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:
- 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.