A tale of two cities

Trip Start Apr 01, 2008
Trip End Aug 2008

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Flag of Singapore  ,
Sunday, June 1, 2008

A train had always been a very reassuring mode of transport. Yogyakarta to Jakarta changed this. Arriving at the train with 15mins to departure I was surprised to find every seat taken...and every bit of floor space. With all staring and myself being the only whitey on the train I found myself sitting in the junction of two carriages, sleeping on my knees with coffee and bread sellers hitting into me every 20 minutes, "Sorry Mister!". With cigerette smoke in eyes and piss aroma up nose (from nearby open squat toilet) I dozed a little and communciated with, oddly, two Africans 'on holiday'. I was in the international carriage!

A summary of Java did not lye ahead. Jakarta took me by surpirse. Capital of an overwhelmingly Islamic island/country the mosques eluded me, a number of gays introduced themselves and I was harrassed by crotch grabbing prostitutes. The city itself is not good. Unnotable skyscrapers were separated by mile upon mile of traffic jams in sweltering heat. Even on a motorbike it took 30 mintues to cross the centre. It was still Indonesia though, for all the nice people throughout Jakarta. Even in a city of 9 million a hello would be thrown in your direction for the sake of a hello (I say this as I am now in east China where a hello is almost always for moneys sake).

I got stuck in Jakarta. Meeting the same Jakartarians and travelers each day I felt a little at home. A night would start with a few drinks on Jalan Jaksa with other travelers, being pestered by the same girls and politely declining whatever they were after - work or a western boyfriend. Enrico and I would rally a few travelers together for a night out at Stadium Discotheque. Even after two days I'd walk down Jalan Jaksa and stop two or three times to talk to people met previously.

Also towards the end of my stay realisation kicked in. To be with the locals is an excellent experience especially as this was as modern and as close to my own life Indonesia could offer. But it is not my Western life. Sad stories included a husband lost in the tsunami in Sumatra, a son who died in a disorganised Jakarta hospital and a young man struggling to re-enter Europe where every day was an anxious wait of news from haloed lands. The Stadium club, of course, is also different from a British one. Owned by the police, drugs were the real money here. That coupled with prostitution. Alcohol and entrance fees were just little extras. To reach the dance floor you had to go via a bar loaded with gorgeous Indonesian girls. The older woman outside the 'pen' would grab your wrist, touting with bulging eyes - workers as well as patrons high - gesturing towards the girls who would take you downstairs to rooms. Four different companies worked in the club, the girls making a huge slice of the income for Stadium and next to nothing for themselves. Ecstacy touts did everything out in the open - no need to hide, they are the police. Top class dance and techno pumped out by international DJ's (eg Sasha) as the richer Jakarta people party. Heads shaked upstairs as arms were tugged downstairs, outside by homeless children begging for money.

Although brought down to earth by the disparities of Jakarta I enjoyed my time there more than most cities. The kind nature of the Indonesians was a constant of these two amazing months spent in this immense country and Jakarta was no exception. Refreshing to find in a big city.

I could never settle on a favourite country, they're too complex, cant be compared and put in a list. However, if forced at knife point Indonesia would probably escape my lips. Only spending longer in Australia, Scotland and England (as a kid, does that count?) Indonesia got 'under my skin'. You would need a year and a half to proper see it. It is huge and diverse. The diversity is its real pull though. So many traditional cultures lived out everyday on thousands of disconnected islands. Indonesia defies the word country. All the islands may fall within 'Indonesia' but individual cultures live on. There is definately one constant throughout - immense kindness and friendliness. The minute you look lost someone would be by your side whether they spoke english or not. Its a question of when do, not if, I go back.

Two and a half hours later and the world seems so unfair. Cleanest city in the world bursting with money. Having spent a few days in Singapore last year I was left with very little to do for the week I waited for my Chinese visa. I filled up on curry and tiger beer in little India, caught up on sleep and generally kept a low profile - Singapore is expensive. I found myself laughing at the perfectionist nature of Singapore. Video demonstrations of how to deal with terrorism played on loop on the subway. Singaporeans were advised that, if they're hands were full of shopping bags, they should take the lift instead of the life threatening escalators. The newest mobile flashed on screens along the train tunnel wall. "Singapore is ridiculous" I thought when leaving the city. These people are controlled more than we are, urged to consume every waking hour, keeping the economy strong and the governement in favour. Shopping malls which are literally on every corner stay open until 9pm.

If I thought the Singaporeans were controlled, I was in for a shock in China.
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grantrough on

more pictures
and here I thought your camera had broken, I hope this isn't the last of your pics man!

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