At a recent dinner inside a five-star hotel fronting Jakarta’s most-photographed roundabout, hosted by a visiting uncle, an Emirati diplomat based in Hong Kong recounted her experience of a weekend traffic jam from a beauty parlor down south. “On the way here, the driver told me it would be another 15 minutes but it was really 45. I wanted to hang myself!” she half-jokingly declared. “How do you even live here?” Read more
Posts tagged ‘Jakarta’
Jakarta is not a beautiful place. Not, at least, in the conventional sense. No decent travel publication would describe this gridlocked, teeming megalopolis of 10 million people – or 28 million if you include the surrounding suburbs and smaller cities – as “picturesque”, “stunning”, or “postcard-perfect”. Unlucky commuters associate the Indonesian capital with unbearable, hours-long traffic jams; civil engineers proclaim it the fastest-sinking city on the planet; and environmentalists warn of Jakarta’s worsening air and plastic pollution. In short, it is not the kind of place most people would fly halfway around the world to see. Read more
The last time the Asian Games were hosted here in Jakarta, exactly 56 years ago, it left an indelible mark on the cityscape. A slew of landmarks and infrastructure developments owe their creation to the event: these include the iconic Welcome Monument (as shown in the photo above) and the Hotel Indonesia next door, which was the first modern five-star hotel in the nascent country and the official lodgings for dignitaries and sports leaders back in 1962. Read more
Many moons ago, at the height of rainy season, I left the office in the middle of a howling storm. The lashing rain was blown almost horizontally in the wind, and my umbrella, now turned inside-out, was practically useless. This was, I thought, almost like the typhoons I had grown up experiencing in Hong Kong. Much of the usual route home was covered with murky, ankle-deep water; in nine months of walking from work, I had never encountered this much flooding. Read more
Handa stared at me in wide-eyed shock. Over lunch in the basement canteen of our office tower, another young coworker had told us a month-long trip to Europe was an exercise in self-discovery. I quipped that Jakarta – and Indonesia by extension – was the place where I’d found myself.
“How could you find your soul in such a soulless city?” Read more
What if I told you impossible dreams could come true? Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know of my serious obsession with Indonesia, where I have taken eight trips (including a three-month stint) in the past four years. Through a series of fortuitous circumstances far beyond my control, I have now left Hong Kong to start a new job in Jakarta. Read more
“Congratulations!” Bama smiled, his eyes lighting up as he spoke. “You’re officially Indonesian.”
But there was no revocation of passports, no oath of citizenship to a new country. I had simply confessed my newfound love of ikan asin, a humble assortment of dried fish that crackled with each bite. Served with roasted peanuts, the sweet-savoury combination was so enticing that I truthfully told Bama, “I could just have it with rice.” Through these words I had unknowingly echoed the exact sentiment shared by thousands – if not millions – of diners across his native archipelago. Read more
“Indonesia huh? You going there to eat?”
The hairdresser chuckled at the thought.
I smiled and mentioned Mount Bromo, but not before admitting my excitement about the spicy cuisine. Nasi – rice – was perhaps the first word I learned in Bahasa Indonesia. This was followed by ayam and sapi – chicken and beef, cumi (squid), udang (shrimp), timun (cucumber) and eventually, terong (eggplant). Months ahead of the trip, Bama had told me about sambal, traditional chilli sauce with an untold number of variations. Read more
My memories of that first trip to Jakarta, before the Asian Financial Crisis of 97 and Suharto’s fall from grace, are few and far between. I remember only specific details: the tiled roof of the international airport terminal, yellow-tinted water running out from a tap, and the two figures with outstretched arms on Tugu Selamat Datang – the ‘Welcome Monument’ built ahead of the 1962 Asian Games. Read more