Sunday, 7 November 2010

Finding Sweetness

I move addresses more often than most people. As a child I had no say in the matter, and as an adult my inability to legally own property in Indonesia means I can move apartment when it's convenient, and it has been convenient to do so more often than I would have predicted. Despite these frequent changes, my parents, or rather strictly speaking my mother, has owned a little oasis of calm since the late 80s at the foot of this mountain:

Mount Ungaran

This was my permanent address during three separate periods, and living in Jakarta as I do, I'm very fortunate to still be able to return here for holidays at least several times a year. The feelings of agnosticism pervading my family notwithstanding, we have been celebrating December Pagan rituals as a family without fail for a good many years running now. My mother is in fact a staunch Catholic, but she doesn't let the heathens in her midst get under her skin too much.

A long-running joke is that many people outside of Indonesia think it's a place located near or within the island of Bali. Any amount of veracity in this claim is a shame, as while Bali is without a doubt one of my favourite places to be, the whole country is one of many and varied pleasures. Of course at the moment, the main news coming out of Indonesia is once again its propensity for natural disaster, with scenes of evacuees from the vicinity of Mount Merapi dominating televised newscasts. Mount Ungaran is a few hours north of that area where misfortune continues to erupt, and it's also a volcano, although dormant as long as records have been kept on the subject. 

When I was a teenager I suppose I took the lush greenery and views of mountains much for granted, which I would say is quite reasonable, although perhaps I was even slightly more nonchalant than most during their teenage years. Nowadays, when urbanization appears to be encroaching upon all of our lives, often with much malignancy, especially in the developing world, a comfortable home in the country represents a sought after item. Not that Ungaran is entirely countryside these days. The great expanses of rice paddies seem to shrink each year as more and more housing estates are added to the landscape. 

Lush greenery

Yet despite the ever ubiquitous presence of semi-detached houses, I think (hope) that it will be a long time before my little corner of Java is close to being spoiled. For starters my parents have staked claim to an ample section of it, and why it may not count as a carbon sink, it might as a carbon plug-hole. As, in contrast to most of their neighbours (there weren't really any when the property was first bought), my parents haven't filled up the land with concrete structures, but instead have kept it very green. This provides our ten or so half-wild dogs with a nice play area, and they in turn keep away would-be thieves with blood-curdling howls at the slightest rustling of leaves during day or night. It should be added that the indiscriminate barking of such a pack of dogs to guard a large garden is something which could at times be aptly described as a necessary evil, that is to say they have no qualms about waking up family members in the middle of the night for no good reason. Either that, or there is a staggering number of would-be thieves in rural Java.

Dogs are man's best friend, but the Javanese, including my mother, have much more affection for cats .When I was a child she told me that she preferred cats to human beings, and I wondered where I fit in with regard to that statement. Visitors to the house have marveled at the harmony that occurs between the cat population, - almost always more than ten - and the abovementioned pack of raucous canines. It is true that you will catch these cats and dogs being extraordinarily tender with one another, although there have been a significant number of fatal exceptions. My six year-old son Alex has taken to asking if we could have a pet for our tiny apartment in Jakarta, and I have to explain to him that even if it were allowed by the building's management, it wouldn't be very kind to the animal itself. Luckily for him, and it must be said mostly unluckily for the animals, he has a home away from home where a veritable menagerie awaits.

One of my favourite things about the garden is that it's normally capable of providing enough coffee for the whole family year-round. The luxury of truly fresh and organic coffee is something which I would be lost without, as caffeinated drinks are my one unshakable vice. I tend to do overdo it when I'm actually in Ungaran on holiday, as there is almost always a fresh pot of the stuff lying around somewhere, but I must simultaneously overdose on oxygen, as I never have trouble (over)sleeping, till those well-meaning four-legged friends decide to raise the alarm.

Much like Jakarta, the weather in Ungaran is not what it used to be. The town used to regularly be very cold for the tropics, cold to the point where wearing a jumper was a must. In recent years it seems to have been getting warmer and warmer, with cold spells becoming less and less frequent. Much like Jakarta in 2010, the rainfall has been relentless, it's just that the air remains weirdly warm despite torrential downpour. I for one believe that Al Gore has a point.

It will soon be time to worship a plastic pine tree, and I will have to get my train tickets booked. I hate flying; not so much the flying itself, but just about everything else, and there is a very comfortable and well-priced train that will take me most of the way to Ungaran. At the same time I'm having to contend with yet another apartment move, mostly for the sake of better proximity to my son's primary school. Being at once an optimist and a realist, I am hoping for the best and expecting the worst where the move is concerned, having got none of the preliminary arrangements taken care of yet, thanks to the seat-of-pants method of work employed by all the property agents I've been in touch with. Money is of course another sticking point. 

It's nice to think that no matter how hard my moving will end up being, along with all the other reasons for distress 2010 has presented to me, I'll be able to sit back in a place well removed from the hustle and bustle of city life, where temperatures are rising but still comfortable, listening to the impossible racket of dogs under the impression they've made it to the happy hunting grounds already, and sip on the freshest cup of Java known to man. 

This year, it will be fresh on the heels of not one, but two more tragic natural disasters affecting Indonesia, and its poorest inhabitants, whose recent suffering make my worst problems look like drops in the ocean , and it is with sincerity that I hope the thousands of Mount Merapi and Sumatran tsunami survivors at least have shelter and a steady supply of food long before the 25th of December.

1 comment:

  1. I clicked on the name link for your blog at Ebert’s thread on loneliness. Almost a year ago he did a post on me and my website. Once or twice a week I check out his threads.

    A depressing thread, but your blog made me think you might want to experience more of art and interact with intelligent folk more. If interested, contact me and I can introduce you to some people with intelligence and drive in the arts. I have readers all over the world- from the UK to Canada to Japan to Tibet.
    If interested, contact me.