Jakarta’s Fair Play

By webadmin on 06:58 pm Jun 13, 2010
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See Jie Yi

If the creative economy, encompassing industries such as handicrafts, design and animation, is the way forward for Indonesia, then the Jakarta Fair epitomizes the country’s dynamic and innovative spirit.

Sprawling over 44 hectares in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, the annual exhibition, now in its 43rd year, is a head-spinning maze of light, culture and commerce that will leave visitors both energized and exhausted at the ingenuity and variety of goods on offer.

According to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who gave the opening speech for this year’s fair, the creative economy is desirable because it will spur more equitable economic growth and reinforce Indonesian cultural identity.

“Economic growth is not only based on an effective and pro-green economy,” the president said during his speech. “But also on our culture, traditions and unique creativity of the nation.”

The fair, which opened last Thursday and runs until July 11, is also being held to mark the city’s 483rd anniversary.

It is an understatement to say that I was overwhelmed by the brand names found everywhere; on pamphlets on the ground, emblazoned on the shirts of advertisers and even on hot-air balloons hovering about the venue. And yes, there were heaps of hawkers attempting to sell visitors everything from centuries-old herbal remedies for cancer to the very latest smartphones.

But beyond the garish consumerism, the fair showcases the progress Indonesia as a society has made over the years and the many faces of the country’s creative industry, ranging from the traditional sectors of folk arts to the modern, technologically driven markets.

The diversity of the archipelago’s amazingly rich culture is all packed under one roof, with traditional music and dance performances from Bali, Aceh and Sualwesi. And stands selling every type of Indonesian cuisine dot the grounds.

The stalls featuring goods from the different provinces are, no doubt, trying hard to sell their handicrafts and local products. But those willing to sit through a sales pitch will be also be exposed to an invaluable educational experience.

Beyond the wayang shadow puppets and rattan handicrafts, I spotted a bundle of branches and roots in the booth selling products from Central Kalimantan and was curious to find out what were they for. Kameliati, fondly known as Mama Mitra, a Dayak woman from the region, said they were traditional medicine used by her people.

“We want to promote our traditional herbal medicine so that more people will know more about it,” she said. “This is a very unique part of the culture of Kalimantan.”

Some of the medicines on display included dried ant hills, which she claimed could cure illnesses such as cancer and migraines, and pasak bumi, commonly known as tongkat ali, a plant that is believed to be able to help lower cholesterol and improve stamina.

“These are all picked from the forest by the Dayak people,” Kameliati said. “Pour some hot water on it and then drink it.”

As a city girl, I never thought that ant hills could be useful to human beings. I’d be hesitant to drink the concoction, but the fact that other people do was an eye-opener.

Right outside the exhibition hall for provinces were booths selling sleek white Yamaha motorcycles and crowds of people munching on chocolate-covered donuts, a sharp juxtaposition between modernity and tradition.

In line with the much-anticipated 2010 World Cup in South Africa, organizers were keen to capitalize on the football frenzy by hosting a slew of football-related activities. Salespeople were decked out in fancy jerseys and knee-high socks, attempting to sell their products by taking advantage of Indonesians’ soft spot for the game.

Just looking out for the slew of advertising gimmicks and advertorial designs fighting to draw the attention of the expected 3.2 million visitors was an activity in itself.

But one promotion that was hard to miss was the uniformed members of the Indofood sales team carrying colorful bags of assorted crackers who approached everyone in sight and asked them to buy a bag for Rp 5,000 (55 cents). It was an aggressive form of promotion, but nonetheless effective, as you could spot most people carrying at least one packet.

One of the promoters is student Rina Maghfirah. A typical day for her starts at 3 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m., she said. During her long hours, she said the things that keep her going are the money that she earns and the live music performances on the fair’s center stage.

“My favorite part is the music,” she said. “We walk around to sell our products and listen to the music at the same time. My favorite singer is Afgan [Syah Reza].”

The hope of being able to meet and hear their favorite stars singing live remains one of the main attractions for many younger visitors, with artists such as ST12, Boomerang, Dewa and many others slated to perform during the monthlong event.

And organizers of this year’s fair have been reaching out to the Internet-savvy younger generation through social media by getting people to share pictures that they’ve taken and providing important announcements to their followers.

Comparing it to the official Web site, the event’s Facebook and Twitter pages are certainly more up to date and well-maintained. Scheduling information such as the time of Yudhoyono’s inaugural address was nowhere to be found on the official Web site, and I had to turn to the fair’s Facebook page instead.

The use of social media for promoting such a large event shows the extent to which information technology is being adopted in a nation that many still call a developing country.

And Indonesians’ readiness to embrace the fast pace of modern life was evident throughout the fair, as crowds flocked to booths showing the latest BlackBerry phones, the latest car models and the most recent laptops.

Nisa is one visitor who comes to the event every year. Even though she had to pay an entrance fee to get in, she said she did not mind because of the numerous things to see and do.

“I came here to eat, buy some snacks, check out the motorcycle roadshow and to look at the handphones,” she said. “And also to support [singer] Agnes Monica.”

But amid the frenzy of people buying and selling, touting and promoting, it was always easy to spot someone proudly wearing a batik shirt, an age-old tradition unlikely to disappear anytime soon.