Friday, August 17, 2012

Merah Putih

Bumping right up against the end of Ramadan and the week of Lebaran this year, this Friday, August 17th is Indonesia's Independence Day (called, in long form "Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia" ("Proclamation of Indonesian Independence"), or "Tujuh Belasan" ("the 17th") or just plain "Proklamasi" for short). 

It's a pretty important holiday here, not dissimilar from July 4th.  Lots of celebration, food, and apparently, silly games.  People here started prepping at the beginning of the month- suddenly every street corner was festooned with flags and bunting in merah putih (red and white), the colors of the Indonesian flag:

Trinket sellers roamed the streets and slipped between cars at traffic lights selling mini Indonesian flags and little woven decorative ketupat made from Indonesian flag ribbons:

  Lots of signs posted everywhere proclaiming "Long live the freedom of the Republic of Indonesia":

I learned from some knowledgeable Indonesian sources that normally Tujuh Belasan is full of fun games and contests organized by neighborhood committees, many of which are counterparts to games we play in the U.S., while others are pretty foreign to us: rice sack races are the equivalent of the American potato sack race and rice crackers hanging from a string are not dissimilar from bobbing for apples, but I'm not sure we have anything like the prizes perched on top of a greased palm tree trunk.  My source also mentioned something about squeezing live eels into a jar?  The details were hazy.  I read something about dangdut football (soccer played by dudes in sarongs, set to dangdut music).  

Sadly, after having my appetite whetted by the descriptions of these games and celebrations, because of this year's overlap between Ramadan and Tujuh Belasan, celebrations in Jakarta are expected to be much more sedate this year since folks are a) fasting and/or b) sudah pulang kampung (already heading home to the village for Lebaran).  Tim and I walked around a bit and some some small celebrations, but things were feeling pretty ghost-townish around here... however, we did see the mini-motorbike parade above, and then, while wandering around deserted Gelora Bung Karno stadium (where we watched the crazy soccer games so many months ago), we had the privilege of catching some dudes sitting on their motorbikes while singing Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are" in 4 part harmony, plus 3 other dudes practicing some Cocktail-esque "flair bartending" moves with empty booze bottles and cocktail shakers.  I don't think these were Independence Day related activities, but amusing nonetheless.

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