Jakarta and Kota Tua
I finally arrived in Jakarta on Thursday, January 2nd after 27 hours of flying and 3 days of travel (which did a serious number on my sit-bones)! My journey started in Washington, D.C., and from there, I traveled to San Francisco, Seoul and Singapore. I finally landed in Bandung, Indonesia – without my luggage! My poor lonely bag was stranded in the San Francisco airport. Luckily, after some arguments with the airline, my local friends, Elisa and Sam helped me redirect it to Jakarta!
My first day in Jakarta was incredible but exhausting! Mom and I began the day with a tour of Kota Toa, the Old City. The ‘tuk tuk’ ride through town was hair-raising. Traffic zooms by, paying no mind to the teeny, vulnerable three-wheeled auto-rickshaws. Imagine driving through New York City in a giant Altoids can on wheels.
Luckily, we arrived alive! Crafts, fried food and clothes lined the alleys leading to Fatahillah Square.
The square was surrounded by beautiful colonial architecture…
We wandered into the first museum we saw, Museum Wayang. Having no idea what Wayang meant, it only took us a few minutes to realize that we were in a puppet museum! The intricacy of the puppets and the variety of the stories was incredible. Many of the puppets were made from buffalo skin, and the puppeteers used stenciling to create designs on the skin.
After stenciling the pattern – the story of Rama and Sita (Hinduism’s Romeo and Juliet), David and Goliath, etc. – the puppeteer paints the details to create the final product!
After the puppet museum, we trekked across town to find the watch tower. At this point in the day, the only words I knew how to say were: “Seleamat pagi” (Good morning) and “Terima kasih” (Thank you). As you can imagine, it was terribly difficult to ask for directions just by saying good morning and thank you. Luckily, a map, some hand gestures and a big smile helped us find our way to “Menara Syahbandar.” Looking out over the city was eye-opening, but the best part was the constant cool breeze from the Jakarta Bay.
At the watch tower, we met a friendly Jakarta native who was showing her cousin (from the rural island of Borneo) around the city. We joined them for a tour of the maritime museum…
exploring a shop that sold traditional instruments like this wooden chime contraption…
and the Bank of Indonesia museum. At the bank museum, we learned that inflation in Indonesia happened when the government asked the banks to print more money so that they would have the means to suppress internal rebellion. This is part of the reason that one dollar is worth 12,000 Indonesian Rupiah today.
When we were museum-ed out, we dodged the rain…
and ate a late dim sum lunch in a colonial style restaurant, Cafe Batavia. Batavia and Jayakarta are two of Jakarta’s former names. The famous people pictured in the photos on the wall may or may not have visited the historic cafe…The language barrier kept us from actually figuring that out. At one point during our questioning, the waiter thought we wanted to purchase the pictures.
After seeing the sun set on a motorcycle lined alley near the square, we took another life-threatening ride in a tuk tuk back to our hotel neighborhood. When we arrived, we strolled through Chinatown, taking in all its sights, sounds and smells.
There were a LOT of smells. It was hard to distinguish which smells belonged to which sights, but the whole experience was an assault on all of my senses. This man was squeezing sugar cane to make a pure sugar cane drink.
This shop sold dried squid.
Another shop was selling mangosteen fruit – an odd mix between a clementine (the inside has a round fruit with segments you can peel apart) and a rambutan (the flesh was white, sweet and a little chewy).
The most alarming stand was by far “Raja Cobra.” Here, the caged snakes are kept until a customer requests a cup of cobra blood. Yup, you read that correctly. The bloody piece on top of the cage is a cobra head – the vendor cuts off the snake’s head and drains the blood into a cup, and for about $10, you can buy the highly nutritious drink…needless to say, we did NOT try it. Nor did we stick around to witness it.
Even after a day in the city, I still didn’t get used to the way people cross the street. It’s essentially a high stakes game – a combination of frogger and chicken. 10 points for dodging a motorcycle, 20 points for dodging a tuk tuk, 30 for a car and 100 points for dodging a charter bus. Putting your hand out to stop the traffic is common practice. Then, the pedestrian crosses the street and the vehicle keeps driving until one party stops – usually the vehicle. Mom and I weren’t great at this, so we usually followed closely behind a local and hoped for the best.
Now, I’m ready to pass out and it’s only 10 pm! Looking forward to another exciting day of travel. NOT looking forward to yet another flight! This time, we’ll end up in Bali! Until then, selamat tinggal.
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