Only a few weeks into the semester, and the first mini-holiday presented itself. The Mid-Autumn Festival / Mooncake Festival / Chinese Lantern Festival provided me with an extended weekend, and I of course had to use that opportunity to see more of Asia.
I thus left behind Hong Kong and all the mooncakes, and instead headed off to Jakarta – Indonesia – with my travel companion, Mette.
Travelling by plane was the oddest thing! After so many weeks of travelling by train with Mette through China, it was strange to once again feel the comforts of a plane seat. Flying with Garouda Air, and having the dilemma of choosing what movies to indulge in on the 5 hour journey from Hong Kong was a luxury.
Now, what made this five-day holiday great was undoubtedly the open arms we were met with. Family friends of my parents opened their door to us, and not only provided us with the best accommodation one could wish for, but enlightened us with insider-information and secrets of this wild capital, catered to our taste buds, provided excellent company and late-night talks. It is also because of them that I finally got to watch “The Painted Veil”. It is not the first time I have drawn on their hospitality, and I do hope it will not be the last time, either. Experiencing Jakarta would not have been the same without the Hejl-family.
This capital is the most populous city in Southeast Asia, which clearly shows once you try to get trapped in the infamous traffic jams. These macro-jams won’t get any better any time soon. According to the Economist, traffic gridlock will occur by 2014, unless the government makes drastic changes to the infrastructure. Because of urban migration, more and more vehicles are added to the existing roads, putting pressure on the whole setup. Hopefully the future will provide a solution, so as to facilitate and ignite the country and its economy.
The people of Jakarta proved to be absolutely wonderful. Everywhere we turned we were met with the biggest smiles and by joyful laughter. I often feel quite uncomfortable taking pictures of locals, as I feel I am invading a space where I am genuinely not allowed. However, several times we experienced how the Indonesians were the ones contacting us, asking if they could pose for a picture. They found it so amusing. Also, several encounters with children gave us another great insight into Indonesian culture: there is an all-prevailing curiosity, which helped to eliminate all barriers of contact. It was great to have these direct-encounters, even though we could only visit the city for such a short period.
Taman Mini was visited, which is a recreational park displaying the Indonesian culture. I was astonished by the beautiful and detailed architecture you could find here, as local pavilions and houses had been set up to demonstrate just how different such are in the various provinces of Indonesia. We also enjoyed a few hours at the Indonesian Museum, and visited the bird park here – activities which all exceeded my expectations. However, watching Indonesian traditional dances performed by local children hit home run with me. The hand movements are so intricate, and you easily lose all sense of time and space if you keep watching these mesmerizing moves.
Sunday unfolded itself at Thousand Island in the waters of Jakarta Bay. I would not mind spending every Sunday like this. Turquoise waters, sandy beaches and snorkeling opportunities. What more could one ask for?
Experiencing the beautiful Jakarta Cathedral and Istiqlal Mosque also gave me a great insight into this capital. What resonates with me very deeply is when several religions can unfold themselves within the same borders, and I find Indonesia – and also Malaysia – as great examples of such. These two great, religious buildings are not only equally respected, but are also built right next to each other. You only have to cross the main street to move from one sacred building to the other. Mutual respect and understanding is something the rest of the world should take a note of.
Bogor Botanical Gardens also proved worth a visit. Situated some 60 km outside of Jakarta, the park consists of more than 15,000 plants and trees. It is said to be Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who initiated the building of the gardens, so a thick history of colonialism hangs over the place. The trees were gigantic, and it was a great feeling walking around so much greenery after having spent a few days in in a city choked with poverty and pollution.
Yummy in my tummy!
Whilst Jakarta features on many black lists, such as the ugliest city, the most hated city, etc., I certainly found a charm here. Perhaps the Indonesian language gave me positive connotations to my travels in Malaysia, which then may have fogged my judgment. Perhaps, the comforts of staying with family friends blurred reality. However, I came to really enjoy my stay. I ate a lot of Nasi Goreng, was overjoyed by the friendly people I met, and found a beauty in the rough streets. Clouded judgment or not, I wish and hope to come back one day, to explore the rest of Indonesia.