Sunday, November 20, 2016

Exploring Jakarta, Indonesia

Written by Karen.

Several hundred years ago, Batavia was a walled settlement for the Dutch East India Company that became their dominant hub of a thriving shipping spice trade for centuries to come.  The wooden ships of their day, full of spices as well as other cash crops of coffee, silk, perfume, opium, slaves and tobacco docked in the nearby port of Sunda Kelopa Harbor and were subsequently unloaded for sale.  

Today Batavia is known as Kota Tua Jakarta, the old town within the capital city of Jakarta, Indonesia. The current city of Jakarta has grown up and around the few remaining remnants of Batavia, although there is an attempt to try and rescue what is left of the decaying Dutch buildings.  

We started our visit to Kota Tua Jakarta by visiting the historical and working port of Sunda Kelopa Harbor.  Surprisingly, the old wooden boats, called pinisi, are the traditional Indonesian two-masted sailboats that were used hundreds of years ago and are being used today to transport materials within the Indonesian archipelago.  It is a glimpse into history to see how goods were transported and to see the immense manual labor that is required to load and unload bags of concrete, rice or other products today.  

At first, I wasn’t exactly sure that we were in the right place.  Dust flew, the high heat and humidity shimmered, horns honked, people shouted, trucks blew past us and cranes swung overhead.  But the guard waved us over, and then waved us through the gate when we had given him the required rupiah to enter. Without further adieu, we were in. 

Unloading bags of rice from the truck onto the rope net.  Once loaded, the rope net will be pulled up and lifted onto the ship.  
Bags being unloaded from the ship directly onto the back of a flatbed truck.  
These gangplanks were used throughout the dock area.  They are about 12 inches wide and shake and shudder whenever they are walked on.  

Adam and I were walking down this very busy main road watching all of the activity and noticed the crane that was moving containers from a pretty big stack onto these empty truck haulers.  We stopped and watched, still incredulous that we were allowed to freely walk around such a busy and active shipyard.  

A man on the other side of the road was walking along and looking at his phone and didn't notice that he was walking directly under where the crane was lifting a container.  The crane operator was shouting and honking, but the guy didn't notice.  Another man came out of a small office and started waving at the guy.  The guy finally looked up from his phone to see this container swaying back and forth over his head.  He got out of the way pretty quickly.  

This picture shows the stack of containers on the right, the empty green truck hauler waiting for the container seen being moved.  You can also see the legs of the guy on the phone walking obliviously without noticing the possible danger above his head.  
Many of these old, traditional boats have seen many years of service and could probably tell quite a story or two.  I found their patina, chips, rust, and streaks beautiful.  I suppose as I get older, I appreciate seeing the authentic effects of life on boats, or on people's faces.  

The main road in-and-out of the Sunda Kelopa Harbor.  Trucks rumble in, load up, and then rumble back out again.  It was a very active shipyard and it was very cool to see a glimpse of the traditional boats and working port traditions in action. 

We eventually sought refuge from the heat and dust of the boat docks and wandered through the winding streets, dodging traffic (we still have to overcome our long-held instincts and look right first when crossing the street!) and walking over to the area of Old Town.  

Adam can see the potential beauty in almost any broken down property.  I can see it in this one too.  Even the soft patina of the colors is beautiful.  

A wall that caught my eye
I am often asked to be interviewed here.  In South Korea, it was all about Adam.  University students who are studying English ask basic questions such as: How are you?  Where are you from? What food did you eat today? Do you like Indonesia? Usually it is one female and one male that comprise these interview teams.  

I try to answer the questions in basic English for each student.  Each interview is videotaped for proof of assignment completion.  It takes awhile, but I love doing it.  The students are so happy and so nervous about using English.  I love being able to encourage them and tell them that they are doing great.  After the interview, Adam and I usually wind up talking to them about their life plans and we walk away after exchanging contact information.

People that we come into contact with are heart-warmingly friendly.  We don’t speak much of each other’s language, but time-and-time again, we are offered directions and personal interactions with smiles, interest and kindness.  I am finding myself becoming a bit besotted with the people of Indonesia.

On a different topic, this was the last picture taken with my favorite hat.  I wound up leaving it in a Jakartan taxi later in the day.  It was a particularly personal blow, as I purchased that hat two days after Julie's death when we participated in a brain tumor fundraising walk in Portland.  I know that it's just a 'thing', but losing the hat brought back the pain of losing Julie again. 

We had lunch at the colonial throwback and highly recommended Cafe Batavia.  The dark woods under foot and dark fans swirling above highlight exquisite furnishings and draperies.  There are pictures of dignitaries, guests and officials on the walls.  The Cafe offers exceptional food and exquisite service in a quiet and unobtrusive manner.  

It was my first time eating in a place that I can easily imagine life in the Dutch East India Company world.  Although we had a lovely lunch, when you stopped to look around the room and see the history that surrounded you, it's a bit disconcerting.   

While the outside looks contemporary and cafe-ish, the building is actually the 2nd oldest building in central Jakarta, with construction beginning in 1805.  
The downstairs view of the Batavia Cafe.  Upstairs is the beautiful formal dining room, a bar, and where we were served lunch.  

During lunch, we would look out the window and watch the activities going on in Fatahillah Square, formerly Batavia City Square in Old Town, Kota Tua Jakarta.
This was a popular pastime.  These colorful bicycles, with color-coordinated hats for the woman and bamboo hats for the man, can be rented and offer seemingly endless opportunities for selfies, friendly dares, and overall hilarity.  

After exploring Old Town Jakarta, we rode the free air-conditioned tourist bus around the sprawling downtown of central Jakarta and stopped to visit the National Monument.   This monument symbolizes the struggle of Indonesia to become an independent nation.  

Once inside, we spent time in the National History Museum that detailed and illustrated Indonesian history over the years.  I learned that Indonesia was occupied by the Japanese during WW2 and that the Dutch did not let go of Indonesia easily.  Indonesia declared its independence on August 17, 1945.  But, it took several decades more for the Netherlands and Indonesia to work things out.  


We are taller and larger than the average Indonesian person.  And despite this being a weekday, it was crowded as we waited our turn to enter the single elevator that would take us to the top of the 433-foot tall Flame of Independence tower.  The heat and humidity outside the building was nothing compared to the miasma of heat, sweat and humidity that were rising from our bodies as we all waited together in close quarters for the only elevator to open its doors. 

Ding.  The elevator door slowly opened.  Everyone surged forward.  Any semblance of an orderly line had long been discarded.  But this time, it was our time to enter the elevator - maybe.  The elderly, wizened elevator operator sat on his stool, taking up about a quarter of the available floor space in the small elevator.  Adam and I were finally in.  It was a tight fit, but everyone inside the elevator was looking at each other and smiling with collective relief.  

Then, a high-pitched squeal started.  Our smiles faded.  What was that? The elevator operator was talking to Adam.  Adam looked at him uncomprehendingly.  We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.  But whatever the elevator operator was saying was gaining traction with the others.  And then someone pointed at the passenger weight limit of the elevator:  11 persons, or 800 kg.  I quickly did the math.  There were only 9 people on-board, 10 if you included the elevator operator.  But, with an 800 kg limit, that might be the problem.  The elevator doors opened and Adam stepped out.  

The high-pitched squealing stopped.  “Ahh”, came the collective response from the elevator passengers.  But there was evidently more room - or available weight - still left on the elevator.  The elevator operator pointed to a slight man who was waiting, who jumped into the elevator with a big smile.  Ok.  No high-pitched wail.  So far, so good.  It was like a game of Jenga.  

But I was still inside the elevator.  I pushed my way to the elevator doors and walked off the elevator towards Adam.  We would have to try again - together.  

After a few minutes of the elevator operator picking and choosing another person to fit within the weight guidelines, Ding.  Off they went.  Fifteen minutes later, we eventually made it up to the observation deck.  

Green, manicured downtown Jakarta - Scenes from the bus

The entrance to the National Monument.  
The Flame of Independence is covered in gold foil.
The view from the observation deck.  The day we were at the top was a bit smoggy, but it was still a great view.  The park that surrounds the monument is the largest amount of green space in Jakarta.  
Another view from the observation deck.  The Istiqlal Mosque and of the Jakarta Cathedral can be seen in this picture.  

I had read about the Istiqlal Mosque as well as the Jakarta Cathedral that was built across the street.  Both places of worship are visible from the observation deck of the National Monument.  Adam and I had previously visited the National Mosque of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur and spent hours visiting the very interesting Islamic Arts museum there.  

It was a last-minute decision to visit the Istiqlal Mosque here in Jakarta, but I was keen to see it, as it is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia and has a capacity of 120,000 people.  For a little perspective and according to Wikipedia, the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California is the 17th largest stadium in the world and can hold 92,542 people. 

There was a steady stream of people coming and going from Istiqlal Mosque.  We passed the police checkpoint, where they inspected our camera bag, smiled and welcomed us into the mosque.  I asked if there was an entrance fee and the police officer smiled and said, “free”, before gesturing elegantly with his arm for us to enter inside.  We got in one of the long but rapidly moving lines to give our shoes up for storage.  It is customary to remove your shoes while inside the mosque.  

“Hello, you a tourist?” said the young man in jeans and white shirt.  “Tourists, come this way,” said another young man in jeans and a tee-shirt.  They saw us in line.  “You come with us.”  I thought, "How nice.  They’re going to give us some information about the mosque just like the one that we went to in Kuala Lumpur."  There we had spent about an hour with a young Muslim woman who spoke to us about Islam and a typical day in her life.  I found the whole experience of open communication and personal sharing of our lives hopeful and very interesting.  

Back in Jakarta, the young man in jeans and white shirt escorted us to a small room off to the side.  “Please sign”. He pointed down to a binder with a few names.  I looked to see where the other tourists had come from:  China.  England.  Thailand. 

Adam signed us in.  The young man asked whether or not we would like to make a donation to the mosque.  I clarified, "Voluntary?"  His English wasn’t that good and I wondered how we were going to understand what he was going to tell us about the mosque. I was open to the idea of making a donation at the conclusion of our visit, if I was personally moved to do so.  He shook his head.  “No, 65,000 rupiah each. Now.”

Brief change of topic.  When we were preparing for our short-lived Pan American road trip down to Ushuaia, we also prepared for the possibility of being shaken down or asked to pay a bribe.  Adam and I decided that our policy was going to be that we weren’t going to pay any bribes.  If we were issued a ticket because of something that we did wrong, we would pay it, but we weren’t going to pay a bribe if at all possible.  It turns out that we never were asked to pay a bribe of any sort on that particular trip, despite driving over 10,000 miles.

I watched Adam quickly walk across the room and retrieve his shoes from the wooden box.  “What?” I asked.  Adam replied, “Let's go.  You should get your shoes - We're leaving.”  I didn’t understand.  I shook my head and looked over to the young man in jeans. I told him,  “But, it’s free to visit this mosque.”  The young man glanced at the open door.  I followed his eyes.  I hoped we were all having a communication misunderstanding that could be quickly cleared up. Maybe someone else was coming in that we could talk to.  

 “Ok.  65,000 rupiah total,”  he said.  My heart sank as his price dropped in half.  There was no doubt.  It was a shakedown.  Adam had figured it out before I did.  I got my shoes.  Adam was already waiting by the open door.  The young man wearing jeans and a white shirt shut his binder of tourist names and quickly disappeared into the mass of people.  

Sometimes things don’t work out the way you think or expect will happen.  This has happened before, and it will happen again.  We’ll consider going back to Istiqlal Mosque again in the future, a little wiser and now prepared for the unexpected.  I’m empathetic to people’s different financial issues, choices, opportunities and strategies.  I have a choice as well: to pay a bribe - in this situation - or walk away.  We chose to walk away. 

The National Mosque of Malaysia located in Kuala Lumpur
Besides taking off our shoes, the other requirement to enter the National Mosque of Malaysia was for women to wear a purple robe.  I didn't see if this was also a requirement for the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, but we will find out when we try to visit again in the future and get a little further inside.  


gunnlaug said...

Det må være en fantastisk opplevelse ! Hilsen Gunnlaug

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hi Gunnlaug! Thanks for following along with us. Flott å høre fra deg. Takk for henvendelsen og følge sammen med oss. Du ville elske det her. Så mye å se / gjøre. Love, Karen