March 10, 2013

No fun at all: Homeless in Berkeley and poor in Jakarta

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Jane Stillwater @ 4:57 pm

My friend Gordon Lau works for a charitable foundation in Jakarta that tries to help the poorest of the poor — and so he decided to see exactly what his clients are going through by being “Poor for a Day” himself

I wanna be poor for a day too — and have just been given the perfect opportunity to do so. My housing co-op is being re-habbed and I have to be out of my apartment for three weeks while they do everything to it except install a new chimney for Santa Claus to come down.

Fifteen years ago, I started fighting like a tiger to get my co-op re-habbed because it was falling apart — but its board of directors kept balking or even actively fighting the idea, getting so sick of me that they even threatened poor sweet me with eviction and jail if I didn’t shut up.

However, some broad members finally had a change of heart and others retired, and we actually finally started getting re-hab plans made — but even then it took us an additional five years to get the re-hab finally under way.

And now that it’s here and actually happening? I think I’ve created a monster!

Almost everything on the property must go, from shingles to roofing to flooring to kitchen sinks. The whole place has been in complete chaos for months.

Around forty units have been re-habbed already — and now it’s my turn to put up or shut up as my own unit goes through a complete wash-rise-and-dry cycle. But although the co-op is giving me a per diem to stay somewhere else for three weeks, if I can somehow scrounge by for less than the per diem, I’ll have extra money for food and/or for getting a root canal (you gotta be a member of Congress or live on Wall Street to receive federally-funded dental care these days — so most of the rest of us are either going to have to work three jobs, win the lottery or go toothless. But I digress).

So in the interest of not going hungry and good dental hygiene, I decided to follow Gordon Lau’s Jakarta example and go “Poor for a Day” too.

Let’s see. First I can follow a rising trend here in Berkeley and camp out on the front steps of that abandoned building next door. That won’t cost me anything. However, the current policy there seems to be, “Bring your own mattress”.

Now where can I get a good meal for less than a dollar? St. Paul’s AME church does a free lunch on Tuesdays. I’m in.

The rest of the day I can spend at the public library, using its computer and reading murder mysteries in the back room. Then what about dinner? You know that Chez Panisse caught on fire recently? Maybe they would be having a fire sale? I could always swing by and see.

And then there is always dumpster-diving. Oh, and the Sweet Adeline bakery might have some leftover chocolate cream pie at the end of the day? Wistful thinking. There’s never gonna be any left over. That stuff sells fast!

The South Berkeley farmers market is held on Tuesdays too. I could see what they have for cheap at the end of the day. Or up on Telegraph, at People’s Park, don’t they still have a soup kitchen at night? Or the Berkeley Bowl is having a big sale on Brown Cow yogurt. I could do that.

Then back to the abandoned building for the night — or perhaps I could get a more scenic view by sheltering in place up in Tilden Park? And still have fifty cents left in my pocket at the end of the day. I could do this. Once. But every single day? No, no, no and no! I truly don’t see how genuinely homeless people can do it.

“But what if it rains, Jane?” you might ask. “Or what if you get mugged, raped or killed?” Oh well. Just one less poor person and one less senior citizen on Social Security for the RepubliDems to look down their noses at and/or rob. No wonder Congress is helping seniors die off so fast — less Social Security to pay out, so more money for Wall Street and War Street!

What makes us human? Capitalists say that it is our ability to produce profit — at any cost. However, Jesus, the Buddha and Mohammed all agree that it is only compassion for others who are weaker than us that gives us our humanity and raises us up above the rest of the beasts.

Still and all, I will be really really really glad when I can move back into my apartment again. And if you live in the Berkeley area and need me to house-sit between now and the end of March, please let me know. I’ll even try to walk your dog. Er, maybe not. Or there’s always And my wonderful son Joe’s futon in his apartment in La Mission.

August 24, 2012

3 days in Jakarta: Cheap massages & desperately seeking Obama

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Jane Stillwater @ 12:13 pm

After spending ten hours in the Doha airport and 24 hours at the Singapore airport, I was totally looking forward to spending three whole days in Jakarta — but had no idea what to expect. Jakarta? Capital of Indonesia? Located on the island of Java, famous for its coffee and Krakatoa? Where Mel Gibson fell in love with Sigourney Weaver during their “Year of Living Dangerously” Barack Obama’s old boyhood home? What is Jakarta really like? I was about to find out.

An old friend of mine from back when we both worked at Berkeley law offices met me at the airport and immediately whisked me off into a fabulous whirl of fun and food — a sort of three-day-long “Girls Night Out”.

Jakarta has definitely changed a whole lot since 1965 when Sukarno was top dog and Linda Hunt was taking photos of poor people rioting in the streets. Poor people no longer riot in the streets here. Now they know better. The foreign and local “extractive industry” moguls who apparently own most of Indonesia these days have done a really good job of teaching Indonesian poor people to know their place — except of course for a few pesky ingrates over in East Timor. But they no longer count now, having been mostly killed off.

The poor people in Indonesia clearly know their place now — just like the “extractive industries” in America are also happily teaching America’s 99% our places so they can steal our resources too.

But oil companies no longer have to kill people in America to get their hands on our land — because, unlike the people of East Timor (or Sitting Bull or Geronimo either for that matter), Americans have become so, er, gullible that they now allow the “extractive industries” to legally seize their property by use of eminent domain.

According to environmental researcher Allison Grass, “The controversial Kelo v. City of New London (2005) is credited with broadening the interpretation of ‘public use’. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of New London, deciding that the city could take private property and give it to another private entity for ‘economic development’. The Court decided that this met the ‘public use’ provision of the Fifth Amendment.”

What does this ruling mean for Americans? It means that if the “extractive industry” wants your land, they can have it. Period. And you of course will be S.O.L. Never forget that extractive-industry people are running a very harsh economic dictatorship behind that Oil Curtain — and they are not our friends.

As I was being driven though the streets of Jakarta, it became immediately clear that this city is now more like Dallas than Zuccotti Park. Neiman Marcus fans would feel right at home here. The Bush dynasty would love it. And my guilty secret? I too loved Jakarta.

First my friend and I went off to a top-of-the-line beauty salon for full-body massages. Only five dollars! Then we went to the old port of Jakarta where the docks are lined with funky old wooden schooners still being used for transporting goods to and from Indonesia’s 1700-odd islands.

Next we went to visit the old Dutch colony of Batavia. Did you know that the Dutch East India Company was one of the world’s very first global conglomerates? Back in 1602, it was a pioneer poster-boy for globalization — and was probably just as cruel and ruthless back then as Monsanto is now.

What to see and do next? Off to a wonderful Rijsttafel dinner with some delightful Indonesian women and a handful of ex-pats from America, Australia and Korea. And then another body massage. I could get used to this!

Next we experienced a top-of-the-line display of wealth that went way beyond my mere concept of “mall”. So much money here in Jakarta. Streets crammed with chauffeur-driven Mercedes and BMWs. And then after the “shopping complex” experience, we visited a folk-art museum, ate avocado ice cream and — went for a massage!

I owe so much to my friend from Berkeley and her Indonesian friends for giving me the full Jakarta experience.

And the food here! Marvelous. Everyone was getting ready to observe Ramadan in this mostly-Muslim country — and everyone here was either eating or shopping for food or thinking about eating. Me too!

Next came a tour of Jakarta’s largest mosque. “It is the third largest mosque in the world — only Mecca and Medinah have larger ones.” I’ve been to both those other mosques but this one was different — all modern in design and using lots of copper and chrome.

Across the street from the mosque was a large European-style cathedral. Catholics in Indonesia? Yeah. Just like there were Catholics in Nagasaki when American pilots in World War II used Nagasaki’s cathedral spire as a landmark for dropping their atomic bomb, wiping out 8,500 Japanese Christians attending Sunday services in one shot Ah, the smell of burning Christians in the morning. One of America’s finest hours. But I digress.

Time for another massage.

“You know what I would really love to do here?” I asked my wonderful new Indonesian BFF. “Can we go see where Barack Obama lived as a boy and also visit the school that he went to?” The school was easy to find. The two homes where Obama used to live were harder to find — but a local journalist gave us the 411 and we actually found them.

“Did you know that Barack, as a boy, was reputed to be rather pudgy — and that he confused his fellow students because his step-father was Indonesian and his mother was a white American and yet he had really curly hair. Most students finally decided that he was from Papua-New Guinea. And did you know that Obama’s father was an oilman?” No I didn’t. An oilman? Hmmm. Then I can’t understand why Republicans don’t just love Obama. Republicans always seem to love anyone who exploits natural resources for their own benefit (not ours).

And those were my three days of (not) living dangerously in Jakarta. And now it’s time for me to go off to spend yet another night in yet another airport — Narita, in Tokyo. “Ah, but wait!” said my old friend from Berkeley and my new BFF from Jakarta. “We still have time to fit in just one more massage!”


Powered by WordPress