Sunday, October 07, 2007

Shootin' the Breeze in Jakarta

So I am in Jakarta. Working. Travel to exotic locales is infinitely less interesting when all you ever see is your hotel room, the back of a taxi and the inside of an office in a high-rise building. (There are a bunch of high-rises here in Jakarta, rising out the smog like mountains above the cloud line.)

The trip over was uneventful – though I did have my most interesting breakfast to date at the airport hotel in Tokyo. Boiled fish paste with wasabi, seaweed, pickled vegetables, and a stack of silver dollar pancakes. Not bad, all things considered. Way better than the in-flight eel.

Today is Sunday, so I took the day off to see the tourist sites that Jakarta has to offer. In deciding how I was going to get across down to the historic district, I had two choices. Go WorldBank, and take an air-conditioned taxi, or let the inner backpacker come out a play a bit, and get on the public train.

[Little background on the transportation scene here: it sucks. The city is built to handle the traffic of a middle income developing country, then apparently surprised the city planners one morning by waking up the fifth biggest city in the world. Gridlock is the rule during rush hour, and it can take 2 hours to go 6 or 7 miles. Walking would be faster, but those same forward looking city planners opted not to include sidewalks in their designs. Nothing moves fast enough to kill you if it hit you, but it hotter than hell here with dizzying level of pollution. The train serves a limited area but is the fastest way to get around many times, if you can get on. The cars look like low-rent versions of the NYC subway cars from the 1980s, with the graffiti and less than subtle eau d’urine flavoring. At rush hour, the cars move slowly along the tracks, with hundreds crammed inside, scores hanging off the holes-that-would-be-doors-had-there-been-doors, wind-surfer style, and a couple hundred more sprawled across the roof.]

I chose train over traffic. And was lucky to get a pole two rows in from the windsurfers by the open door. Good breeze.

So eventually I arrived in the historic district. It was certainly old. There were the remnants of the Dutch colonial presence, your standard cannons, lighthouses and now-fetid canals. The lighthouse was actually pretty neat because no one had bothered to block off the dangerous bits (I love countries without liability laws), and you could climb all the way out on to the shingled roof, balance with the weather vain, and check out the harbor. It was actually not a bad view. Good breeze.

Other highlights included: The puppet museum, with incredible intricate hand cut paper shadow puppets. I had wanted to see a performance, but there are none until the holy month of Ramadan ends [Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world], so I had to make do with poking around the displays. The old Dutch officers club, still teak paneling and ceiling fans, but they let any old yahoo come in now and order strawberry juice. The Chinese quarter, which like every Chinese quarter in the world, is characterized by colorful temples and confusingly inexpensive electronics. And those little turtles.

Sorry this isn’t more interesting this time. Like I mentioned, that whole work thing puts a damper on the adventure. Things should pick up over the next couple weeks, I am going to spend the long weekend for the end of Ramadan backpacking in Bali, then we are going pilot testing in a couple of the more remote parts of the country. I’ll try to take pictures of the head-hunters after we interview them – I am not really sure how the cannibals feel about cameras, but I am not going to push the issue too much.


DoktorJericho said...

Where do those little turtles come from? And why? I find them really disturbing. -J

L A L O said...

Will read the next posting you write, I want to know what else I miss in Jakarta besides the wonderful looks-like-mexico-city traffic and the head hunters....
by the way, your blog motivated me to start mine, and the layout is very similar...hope you dont have copyrights about it...enjoy the island