I am born of the city. THE City we would say. New York City. And before I arrive in Jakarta from Sumatra I have imagined it to be New York-like, far more say than artificial financial processing urban entities such as Hong Kong and Singapore. And although I’ve mostly been drawn to rural areas and village/indigenous people on my travels, Jakarta seemed to have enough about it from my pre-trip research that I chose to make it my base for five full days. Sometimes even I can be soooo wrong …
Jakarta, it turns out, is just an impossible city - tied with Dar es Salaam for least bearable city I have ever visited. To get anywhere more than a short walk in Jakarta is a major challenge. Many streets and intersections are flooded. It rain daily while I was there. Nothing but terribly crowded superhighways - with occasionally free high-speed bus lanes - connect the city. In places the highways are five lanes in each direction, with curiously close non-automated toll plazas where the travel lanes are constricted and narrowed for tedious hand-to-hand cash transactions and change making. The airport is 20 minutes away from downtown without traffic. At most times you must plan on it being a two hour trip.
My guesthouse in Jakarta is itself perfectly lovely, more or less centrally located at the end of an alley off a street with numerous street vendors, shops, and restaurants none of which I ever partake of, down the block from a very noisy mosque, along a fast flowing canal which fills with afternoon and evening rains. The neighborhood is near one of Jakarta’s major hospitals. During my stay three separate men show me the scars on their arms where veins were harvested before their open-heart vein-graft bypass surgeries. One such man is continuously smoking. I wonder how the operations are paid for and who makes the decision as to how the medical resources are allocated.
Aside from it being exceedingly difficult to get around in Jakarta the main attraction of the city appears to be shopping malls, each more depressing than the other. There is also a decent smattering of Kentucky Fried Chickens, Burger Kings, Starbucks, and Dunkin Donuts, all selling their products at U.S. prices.
The skies are smoggy all day.
There is a halfway decent national museum.
The highlight of my time in Jakarta is a culinary excursion to Bandung that I am taken on by my friend and former cabin mate Roi, who I met at the Yogapoint Ashram in Nasik, where we spent a month together two years ago, and by his friend/ex-girlfriend Melia. Roi wants to be a Buddhist monk. He also feels an obligation to care and provide for his aging parents. Roi is such a sweet man. I can’t guess what will happen for him next.
And that my friends is the long and the short of my Jakarta experience, five days trying to get somewhere I end up not wanting to be, in a fantastically crowded metropolis, with block after block of massive skyscraper apartment buildings looking for all the world like Coop City in the East Bronx, another place it is hard to get anywhere from and that no one really wants to be.