Saturday, November 21, 2009

Jakarta

Jakarta is the sprawling chaotic capital of Indonesia and with 23 million residents (that just includes the "official" legal residents), it's the biggest city in Southeast Asia and second largest in the world.
Traffic is a problem.
When I say problem, I'm talking about a gridlock of trucks spewing black smoke, cars inching along in air conditioned bubbles and motorbikes weaving in and out doing a little dance of death.
It's one of life's tortures sitting in motionless traffic, four lanes across, desperately needing to pee. Then a thunderstorm kicks in teasing you with the heavens' release whilst you sit squirming and eyeing the driver's coffee cup with an increasingly desperate interest.
I was a millionaire many times over in Rp's.
The Million pictured above is worth circa $94 US and will get you a huge meal, all the beer you could drink or 2 return trips to the airport in the hotel Toyota.
Stuff is cheap.
Though the city is the biggest concentration of Muslims in the world, its a very secular place. Women are uncovered (very uncovered).
Booze is available everywhere and the place has the reputation of having the wildest nightlife in Asia.
Sadly I wasn't there long enough to find out though what I did see was rather "out there".
No details or titillation to follow I'm afraid.
The gulf between rich and poor is wide and stark. With a city this size and a government paralysed by corruption and incompetence, the majority of the people don't have access to decent plumbing or housing. Though not as squalid as some places in India ( Delhi for instance), life is a pretty tough prospect for most.
The Dutch ruled the city (which they named Batavia) from 1609 until the Japanese invasion.
It was the Japanese who named the city its Jakarta. In the older parts of the city, you can still see remnants of Dutch colonial rule though much of the architecture is characterised by disrepair and exists in a semi derelict state.In Indonesia a tall pale guy like myself is called a "Bule", the strict translation of which means albino.
It's used to describe anyone of European descent.
Most Indonesians consider the term to be a neutral description devoid of derogatory connotation.
Bule means "White Guy".
Everywhere I went I was met with smiles and "hellos" despite the poverty and the fact that the camera I was swinging around was worth far more than the annual income of many of my subjects.
I only felt the inner radar go off once when I was followed for a middling distance by an unsmiling grim looking guy who seemed to be fixated on my camera.
Eventually he lost interest and I carried on my way.
Close to the Jakarta Museum and sitting in a square of restored Dutch era buildings, is the "Cafe Batvia".
Its a wonderful oasis.
The food was interesting and varied.
The menu is book length and runs from Asian to Western and by all reports they do a competent job of presenting edible versions of everything listed.
The ambiance is a sort of 1920's jazz/colonial/5 star restaurant and it apparently puts on credible jazz in the evenings.
Given the traffic issues and the lack of time I never made it back to check out the music.
Though I've painted a rather benign picture, it's important to point out that there have been a series of hotel bombings in the past couple of years. Security is tight around western hotels with security guards employing explosive "sniffer" devices to check out taxis and cars and airport style metal detectors at the entrance.
There's clearly still a problem but I got a sense that the level of alert was rather relaxed.
I felt safe.
That's it for Jakarta.
Nothing startling or dramatic I admit, but a record of a visit none the less.
I head for Dubai tonight which is the beginning of an extended trip which will take in Qatar, the UK, and Brazil.
All in two weeks
I hope all is well wherever you may be.
Stay well
T

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good God, Terry...quit your day job and join national geographic or something. Simply amazing pics!
Kim

Terry said...

Very kind words, but possibly a tad generous!
A decent lens can make even a clumsy eye seem informed.
I'm glad you're enjoying the pictures.
Stay well Kim

Muharram Lintang said...

hi there, i'm from tangerang, near from jakarta.. nice picture and nice story ^^