Jakarta, IO – Only the elderly can appreciate the dramatic changes in taste and style of the younger generations. When I arrived in Jakarta, in early 1988, it was just beginning to open up to international influences. The first mall, Ratu Plaza, wasn’t particularly spectacular. I was teaching on Jalan Panglima Polim Raya, just down from Jalan Melawai, when they opened up the wedgeshaped Blok M Plaza. Local people would stroll through the six-story building, hollow in the center with a shaft of illumination streaming down from the skylight, marveling at the design, the stores, the air conditioning. Yes, Jakarta was quite innocent in those days.
My local pals were typical kampung kids. When I suggested “Hey, I see they’ve opened up a Pizza Hut in Jakarta. Let’s go have a pizza party” one guy pulled a long face and said “Pizza? I can’t stand the stink of cheese. It’s horrible.”
Another fellow said “Mister Byron, you lived in Japan, right?”
“Yes, many years. I went to university in Kyoto and raced motorcycles at Suzuka.”
“Is it really true that they –” another disgusted expression his face – “they eat raw fish there”?
All the guys looked at me in disbelief.
“Oh yes. It’s a very special – and often expensive – dish.”
Flash forward to 1999. As a reward for my diligent service as an English-language assistant, Mr. van der Goot, my boss at a German company in Gedung GKBI, invites me to Sumire Restaurant, probably the steepest-priced eatery in the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Sitting next to us is Mr. Rahmat Gobel, son of the founder and owner of PT National Gobel, the Panasonic dealer in Indonesia. He is eating pieces of sushi from fish flown in from Japan. Each lovingly-crafted piece of raw bonito on rice costs Rp 3,000,000.
I only get to snack on a tray of arrayed pieces of nigiri-zushi, but am nevertheless grateful for the exotic meal, reminding me of olden times in Japan.