MA's roommate is from Jakarta. As we were planning this trip, MA decided that this was the perfect reason to go to Indonesia, so she asked if we could come for a visit. Nothing like inviting yourself to visit people you have never met... I had never even met MA's roommate, Kat!
Kat's Dad and sister joined her to pick us up from the airport and our first destination was an English language Mass. It was a beautiful church and a lovely service, but in a tip to Indonesian traffic, Mass started late because the priest was stuck in traffic. Little did I know that this was just a normal way of operating in Jakarta.
After Mass, we went to a typical Indonesian restaurant. I learned two things quickly: 1) that I really like Indonesian food!, and 2), that Kat's family was going to stuff me every chance they got. "No, thank you. I'm full" is translated to mean "I don't want that particular food item but perhaps something else." All the food was amazing, but it took me a while to figure out how to convince Kat's family that I really was finished eating.
I have mentioned (twice!) the traffic in Indonesia, so I have to provide further insight. I have traveled a good bit. Admittedly, I have not been to China so I cannot say that the traffic there would be worse. But of the cities and countries that I have visited - including Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, and Sri Lanka - Indonesia, and Jakarta in particular, is the worst that I have seen! To provide some context, the roads themselves are good. There are not many potholes and in Jakarta, the roads are fairly wide. The issue is all the things that are competing for space on these roads and the way people drive.
Asongan - Motorbikes provide an affordable transportation solution for many Indonesians. It is not uncommon to see entire families riding on one bike (baby is "secured" by a sarong to one of the adults), weaving in and out of traffic, passing cars on both sides of a lane. The Asongan are motorbike riders who sell pretty much anything you need to those stuck in traffic. One writer referred to them as "mosquitoes" for their ability to flit in and out of lanes of traffic.
Bajaj - These are three-wheeled vehicles, not much different from the tuktuks I had seen in other places throughout Southeast Asia. The key distinction is that these had doors, and belched black smoke as they transported people around town. A "plus" for riders was their "A/C Alam" - natural air conditioning, or open windows. The same author as above referred to them as "cockroaches".
Becak - These are three-wheeled pedal or motobike rickshaws. When I first saw them, I thought that they were mainly used by tourists. But they are actually affordable transportation for many locals.
MetroMini - These are small buses that are crammed to the point of over-flowing (they won't even move until they are full), which roam the streets of Jakarta, picking up fares. They stop to drop-off and pick-up passengers anywhere they choose and spew nasty exhaust out their tail ends.
All of these vehicles compete with passenger cars and trucks to move through the country. On top of this, all the drivers seem to view road signs as "suggestions" - stop signs are clearly optional - and pedestrians have no right-of-way. It makes for utter chaos and long commutes.
The previous governor (who now is in prison for blasphemy - a Christian in a majority Muslim nation) started a project to bring a subway system to Jakarta. The plan is for this to open in 2019, but the new government is not prioritizing this project. It is a shame because the traffic issues are a true hindrance to development.
There is my traffic rant. I have to confess that I never had to deal with this as a driver. Those who have ridden in a car with me will be happy to read that I did not drive in Indonesia. Kat's family provided us with transportation for all of our adventures in Jakarta.
One of the things that you notice in Jakarta is the number of high-end malls. Kat explained to us that because of the pollution (the smog in the city was scary!) and the heat, locals like to go to malls to wander. They treat the malls like parks - and the malls accommodate all their needs. We went to malls several times around meals, largely to walk around.
Here are some of the highlights we saw as tourists:
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII - Kat's cousin thought we would be very disappointed by this park, but we loved it! This is a park that was commissioned by the former first lady of Indonesia, Tien Suharto. This park is a cultural recreational area that showcases the unique features of each province of Indonesia. We started our visit by taking the overhead tram to get a feel for the layout. We realized it was a very big place so we decided to rent bicycles to get round the park. The bikes provided transport, but it was clear that these bikes were long past their useful life.
Of course, it started to rain when we were at the furthest point from the entrance. Oh well, we had a komodo dragon to see. And plenty of other reptiles. Visiting the Reptile Park within this park could easily convince you to avoid much of Indonesia. Scary, deadly stuff.
You could spend days at this park, but we had time to only visit few areas. One highlight of our visit was the Tana Toraja pavilion. This culture has a unique way of celebrating the death of loved ones. The body of the deceased is kept - sometimes, for several years - until the family can afford a suitable burial ceremony. You can visit the dead family member before s/he is finally placed into a cave, whose level of placement indicates their place in society.
We did not make it to this remote province, but we did get to see its miniature at TMII, which showed off the caves. But what we really enjoyed was a troupe of local girls learning a traditional dance inside the pavilion. I later learned that cultural dance is part of the educational curriculum in Indonesia, and you can see many of the beautiful dances on YouTube.
Wayang Museum - Javanese Wayang (shadow) puppets are one of the items that you see throughout Jakarta. We wanted to see the museum to learn the history of the puppets and to learn about how they were used in Indonesia to tell stories.
Throughout our Indonesia travels, the fact that we had an Indonesian guide (Kat) along for the ride. In the Wayang Museum, we were allowed to attend a movie that was being shown to a student group, which was not open to the public! Unfortunately, he film was in the 3D and we did not have the glasses, and the dialogue was in Indonesian. So MA got to hear Kat's translation but I got to make up my OWN story to match the movie!
It reminded me of my first time I saw opera - It was at the Met. Wagner's Master Singers. It was six hours long on a Monday night, and we arrived too late to read the synopsis. First (!!) intermission was two hours into the performance. I thought the story was about a trial...
But I digress... after the movie, I asked for a synopsis, and learned about Ramayana. I would learn more about this story over the next 10 days.
As we were looking at the large puppets inside the entrance of the museum, a young man started talking to Kat. I thought he was flirting with her. He offered to give us a tour of the museum, so we obliged.
He was a good guide, but I am grateful that we had Kat to translate. After exploring the museum for a while, our guide informed us that we were "lucky" to be there at a time when we could see a performance of the puppets! Kat finally realized that our "guide" wanted a tip, so she indulged him and we headed off to see the puppet show.
I now own a shadow puppet. it is pretty, but I am grateful that I got to see the 15 minute version of the story instead of the 9 hour version. Tourist list - check.
MA and I had been looking for postcards since we entered Indonesia. Oddly, it appears that this common item is not one that the many tourist shops have embraced! t's been two weeks since we mailed the ones that we finally found from the Jakarta main post office and they have still not arrived in the States, so perhaps this is why. We finally found postcards for sale behind the cunter of the post office.
We visited the ceramics museum and then went to Cafe Batavia for lunch. It was one of the first places that we saw Western tourists on our visit.
After lunch, I was ready to walk. Kat was agreeable to this idea so we headed out to walk towards Monas - the National Monument of Indonesia. It didn't look very far on the map. But what I did not realize was that the sidewalks were not reserved for people - cars often park along the way so you must weave into traffic to continue moving forward. I thought my sister was going to kill me for this choice, but she stayed with Kat and we moved forward.
I like to walk in cities! It allows you to see the real, street-level activity that you miss in the car. It is easy to "top-up" your SIM card or buy memory for your camera, and there is always plenty of coffee!
I will admit that there were several places where crossing the street was a challenge (WWTFD - get a taxi!) but we kept going. We arrived at the Palace in time for the changing of the guard so MA decided to take pictures. Bad idea! The guard gave us the universal "don't even think about it" signal. As an aside, in Moscow, i took a picture at the front of a government office and the guard came over to me, took my camera, erased the photo(!), and then returned my camera to me. I knew that these guards took the "no photo stuff" very seriously! So we moved on to the monument.
There have been many terrorist acts in Jakarta, most recently on January 14, 2016, so you become very aware of the heightened security in the city. As we entered Monas, we went through another security screening. It really focused your attention to the issue.
We were unable to summit the monument - it was never clear whether it was closed or that they were out of tickets. The monument had a basement museum which housed many dioramas of Indonesia's struggle for independence. We spent some time there, learning about the country. But it was interesting to see when the history ended - Pre-Soharto.
We finished the day at the central mosque - which holds 200,000 people during Ramadan! - and then on to the Catholic cathedral across the street. Our 1 1/2 hour commute through traffic took us home , and then we treated ourselves with Indonesian massages. Yay!
Our host family grows corals as their business. MA and I wanted to see how this was done so we were taken to their local office. The majority of the growth takes place off the coast of Bali, but the corals are then shipped Jakarta before being sent around the world for use in aquariums. I am not a diver, but I do like to snorkel. I really enjoyed seeing these and learning how they are made.
Our final night in Indonesia included a visit to a local street market to have street food (made in front of us so that we could "duplicate" the cooking at home...) and a chance to meet Kat's aunt who owned a booth at this market. It was another great meal!
We had a great visit to Jakarta - mostly thanks to Kat's family - but there was much more of Indonesia to explore. Our next adventure began with an overnight train from Jakarta to Yogyarta (Jogja). We splurged for First Class, which meant we got assigned seats, a reclining chair, and a blanket. - all for about $30! The train was FREEZING! Completely over air-conditioned. I slept but was very happy when we arrive to Jogja at 4 am.