Ex-pat life in the Big City

Trip Start Mar 04, 2004
Trip End Jul 02, 2005

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Where I stayed
Crystal Jade Palace

Flag of Indonesia  ,
Thursday, May 20, 2004

From Yogyakarta I headed by train to Jakarta, sprawling city of 12 million filled with massive slums and more millionaires than you can shake a kris at. I recommend the train to get to Jakarta, its cheaper than a flight and about 100 times nicer than the bus. Instead of constantly clogged, rutted roadways, the train travels through picturesque paddie fields and gives one a view of two of the biggest volcanoes in Java.
I arrived in Java and was met by Susan and Peter's driver, Harianto. The luxusry of an air-conditioned, perfectly clean mini-van with a selection of CD's including Linkin Park was almost too much for me. During the drive I was appalled by Jakarta's traffic and a little intimidated. I thanked God I wasn't thrust into that with no guidance or contacts. Once I arrived at Susan and Peter's place, I was so relieved and happy to be in a warm, safe, friendly family environment. Susan, Peter, and their young toddlers TJ and Jessica made me feel right at home. I felt (and looked, as Susan frankly told me) like a new man after my first hot shower and shave in almost 2 weeks. I can't express enough how grateful I am that Susan and Peter took me in and I didn't have to bunk down in the Jalan Jaksa (standard backpackers area) quarter. I don't think I would have lasted two days in the city and certainly wouldn't have seen or experienced Jakarta in the same wonderful way. I strongly recommend making a contact of some sort before traveling to Jakarta. Its more important in this city than any other city I have been to so far.
I spent about 5 days in Jakarta, not counting my time in Ujong Kulon. I did quite a bit and these are some of the highlights:
Museum of Indonesia: very large collection. Closes very early (1330 sometimes) so be there in the morning.
National Monument (Monas): It was technically closed so I had to jump two fences. Possibly not the brightest thing to do in a former authoritarian state. Luckily some workmen had left the door open and I just strolled on up to the viewing platform. From Lonely Planet "ingloriously dubbed 'Soekarno's last erection'." Its 132m high, all Italian marble. Too bad the oppressive smog obscures the views.
Lunch at Café Batavia with Susan: Very, very posh place. Great atmosphere even when its nearly empty. Had so so tasty Chinese food. If you are a backpacker and don't mind blowing the budget go and have a glass of water. It overlooks Toman Fatahilla Square, the best place to get a feel of the Dutch history of Jakarta (formerly Batavia). The Jakarta History Museum facing the café is worth a visit too for its vivid evocation of the colonial days.
Birthday party for Susan's sister: We went to the Crystal Jade Palace and had a room just for the 14 of us with a giant table and lazy susan in the middle. Had even better Chinese food than at Café Batavia. I drank rice wine, ate foods that I still don't know what they are, got teased incessantly by Tujo the funny uncle and ate half a pigeon.
Partying at BATS: After dinner we hit an ex-pat bar. What a trip. Full of rich white guys and bar-girls. Not hookers, they just want 300,000 Rupiah for bus fare in the morning, that's all. It was a desperate exercise in avoiding eye contact lest one of the girls stand up on the bar and start calling me over. This did actually happen at one point. Later I realized that I was being hit on far, far less than most of the white guys there. Peter explained to me how a pot belly and thinning hair makes you sexy here cause it means you have bank. They must have been able to sense that I was a dirty shoestring backpacker and had no right to be in such a place.
Interviewing Didid Adanato and Tom Alcedo of Save the Children: This was for my role as global correspondent of the Canadian Social Entrepreneurship Foundation. A rewarding few hours that opened my eyes to hidden aspects of Indonesian society.
Being accepted as a Visiting Fellow at the Indonesian Centre for Strategic Studies: This is where I currently am and will be for one month. I'm working on security options in the Straits of Malacca.
Taman Mini Indonesia: See all of Indonesia in one big theme park. A big kitschy but worth the visit, especially when, with only a 30 day VISA, its unlikely one will get to see all of the indigenous groups, and their massive longhouses, represented here. The lake with islands build in the shape of the Indonesian archipelago is quite neat.
The Southeast Asian Highland Gathering: People from all over the region in kilts. A nice mix of ex-pats and their Indonesian families. Lots of dancing, sports, and bagpipes (oh how I have longed to hear those again, its my favourite instrument). Also Scottish traditional manly pursuits like caber-tossing. At the end they lit a boat on fire (something to do with the Vikings) and then had fireworks, apparently the best display in all of Southeast Asia.
Having my own bedroom and bathroom with A/C and a writing desk: Oh glory of glories.
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