“That old childhood saying ‘pick what you want from the tree of life’ simply not working anymore? Becoming a foreigner in Indonesia might be as good a stab at something new and rewarding, as anything…”
Armed with a teaching contract, some poems, and a guitar-playing buddy, Roberts discovers a potentially life-changing experience in 2013. And so the Bajaj Boys make themselves at home.
Indonesia is revealed as a challenging but welcoming land of ‘instant millionaires’, ‘beautiful rubbish’, abundant romance, powerful religion, and unnerving history.
Nasi goreng, alcohol, cigarettes, bajajs, motorbikes, a gentlemen’s club, poetry gigs, wild animals, and electrical storms weave together, as the dark cracks of Kemang open.
|ISBN 9781922830050 (PB, 354pp);
152mm x 229mm
|AUD $30||USD $24||CAD $28||NZD $33||GBP £18||EUR €20|
|ISBN 9781922830067 (eBook)||AUD $15||USD $10||CAD $12||NZD $16||GBP £9||EUR €10|
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A chronicle of interactions with expats and locals, interspersed with impressions of Indonesia, Roberts excels in short, sharp, observational verse. Ripe stuff indeed. You might find yourself simultaneously amused and repulsed. If you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall at gatherings of expats, this is your chance.
– Kenneth Yeung, Indonesia Expat
In 2013, poet Jeremy Roberts did something few of us have the guts to do: he looked at his Auckland life, decided he’d supported his musician daughter on enough gigs, and dared himself to squeeze in some adventure in the third quarter of his life.
Age 53, Roberts agreed to spend a year teaching at NZ International School in Jakarta, a city of 10 million in a nation of 271 million. The move was pretty ballsy. In fact, The Dark Cracks of Kemang, published nearly ten years after his adventure began, is entirely a meditation about finding the beautiful exhilaration of daring oneself to live more adventurously. Why’d he do it, and why’d he write the memoir? Because Roberts is obsessed with rock ‘n roll. It’s his religion.
Roberts is today settled in Napier, running Napier Live Poets, various page projects, and regularly interviewing poets on Radio Hawke’s Bay. To stand up in the literary landscape, though, required a Hero’s Journey. Roberts found that to get the guts and the experience to become a poetry leader instead of a poetry follower required going all the way to a strange country, thrusting himself upon unfamiliar stages in an unfamiliar culture for countless gigs, and trusting a colourful Manchester socialist to be his on-stage companion, playing guitar while Roberts waxed poetry.
The name of the poetry duo Roberts created in Jakarta was The Bajaj Boys – named for the three wheeled tuk tuk taxis which thousands of expatriate international teachers like Roberts relied upon to get around a city so humid that Roberts’ leather jacket turned mouldy in the cupboard.
In the spirit of wild writers like Hunter S. Thompson, Jim Morrison, Patti Smith and Sam Hunt – all of whom get discussed in the book (remember, rock is Roberts’ religion), The Dark Cracks of Kemang flits between English and Bahasa Indonesia and back again.
Just a couple of pages in, we get a description of the bum-washing hand-held bidet device known as ‘semprotan air’; then again, the book covers Indonesian food, language, clothing, customs, corruption, religion, attitudes – as well as taking an objective look at the attitudes of Roberts’ peer Western teachers, for better and worse (one teacher mourns the vibrators which Customs confiscated at the airport).
Each page is wide-eyed with fascination at the colourful country of 17,000 islands. You’ll find yourself engrossed in a first person personal poem about Indonesian culture before the camera lens zooms out and discusses what life is like for an expatriate classroom teacher, before Roberts veers back to his student days at Auckland Uni, to discussions of tropical storms, monkeys, and a tonne of cultural discussion told without any pejorative Western condescension. It’s pure fascination – Roberts is as impressed or unimpressed with Jakarta as he is Auckland, Napier or California (where – at the same time as Roberts is finding his inner rockstar, his famous daughter Eden Iris is doing the same in Los Angeles).
Want a book which takes you on a three-wheel motorised rikshaw tour through a huge segment of the world’s population whom Kiwis hardly ever interact with? And would you like your book to discuss Ozzy, The Stooges, the Smiths, sweaty palms, c-dizzle, sex, death, and explain the Bahasa Indonesian word for ‘boring’ all on page 138?
Read The Dark Cracks of Kemang and think about doing something exciting with your life, even if you’re 53 like Roberts. Write about it in steamy, sensual poetry. Record it and publish it on Soundcloud and YouTube – just like Jeremy Roberts has done.
Michael Botur, Award-winning New Zealand author
This collection of saucy tales and its contributing cast of misfits pulls back the curtain on the expat dream. A fascinating odyssey that titillated both the adventurous and depraved parts of me. I loved every second of it.
– Darren Shrek, JGC Hall of Fame