Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jakarta, Caracas, Que Viva

It's been more than two months that I live in Jakarta. 'The Big Durian' - some people dubbed this city, trying to match New York's nickname, 'the Big Apple'. Some of them think that durian is so Indonesia (and forget that this exotic fruit is also a favorite in other neighboring Southeast Asian countries), some of them think that 'durian' is just a perfect analogy of the legit, creamy, sweet, tasty - yet stinky kind of living that most urban(-ized) people here are having. To me, I would like to add 'thorny' and 'dangerous' to the equation too, as that's exactly what durian is about to me.

At this point you might wonder what I am actually about to talk about in this post. Oh well. I will talk about my new life in Jakarta, how I recently realized that my two years of encounter with a Venezuelan guy has equipped me with the skills I need to live in this Big Durian, and how J-Lo and Marc Anthony's Que Viva got me to a thought to discover a missing link in my life.

That guy's name is AG. Two years and three months have gone by since the last time I saw him in Albany International Airport. To me, he was the closest person I had there. He was my very best friend.

These days as I walked in the streets of Jakarta, in the evenings after work, I often remembered what AG told me about staying safe. "I'm from Caracas and I got used to unsafe environment." He was the person with the strongest alert system I've ever known. He told me how to observe the streets and what to do if danger approaches. "If I tell you to run, you MUST run. Don't look back.", he always said. He was the person I called when I was scared of being alone with some drunken guys around at Lark Street's bus stop, and when I was scared of being home alone after some shooting incidents in town. But then again, here in Jakarta I am alone. None protected me like he did when we were in Albany.

In Jakarta I live in a very decent neighborhood called Menteng, and my route to work is the street where our Vice President, some ambassadors, and some State VVIPs live. I pass through security guards almost every 50 meters, and to add to that, CCTVs are also all around. But, "Jakarta is still Jakarta", some people said. Street robbery does happen, even at the safest neighborhood in the city. The robber who rides motorbike can easily grab-and-pull our purse and quickly run away. It doesn't happen often, of course, but all my friends who knew my fondness of having a walk after work always come up with a short pause after I tell them I would walk - and say the typical Indonesian caring expression; "hati-hati", or "be careful".

At the corners of Jakarta I always see AG in my mind. In my head I see him reminding me to be careful like when we had to walk along some shady parts of Albany or on some unknown streets of the cities we were traveling to. He was always my protector, my guardian. He was like a bridge that took me from the naive, innocent sides of myself to the harsh realization that even if I was a nice person, people around me would not automatically be nice to me. In Aceh I always drove with my driver. But now I am alone so I have to remember his lessons on surviving empty streets. Alert. Beware. Observe. Figure out an escape plan. The only modification I need to his teaching is how to survive unsafe corners of the streets... On high heels. :)

Jakarta is a heterogenous city. I encountered some surprises in my first days here. I had people criticizing me for my choice of housing, and the biggest blow to me was the frequent questions on my prolonged single status. The fact that I don't seem to be interested in dating got people questioning me, a bit too much. I usually just shrug my shoulders, grin, and answered with an awkward, "hehehe... I just haven't found what I'm looking for" (and there goes U2's Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For in my head). I didn't expect those kinds of curious-for-too-personal-stuff people existing in big city. See, after living for so long in less-urbanized place, I realized that I overrated the open-mindedness of the urban people.

With AG, I learned to deal with such people. We both learned to deal with gossips, backstabbers, unsincere personalities. We discussed and analyzed a lot and we strengthened each other. We exercised our patience together. I learned to ignore and sometimes give empty answers. I just never knew that I would carry that skill with me here. I could stay strong despite the talks around, and try to care only about the works I need to accomplish. And those moments when I had a bad day, it's difficult not to miss him. To miss the way we shared our problems and the way we finally laughed about them.

AG also always appears at the corners of Jakarta's shopping havens where shopping temptations tickle the impulsive circuits of my brain. AG trained me so well about doing effective shopping that unlike most people I know who got lost into accute shopaholicism as they move into this city of abundant choices, I remain a very reasonable person.

Although back then I hated it when he told me to shop in a rush; 10 minutes to pick a thing in shops, now I know that the effective shopping actually resulted from rapid assessment skill of deciding whether I need to buy a stuff or not. If I lingered to a thing for more than 10 minutes, usually, a) that stuff doesn't fit so well, b) it fits but too expensive; or c) I don't really need it, so hasta la vista. Even though there are moments when I get so absorbed by the overloads of cuteness in the mall, the image of him standing at the corner of the aisle checking his watch with the look of a sports match time keeper gets me smiling. AG always rushed me when I shopped, except for books. :)

There are many more influences I picked from him. The courage, the knowledge, ideas, the ways to see the world, the practicalities... These days I think of AG a lot. I miss him. I miss those days when we took care of each other, when we argued or desperately tried to explain ourselves, our different cultures, get his masculine point of views and my feminine views in an agreement, when we laughed about simple things so innocently like kids. I want to tell him that through knowing him I have (learned to) become a braver, more careful, and more realistic person.

One day I want to see Caracas. To see where he was born and grew up. To understand the city and the culture that has made him the person that he is. To understand the influences he has transmitted into my minds, to my ways of life.

For almost two years he surrounded me with Latin influences through his stories, attitudes, and explanations about it. I adopted some, I accepted some, but I misunderstood many. One day I want to see Latin America with my own eyes, with my now-less-naive minds. Yo quiero lo vi con mis ojos.

Whenever I watch 'Que Viva!' and observe the sights of Latin American lives, its cities, its people, its artistic expressions, its emotions, its vibes, its pueblos, I remember AG. Many things in that show reminds me of him.

Along our life, we shape and reshape our identity. Through the people around us, through the culture that influence each of us. He IS one of the many influential bricks that shape my attitude towards life. In a strange way, my life in Jakarta makes me discover a will to visit a missing link: a place and a culture which I have never seen directly - but have affected and influenced my life as an adult. I want to understand his culture, to understand him, and to understand these things that I adopted through him.

As I wrote this, a song from another Latin American influence sings in my ear:
"When the friends are gone, when the party's over, we still belong to each other..."
Shakira is the only composer on earth that I know of pulling a vulgar expression like 'Underneath Your Clothes' into a sweet and beautiful love song.
Is that a Latin American thing?
I don't know.
I will let y'all know one day, when I made it to see how true Latin America is.

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