Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Jakartan Impressions and Little Acts of Kindness

Unflattering Impression

My first impression of Jakarta was unflattering, but as the days treaded on, it became a love-hate relationship. I would walk around at 1AM looking for food ( I am a nocturnal animal) – street-walkers and transvestites waving to me, which is not much different from the post-midnight streets of London, Paris (right on the street where Moulin Rouge is), Copenhagen or Luxembourg. If it seems like I haven’t learned a lesson after my “robor con violencia” mugging in Madrid, I actually have, but I just cannot restrict myself. Life is too short to be constricted by fear and be limited by past demons.

Just outside Plaza Indonesia

The upscale Plaza EX, where I bought lots of (original) local & foreign DVDs.

It is fun to take little adventures with minimum risk. The Indonesians live in risk-heavy environs. Health-wise, they smoke like chimneys despite a supposed heavy penalty for public smoking. A visit to the garden city of Bogor had me alight from my express train, walking over 2 cold rail tracks, where commuter trains directly pass: no over- or underpasses. My adrenaline worked overtime. I doubt if arranged package tours will ever come close to such stirring, awesome experience. I am done with spoon fed travel. I relish to be street smart.

A mosque in the city.

National Museum (aka Elephant Museum or Museum Gadja) - a common mistake is ignoring this amazing place. I remembered paying a very cheap entrance fee of (i think) Rp500. Cameras aren't allowed inside, but who doesn't have a phonecam these days. Hehe. THEN I realized that the whole area has CCTV cameras all around. (While coming out from the premises, I was half expecting someone to accost me to some private office for taking photos inside. Yikes. Haha.) Took me longer than I planned to tour the whole place including the elegant 5-story annex (this building directly below).

Stately grounds of the National Museum (aka Elephant Museum/Museum Gadja)

I am slowly inching my way towards north asia. My friend Maung, (who’s now in New York) from Myanmar has told me little stories about his country (we gallivanted together in Glasgow, Scotland) and I have since been inching my way towards Burma, especially Rangoon Yangon). I guess not a lot has changed. Lady activist and nobel laureate Aung San Su Kyi is still on house arrest. Maung recently emailed me from NYC, saying that his family has informed him that the situation in Yangon has considerably stabilized, which is great news. I can’t wait to see those temples in Bagan, Mount Popa, Mandalay and Yangon this February through March.

My Toraja coffee (it's an extra strong coffee which originates from the Sulawesi State, town of Toraja, Indonesia) at the airport while waiting for my 4-hour delayed flight.

Kindness of Strangers

I have also reveled in the kindness of others. One time, I was looking for a real Blue Bird Taxi (the most trusted in Jakarta, as there are many imitations) to visit the Portuguese harbor of Sunda Kelapa. The 5th guy I asked wouldn’t allow me to take the taxi as it was very far – and expensive. He accompanied me to the bus stop, bought me a ticket, then left with a smile. Instead of paying a huge InR 60,000, I only paid something like 3,500.

At the
Old Batavia (the old name of Jakarta during the Portuguese rule), I found a solitary postcard shop in a sleepy avenue of charming prewar buildings. I picked two, and asked how much they were. The guy just told me, “For you, it’s free!” Turns out that I was in the middle of a film shooting, and the whole postcard shop was a film set! On another train ride going south of Java, a nice Indonesian girl I was asking information with snatched my notebook and started writing common bahasan phrases and their English translation to help me get through easily where I was gonna visit.

This was what she wrote:

Saya ingin pergi ke = I want to go to…, Berapa = how much, tolong = please help, terimah kasih = thanks, beli = buy.

Of course I had to learn a few on my own before I landed on Jakartan soil. I was adept with saying “tidak” for “no” – and “argo” for “taxi meter” (to specify that the drivers flag down the meter). I was also pleased with myself, going around, trying to be polite and grateful to everyone, saying “Selamat” – when selamat actually meant “Congrats!” or “Good morning”. I must have looked like one big clown congratulating an ambulant vendor or a guard after asking for directions. Haha!!! I am floored by such generosity.

Little acts of kindness can make a difference. It gives this world a hopeful chance.

A Disney-inspired playground.

My taxi from Kota to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah ("Beautiful Mini-Indonesia") was Rp 84,000. Taman Mini entrance was 9,000, 2 tolls of 4,500 and 1,500 and an expensive canned coke of 7,000 (about Php35). Taman Mini showcases the 33 regions of the country. Taman Mini is a project of the First Lady, set to showcase the cultural and architectural differences of the Indonesian states.

Maritime Museum grounds in Old Batavia

Museum Wayang (Maritime Museum). I love this place, though there's hardly any visitor coming in. It felt like stepping back into time. The second floor is an eerie place, but every object is well preserved. You hear your footsteps walking around these premises. And there is an amazing collection of maritime stuff.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

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