City Life: Jakarta

The final two days of my Indonesian trip were spent in Jakarta.  I arrived at the train station at 4:30am. After queuing for a taxi for thirty minutes, I drowsily took in the dim sights of the city.  There was much more green than I was expecting which was a nice surprise.  At 5am, I pulled up to FX Mall.  A friend of a friend and her husband live in the apartments above the shopping center and had agreed to let me stay with them.

I slept till 9.  When I woke up I talked with my hosts for a while. They’re American, they met my friend (whom I met in Shanghai) in college. It was really great to have company and I enjoyed them a lot! I felt kind of bad though, because the wife was sick. Their 13th floor apartment overlooked a baseball field and driving range.

Night view from hosts' apartment.

Night view from hosts’ apartment.

Once everyone was up for the day, we ventured downstairs to the mall for a leisurely breakfast (though, it was definitely lunch time). By the time we returned, most museums were either closed or closing in the next 30 minutes and they would be closed the next day, on Monday, as well. I was a little disappointed, because I had gone to Jakarta primarily to visit museums, but a little relieved that I could take it easy.  I went back to sleep.

Besides museums there were a few other items on my ‘must do’ list:

□ Go to the old city
□ Buy souvenirs for my staff
□ Get a new journal
□ Buy a dictionary (I didn’t end up buying one in Jogja)
□ Visit the National Monument
□ Buy Indonesian DVDs and CDs

Before we went out to dinner that night, we stopped by to get DVDs.  I wanted to buy an Indonesian TV series but they didn’t have any, only Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Thai. I bought two Indonesian movies (5cm and RectoVerso) and three CDs (one included the song I had heard the day before at the ATM!). We went to a barbeque ribs place for dinner.  I had pulled pork quesadillas. They were good, but the selection of condiments stands out in my mind more than the actual food, which, I guess isn’t that strange for me. I liked the local barbeque sauce the best cause it was the spiciest! I’ve always wondered why people travel to Asia and eat at Western places. Seeing as how I was so excited for good barbeque because I couldn’t get it where I lived, I think I learned a little empathy that night.

The next day, I had breakfast at my favorite coffee place: Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. After that I caught a cab to the National Monument.  To be honest, I kind of just wanted to walk up to it and leave.  But, the words of my ex-boyfriend’s racist mother popped into my head (when I had told her that though I had the opportunity to play in Carnegie Hall, I wasn’t really interested, I was thenceforth labeled as the typical lazy black person. If you ever happen to read this by the way, I played there after all!).  Now, if I’m tempted to do something half-ass, I hear her remarking on how lazy black people are. So, whatever, I walked around the whole thing. It took far longer than I had planned and than it should have.  There was construction, poor signage, the whole system of getting inside the thing to the underground museum was convoluted.  There were entrances you couldn’t enter and exits you couldn’t exit, it was kind of a mess. Interesting. But, still a mess.

The Monumen Nasional (MONAS).

The Monumen Nasional (MONAS).

Next I went to the Old City.  I told the taxi driver to take me to the Cafe Batavia.  He took me instead to some random hotel on the other side of a bridge, and then when I didn’t have exact change, just drove off with the extra. I wouldn’t have minded tipping if he had actually dropped me off at the right place. But alas, he did not, and I was lost.  I eventually found the right place (which we had passed in the taxi on our way to the wrong place) and went in.

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Cafe Batavia is inside a 200-year-old colonial building. Inside they were playing big band music and there was a stage that looked perfect for a live band.  Actually, in my mind I envisioned a whole dance floor space and lindy hoppers in vintage dance clothes.  There were some Christmas decorations up as well and so my inagination was back at it–this place would be perfect for a Christmas swing night with a live band!

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I was really just there to see the building, but Allicia (the woman I was staying with) suggested I get something to eat or drink, too. I picked something at random from the Indonesian drink menu. Peanuts were listed in the ingredients so I thought I had to try it. I also got a Sprite just in case it was gross.

Not only was it NOT gross, it was the best thing I had the whole time I was there! Its name was Wedang Sekoteng and I was in love.  It’s a warm ginger-based drink that includes white bread, green beans, peanuts, Chinese girlfriend (which, what in the world is that??), pandan leaves, crushed lemongrass, and sugar. So, so good!  I’d love to be able to make this, but can you just imagine me trying to find the ingredients?  Excuse me, where can I find Chinese girlfriend?

Wedang Sekoteng. My new favorite drink.

Wedang Sekoteng. My new favorite drink.

After I finished my drink, I explored the building and guess what I found  on the staircase filled with photographs (Mom, this one’s for you!)?

Louis Armstrong making my face!

Louis Armstrong making my face!

I always smile like this.  No, it’s not my real smile. But it’s my funny, joking around smile.  Everyone always asks me why I make it, particularly my mom. “Lish, you have such a beautiful smile, why do you always have to make that face?”  Now I can respond, “Cause Satchmo used to make it!”

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I walked around the old city for a bit and was about to hail a cab back when I spotted a man selling Durian ice cream.  After the wonderful payoff from the earlier drink risk, I decided to try it.  It wasn’t bad at all!  I ended up walking for no less than an hour, maybe an hour and a half trying to catch a taxi.  I suppose walking outside beats sitting in a car stuck in traffic.

Before dinner my last night, I went shopping for something for my staff. I decided on Balinese peanuts and locally-produced Monggo chocolate.  Allicia had told me that the ginger/dark chocolate combination was good and she was right. It was amazing! Hm, maybe I’m just easy to please when there’s ginger involved.

We ate downstairs at the mall that night and I got to try more Indonesian food: gado gado (salad of boiled vegetables covered in peanut sauce), tumis kangkung (stir-fried morning glory?), tahu kipas (stuffed tofu), nasi gurih (coconut rice), jukut urap (spicy stir-fried jackfruit salad), sate ayam and kambing, and kopi jahe (ginger-spiced coffee).  It was a great farewell dinner and it made me much more appreciative of Indonesian cuisine. I especially liked jukut urap because I like jackfruit and had never had it cooked.

Indonesia in summary

Overall, I really loved the time I spent in Indonesia.  I’d love to return for a longer visit in the future.  I wonder if I had gone there first after college, if I would have ended up a SE Asian Studies grad student and have returned to work in or with a museum there now.  That’s one of those ghost ships that I’ll never know, but this I do know. I’m not done with Indonesia yet: its language, its social issues, its arts, its people, its history. I’m looking forward to what other discoveries result from me looking further into the things I began learning about  on this trip!

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