Return to the Big Durian!

17 Jul

I’ve written about Jakarta before and been here a few times now but this trip is the first time I’ve really made an effort to do anything that vaguely resembles any type of sightseeing. That said I have been here on business so there has been the necessity to do some work.

After arriving in the centre of town I did something which seems natural in Jakarta- I went to the mall and ate some Western food. Yes not the most cultural of experiences (or is it in Jakarta) but the Grand Indonesia complex is amazing- heaps of levels of shops and when I saw a Pho 24 stall well I couldn’t resist the temptation. Then I met a few friends for dinner and we went to a pizza place where we enjoyed pizza and red wine which again while not very Indonesian was rather enjoyable.

So the next morning after a meeting I thought I’d take advantage of how close I was to Monas and finally see what it was all about. It was… well previously I thought the negative reviews from friends were a bit harsh- honestly it wasn’t that bad but it really wasn’t that great. I did find the dioramas at the bottom celebrating the liberation of Irian Jaya and the Integration of East Timor pretty hilarious and if I was the leader of a large country I’d probably build myself an incredibly large monument and deck it out with gold but would I go back to Monas? Probably not.

The National Monument (Monas)

I did have a couple of funny experiences around Monas though- firstly in the taxi going there where the driver was quite the character and tried to convince me to give him my sunglasses in exchange for the taxi fare. That wasn’t going to happen so instead he asked me why so many Western men like Indonesian women. Couldn’t help him there. Then standing beside the road trying to flag a taxi next to Merdeka Square a procession of tanks drove past and all the gunners on top wished me good morning and waved. It seemed rather fitting given the history of the area and it was definitely quite strange.

The afternoon saw me do some more work before meeting up with another lucky person currently enduring thesis writing for coffee which turned into a lovely walk around the neighbourhood and dinner at an amazing little restaurant called Restoran Trio which has been around since the 1940s and all its menus are written in the old style of Indonesian spelling. The place is famous with Indonesian scholars and it was great to hopefully become a part of that history. We also bought beers from the petrol station and drank them in the street watching the traffic jam- only in Indonesia.

Restoran Trio- Charming little place

Jakarta is not really known as a particularly pleasant or even safe part of Indonesia and to be completely honest there isn’t a huge tourist appeal to the place however there are some hidden gems. It was an interesting trip for me because I did 3 things which I have never done before;

  1. Catch a non-Bluebird taxi- not recommended for non-Indonesian speakers or first timers to Jakarta. Express is a reasonable company but it is good to have a vague idea where you’re going and be able to communicate with the driver
  2. Walk around- not something that has appealed to me in the past but it is a really lovely way to experience Jakarta. Use common sense of course. I even walked across an overpass which seemed a bit dodgy but there were plenty of police around due to me being in the CBD.
  3. Ride on an ojek (motorbike taxi)- Only really good for short trips unless you are keen. Jakarta is full of one way streets so these little things are the best way to avoid the horrific traffic by taking back streets or the “Honda highway” (footpaths, tiny spaces between cars etc)

So that’s Jakarta. I could live here but would slip pretty much into the expat life and frequent a lot of Western restaurants which although is not really getting in touch with Indonesian culture it is a fun way to spend time in the city. It’s probably worth a visit for a quick introduction to Indonesian history with some of the museums not updated in recent years and still showing the glorious patriotism of the 1970s.

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