I’m currently in the capital of Indonesia. It feels oh-so Asian. And fairly Muslim too, though I don’t find the locals here as intimidating as their compatriots in the Middle East.
With over 10 million citizens, Jakarta is populous. But Indonesia itself is populous: the 4th most country in the world (behind China, India, and the US, and only a fraction of the size of those three countries).
I think they call Indonesia the “sleeping giant,” and I believe it: walking around here I’ve seen quite a number of people sleeping on the sidewalks. One sleeping guy was sprawled across three motorbike seats! Now that’s sleeping class.
Speaking of motorbikes, they’re everywhere. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. From what I’ve seen, it’s the same throughout Indonesia. And from what I’ve heard, it’s the same throughout Asia. Someone is getting rich off selling motorbikes. Probably someone in China.
Jakarta is nicer and cleaner than I was expecting. It’s also quite Western in many ways. You can even find sundry Western restaurants. Such as McDonalds. Another positive thing is that food here is cheap. For instance, my supper last night was $6, but for that moolah I bought a lot: French Fries, a Big Mac, a Coke, a Chocolate Sundae, a Domino’s Pizza, and a Sprite. (my pizza was topped with diced hotdogs which may help explain why it was so cheap.)
The McDonalds was 3 stories tall and packed to the gills with people. I could only find a seat downstairs, outside, in the heat, amongst the smokers. (there was a seat open inside by the bathrooms, but it stunk there something royal so after enduring about 30 seconds I moved down with the smokers to gulp in secondhand tobacco along with my Big Mac.)
Another odd thing about my McDonalds experience was being the only non-Indonesian in the restaurant. Being a minority feels weird.
In fact, being a minority is one thing, but many places I’ve visited around the world (including Jakarta) I’m not just a minority, I’m an oddity! It’s a little unsettling to be gawked at like an orangutan in a zoo. Sometimes people even want my picture. Like today, this random girl wanted her picture taken with me, which I consented (she was cute enough), but the odd thing was she was obviously Muslim, covered from head to toe in nineteen yards of fabric, with only her face showing… I wouldn’t have thought someone so modest would be forward to the point of trying to get her picture taken with a complete stranger. But she did, and then I got my picture taken with her entire extended family (who were also there) and with her extended Jakarta clan (who were also there). Someday in the far future her great-grandkids will be flipping through photo albums and be like, “So who’s the white guy?”
In other news, I have roommates here in my hostel. One of whom is a long-haired Russian about my age with a prodigious number of tattoos. Another is an Indian (from India) and lastly, an Indonesian from some remote island.
So the Russian and I talked last night. I asked him what he thought about Putin, and he told me he thought Putin was a blankety piece of blank, but despite that, was great for the people, and he supported him. Along the lines of politics, he also told me he once lived in Portland, Oregon, and his biggest observation from there was how he got weary of hearing so much anti-Bush sentiment. And he assured me he hated Bush as much as the next person, it was just that after awhile it was like listening to a broken record.
So today I visited the Monas, a massive monument to the independence of Indonesia. It looks like some kind of gigantically anemic ice cream cone stuffed into the ground upside down:
Note from the above picture there is smog here… not much, just enough for certain locals to walk around wearing dust masks.
At the base of the monument (underneath the ground) there is a vast open room, gloomy, filled with people, and exhibits lining the walls detailing the history of Indonesia gaining its independence.
I noticed the exhibits weren’t all complimentary of their former Dutch occupiers. For instance, one plaque read:
The Forced Planting (1830-1870)
The people in Java were forced to grow plants which produce commodities being much in demand in Europe with a view of overcoming the financial crisis suffered by the Dutch as a result of popular up risings in Indonesia. Subsequently, the farmer had no time to cultivate their own and the result was general famine. On the contrary, it helped to make the Dutch prosperous and secure.
Surrounding the Monas is a spacious open park, pleasantly landscaped. Today there were thousands of people thronged there, primarily families enjoying a nice, relaxing outing.
Unfortunately, there is litter all over everywhere. To combat this problem, I observed numerous sanitation folks in orange suits sweeping up and bagging garbage.
I wondered why there was so much trash on the ground in the first place, but once I got to looking I noticed there were hardly any trash cans. I thought to myself, “Self, if they just installed some trash cans here, they wouldn’t have to pay all these cleaner-up people to fight this losing battle.” But then the cleaner-up people would be out of a job, so I suppose the system makes sense at some level.
I also visited the Indonesia Ethnological Museum today. I found the Papua exhibits most interesting, and even learned more about the Kotekas (mens “gourds”). There was a helpfully informative exhibit:
The museum had a bunch of old golden crowns too (some even inlaid with diamonds). They dated back some 500 years, and one had over 4 lbs of gold! You weren’t allowed to take pictures in the “treasures” area, so I just have to remember what they look like up in my brain. But seeing the headpieces made me wonder what sort of people wore them? The plaques claimed old Indonesian rulers wore them, whoever they were (probably long gone by now). But isn’t it interesting to try to imagine what type of pomp and ceremony those mysterious crowns must have seen?
There were also exhibits of old bones that were supposedly “missing links.” In America I’m sure there is a rule against displaying live skeletons in a museum, and especially out in the open like they did here!
Well, Jakarta Ja-smartuh, soon I’ll be in Tokyo, this stint here is only a glorified layover. And my stint in Tokyo will be short too…
The bad thing about being somewhere briefly is everything is a “first,” which means there is a steep and frustrating learning curve for getting around and finding places. For instance, now that I know where the bus station is and how to find the Monas (and McDonalds), it’s already time to leave!
I’ll end this post with a trivia question: Can you guess what the sign below is instructing the reader NOT to do? (it’s a sign from inside the airport)
Sorry this update wasn’t more spiritually uplifting… maybe it at least made you smile, and the Bible does say, “A cheerful heart brings a smile to your face; a sad heart makes it hard to get through the day.” (Proverbs 15:13, the Message)