Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jakarta - Nothing Much Has Changed in the Smoking Capital of Asia

Skyline. This photo only courtesy of rasters.

Jakarta -There's a smudge of irony that comes with my second visit in Jakarta. It had been 5 years since I first stepped on the soil of Indonesia, my very first foray into "indie" travels - these solitary travels that have become characteristic of "Eye in the Sky." But it has come into full circle when I found myself without a room in Jalan Jaksa. Thank heavens, it didn't rain this time, but at 2AM, I was on foot with bags and all looking for a decent place to lay my head on.

Having exhausted the visibly acceptable usual suspects, so to speak, I had to check out Hotel Cipta at the next road. I was there before too, but being a boutique hotel, it wasn't an attractive option that time. Times have changed and I felt I have stepped up a notch higher - by wee bit, at least, so I took the room at 415,000 rupiah. I was pleased. By half past 2, I took myself to their deserted restaurant for a midnight meal (Hainan Chicken at its finest) at the Blueberry Pancake House.

Jakarta hasn't really changed much. A metropolis of almost 9 million people, there isn't a lot of foreigners gallivanting around. The sidewalks still wafted of the heady stench of tobacco. But before someone forgets, the city ordinance has a steep fine for those caught smoking in public. Yet the city is one big caldera of cancer-emitting smoke puffed by 6 of every 10 Jakartans. Go figure!

At the airport, the Indonesian Immigration line far outnumbered the "Foreigners Line". This has advantages. The Indonesians are far from being jaded by the presence of visitors. In fact, they seem grateful. This has lead to a very pleasant stay in the capital so far.

Earlier today, after asking the policeman where Gambir Train Station is (I knew but I needed to triple check), he didn't just point me to the direction. He stopped the fast-moving vehicles and accompanied me to cross the darn street - like I was a 78 year old woman! I was just floored by such kindness of strangers; the very same sentiment I had during my first visit! See? Nothing much has changed, and this is even confirmed several times over by various encounters in the last several hours or so.

This has also underlined the obvious, that a lot of Indonesians aren't adept with the Queen's language. Several wide-grinned Jakartans gazed blankly at me when I was looking for the Bandung Train Station. I had to do several impressions of "trains" to no avail, it was starting to get annoyingly hilarious.

The fly-by-night transvestites and street walkers that used to line the nearby streets were gone - or I probably wasn't up that late. This visit will also underline the sad fact that the backpacker hangout called Jalan Jaksa ("Lawyer's Street" - long story) has been gradually neglected which is a curiousity since this area is where you find a great volume of foreigners, Caucasians to be exact. Even the new hotel building that was just being constructed 5 years ago now looked decrepit and run down! The street lamps are wanting, the streets getting narrower, there's practically nowhere to walk leisurely. Even the nice hotel I stayed in last time has closed. Everything is in disrepair; paints chipping off. It is sad how the metropolitan government has allowed the slow-but-sure degradation of what was once a vibrant area, now one of the city's "ugliest".

And you wonder why foreigners make the capital a transit point, no one wants to stay longer than a day or two, not to mention the fact that a mere 2 days will leave your pockets several ounces lighter - like the batting of an eyelash.

But there's one thing that has charmed my pants off - the sincere demeanor of its people. No one has ever helped me cross the street. No one! Not in Vietnam, or Thailand, or Burma or Cambodia. I am really grateful for these little acts of kindness, and I sleep tonight with a smile.

This is the Eye in the Sky!


thepinaysolobackpacker said...

darn! why did I forget to chck ur page when I badly need a travel guide in Indoensia! :( I fell in love with Indonesia. the people are very helpful. and contrary to what I read that I'll have a hard time asking around, I didnt bec everyone I encountered speaks english. I'm often mistaken as an Indonesian and each I tell them I'm a Filipino, I get special treatment, thanks to Christian Bautista and Maribeth who are very famous there. :)

Trotter said...

Hi Eye! I've never been to Jakarta... Interesting reading your story!!

Blogtrotter Two is facing the legendary question: «What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?» Enjoy and have a great weekend!

eye in the sky said...

@ Trotter: what is that legendary question? Now heading to your blog...

eye in the sky said...

Yes, I am mistaken as a local most of the time too, but this time, add Paquiao to the growing list of popular Pinoys in Indonesia (they'd say, Pa-kiw, Pakoo, Pakak, silly...). It's rather ridiculous that Pinoys dont know of Maribeth whose cd only CD released in Manila is one of my most favorite of all time.

Yes, I think Pinoys in general get the special treatment because, unlike other Asians, they see us as "brothers". A busy congested table at a restaurant clears a table that seats 4 just for me while Caucasians are made to wait! I can't complain such kindness.