Such are the contrasts of modern Jakarta a city of 23 million peopleand the capital of Indonesia. Much of the downtown is populated by tall buildings (30-40 stories) which would remind you of any major American city. Any space not occupied by a building or public green space seems to have a construction crane or building project. This is not a walking city, everything is spread out and the cars and motorbikes vie for the right of way with taxis and bajajs. I take taxis everywhere except to work which is across the road from my hotel. A 15 minute walk (1350 steps) with 90° + temperature and 90% + humidity. The half hour taxi ride to Plaza Indonesia to shop and get a haircut set me back a full 20,000 Rupiah (about $2.25). Seems Indonesia still produces about as much oil as it consumes and the government subsidizes the fuel costs to keep the people happy and the economy going.
Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world (USA is 3rd) and home to about 250 million people (some 80+% muslim) on about 6,000 inhabited islands of the 17,000 or so in the country's domain and lies both above and below the equator. I am used to the 5:00am Muslim call to prayer on the loudspeakers (from my time in Islamabad) but fortunately the hotel is not that close to a mosque. While it is by far the largest Muslim country in the world, it is more secular and tolerant than what I experienced in Pakistan.
The people are warm and engaging. I can see why a lot of foreigners who come for a "couple of years" end up not moving "home" again.
One Monday night I ventured over to "German night" at the nearby Aryaduta hotel Tavern complete with pigs knuckles, sauerkraut and cooked red cabbage. John was sitting by himself so I wandered over and introduced myself. He came six years ago and now has a home in a country village about two hours away by train, an Indonesian wife and no plans to return to the USA except for visits to family. He had his village house built with hand carved wood, western styling, an extra well built roof (for monsoon season) and a full western style kitchen for less than $25,000.
Indonesia is a land of contrasts. Many of them are the various cultural and culinary varieties I encounter. The other is a strange paradox. Indonesia, even Jakarta is considered a rather safe place for me as a foreign/western person. The contrast is the government concerns about terrorism. I went to an American Chamber of Commerce networking reception one Thursday night. It is a monthly event but for security reasons they only announce the location the day before the event and it is always held in a major hotel with security. When you drive into a hotel the guards open the trunk, hood and glove compartments as well as scanning under the car with mirrors.In contrast again the domestic airport security was a breeze. But security creates a lot of jobs. And there are still radicals even in Jakarta as evidenced by the Muslim attack on the women's dorm at a local Christian school.
One weekend I flew down to Yogyakarta to visit an old friend from college. A 1 hour flight turned into 3.5 hours as I learned to experience "Indonesian time" (there was only a 1 hour delay on the return trip). No one seemed to get upset, just patiently waited for the plane to arrive. Apparently a common occurance.
Jogja (short for Jogjakarta the newer spelling of Yogyakarta) is completely different from Jakarta. A quiet place with many Universities and small winding streets. Bernie's home which is a short walk for the University is only a 15 minute drive from the airport. It is also near the Borobudur Buddhist monument and sits in the shadow of Mount Merapi.
Sunday morning we took a hour+ walk to the Gadjah Mada University campus. One the way we crossed a canal to walk around a group of adults that were exercising in the street, something between Tai Chi and aroebics it seemed. There were several wooded areas there which are managed by the University forestry department. They have become the home for a large flock of great blue herons which flew over our heads and perched high up in tall trees. A maginificant bird. Many students were out on their day off, many walking or jogging, some playing badminton and others just hanging out together.
We spent most of the time just catching up but they did take me to a Javanese Wedding and out to Mount Merapi which I was to discover is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. We got up fairly close (as close as they let you drive) and climbed over volcanic rock and ash to get a good view of the "mountain of fire". One our way back Bernie took a new (and unknown route) and we looked for a place for lunch. After seeing a sign by a small road we asked some people who gave us conflicting stories. So we drove in anyway. Seems they were both right. There was a restaurant but it was not going to open for another month. The site was actually a working organic farm with seating areas constructed almost entirely of bamboo with Mount Merapi as a backdrop. The owner invited us in, gave us a menu from his other restaurant and sent someone off to fetch us our food. It was fresh, organic and wonderfully tasty at a ridiculously low price.
I will admit that as we drove back to the airport after lunch I did get a bit nervous as Bernie "thought" we were going in the right direction but we eventually emerged on the main road in close proximity to the airport so I made my flight easily since it only took 10 minutes to check in and clear security. Besides the flight was an hour late anyway. So I bought the book on Krakatoa and settled down to read about Indonesian history and the Volcanic eruption that affected the entire world and led to the theory of plate techtonics. A good read.....
And this is just a tiny sample of this country with some 350 different distinct languages.