy and musical genius, certainly, but are there others whose depth over time exceeds his? Bach? Beethoven? Maybe it is all simply angels on the head of a pin.

Anyhoo- First impressions. I have seen such a very small slice of Indonesia- of what value can my thoughts be? Acknowledged: my feelings will evolve with experience and time. Still. Above is how this lovely young person who makes delicious egg custards responds to an odd, sweaty foreigner in his silly shorts, asking politely as possible if he may take her photograph. A response of genuine warmth, a gaze without guile. Graceful forbearance. The opposite of a facebook selfie (which, by the way, has NOT officially made it into the OED-subtle distinction is not the stuff of the modern age, needless to note).

This is the response of the bulk of the Indonesian people I have encountered. Whether they are working making small cakes-

or escorting the local version of the armored car-
I don't have photos, but the first remarkable feature of Indonesia, or I should say Jakarta, is the prevalence of bomb searching security, including at my school and every shopping mall. The efforts are neither thorough nor effective, but they are constant- almost a cultural quirk of sorts. It is clear that the guards in question have little in the way of training or interest, but they push the militaristic look and manner to the extreme. Just what the threat is remains a mystery to me at this point.

Yes, we are still in SE Asia, so the bus/truck loading and driving quirks apply. The particular driving mannerism I have noticed in Jakarta is the swerve. They win the prize for coming closest taillight to headlight while changing lanes. The bikes above were headed back to villages for Eid al Fitr, the biggest holiday of the year. My arrival in this country, home to the largest population of Muslims in the world, coincided with Ramadan. Much more on that to come, Allah willing. Suffice it to note, all other concerns aside, I am happy I have come for that part of the experience.

What else? Malls. Lots of malls. Jakarta seems to have the corner on the world market in two areas: traffic and malls. Don't they go hand in hand? Vast landscapes of parking and shopping. Gigantic swaths of neon and macadam. It is what one does here, recreationally, culturally (the latest iteration is marketed as a combination of art exhibit and shopping experience), communally. I direct the cabs by giving mall names. To get home I say Mall Teraskota and though small it serves more reliably as a marker than my actual street name, which I still do not know.

There are malls for every budget and style shopper. Acres of granite and stainless steel. Boxcars of shirts and underwear. Stacks of coffee shops, piles of sushi.

The good side of this is the availability of indulgences.

Though the cost is exorbitant - $6 for this bar(faneffingtastic if I may say so), it means I can, with a little digging, get things like an excellent cup of joe.

...It also means living in this suburb of Jakarta is far from cheap overall. The greatest expense is naturally alcohol, upon which a gouging tax is placed. Yesterday I spent $70 on two Chilean wines I would not have spent more than $6 -8 each in the USA. Believe me, it is a different sensation downing a perfectly average bottle of red with a friend when you know it is setting you back $35. I believe Nicolas Cage would have run out of money long before his liver gave out had he cashed in his pay here.

More on this aspect of life in an Islamic country to come as well. By the way, the porn-soaked culture of the West still feigns mock outrage at Miley Cyrus shaking her ass on tv, so don't pretend Christians have it together, okay?

What, besides wandering the mall, replaces the social lubricant alcohol here? Well, food for one. I also went to a shisha bar one night,  a lively place full of young people socializing and flirting.

Malls and shopping. If you know me, you know my tolerance for this kind of buzz. A buzz that turns to a bomb-dropping drone in my brain, destroying the rustic villages of my psyche pretty quick.

Between the malls and the traffic I occasionally wonder why the hell I am not in Maine, awaiting the arrival of sharp fall air and impending winter. I have to be careful to avoid certain songs and look for what pleasures I can. Luckily there is that Indonesian smile, and the local market my new friend Phil showed me.

So, I will focus my researches there, as my French cousin Jean Baptiste would say, will attempt to get past the initial take and go deeper. Will do my best to get past the hello to the heart of the matter.

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