Sex sells. Just ask the author Moammar Emka, whose wildly successful “Jakarta Undercover” trilogy exposed the darker corners of the capital. Here, Emka talks about some of his wilder adventures, the lessons he learned from his foray into moviemaking and his latest book.
JK Rowling was rejected 12 times before someone agreed to publish ‘Harry Potter.’ How many publishers rejected ‘Jakarta Undercover’?
Seven or eight I think, because at that time anything related to the sex industry was taboo. Every publisher that I presented the draft to wanted to revise 40 to 60 percent of it, until finally Galang Press in Yogyakarta, a small publisher at that time, was willing to take the risk. My first book deal, the original “Jakarta Undercover,” had a print run of 2,000. For me, having someone publish and distribute my book was satisfying enough, it didn’t matter how many copies were printed. But who would have guessed it would become a hit.
Now it’s a trilogy. What are the differences between books one, two and three?
Each book is about different places and covers different people and walks of life. The stories told in “Jakarta Undercover I” are about high-society people and their exclusive parties, while in book two its more about sex entertainment and the working girls, and three is a combination of both. The “menu” in this industry is always changing; yesterday it was “ sashimi girls,” today it’s “ sashimi boys.”
But you can’t be ‘undercover’ anymore, people must know who you are. Don’t the people running or involved in this industry feel threatened by you?
Yeah, at first. After being on TV and doing interviews, half of high society didn’t want me there anymore, however the other half invited me in. Some places liked the publicity and wanted me to promote their new place or group.
What’s the craziest thing you ever saw while researching the ‘Jakarta Undercover’ series?
Let’s see, invite-only parties where everyone was having sex. There are also places in the city where you can get mandi kucing, where the girl licks you all over using red wine, milk, ice water, hot water or jelly. In Kota, there is a hotel with theme rooms and girls dress up as mermaids, doctors or schoolgirls, according to your preference. And there is a place in Glodok where you can have sex with a duck.
What’s your new book, ‘Cinta Itu Kamu,’ about?
It’s not a novel; it’s a compilation of short stories, poems, quotes and thoughts in both Indonesian and English. There’s a CD that comes with it where I read passages aloud with soothing music playing in the background. There’s also a track where I sing. The book covers everything from a broken heart to falling in love, from nice words to whisper to your girlfriend as she’s falling asleep to pick-up lines.
It sounds very different from your previous projects. Why the switch?
As an author, I can write about anything that I’m passionate about. This project is new for me, I like the challenge; I’m writing in a different style and singing. I think people have already read enough about sex and they might not want to hear more about it for now. Maybe in a couple of years from now, but definitely not now.
Everyone says Indonesia is such a tolerant nation. Would you agree with that?
I believe that, but I don’t believe that it’s true for everyone. There are people who are open-minded, who see things not simply as black or white.
I like to go to modern Muslim universities and speak at seminars or lectures. I graduated from a pesantren, a Muslim boarding school. I believe that you can have a good debate and discussion on any topic with anyone. I’ve had them in Makassar, Yogyakarta, Jakarta, all over. When I do talk shows on air, the computers crash and the phone lines jam with people calling in to say all kinds of things, from “your books are eye-opening” to “go to hell.” It doesn’t always go smoothly. I’ve been kicked off the stage many times, and once there were guys on motorcycles just circling the building and they all had knives. Sometimes I feel like I’m on trial.
You wrote the novel and scripted and produced the film ‘Tarzan ke Kota’ (‘Tarzan Goes to the City’). Have you ever seen that guy walking around Jakarta who looks exactly like Tarzan, loincloth and all?
No, never, I was inspired by old Tarzan movies. But the whole film was a mess; I should have just made a horror movie [laughs].
You’ve got a girlfriend now. Is she the least bit intimidated by all your experiences?
No. I don’t go to those sex parties anymore. I met her at a seminar on transsexuals in Bandung, she was the MC. I’m 35, I’m slowing down, and I need to think about starting a family.
Emka was talking to Iwan Putuhena
Original Interview was published in The Jakarta Globe
Picture by Iwan Putuhena
for more information visit www.emkamoammar.com