Okay, let me be clear . . . Jakarta, Indonesia is very, very hot and humid; the traffic is unbelievably congested; there is way too much poverty, which in fairness, is contrasted by an emerging middle class; and the population is a staggering 10,000,000 souls (28 million if you count the suburbs). Yikes! Not much to like in my opinion. Nevertheless, I did enjoy 5 things: 1. My friend Tia, who was my guide during this trip; 2. Indonesian food is delicious; 3. The plentiful shopping malls; 4. Seeing where Barack Obama went to elementary school; and, 5. The outsanding museums.
I have known Tia for quite some time, first as an online friend, then later in person during this trip. In fact, she helped me out with a problem I was having with my phone (a part), while I was in Cambodia. Without her assistance and friendship, I would have had a more difficult time enjoying myself in Indonesia. With out a doubt, my experience was much more enjoyable due to her hanging out with me every day I was in Indonesia. We even took a weekend trip together to Bandung, a beautiful mountain retreat, which provided relief from the heat; and was as as beautiful as Jakarta was ugly. I’ll write a post about that experience in the future.
Perhaps, I am being harsh regarding Jakarta. This is only my opinion based upon my personal experience. My sourness toward the city is primarily directed at the significant air/water pollution and traffic congestion. With 28 million people in the metropolitan area, nearly 10 million vehicles in daily use, and limited rapid transit system, Jakarta is strained by transportation problems. The city suffers a lack of urban public transport services due to prioritized development of road networks, which were mostly designed to accommodate private vehicles. In short, getting around Jakarta is difficult at best (weekends), utter chaos (weekdays) at worse. Couple that with a lack of green space – less then 10% – you have issues with people having a place to recreate and picnic outdoors.
Regarding traffic congestion, my friend Tia is an advertising/sales department head at a national Indonesia television station, where her day begins well before 6am. After ensuring her children get to school, she rides her car to a commuter train station, then commutes by train to the city center. From there, she takes a taxi to work. Total time to work is frequently an hour and a half or more. She is a salaried employee working 8 hours a day, but she often puts in an 9-11 hour work day, with numerous scheduled and unscheduled meetings with her employees and advertising clients. Couple that with her commute time of 3 hours, she may get home at 8:30-10pm. “May” being the operative word. Ugh.
However, you wont ever hear Tia complaining about her life or work schedule. In fact, she is a very happy person, raising two outstanding young children (daughter and son). For me, it’s exhausting thinking about it. For a lot of Indonesians, her work schedule is typical. All of them work hard to provide a better life for themselves and their families.
Related to the photo above, this is a video I took of an Indonesian Christmas tree, where snow was actually falling . . . umm, sort of. I hope my Colorado friends don’t hunt me down for saying this is better then what we get in Colorado. Grin.
So, what did I like about Jakarta? The food is simply delicious. My favortie dish was Satay. It is similar to shish kebob, with either chicken or lamb being the meat of choice. The sauces they use are distinctly different from what you might find with shish kebob barbeque. One of the best is a peanut sauce with a spicey bite. I also really enjoyed fried Tahu, which has sauteed vegetables inside. The Tahu is dipped in a spicey sauce called Sambal and is mana from heaven!
Indonesia has some of the biggest malls in all of South East Asia. The biggest mall is called Grand Indonesia. If this mall doesn’t have it, then no one does. The Grand Indonesia is anchored by Seibu department store,. It also has a 13-auditoriums cineplex, and other high-end shops as well as children fun center and food courts at the top floors. Ironically, I found most of my Batik prints at another store in a smaller mall – the oldest one in Indonesia and the first to have air conditioning – called Sarinah. It is located in Central Jakarta, the main tourist hub and was within walking distance of the first hotel I stayed at in Jakarta. It offers a variety of great shops. Sarinah, the country’s unofficial national mall, has a dozen other outlets throughout the country. Here, you will find all the clothing, cosmetics, jewelry, housewares, artwork and souvenirs. As I alluded to earlier, a must visit is to level 4 where you can find batik creations and level 5 which specializes in Indonesian artwork and souvenirs. On both these levels, I found my Batik prints, which I wrote about in an earlier post:
As many of my followers on this blog know – I volunteered for President Barack Obama’s first campaign, doing phone bank work and canvassing neighborhoods – speaking to voters about why I supported Obama. Yes, I have not been totally satisfied with his performance or the gridlock in Washington. However, I still admire the man and believe he has a good heart. Perhaps, this is one of the many reasons I like to get out of the country and travel – the political dysfunction in our country is sad to see. Consequently, when I am away, I rarely read newspapers or watch television news shows, such as CNN or BBC. I’m happily ignorant about what is going on in the U.S. Ha.
However, I digress . . . I visited Barack Obama’s elementary school, called SDN Menteng 01 Pagi. I was genuinely excited to have been able to see the school and neighborhood where our President lived. The school even has a small statue of the President and a plaque which honors him. Wow! I took many photos of the school and the neighborhood. In many ways, this was the highlight of my trip. Here is the background info per Wikipedia about Obama’s early life in Indonesia:
“In October 1967 Obama and his mother moved to Jakarta to rejoin his stepfather. The family initially lived in a newly built neighborhood in the Menteng Dalam administrative village of the Tebet subdistrict in South Jakarta for two and a half years, while Soetoro worked on a topographic survey for the Indonesian government. From January 1968 to December 1969, Obama’s mother taught English and served as an assistant director of the U.S. government-subsidized Indonesia-America Friendship Institute, while Obama attended the Indonesian-language Santo Fransiskus Asisi (St. Francis of Assisi) Catholic School around the corner from their house for 1st, 2nd, and part of 3rd grade.
In 1970 Soetoro took a new job at higher pay in Union Oil Company’s government relations office. From January 1970 to August 1972, Obama’s mother taught English and was a department head and a director of the Institute of Management Education and Development. Obama attended the Indonesian-language government-run Besuki School, one-and-half miles east in the exclusive Menteng administrative village, for part of 3rd grade and for 4th grade. By this time, he had picked up on some Indonesian in addition to his native English. He also joined the Cub Scouts. ”
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent museums I visited in Jakarta. Tia took me to the most significant and famous one, Museum Nasional or National Museum of Indonesia – it is also recognized as Elephant Museum. It’s called the Elephant Museum because there’s an elephant sculpture made of bronze medal at the front entrance of the museum. The sculpture was a grant from King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) of Thailand who visited the museum in 1871. During the Museum National visit, which occurred on a Sunday, there was a musical event going on at the museum and I video taped some of the Indonesian music which was played there (see below).
I also visited the Fine Art and Ceramic Museum, which is located in “Old Town Jakarta,” a very interesting and historical place, with many significant buildings from Indonesia’s colonial Dutch historical past. The Dutch referred to Old Jakarta as Old Batavia. Near here, I visited an art gallery that was above the oldest post office in Jakarta. Although, I found the Fine Art and Ceramic Museum fascinating, the most significant thing that happened while at the museum was being mistaken for some sort of celebrity by school children. I was swarmed by over 40-50 children, who held out pen and paper, wanting me to autograph their notebooks. I AM SERIOUS! In fact, about an hour later, while outside taking photos of the surrounding area, the children ran after me, again wanting autographs. I was overwhelmed! This was an unbelievable experience that I will always treasure. 🙂
Jakarta is a city of many facets. I love the people of Indonesia and there are so many things to endorse it. As I said earlier, I’m responsible for having a good time. A place, thing, or person wont ever change that. I was able to have fun in Jakarta because of my attitude of seeing the glass half full. In short, my attitude was great and coupled with my friend, Tia showing me around the city, my time here was enjoyable and a lot of fun.
Yet, I would be remiss and less then honest, if I did not mention those things I did not like about Jakarta. First, and foremost, it was too crowded. I almost felt claustrophobic many times in the city. I also was appalled by the abject poverty of so many of Jakarta’s citizens. It was very disturbing seeing so many people going without and knowing that there were many, many rich people who could change this situation. Finally, the heat and humidity was often unbearable, without much relief, except at night.
I had a much better experience in Bandung, which I will write about in a later post. I wish I would have had time to visit some of the many, many beautiful islands which Indonesia is famous for. In fact, if I ever return to Indonesia, I want to visit Lombok and perhaps, Bali as well – both islands highly endorsed by Tia. Perhaps, on a future visit, I will be able to visit one or both of these islands. In conclusion, my post about Jakarta may be somewhat prejudiced and probably does not reflect other tourists experiences. For this reason alone, I recommend that you visit Jakarta and decide for yourself. Thank you for reading. 🙂