Jakarta Indonesia By Irene Butler –
Photos by Rick –
Published at What Travel Writers Say E-Zine –
Our Jakarta Photo Gallery –
Jakarta is akin to a blast from a giant furnace – the sweltering heat, the bombardment of exhaust from vehicles and motorbikes channelling from twelve lanes into four as our taxi driver aggressively squeezed forward on the 1 ½ hour drive from the airport to the Fave Hotel.
After this exhilarating first taste of the nation’s capital of 9 million citizens, which is located on Java (the largest of the 17,508 islands in the Indonesian archipelago), we found Jakarta full of contrasts. Although the traffic never ceased to be chaotic, the locals (when not behind the wheel of a vehicle or riding one of the 4 million motor bikes in the city) go about their daily routines at an easy-going pace. Our choice of the Fave Hotel could not have been better; budget with great amenities, and close to restaurants, cafés, and malls – yet just down the street are tarp-covered eateries where locals on work breaks sit on plastic stools spooning in soup and rice dishes cooked over small propane stoves. These vendors soon know us well, waving, smiling and taking time to chat. Rick is often caught up watching the chess games set up under a tree on a plank table, the players perched on crates. Around the corners from the skyscrapers and fashion malls we walk into a different world of dilapidated tenement houses, shanty shops, and lanes filled with thousands of parked motorbikes belonging to those lucky enough to be on the payroll of these conglomerates.
It is difficult to get our heads around the denominations of their currency. For instance an average lunch costs 100,000 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). Our first thought is, “What???” then laugh when we realize it is only $12 Canadian. Jakarta’s pricing is often surprising; things that we consider a luxury are beyond cheap, for instance we pay 54,000 IDR ($6 CDN) for two movie tickets in a theatre with plush red-velvety seating, and $22 for a steak supper with drinks for two. Yet what we consider necessities, such as petrol is the equivalent of $1 CDN per litre, and a blouse in a mall is $40, which is North American pricing, when the average wage here is $150 a month.
Our first site seeing venture is within walking distance from our hotel. The obelisk-shaped National Monument or “Monas” rises up 132m. This principal landmark is said to be totally of Italian marble topped with a faux flame of 35kg of gold leaf, an extravagance by former dictator Soekarno. A museum at the base tells the story of Indonesia’s struggle for independence.
Since “Java Man” roamed around circa 1 million BC, a huge leap to written history goes something like this – Hindu Kingdoms reigned from 4th Century, then came the Muslim Sultanates, followed by 3 ½ centuries of Dutch rule, occupation by the Japanese during WWII, and finally the Republic of Indonesia (proclaimed in 1945, but not acknowledge by the Netherlands until 1949).
The major religious following is Islam. We are fortunate on February 5th – Mohammad’s Birthday – to witness a grand celebration in front of the National Monument, where stage with rock-concert-worthy amplifiers are set up so messages can be heard by a jubilant crowd of over 10,000 including many dignitaries (gauged by the number of sleek black limos and military presence).
To see more of Jakarta, we hop a taxi to the old town of Batavia (now called Kota) once the hub of Dutch colonial Indonesia. The activity in the central square is mid-way-like lined with enclosed glass-topped carts filled with durian ice (yes, the smelliest of fruit in Popsicle form), chunks of pineapple and melon, plus savoury tidbits. On ground mats sit rows of fortune tellers, souvenir sellers, and tattoo artists chiselling designs into body parts. A few Rupiah will buy five-minutes on florescent coloured bicycles complete with helmets for gents and bonnets for ladies, or a novel child’s ferris-wheel attached to a pedal-bike with a grinning fellow pumping away to rotate the basket-seats. We are approached by groups of giggly, polite high-school students whose project is to conduct a survey in English, which we happily oblige.
After about the ninth group we escape for a cappuccino break at the expansive Café Batavia, barely changed since Dutch traders in white linen suits sipped coffee here. As we take in more of the old town it is apparent its once grandeur is now rotted, collapsing or has already seen the front-end of a bulldozer. The buildings that still hold their original charm and the most interesting history are now museums.
The bell in the tower of the Jakarta History Museum first tolled in 1627. This was the former City Hall of Batavia, and later the administrative quarters for the Dutch East Indies Company, with dungeons that were once the main prison compound.
The Museum Seni Rupa & Karamik has, since 1976, displayed fine arts; paintings, Chinese ceramics, and terracotta of the once ruling India’s Majapahit Empire. The building was constructed in 1870 for the Dutch Court of Justice, later it became the main quarters of a Dutch military force. After the country’s independence it was an Indonesian army dorm, in the 1960’s it was for a time the office of the mayor of West Jakarta.
Wayang Museum boasts 5,147 puppets, collected from all over Indonesia and many other parts of the world. Our interest lies in the Indonesian section and we have the opportunity to chat with a master six-generation puppeteer named Aldy. He explains the two types of puppets used in Indonesia, one-dimensional paper or leather ones, and three-dimensional puppets of wood. He then smiles sadly, “My son is not interested to carry on the family tradition.”
We are waning from the heat of mid-day, but plod on to find Toko Merah, meaning “red house”(which it is), formerly the residence of Gustaaf Willem Baron van Imhoff, the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies. This building looks in good repair, while the surrounding buildings in this once high-class residential area are crumbling and the adjacent canal is rife with floating garbage. By this time we surrender to Old Sol and take an air-con taxi back to the Fave.
It is time to investigate ways to get to Bali, only to find another pricing structure oddity; a 1 ½ hour flight costs $54 CDN each and taking a 24-hour duration train/ferry/bus combo
costs $60 CDN. We fly.