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25.3.10

Rumah Manis Rumah

We step down from the bajaj into a typical middle-class neighborhood in west Jakarta. We are on one of the main streets through the neighborhood, which is just wide enough to allow two Smart Cars to pass, if one side of the street weren't lined with parked cars. You look up. The house is large with a neo-Greco-Roman facade trimmed in metallic gold. A Mercedes is parked in the forecourt. Next door is a dingy one-story that hasn't been paited in a decade. They share a side wall. All along the steet are small stores and restaurants, called warung, and vendors walk up and down the area selling all manner of goods and services. Each has a unique call or sound to identify them. Scattered group of people sit around, not doing much of anything. They all look at us because we are the most interesting thing to happen today.

Welcome to the kampung. This is how the upper half live in Indonesia. A kampung (which means village) is a housing area that is gated (the gates are locked at night) and patrolled by the RT, or citizen security service. Everyone who stays here pays a fee and gives a copy of their ID to the RT. This kampung is one of serveral in the area, along with schools, mosques and a pasar, or marketplace. In the distance, you can just make out the apartment buildings surrounding the local malls. Some people never go farther than the malls in their entire lifetime.

I direct you to the gang, which is a narrow alley way, about 7 feet wide, just enough for three people to walk abreast. Only foot-traffic and motorcycles use them and they lace through the entire kampung. It is lined with houses, literally wall-to-wall. They are all brick and concrete boxes abutted on three sides by other houses. The front of the house has the only windows, and if there is a garden, it is generally on the roof. Trees with various kinds of fruit hang over the walk from the forecourts. We start down the path and come to a house that is unremarkable. It is one and a half floors, white, wrough-iron fence which has a bag of trash hanging on it waiting for collection, pretty much like all the others here.

As we pass the front gate, we step onto the forecourt, which is tiled and has enough space to park a couple of motorcycles and hang the laundry. You notice there are almost no dogs to be seen or heard. They are harum (unclean) to muslims, although semi-wild cats wander everywhere and keep the rodent population in check.

As we come to the front door, you glance down and see several sandbags sitting across from the door. As you step inside, you almost trip over the threshold, which is raised about six inches. You guess there must be a lot of flooding here, probably in the rainy season.

Inside the door is a small room with some bookshelves, a curio shelf and some chairs. This is the sitting room where formal guests are received. Friends and family sit on the floor on mats or pillows in the next room. The family area is spacious and lined with shelves, bins, a laundry area, and a TV. It is open to the dining and kitchen area. The kitchen is not separate but is simply a counter with a sink in one corner. Some houses have an outdoor kitchen adjoining which is used for grilling or frying fish. A refrigerator stands in one corner and the table is in the center of the room. Every square inch of the house has white tile floors. In the kitchen, the tile goes half way up the wall too. You get the impression that you could almost clean house with a hose and a scrub brush, which leads you to notice also that pretty much everything is raised off the floor about six to eight inches.

You look at me expectantly and ask for the restroom. I direct you to a back area through the kitchen. As you step through the door, you are in the utility area. It was obviously a small open courtyard at one point, but it has been covered with translucent corrugated sheeting. A narrow stairway goes up to the half floor, which is either storage or the servants' quarters. On the ground level, there is a washing machine (no dryer) and a small bathroom. Inside the bathroom is completely tiles floor to ceiling with a wall-mounted shower hear, a twenty-gallon tank full of water, a raised platform with a 'squat' toilet (a porcelain bowl set into the floor with foot pads on either side), and a dip bucket. There is no toilet paper or towe in sight. You are on your own to figure it out.

When you come out, still dripping wet, we complete the rest of the nickel tour.

There is a small bedroom at the front of the house and then the master suite, ehich is large room (the only on with an A/C), a couple of beds and another bathroom (you notice this one has a 'throne' and you wish I had sent you here). There are no closets anywhere in the house, so the rooms have wardrobes. Again everything is raised off the floor the ubiquitous six to eight inches. There are some small windows, like transoms, high on the wall that allow some light, and two small skylights in the ceiling. Otherwise, the walls are solid and blank.

You notice that every room has a single bare florescent bulb in the center of the ceiling. Additionally, you eye catches wires and cables strung haphazardly across the ceiling. Seems the cable installed took the most direct line to each drop, rather than make any attempt to dress or hide the cables. In the bathrooms, pipes are exposed. It occurs to you that hiding things inside the wall is a major engineering project, since everything is solid brick and concrete. You also notice that the rooms have a single electrical outlet with strings of multi-boxes snaking around the house. All the electic service is DC. You can plug a generator into a wall socket and power everything on that circuit, even the neighborhood if you don't pop the mains first.

One other thing stikes you as you look around. The bathrooms, the utility area and the kitchen all have 50-gallon plastic tanks full of water, and in the kitchen are a number of 5-gallon carbouys with drinking water. Though Jakarta today is faily stable, in the past and in most of the rest of the country, electricity and water service frequently go out, so most people have at least a water storage capability, if not a generator.

Welcome to everyday life in Indonesia...for the upper half. In another installment, you will visit how the other half lives.

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