My Jakarta: Gouri Mirpuri, Wife, Mother, Philanthropist
by Zack Petersen. Taken from Jakarta Globe, January 20, 2011.
Being the wife of the Singaporean ambassador means two things, busy nights and busier days. There are the dinners, the galas, the recitals and plays, along with all the embassy holiday celebrations like Cinco de Mayo and Canada Day. All the while, Gouri Mirpuri stays strong when the conversation takes the inevitable turn down Comparison Lane. ‘Oh, you’re from Singapore,’ someone says. ‘Can you compare Jakarta and Singapore?’ But My Jakarta is all about being different, so we’re not going to talk about that; we’re going to talk about everything else.
Z: Give me one do and one don’t for Jakarta. For instance, do try the Mie Aceh in Ben Hil and don’t go to Dufan. …
G: Do check out the young musicians playing under the trees on Sundays at Taman Suropati. Don’t travel more than one kilometer from your house on a Friday afternoon, ever!
Z: What is Jakarta’s most marked characteristic?
G: Its youthful energy and eternal optimism. Ha, you thought I would say traffic, right?
Z: What do you daydream about?
G: A rustic cottage with a view in Lombok.
Z: What natural gift would you most like to possess?
G: Tranquility, but if I can have it without losing my energy!
Z: What is the one thing Jakarta has taught you?
G: A sense of humor, an ability to see and laugh at the absurd and not get mad or upset or impatient with it. I’m from Singapore, we are a superefficient lot, so it takes a lot to chill and slow down and have a good laugh at life.
Z: TransJakarta busway, for or against?
G: For, for, for. I have taken the TransJakarta to get to a performance at Salihara when Mampang was totally macet [congested]. It was safe, fast, easy. But when I got off I had to take an ojek [motorcycle taxi] , not easy with an evening dress! I got there on time, though a little windswept! I wish the busway was better integrated with the rest of the transport network, though.
Z: What is your motto?
G: ‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ It is from a song by my favorite poet and singer, Leonard Cohen.
Z: Where can we find you at 10 p.m. on a Saturday?
G: Mostly out, but wishing I was tucked in bed watching a good movie with a tub of popcorn.
Z: Where can we find you at 4 p.m. on a Sunday?
G: Mostly by the pool at home, chilling with friends.
Z: What is the one flaw Jakarta has that you have learned to live with?
G: Flaw? Haven’t noticed any — after years and years of good diplomatic training! You know, it’s really not the traffic. It’s the pavements. With better pavements we could just walk, like in most cities. Then the traffic would not bother us as much. I often joke with my Indonesian friends, please elect a minister of pavements to do something!
Z: If Jakarta were a crayon, what color would it be?
G: Ha, good one! Purple. Energetic, young, different, bold and with attitude. Love me or hate me, I am Jakarta.
Z: If you had only one day remaining in Jakarta, how would you spend it?
G: That is too sad a scenario. Saying goodbye to all the special people who have made my life so rich — my wonderful anak jalanan [street kids] at the Learning Farm, the young musicians who perform at Taman Suropati, the dance department at Institut Kesenian Jakarta [Jakarta Arts Institute], the eco-heroes from all over the archipelago, the darling anak pemulung [children of trash scavengers] at Sekolah Kami, the whole gang at Alun Alun … goodness, I need a week!
Z: I’m sure you play tour guide quite a bit. Tell us about a secret place you like to take first-time visitors to the city.
G: No big secret, it’s my famous Sunday Menteng Tour. A look at the beautiful Art Deco architecture, the superb water drainage system the Dutch constructed, the Obama school, the old immigration building, antiques at Jalan Surabaya with a stop at Pak Tizar’s wayang-look-alikes, Vietnamese coffee across the road, and finally live music at the Taman Suropati park. I would love to make a fun map of this before I go. Maybe my next big project?
Z: If you could take one thing from any other city in the world and put it in Jakarta, what would that be?
G: A world-class public transport system!