Published in the Sunday Jakarta Post, 30 April 2006

Jakarta villa in Singapore

Semi-Classic for the Semi-Conscious

I was at the new Garuda lounge at the Domestic terminal three times in 24 hours last week – real mensch territory.
Has anyone else notice all those businessmen in matching, black wind-cheater jackets, with Burberry plaid trim?!!
The lounge is definitely a great improvement, however, on the old one: gone is the smoked-filled N.Y.P.D.-themed entrance salon, which used to lead to an apple juice dispenser and foot massage section. The new lounge, designed by legendary Jakarta bon-vivant Sir Warwick Purser, is spacious and stylish with lots of good-looking, well-dressed lackeys and lassies to service tired tycoons.
It’s an indicator, for sure, that the business community are now back in the fast track – buoyant almost, in matching black windcheaters – exchanging get-rich-quick schemes over espresso and tempé bacem.

• • •

I preferred it when the nation’s power-brokers were power-dressed in Versace floral shirts, for easy identification: serious crimplene, for the serious-minded sort of thing.
This new craze for Joseph Estrada weekend-wear – with gold Dunhill belt buckles rampant – is a tad creepy.
Where have all the power dressers gone, one has to ask.
By “power dresser” I mean, charcoal safari suit-clad supermen of the Soeharto-era, and the super-women with huge helmet hair. In those days, rumour has it, the super-women used to sleep standing up!

• • •

Over a two day period I travelled from Bali to Jakarta to Semarang and back, on Garuda Indonesia Airlines. Their new enhanced business class product is a welcome relief for us travelling salesmen. Gone are the nasty, post-krismon, pre take-off wet wipes: Garuda now offers fluffy hand towels, in the full range – from luke-warm to luke-cold – depending on one’s flight.
Charming flight attendants serve well-balanced light meals for today’s more weight-conscious Zen traveller. All meals are holistically constructed around child-size Kit-Kat bars. On one sector I had Kit Kat with tahu-togé (a delicious deep fried cube of tofu filled with slightly fermenting been sprouts, best served cold at least 6 hours after frying) and a cinnamon twirl. On another leg I had Kit-Kat with strawberry mousse cake (a Garuda staple since the early 1970s, when mousse became the Garuda mascot) and a savory bun with simulated-sausage buried deep inside. Delicious!

• • •

Forum Javanica semi-classical real estate in Semarang

n Semarang I visited all the new, high-end real estate projects. One gated community, called “Royal family”, was themed – to within an inch of its life – in the Bavarian “semi-classical” Schloss style, replete with life size statues of white, gay cow herds and cow girls, canoodling on the corners. Well, “on the corners”, and on one metre high pedestals, surrounded by love donuts of yellow dwarf ixora and maure dwarf lantana (dwarf varieties are popular with the semi-classically-inclined).
Recently, a Morgan banker friend told me that the majority of Indonesian billionaires live in Semarang. Standing inside “Royal Family” one could see why.
Another development, called “Forum Javanica”, had stretches of fifteen metre wide Palladian villas, each with two car garage doors squeezed between Etruscan porticos.
Looking at these noble facades I felt transported back to the era of the emperors and I felt that at any moment Vivien Leigh, as Cleopatra, would come running out of a rose-wood front door, chased by Sophan Sophian, or Lim Siu Liong.

• • •

The term “semi-classical” was first used by René Ciputra at the Jakarta Convention Centre Real Estate Bonanza in 2003.
“Italian style, Bali style Resort, Signature, New Asia and Zen” are all ‘old hat’ she decreed, “the smart money is going “semi-classical.”” There was a stampede of matrons towards her booth, all with identical hairdos and faces, like Lucy Liu lemmings to a mock Trevi fountain.
The term “semi-classical” was first used in print by Malaysia’s innovative garden magazine Impian – “Home of the plaster Heidi”.
Malaysia really is the spiritual home of the semi-classical because they have the big Bentleys and egg finger sandwiches to go with them.
In neighbouring Singapore they’re way behind the times: the Berlin-look bunkers that pass for coastal bungalows on Sentosa island are old-fashioned before they’ve even had their first Karaoke party!.
Since the early 1990s Singaporean architects have been advising their clients not to choose any styles that could be construed as “representational” i.e. with Malay, Hindu or basically any local ethnic/cultural flavour. “Look to Berlin not to Bali” was their battle cry: I suspect it was more the Muscle Mary side of Berlin, the Panzer-suzan side, they were looking to, however, if one sees the S and M villas that pass for holiday homes on Sentosa Island these days!. It’s no wonder – after a decade of godless, loveless, exteriors – that the smart money in Singapore has also taken refuge in the semi-classical! (See photo on top).

• • •

On my way back to Cengkareng from Semarang I stop at the South Jakarta of the Panigoro family, to see their new garden done in the Javo-Hawaiian style (see photo below). It is a horticultural and design masterpiece – a perfect blend of the natural and the man-made – and my confidence is restored in the future of artful natural home garden design in the region.
“Nature will never be old-fashioned, cultural-reference (sense of place) will always warm the heart,” The Dalai Lama said once. After 24 hours in designer hell – stuck in Jakarta traffic for the most part – I was greatly relived: there is life beyond the New Asian Annal, the semi classical and tired old Bali Baroque. There are still Indonesia garden lovers with a sense of style and not just fashion.

Panigoro garden in Kemang, Jakarta

• • •

Arriving back in Bali at the International terminal the next day I noticed that a wind of change has swept through Real Estate Alley – that narrow corridor that leads from the Ngurah Rai customs hall to the real world – where jet-lagged rich people are plied with Zen villa brochures. Gone are the bimbos in sexy things, and the bar girls in bikinis on the front covers of the real estate mags. The vendeuses are now in trendy day-wear; the magazine covers are chaste and pudenda polite.
It’s a small victory for the “Bali Luwih” (“Keep Bali refined”) movement, but a significant one!
The “smart money is heading south” according to Tropical Living magazine. By “south” the learned real estate magazine publisher-entrepreneur means the bukit peninsula, Bali’s former penal colony and peanut farm. On Bali’s bukit, villas have semi-classical names like “Bayview”, “ Temple on a hill” and “One Glogor Carik”.
The Balinese I spoke to definitely want all the smart money to go to south. And stay there.
The Balinese can keep their way of life, thank you very much.


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