Southeast Asia

Jocund Jakarta

We sped into the heart of Jakarta with minimal fuss (in a Bluebird taxi). There were no indications that sprawling traffic jams ever existed. Or could ever have existed. Why, the carriageways were generously wide and numerous and lined with lush greenery. Notorious traffic jams in Jakarta? Truth or urban legend?

Before we arrived at the famed Bundaran Hi, we passed by a peaceful demonstration. People decked out in red shirts holding some flags and seemingly having fun. We learned later it was to protest against fuel price hikes. We didn’t expect the demonstrators to march and surround our hotel a few days later and turn a bit unruly. But of course the international press amplified it 10-fold and made it sound much more chaotic than it really was. In fact, I was sure not a single drop of blood was shed.

Jakarta is surprisingly very modern and very big; in other words, a superbly nondescript city. There were many tall buildings and imposing monuments with enigmatic leanings. But somehow, not much sense of  contiguity. Jakarta was not like Bangkok or Mumbai or Ho Chi Minh. Outwardly, Jakarta was very civil but insipid. grand but uninspiring.

But, under this veneer, there were layers upon layers of security at every major building. All entrances and exits were guarded 24×7.  Apparently, foreigners would be foolhardy to walk on the streets. They should do what locals do  – be chauffeured from point A to point B.

So, what could a bored tourist do in Jakarta other than trudge through the malls that packed in more shops than shoppers? For one, you could park yourself in those cooler than thou joints ie cafe-bars patronised by the rich and beautiful or be entertained by local live bands. Or check out the small night market streets for cheap, delicious local desserts and other savory food like Bakso, pancakes, Murtabak, satay and even fresh produce. Or hunt for real batik at Jalan Abang, a local shopping complex (though it was a nightmare to drive there). In fact, there’s a lot of activities teeming beneath the belly underside.

One thing I’ve noticed about Indonesians: in spite of the weather and no matter that their modest backgrounds, they were almost always impeccably dressed for work or special occasions. The ladies would be wearing perfectly coiffed hair and makeup; the men would be in neatly pressed shirts. In that aspect, they win us, hands down. Dressing well is simply, showing respect for ourselves and others. And it is something we ought to emulate.

Categories: Southeast Asia

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