Jakarta? Been there!
The Guardian has launched a new service ~ Been There
, full of handy tips for visitors to all kinds of places worldwide. Jakarta
already has loads, mainly contributed by John Aglionby, their correspondent here, but with one, so far, by yours truly."Unity in diversity," Indonesia's national motto (the capital is a microcosm of the country's 17,500 islands and 300 ethnic groups).
For many visitors Jakarta is at best a cesspit of life. But once one gets behind the facade of a riot-ravaged, wannabe modern metropolis that isn't quite likely to make it anytime soon, Indonesia's capital quickly gets under one's skin in a hard-to-explain sort of way.
It will never be the most charming unplanned urban sprawl the developing world has to offer and, yes, the traffic's a nightmare, yes, there are pollution problems and, yes, it's hard to walk anywhere considering the stifling humidity and lack of pavements. But the friendly faces, ubiquitous fatalistic attitude and sense of mystery that pervades the place from decades of political and social upheaval leave an indelible mark on anyone who ventures beyond their air-conditioned car and hotel.
Jakarta has all one would expect an Asian capital city to have - stunning, but poorly labelled artefacts in a crumbling national museum, a colonial era presidential palace, houses of worship that leave one thinking what might have been, if only ...
But to find Jakarta's soul one has to interact with the people; explore the pre-dawn Kebayoran Lama vegetable market, the bustle of Glodok's spittle-stained streets, the more refined serenity of Kemang's galleries and antique shops or the textile stalls of Pasar Baru. And then go to the wacky Indonesia in Miniature park to get a feel of the rest of the sprawling archipelago.
Two tips: don't ever be in a hurry - Indonesia is the nation that invented rubber time, and never ask a yes-no question because the answer's always "Yes Mister", even for women.
This introduction echoes the comments made about Culture Shock - Jakarta, written by my good friend Derek Bacon.
A humorous, jaded guide to living intelligently in Jakarta with an emphasis on practical issues from finding good food to avoiding social faux pas but also offering a succinct history and exploration of social and cultural issues. All-around excellent for any kind of traveler.