Jakarta

I made myself a promise to visit Jakarta, to avoid a huge white area in my head in place of this huge city which most tourist try to circumvent. I really hoped to like Jakarta, to find some pleasant elements there, which will disprove the prevailing opinion. Alas. Jakarta is a heap of rubbish, full of poor people living in squalid conditions and endless cars standing in an eternal traffic jam.

Jakarta as we approach it:


In Jakarta I felt like the protagonist of “Perfume”. Everybody wanted a piece of Perfumer due to his irresistible smell; in my case the reason more likely was my skin colour, coupled with the fact that I was a single guy travelling alone. I enter a restaurant, take a seat and literally the whole personnel is looking at me non-stop during all the time I stay there, without giving as much as a cursory glance to the rest of the (local) visitors. I felt like telling them that I was not an animal! Sometimes I was forced to escape to the very touristic restaurants for “white people”, just to take a rest from this unbearable attention.

I understand now how terrible must be the experience of animals in the zoo, or of the so-called “stars” – when everybody considers it appropriate and even necessary to look into your eyes, and better yet to ask you the same three or four empty questions. I will probably never enjoy a zoo again in the same way as before. And I know now that “stars” couldn’t live without dark glasses. I presume women feel the same way when they are being harassed by incessant shouts on the streets of Arabic cities.

Jakarta’s “metro” is probably the worst in the world. Frankly it does not even merit the name “metro”. These are trains that criss-cross the city on tracks lifted above the ground. The stations, even most central, are literally heaps of rubbish. EVERYTHING is broken. For example, escalators are foreseen and built inside the stations – but none of them moves. To enter a station, there is a wide entrance with a broad staircase – but you cannot use it. For no apparent reason it is closed – literally covered with metal bars. Instead you’ve got to take a way around the station, through non-descript dirt, puddles of black water, heaps of rubbish inhabited by the homeless to an auxillary entrance well hidden somewhere at the side of the station. Then you’ve got to stand in a long queue to buy or reload your ticket – they’ve never heard of automatic machines! Moreover, as you enter the train car (of course everybody is staring at you as if you were a monkey, tries to sit next to you and indeed to squeeze themselves between you and the passenger sitting next), suddenly the Arctic cold of air conditioning attacks you – this after the 30 degree humid heat outside. The best way to get a cold – right there! Which I did. A metro station:

A car:

The view from a platform to the city:

The worst thing is that there is no alternative to the metro – in the rush hour Jakarta stops. I attempted to take a taxi just before the rush in the hope of beating it – but after standing in a traffic jam for 1 hour I paid the driver and went on foot.

I happened to be in Jakarta in the rain season. But if in Yogyakarta or on Bali the rain did not bother me at all, rather served as a refreshing pause, in Jakarta the rains suddenly and catastrophically froze all activity – so massive were the buckets of water falling from the sky. I watched the TV stories about flooding in some specific areas of Jakarta as well as the evacuation of people done with typical Indonesian “efficiency”.

I was constantly amazed by the contrast between Jakarta and Singapore, which is so close. It is like heaven and hell, inhabited by people who look very similar and yet behave in diametrically opposite ways. Even Kuala Lumpur beats Jakarta hands down in every dimension. We had a discussion with my Indonesian friend about the reasons of this disparity. I was questioning him, how it was possible that Indonesia, so strong and rich in resources, could lag so far behind its smaller neighbours in terms of development and people’s welfare? My friend explained the development in Malaysia and Singapore by the help they get from the British Commonwealth. But I could not take this explanation seriously, although of course the question itself is not entirely fair. One thing I know: the developmental path of nations depends on many factors, but national character is not one of them. It is only because of our intellectual laziness that we see it as an explanation at all.

This is where I wanted to get to through the mad Jakarta traffic. What drove me to this street?

This.

In a blog I read that you could try cobra on this street. Actually I had already tried cobra meat by then, in a restaurant in Yogya. However here in Jakarta it was apparently possible to drink cobra’s blood and even to swallow its still beating heart. I was intrigued.

Using GPS coordinates I found the exact right stall and Google Translate confirmed that the signboard promised exactly what I was looking for. But the stall at that hour was manned by some pretty clueless youths. My attempts to talk to them failed miserably – no word of English was understood. The cobras got away this time.

Monas, the National Monument, is in the very centre of Jakarta. It’s affectionate nickname is “the last erection of Sukarno”. Indonesia’s founder Sukarno wished to create a symbolic focus for the city and the country.

Today the locals are drying their clothes in the park around Monas.

This is Indonesia.

One of the main traffic nodes in the centre of Jakarta.

Sukarno’s statue observes it with some detachment.

Very close by is the National Museum where I spent about half a day. I was quite amazed by the cultural richness and diversity of Indonesia. Every island boasts a unique history, culture, traditions, large islands have a whole list of those. It is an entire universe.

The museum courtyard is filled with statues from various parts of the archipelago.

Jakarta’s historic district is where the Dutch colonisers were based. This is the main square of the district:

Same square later in the evening.

Some distinctive Dutch-looking houses:

And café Batavia – an island of opulence in the ocean of poverty.

I went there to have a coffee, incredibly expensive by Indonesian standards.

White people enjoy life there.

The streets around the main square are full of stalls and mostly local visitors enjoying themselves.

Copying their homeland, the Dutch built canals in the historical district. This canal is around 200 metres from the main square. In Indonesia’s humid climate the canals became a source of disease, in 18-19 centuries this area was rather unhealthy. In our time the disease has been eradicated.

But the canal has not became an example of cleanliness.

I did find the one picturesque restored building on the canal:

Another building, considered the champion of picturesque – several newlyweds were being photographed next to it at once. No comment…

The bridge over the canal:

People are living below the bridge.

I do not regret going to Jakarta. Most of the 15 million people inhabiting this enormous megapolis live today in unspeakable poverty. Nevertheless I am convinced that with time Jakarta will become inspired by the example of its neighbours and will clean itself up. Indonesia was ruled until recently by Suharto, who was given the title of the most corrupt politician in the world by Transparency International. As is dictators’ wont, he had no interest in the welfare of his people. I hope that the stable democracy in Indonesia will stimulate its economic growth and lead to its flourishing.

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