Jakarta: Final Thoughts

Jakarta reminded me of so many different places I’ve been before. That certainly includes Manila, my first stop in all comparisons, of course.  The noise, traffic and conjestion of Manila and Jakarta, I’ve already explored, but these certainly weren’t the only similarities.  Third world living, the street vendors, the crowds, the omnipresent black mildew, the smells and urban scenery were much like Manila too.

But other places and memories continuously flashed through my mind, often emerging from far and long ago.  Here’s a few references I dug up:

Turkey:  The mixture of orthodox and non-orthodox dress; the islamic faith without arabs; and the language.  Kinda sounded like a mixture of Turkish, Malaysian and Pilipino.  Very guttural. Very interesting how many Tagalog words I encountered that were the same spelling but with different meanings (salamat: thank you in Tagalog / selamat: welcome in Bahasa); Seeing English words like Bank, Computer or Inspection spelt as they sound in Latin letters, without the confidence and familiarity of English that we see in the Philippines.

Eastern Europe:  The over-the-top national monuments and aging concrete monuments to previous leaders.  It reminded me somewhat of 1960s communist European countries; seeing smaller, cheaper cars (a la Skoda) on the streets. Even the motorcycle drivers reminded me of Eastern Europe in the winter.  Not the bikes themselves, but the bikers clothing.  Bundled up on the bikes for protection (in the heat!) I saw their jackets juxapositioned against the old concrete water fountains and I was back in 1980, in Yugoslavia, in the Winter.  Weird.

Visiting for a just few days is such a limited way to get to know somewhere.  A bit like only visiting someone during a particular point in time, in only one room, with no idea about the rest of their time or space.   But fair or not, first impressions will always be made.  And here a few unique ones that I will always remember as part of my Jakarta experience:


The mosque just outside the front gate. Yes, it was close! Didn’t hear the 5am chanting after the second day though ;o

  • Swimming in the pool on a very hazy hot afternoon, after an intense rainfall.  The chanting from the nearby mosque loud and obnoxious over the speakers.  The sky so hazy and bright yellow from the smog that the sun could barely break through.  It felt like a science fiction movie.
  • Parking in Jakarta.  Wherever we went to park, especially in malls – but anywhere – there suddenly and mysteriously a parking assistant would appear….as if by magic.  Sometimes it was very helpful.  Sometimes it was completely unnecessary.  It always involved a tip.
  • Kite flying. I never got clear on whether this was attached to the Easter holiday or if it was just a local customs.  But the kids hung out in the street flying kites, stray ones were wrapped around telephone poles, and one captured kite hung from the neighbor’s roof, flapping at us the whole time we were there.

60 Days: The Countdown Continues


We just passed the “60 days ‘til departure” mark.  And as I flick back to my “90 days” and 120 day posts, I realise that we have come a long way…both practically and mentally.  The departure still feels like its in slow motion – it will have been an eleven month process after all – but I do feel a sense of progress and an end in sight as we have tied down various inspection dates and the all important pack out date in June.  Its certainly nowhere near as hectic as our New Jersey departure.  (Preparing the house to sell and trying to sell the damn thing was overwhelming.)  I’m also not a hoarder so we don’t have piles and piles of stuff to clear through, and what needs sorting has been processed.

We’re starting to tie down details in Kathmandu also, and have our new housing assignment, and college details are coming together. Now we just have to pass through Latham’s finals, a three week tunnel that we are just entering now.  Time is definitely speeding up, every week seems a little shorter, and the landmark dates and experiences check themselves off….  See you at the 30 day mark. ;o)

Jakarta: Batavia and the Old Port

Old Jakarta (or Batavia as christened by the Dutch) still has remnants of days gone by.  Unlike Manila,  I don’t think it suffered intense bombing during the second world war, and therefore didn’t lose so many of its historical buildings.  But there’s hardly an Altstadt either.   Nonetheless, we went down to have a look around, starting at the famous Sunda Kelapa docks.  The docks were lined as far as the eye could see with old schooners that are still sailing all over Indonesia, carrying cargos to the many, many islands of the archipelago.  Most of them have hoists nowadays so loading is partially mechanized, but they are also loaded by hand just as they were for hundreds of years.  The schooners were In various stages of care or neglect, and we walked along the extremely hot dock to see them closer up.  Had it no been so brain-boilingly hot, it would have been fun to walk to the end and see just how many there were.  But it was literally too hot to walk, think or breathe.  (Funny how most photos can’t capture how hot it is!)  Instead we shortened the tour to see just a few in details. Lethargic sailors squatted on their decks but, as I am always too concerned about being voyageristic, I didn’t capture their faces.  I just walked past, wondering what it must be like to live and work year round in those conditions.  Very hard indeed.  I can only imagine.

The area was very poor with a few vendors selling snacks and drinks to the sailors, but interestingly there was also some evidence of attempts at attracting tourists…(old signs in English, postcards of the docks) but clearly it hadn’t been a success.  Too bad as it was worth seeing and, if there had been a little shade somewhere, I might have stayed longer.  An interesting place; I really felt like I had stepped back into the 17th century.

Schooners at Jakarta Dockyard

Sundra Kelapa Docks, Old Jakarta

jakarta ships at Sundra Kelpa

Walking along the blazingly hot docks

jakarta unloading at the dock

Sundra Kelapa loading

After we left the docks, we headed to a well known seafood place aptly named Sunda Kelapa Seafood Restaurant.  Honestly, I would never have known to stop there.  It didn’t look like much from the outside, but inside the walls were covered with photos of Indonesian famous folk and politicians – proving that the word is out on the food here.  It was too early to have lunch and the place was empty when we walked in.  It must have just opened, but it quickly filled up during our stay.  We had drinks to rehydrate after the docks, and some sample seafood dishes to try out the food.  And the food was good…we sampled grilled prawns, stuffed squid and various other tasty seafood dishes during our short stay.  Next, we moved on to the central square in Batavia.

jakarta governors house

Batavia square, colonial building in old Jakarta

jakarta batavia cafe

Square outside Cafe Batavia

Here the Governors House is the main attraction, along with Cafe Batavia, a museum and some old colonial structures still awaiting renovation.  The square was a mix of wandering people: vendors selling souvenirs to school groups and Indonesian tourists (as well as a few foreign ones), lots of people on bicycles (I got the impression that someone was renting them to tourists), and others just hanging out in the small spaces of shade that could be found.  We headed over to the airconditioning and restored colonial splendor of Cafe Batavia to have a look around and grab a cold drink.

jakarta batavia cafe wall

Wall of famous visitors to Cafe Batavia

Cafe Batavia was everything you’d expect from a historical restaurant in an old city.  They’d done an excellent job refitting it and recreating colonial elegance.  But along with that came high end tourism, New York drink prices, and I’m told overpriced, not very good food.  We didn’t eat there, so I can’t really comment.  But it was comfortable to sit in, interesting to see, and fun to watch the square below from the upstairs bar.

In Manila the only remaining part of the old city is Intramuras, a small warren of streets and buildings in the center of the city.  Manila has the World Heritage site, San Agustine Cathedral, as its highlight, and Jakarta has Batavia square and a number of surrounding streets.  Some attempt has been made in both cities to preserve them, and protect their countries heritage.  Neither cities are known as tourist destinations, and in third world countries where there are so many other economic priorities take precedence, its easy to see why historical preservation doesn’t make it very high up on the priority scale.  So preserved historical buildings are random and few.  Sad, but true.

Jakarta: Like Manila but with really good fabric!

A really fun activity to do in Jakarta is to go shopping for batik.

Everyone’s heard of batik, although I am learning it means a lot of different things to different people.  To me, it just meant a method of dyeing fabric using wax to create designs, which of course is accurate in a very general way.  What I didn’t even come close to understanding is the range and style of designs that Indonesia produces under the label batik.  It was pretty overwhelming in a very good way.

Pasaraya Department store batik

A tiny corner of the massive Pasaraya batik selection

We headed to Pasaraya department store in Jakarta to explore the batik offerings there.  I was in awe to see one very, very large floor devoted just to batik.  It took about 2 hours to make the full loop around as the choices and styles were so many.  Intricate fabric designs as far as the eye could see.  There were lengths of fabric and garments for men, women and children. Handbags, scarves, wall hangings…but particularly men’s shirts.  Thousands of them, in every size including Western men’s sizes.  It was sort of compelling and overwhelming at the same time to work through the different designs.  I found myself less attracted to the very traditional designs with borders around the bottom, preferring more repetitious patterns.   An influence of Western taste, I’m sure.

It took a while to accept the individuality of all the fabric pieces.  No two pieces were the same and the fact that they were sold in 2 meter lengths meant that if I wanted to make something myself with only one pattern, I was limited to something small.  I’m accustomed to buying fabric by the yard or metre, but these were handcrafted fabrics and designs, not mass produced bolts.  The prices were really reasonable for something so intricate and handmade.  A typical price for a 2 meter length was $30-60.  But it was also hard to commit that much cash to something that I liked but wasn’t sure how I was going to use it.

I ended up buying most of my fabric from a section called Batik Keris.  A bought table runners, a couple of dozen napkins, a scarf and a sarong.  Beautiful pieces and I later learnt that Batik Keris is one of the best known, higher quality manufacturers of batik in Indonesia.  Afterwards, I went to their website to learn a little about them and stumbled on this video which shows batik being made:


Its not hosted at YouTube so I don’t know how to embed it.  But its only six minutes and worth a watch.  I loved seeing the different designs come to life.  And it really explained to me why the lengths are 2 meters long!

Apparently the Pasaraya department store has another floor devoted only to wooden handicrafts.  I’d had enough shopping by the time I had finished with the batik, and the Philippines does wooden and raffia items very well.  So I decided not to visit, which was probably just as well as I’d spent quite enough already.

Walking around through all the different displays, after a while my eye started to tune into the different styles a little bit.  Of course, there were different traditional styles customs in different regions on Indonesia – or different islands probably.  I couldn’t even begin to figure out which was which.  But if you wanted to see, learn, and shop batik for a short flying visit to Jakarta.  I couldn’t think of a better spot.  Many thanks to Rika for taking me around.

batik fabric

A selection of different batik designs. Where to start?!

Exploring Jakarta (otherwise known as Being Traffic)

jakarta traffic

I saw one of those FB notices a while back that said “You are not in traffic, you are traffic”, which is nowhere more true than Jakarta.  Its hard to talk about a visit to Jakarta without tackling the subject of traffic.  In some ways it seems unfair to start there, but then again it colored everything we did while we visited and was the basis of many decisions made on where to go and when.  To an extent, its the same game in Manila.  By playing by certain rules, we avoid some of the Manila traffic, much of the time.  In Jakarta, it wasn’t so easy, both because of the area where we were staying and the fact that we were looking to do some touristy things.

This was our last chance to visit friends who live in Indonesia, and Manila is just a few hours flight away.  It was Easter, and another good reason to leave the Philippines where everything is booked up really early for the biggest holiday of the year.  (Last year we booked a house on Palawan which was wonderful, but I only managed to secure it by booking all the way back in November.)  What I didn’t expect in Jakarta was how much the Easter holiday would affect everything. I was surprised how many businesses were closed.  Jakarta is more than 80% Muslim, with a Christian population of approximately 12%, which is clearly significant enough to have some affect, although I’m suspicious that it was also some kind of Indonesian holiday as well.  I never quite got clear on that.  The bottom line was the city was more jammed up than usual and getting around was a greater challenge still.

Comparing the traffic to Manila was a constant temptation.  Honestly, it was pretty similar in a lot of ways.  There seems to be more major arteries running through Jakarta, with more lanes, but they are equally jammed.  More motorcyclists too, which were a real hazard.  What I didn’t see there was the large number of SUVs that you see in Manila. Instead there were many smaller, more European-sized vehicles.  There were buses, but somehow there didn’t seem to be as many as Manila, and I wondered if that explained why there were more bikes?

As hard as it is to sit in crawling, smelly traffic, you also can’t let it completely prevent you from seeing and doing things.  Leaving early, or going against the main wave of traffic, can make it bearable.  So with some strategy we set out early on Easter Saturday morning for a little trip out of the city.  The destination was a popular pancake restaurant about 1.5-2 hrs out of Jakarta.  An early morning breakfast on a hillside in the Indonesian countryside sounded like a really good idea, especially with an early start to avoid the usual weekend traffic.  Especially at its quite cool up there and you needed to wear a sweater…an almost unbelievable concept in the summer heat.  Coolness…view….delicious pancakes….let’s go, right?!   We left around 6.30am, and drove out of the city for about an hour making traffic-free progress until we hit a certain point on the expressway.  Then for about an hour we shuffled along, playing dodgems with other cars and trucks on both sides.  The hard shoulder quickly became a fourth lane, with cars trying to butt in and more forward faster.  But it made no real difference, we were at an almost standstill for the longest time.  For a while it was ok, because as a new visitor, driving at a pedestrian pace gives you time to study the other cars, passengers, suitcases and vendors selling food and snacks to stranded cars.  (It turns out deep fried tofu is a big roadside snack here.)  But after a while the curiosity fades and you just need to keep moving…and you can’t.  The hope was that traffic would open up once we cleared the toll booths.  It took us at least 30 minutes to clear the 2kms between the toll booth sign and the actual booths.  Once through, the traffic did open up a little, as some headed into the service station for gas and food.  Our gas was low, and we joined them to fill up.  Motorcyclists were parked at the service station entrance, wildly waving their arms at approaching vehicles.  In fact, it was with done with the kind of alarm that someone might flag down vehicles to take their pregnant wife to the hospital.  You were compelled to pay attention to them in the name of decency.  But, as it turns out, for a fee, they were offering a motorcycle ride up the mountain to escape the traffic.  I guess we were supposed to abandon our car at the service station and split up across several bikes…which was not even close to likely.   We turned into the gas station, where I learnt my second word in Bahasa, kosong, or empty.  Every single, damn pump.  Now we were in bad traffic and low on gas, sitting in a traffic with no apparent end…we had to turn around.  A short while further up, we took the opportunity to make a quick, illegal u-turn and, in moments, were moving normally on the other side of the highway.  Two minutes later we were back at the service station on the northbound side, and headed to the gas pumps for fuel.  An hour later we were back home, but spent most of the return drive looking at the other side of the road gawking at the stationary traffic which was now backed up all the way to the city center.  That was it.  A trip aborted.

This post was supposed to be about the charm of mountains outside of Jakarta, eating fluffy pancakes, enjoying the view and sipping some early morning Java…on Java…or at least one would hope…but instead its about the curse and reality that is traffic in mega Asian cities…  Sometimes things just turn out that way. ;o(

jakarta traffic2

Sign Language: …..and we’re back!

wang wang Came back to Manila today to discover it is a “No Wang Wang” zone. I would be very upset about this if I knew what it was! Later, Google told me it literally means “no sirens”, or more specifically here “no special treatment for self-important people who think they don’t need to line up”. As if….

So… as I stood in line waiting… I glanced over at an interesting sign. If you got very bored standing there, you could always go over to the clean area and avail of their body frisking services which appear to be on offer.  Sounds too good to be missed: