If you had told me ten years ago that I'd holiday in Jakarta, I'd have responded with the question, "Why?".
But here I am ten years into the future telling you about my break in Jakarta, a city that surprised me, inspired me and most of all welcomed me, answering "Why not?". Granted this isn't my first trip to Jakarta to be awed by its novelties, nor is it my first blog on it. But it is indeed 2011, two years since my last visit. Some opinions of the city got reaffirmed. Others, newly formed. In any case, it felt "new" again.
The first thing that struck me about the city (just like in 2009!), is how I felt about it. Being a very "touchy feely" sort of person, I often intuit my surroundings quickly, before I adjust behaviour or acclamatise to a new environemnt. My first feel of Jakarta was that it reminded me of Kuala Lumpur in the 1980s, when people were simpler, warmer and had more time. Amidst the high rise wonders and sleek, stylish malls, the people remained starkly simple. The economist would immediately attribute this to poverty and population; The entire Malaysian population fits in Jakarta alone. The artiste and the vagabond will immediately tell you however, that the people there wear their hearts on their sleeves and are not afraid to be who they really are. It is perhaps that energy that led me to soon feel as though I was accepted as an Indonesian, just as I had spoken one meagre sentence of the language. I felt little need thus, to adjust my behaviour to fit in, was minimal. Another deja-vu created, was by the greenery that co-exists inspite of skeel malls and high rise buildings.
Unlike other Malaysians, I seek to make a quick comparison to the other city that is close to my heart besides KL; Chennai, the home of my music education. The one thing that stood out as a great advantage to the traveller in Jakarta was that running AC taxis are available.
Yes, the traffic is horrendous as it can be in most third world cities. But the luxury of running taxis and that too, in tiers according to afordability, quickly creates options for travellers.In case that wasn't enough in terms of being sensitive to the public's needs, there is also the "ojek", or motorcycle taxi! This is the answer to beating the traffic at all costs! :-D Though not a viable option for all ocassions, still, it gives me the impression that the country is opening up to the advent of market forces. In comparison, in Chennai, if you wanted a running cab, you'd be left to a running auto-rickshaw, which means no AC and far less safety. My elderly mother naturally made a remark about how much easier it was to holiday with my Jakarta-resident brother than to do so with me in Chennai. Of course, it did leave me a little defensive about 'my' Chennai. I quickly retorted saying that the Nano could soon phase-out the entire auto-rickshaw presence and was happy to have had the last word. In my mind of course, the question remained whether Jakarta, though not my choice for a holiday if I wanted to attend the Margazhi Music Season, was indeed the answer to many families' budget trips that wanted all-year-round easy travel and a dab of culture entwined in a single trip.
Speaking of culture, another fact that made me feel entirely at home in Jakarta was their acceptance of ALL cultural and religious influences on their nation to date. They displayed Sanskrit inscripted stones and script even older than that, from the Hindu Tarumanagara Civilization. While their artifact preservation techniques in say the Fattahilah Museum (Kota)are questionable in my view, the acceptance of their history is show of true character and interest in knowing themselves.
Character is not only endowed by their heritage but also their deep rooted lives in visually inspiring, hand crafted art. Steeped in a culture of using their hands, this is no wonder! You can see statues in metal, erected throughout the city, depicting Hindu Mythology, recent ploitical leaders, and simply pieces that present the underlying psych of the people. What's more the use of the people's hands is also evident in the treatment of ailments and in pleasuring the senses - which brings me to the spa / Jamu / Urut culture of the land. It is no surprise thus, that almost every spa treatment outlet I went to, was booked to the brim by locals and foreign visitors alike.
Overall, I think coutries like Malaysia and India could perhaps start looking to the gem of South East Asia a little harder; Perhaps they can begin to learn little things that they may have missed out on, while caught up on their journey for acknowledgement on the world map.
As for me, in Jakarta, I know that I am one ojek ride away from the next Ramayana based Wayang performance; Pieces of Indian and Malay culture rolled into one? Can't wait!