Jakarta: One Day You’ll Smile

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Main Highway in downtown Jakarta, Indonesia. There are care and motorcycles, and a vintage, old look to the picture.

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.

The river slums and shanty houses in the poor districts of Jakarta, Indonesia.
Small rivers, next to which lay slums and shanty houses, bordered the city of Jakarta.

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.

A plate of fried snakes served in a restaurant in Jakarta, Indonesia.
I always order local delicacies when visiting places. These fried snakes tasted a tad bitter 😉

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.

The velvet room in Jakarta, Indonesia. A cinema full of king-sized beds with purple velvet pillows.
Watching movies in style at the Velvet room in Jakarta. If I recall right, the movie price was about $15.

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.

A cloudy Indonesian countryside near Jakarta. The hills and rolling green and the panoramic landscape beautiful, despite the cloudy sky.
There’s something to be said about taking a drive outside the city and enjoying the beautiful countryside of Indonesia.

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?


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6 comments on “Jakarta: One Day You’ll Smile

  1. It was in the year 2010, when i visited Indonesia.I am a banker, so you know i was short of time to meet my gf neny maulina living in JKT.She proved to be good guide and loving care taker for me.i visited Jakarta,jogia karta, and bali. My tour was just for 10 days.yaa, this is city of sadness, But I was not sad here, becoz neny was with me,She travelled to all sites with me, except bali where i visted alone, I spent only one night there.I had bad experience there, While i was out to a Internet cafe, I saw a indo girl standing in neaby street, with her bike, and saying some thing. I stopped and asked her in english , what she wanted. She said,relations.for money.She followed me to my hotel.
    Hotel Receptionist called me, while i was in my room, that a girl want to come in your room, should i allow her, I declined the offer.
    The other thing i noticed was dishonesty on the part of sale girls deployed at shops.
    These girls often deceive you, in money paid by you, or in exchange. They also, slip one or more things bought by you, which you will check while reach your hotel, and later no one accepts your claim. Yes, this is a muslim state.
    So please be careful.

  2. Having visited Jakarta myself and spoke to others about it I tend to agree with you. I would go so far as to say it should be avoided. As two female travellers we didn’t feel safe on the streets during the day and didn’t dare go out at night. This was our last stop on a whirlwind tour of SE Asia and Indonesia and we very quite disappointed with it. We never felt unsafe on any part of the trip. We spent our time enjoying our hostels DVD collection and our one night stay in a luxury hotel.

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