The other day, I was browsing through old photos of mine, and I came upon a collection from my visit to Jakarta years ago. The photos were mostly over-exposed and poorly-taken. They were shot pre-Saudi Arabia, where I eventually picked up a Nikon 7100 and took some online photography courses.
But there’s something about their rawness that appealed to me. It reminded me of my lonesome journey through Jakarta and Indonesia’s countryside.
When the ruling Al Maktoum dynasty formed a tourism haven out of one of its seven Emirates, Dubai, they were dead-set on a vision: bigger is better. And located far to the East, across the Asian continent, the Indonesian city of Jakarta tries to emulate this essence, but with a visible flaw.
Everywhere, broken roads chink the city’s grand vision–an affluence of modern buildings built on the shoulders of seeming-poverty.
Where the money comes from to build, let alone spend on, such luxury certainly puzzled me.
Despite the country’s petroleum income, the majority of the population lives on several hundred dollars a month. But with an archipelago of islands numbering in the thousands–and which boasts places like Bali and Yogyakarta–wealth is of little importance. Plenty of adventures are to be had, and travelers to be met, in its paradise of a landscape.
Jakarta, however, felt like a lonely place.
I walked the city streets with very few expat encounters.
For a megapolis, it was very, very foreign.
Actually, it was very similar in feeling to what I experienced in Sa Dec, Vietnam. Most of the locals stared, but never tried to befriend me. If anything, I felt like a walking exhibit, people’s eyes possibly drawn in wonder of what life was like abroad. But I was still always that: an object of interest.
Unlike the bustling streets of Bangkok, where I noticed an inviting and eclectic mix of locals and expats, Jakarta was a reserved grandfather whose grand-children curiously peeked at you.
I did find Western comforts in Jakarta.
I went to the movies and the attendant asked if I wanted to watch my movie in the Velvet Room. Now in Bangkok, this may have been misconstrued as something else. But in Jakarta, the velvet room was not at all a normal theater with seats. It was a theater with beds.
A chamber full of king-sized beds, and uniformed waiters rushing up and down the aisles and taking orders for wines and snacks. I counted thirty beds in all and a movie screen so large it put my I-max experiences to shame.
I closed the day with a sushi dinner in a restaurant with a glass floor, underneath which swam a school of fish.
Hopefully, not the same being served on the rice.
This debauchery was just a microcosm of the luxury against poverty you will find in Jakarta, but all the while, I felt the sadness. The loneliness. I loved the place, but I just didn’t get the upbeat vibe I got in places like Laos or Thailand. I think it may have been because half of my time there was spent during the holy month of Ramadan.
Or maybe the wonderful people of Jakarta wanted to get to know me, but they just needed more time. And I regretted the shortness of my stay because it was most welcoming to a man seeking refuge after a traumatic experience back home.
You know, it’s odd that I even wrote this post after over a year of blogging, since it was actually the first foreign city I visited following the robbery at my home in the U.S.
Visiting Jakarta was the first thing I did.
So I am wondering if I should soon re-visit it.
But, next time I do, I’ll be sure to bring with me the key to unlock its smile.
I’ll bring some time. I’ll bring some patience.
Have you visited Jakarta before? What did you think of it? Would you live there?