Remix Ubiquitous & on the Jakartan Mall

Of all the songs that one might have expected to hear remixed in an almost endless variety of forms — swing jazz, strings & voice, glittery upbeat techno –this is the last song I thought would start following me around Indonesia.

By the way, what the hell was with the original mix video? It sucks in a large variety of ways, so much so that I daren’t get started on it:

(Update: Okay, if there’s any more proof that anyone can do anything, one of the main members of Black Box was a classically trained clarinet teacher., says Wikipedia. Sure, that’s not saying Valerio Semplici couldn’t have had a burning interest in house music alongside the classical training — just as Somtow Sucharitkul could be both a significant SF writer and a major opera composer/director — but how many classical clarinetists do you know about whose work can be heard in dance clubs around the world… not to mention, with frightening regularity, in the shopping malls of Southeast Asia? This is a group whose most famous tracks, as Wikipedia notes, “are still heard on rhythmic radio and in clubs on a fairly regular basis to this day.” Bizarre.)

This reminds me: one of the things I’ve been meaning to clarify for my North American readers about “shopping malls” in Jakarta is that they’re not exactly like malls back in North America, at least not the malls I’ve experienced there; they differ in some rather interesting ways. Well, interesting to me, anyway. If you’re curious, you can check out the extended post. Social Function. What I remember of malls in Canada was that they were primarily:

  • a place for teenagers to hang out cheaply
  • a place for middle-class people to do their shopping “conveniently”
  • a place for people with no better options, especially college students, to work

Well, the last point I’m not so sure about: I don’t know what someone working in the Giordano outlet in this or that mall in Jakarta makes, or how good a job it is on the scale of employment opportunities in the city. But as for the first two points, they don’t map so well onto  Indonesian malls. There’s a reason that you get checked for bombs and weapons at the doors of these places — and yes, you do. Cars pulling up get checked, usually in the trunk and scanning the underside of the car with a mirror; people have to surrender their bags to security guards for a moment while they’re checked for anything dangerous. (The checks are usually cursory, but they are constant.)

There are definitely malls catering to different social classes, some of them adjoining directly. You can tell you’ve moved into a lower social class’s mall because the air conditioning is set lower, and because the clerks look less pale, and ever so slightly more haggard. But even so, the people one sees walking around in malls here veery often look like businesspeople, or professionals, or whatever. As was said to me last night, “They’re so dressed-up and made-up and look so confident.” Some malls are frighteningly exclusive — the kind of place where someone pays as much for a wristwatch as one would for a car, I’m told — and even the less posh places cater to what I imagine must be the lower portion of the upper crust of Jakarta’s population, the upper middle class. Teenagers are not so abundant in malls, and instead of haggard parents pushing a shopping cart loaded with kids through a K-Mart, what you see is giant trains and robotic elephants and horses being ridden by kids, their nannies following close behind, while the parents are off trying on the newest fashions, getting a drink, or having some quiet time.

I think one reason for this difference is climate: exclusive shops in the West seem to prize private ownership of their location and facilities, but then again, one needn’t tromp through blistering heat, or endless tropical rain, to reach their door. Jakarta being what it is — a city where walking to places is a dangerous proposition unless you’re immune to the effects of collision, and where the climate is a thing of extremes — most people who can afford it are happier being in a single air-conditioned complex. It’s exclusive, of course: exclusivity is a very important concept in Jakarta. Thus the notion of “exclusive” malls catering to clientele who’d never set foot in your average North American-styled mall.

Food. Some of the best food to be had in Jakarta can be gotten at malls. Not all of the best, to be sure — there are high-quality restaurants that occupy their own buildings — but in the classier malls in Jakarta, you can find safe and wonderful Indonesian food (something you cannot assume in your average street restaurant), as well as amazing Italian, Chinese, and Japanese food — we had a killer meal of Italian food the other day — and all kinds of other stuff from around Southeast Asia. Yes, you can get sick from mall food too — I had some soup I shouldn’t have had, for example — but often mall food is the safest bet.

I didn’t really used to be the kind of traveler who worried so much about getting sick from food, but then, I’ve never gotten such bad food poisoning anywhere as I have in Indonesia, while being as careful as I have been. Anyway, if you’re in the sticks, you’re safer to go with satay, since it’s grilled meat, or with nasi goreng, which is a kind of fried rice dish.

That said, I still want to try a little more food at establishments outside malls. The few small stand-alone restaurants I’ve visited have been quite nice, though with little hitches at times. Stones in the rice, things like that. I’m hoping on one or two of our side trips out of the big city, we’ll run across nice smaller places.

Drink. My sister once worked in a shopping mall bar in our hometown, and having seen the inside of the place one day when I dropped by for some reason — were we meeting there at the end of her shift? I can’t remember — the phrase “shopping mall bar” conjures up all kinds of images of mediocrity, of middle-aged unemployed guys drinking their afternoons away. Classy is the last thing you’d expect, but in Jakarta, there are some very nice drinking establishments inside malls. You can get a mojito, Erdinger Wit, Leffe Blonde (if your lucky), or a Singapore Sling, and enjoy it in a pretty classy, low-key setting. (That is, not surrounded by tons of stereotypical older white guys grouped with young Indonesian women who look like they’re dying to get out of the country; without massive clouds of smoke, or loud groups of people shouting at one another.)

Of course, young and single Westerners in Indonesia might not like such places — they probably prefer bars where they can meet other young single people — and maybe it’s midddle-aged of me to say it, but if you want a drink and conversation in a really pleasant, civilized environment, with the option of good food on the side, I haven’t seen a better place in Jakarta than in some of the city’s malls.

(Then again, I’ve not visited many bars outside malls, either, so… grains of salt, folks.)

Music and Art. In shopping malls in the west, “music” and “art” are something to be bought and sold, at best, and at worst they’re just background crap of the worst kind. Well, in some of the malls I’ve been to here, music means live music, as in live music shows. Okay, a lot of the music hasn’t really been to my taste — smooth jazz and pop songs about love dominate — but even so, it’s hard to deny the oodles of talent I’ve seen in the few performers I’ve run across. We saw one pair of singers at the Pondok Inda 2 mall the other day, and I swear, the male singer could have made a living singing in New York, he was that good. (He did a rendition of “Spain” that made me get over the horrors of having played that song in high school big band, for example.)

Also, and this is neither here nor there, but musicians here seem really eager to meet audience members. They’re always shaking hands and chatting. It’s kinda cool, and reminds me of how visiting musicians behaved during set breaks at The Bassment, the Saskatoon jazz club I frequented in my teens and early 20s.

And as for art: I’ve seen some pretty amazing paintings on display in malls. They’re not for sale, as far as I can tell — no price tags, no contact information, just names. The art is for people to see and enjoy. Again, not all of it is my kind of thing, but it’s important to note that it’s not all plain old representationalist: some really abstract or unusual work finds a place alongside giant kittens and the semi-abstract images of Chinese carp underwater. And people actually stop to look at the paintings, take them in, enjoy them. I have mixed feelings about some of the stuff I described above, but the presence of (and interest in) art and music is something I think is really cool.

Well, there you are: my thoughts on malls in Jakarta.

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