Jakarta, formerly Batavia — Koningin van het Oosten — when it was the de facto capital of the Dutch East Indies, lay before me today.
Suggested song: (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding
A metropolis of ten million people, Indonesia’s largest city, a metropolitan area of more than 30 million — one of the worlds most populous — sprawling and gushing out from the picturesque harbor town of colonial buildings that formed the nucleus of its current urban development across northwestern Java. The city is also called the Big Durian, a homage to both New York City and the local durian fruit, thorny and smelling so strongly that you are not allowed to bring it into many hotels and on most modes of public transport. Just like the fruit, Jakarta might smell strongly (of exhaust fumes) and be a bit thorny, but perambulating through the city also gave hints of its sweet taste.
Well, anyway, enough of the demographics. Packing a bottle of water, I set off this morning. After deliberating whether or not to take the bus — Jakarta has a surprisingly efficient bus network — or walk, I decided to burn some foot rubber. After all, any city is best explored by full immersion, even if that means being fully immersed in car and scooter exhaust fumes. Kota, or Oud Batavia, seemed like a fitting start, beginning my tour by seeing where Jakarta began. So, north was the direction, past the Glodok and the Jakarta Kota train station. First destination: the old colonial post office and Kota’s central square.
The colonial kernel of the city was small, but, while not quite exquisite, a nice and sudden change in pace. Preparations were underfoot for something, a camera team setting up as the square slowly filled with Indonesian sight seers on this Saturday morning. The usual routine at tourist sites followed: taking pictures with the locals. Constantly being asked to have your pictured snapped with someone’s wife or kids is, still, a strange feeling. Well, take it in stride, smile a lot, and feel like a rockstar — it is supreme fun! Plus, compared to China, where schoolgirls giggle incessantly, when they approach you, the docile manner of the Indonesians makes the whole thing quite pleasant, often leading to a brief and friendly conversation — language skills permitting. In fact, everywhere you go, people shout ‘Mister, Mister’ at you. Turning around, the expectation would be a hustler or rickshaw driver trying to attract business. But no, people just smile, wave and wish you a good day. Also, wearing pants and shoes, or desert boots as I did, engenders goodwill, with people pointing at pants and boots and giving approving nods, thumbs up or even high fiving you. Or maybe they were just taking the piss out of me, because what idiot would wear long pants and boots in this weather?
But I digress. Back on subject, after writing a short essay on how I liked Indonesia for some kids in a school assignment, I needed a coffee. Looking behind me, I noticed that I stood right in front of the Batavia Café — perfect!
I ambled in. Jackpot! The café felt like it was stuck in a temporal distortion field, transporting me instantly into the 1920s. The music, the decor, the slowing turning ceiling fans, and the black and white photographs on the walls created a perfect facsimile of what I imagine a café in a colonial seat would’ve looked like. The coffee, though a bit pricey, was good, too. Heaven, from which I head to painfully expulse myself.
Strolling to the Marina
Back on the square, kids were riding around on gaudily painted bicycles, while I headed towards the harbor. On the way there, a detour (ok, I lost the way just the slightest bit) took me through lively back alleys, full of little businesses, people and chickens, over makeshift bridges crossing canals filled with flotsam and rubbish, and finally to the entrance to Batavia Marina.
I was sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watchin’ the tide roll away. I was just sittin’ on the dock of the bay wastin’ time. All the while, I pondered life’s important questions, like if and what to have for lunch (not hungry), where to next (first coffee and then the National Mosque, Monument, Museum), and noticing the strange coincidence that I did pretty much the same thing almost exactly a year ago in Montevideo (considerably warmer in Jakarta, though).
Ok, feeding the coffee addiction. The closest place promising good coffee was the Batavia Marina Club, exactly as decadent as it sounds. Wood paneling, leather armchairs, unfortunately no liveried porters. The coffee, however, was good, the chill of the air conditioning felt good and everyone was supremely friendly.
On the way out, I noticed flags advertising the many services one can indulge in at the club, such as hosting weddings, going on cruises, enjoying a banquet and… MICE??? If you don’t believe me, have a look yourself. For convenience I provide the picture; I guess it might not be practicable to go to Jakarta just to check out the word MICE on a banner.
Gambir: National Everything
Kota all sightseen out, it was time to head back south, stop by at the guest house for a change of shirts, and visit the area around the National Monument. On the northeast corner of the square around the monument, sits the impressively large National Mosque. When I arrived, it was prayer time, of which I was gently reminded by the porter. So, a look from the outside had to suffice. Ok, so seen the largest mosque in the world… achievement unlocked!
The National Monument itself commemorates, of course, Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch in 1945. It’s quite impressive, standing over 130 meters tall, just at the edge of Jakarta’s central business district. I am sure, Wikipedia can tell you quite a bit more about its design, number of steps up to the top, its construction time and whatever else your heart wishes to know. I walked a bit around the grounds, craning my neck looking up and headed to the National Museum on the western edge of the square.
Arriving five minutes later, I thought: ‘Nice enough!’ and continued on. No time and little interest in a frolic through the museum, because the day was getting long and the kilometers were getting to my feet.
At the National Monument, one can — in principle — take the elevator to the top. When I got there, though, the tickets were all sold out.
A Drink at the Skye Bar and Dinner at Pondok Laguna
That is why I quenched my thirst for altitude by visiting the Skye Bar at the top of the BCA tower. In a day of gastronomic decadence, this topped the bill. The 150,000 Rp door fee got me a voucher, which was transformed by the magic hands of the wait staff into a glass of Mouton Cadet Sauvignon Blanc. Another 90,000 Rp complemented the wine with a glass of mineral water. Steep, but the view was magnificent! Here’s to you, esteemed reader!
By the time I left, a proper downpour had started and night fallen. Sitting completely drenched on the bus, famine set in. A visit to Pondok Laguna, a Sindanese restaurant close to the guest house, would fix that! Borrowing an umbrella at reception, I headed over, so that I could leave you, on this last post from Java, with a bit of food pron.
That was tasty! Signing off from Java, tomorrow you will find me in Malaysia!