Not sorry to leave Jakarta. Huge city of 8 m plus people, clogged with motorbikes, taxis, cars, buses; traditional red-roofed houses juxtaposed against enormous sky scrapers – and polluted. But compared to India the traffic is (almost) regulated! Certainly infrastructure – flyovers and roads – superior, and there is a whizzo toll road to and from airport. India could learn from that.
Added to which hotel Manhattan was rotten to the core – dirty (mould growing in bathroom and on shower curtains), bad food and murky pool. Even gym tired. Might have been OK once but seen better days, and it was paid for on expenses. Wah! Reason: 5 mins walk from offices, unheard of in this city of horrendous rush-hour jams. But for accompanying spouse it’s a poor place to hang out and work, as sight-seeing alone is challenging. English is virtually unspoken, even by upmarket Silver Bird taxis; Blue Bird drivers, for the record, were better! So I left two days early.
We arrived for Easter so we got a couple of days ‘doing’ Jakarta a deux, enough really. From the enormous Medan Merdeka square – largest in Asia, and Soviet in style, centred round what is known as Sukarno’s last erection, a monument to himself – to the old Dutch Batavian port of Kota, interspersed with some good grub we did ok. But stupendously hot and sticky and 2 hrs max outside excursion in full sun.
Holiday weekend so hordes of families camped out in square, having picnics, visiting the erection (5 hours queue to go up top). Ditto Sunday in Kota, where the old Dutch Fatehilla Square was extremely festive: girls in Sunday best, floaty pink, red, and pastel-coloured gauzy outfits with sleeves to keep off the sun, complete with straw hats over their headscarves, being ferried round the square by gallant swains on hired pushbikes; human statues; monkey on a motorbike; marionettes; and street food and drinks galore. Highlight was being interviewed by keen and delightful students in English – obviously a class exercise. Asked what I thought about Indonesian people, first I said ‘very friendly’ and then, ‘they are very small and make me feel very big’. Giggle, giggle. Ross asked much more searching questions on the political system. History does not relate his reply!
You could see remains of the old Dutch town, must have been very attractive, now largely crumbling. The canal leading out to the sea full of putrid debris – stank to high heaven, as did the fish market in the shanty town near the sea front (couldn’t see that for building works!). People eking out a living by collecting plastic bottles and sleeping by their stalls, or whatever shelter available. Reality check – Indonesia is a very poor country for most people. Jakarta is a misleading city.
We were nevertheless astounded by the ostentatious wealth on display in Indonesia Grand Mall,
largest in Asia apparently but you could be in Bond Street or 5th Avenue given the luxury branded shops, and the immaculately coiffed and coutured ladies, elegant men (all yuppy-young), an army of uniformed nannies minding spoiled and overweight offspring while mums shop and gossip with friends. Let’s hope there is a trickle down effect…
Upside undoubtedly the helpful, smiling and gracious people, and delicious food. Like Singapore, food courts and restaurants in the malls are very popular, but we went to two recommended restaurants: Samarra, in sumptuous surroundings, carved statues, Indo-Arab fusion, where we had delicious fish satay and a lamb nasi dish, accompanied by a bamboo shoot and coconut soup.
On my last night we visited Kembang Goela, Jakarta’s no 1 Trip Advisor-rated eatery. A bit OTT, but splendid decor (we had a ludicrously expensive bottle of wine), but the rendang and deng deng (deep friend beef carpaccio) were out of this world. A purple-suited nanny spent most of our meal chasing an unruly child round the restaurant and feeding him when he stood still. Children are absolutely adored all over the Far East (and they are beautiful) but under-disciplined in my opinion! One wonders what kind of adults they will turn into?
I shall look forward to returning to Indonesia – to the islands – but will give Jakarta a miss next time.