Monday, November 20, 2017

November 19th – Jakarta on a Super Sunday

If you read any articles or guide books about Jakarta, the Number One thing that they talk about is the terrible traffic. During the week, this overcrowded city gets absolutely gridlocked in infuriating traffic, as visitors (and locals alike) lose the will to live as precious hours tick past without progress.

That means that a Sunday is the perfect day to visit, and to discover that there's a lot more charm to this city than many people give it credit for. Our journey from the port into the centre of town took just 30 minutes, rather than an hour and a half, while the city didn't have that claustrophobic feel that many people experience.

In a city that's absolutely exploded with people (from 900,000 at independence in 1949) into today's teeming megalopolis of 10 million plus (actually, that's 30 Million in the greater metropolitan area), it's fair to say that modern Jakarta is not a thing of beauty. However, it's not without its charms, particularly on a Sunday, when there's a positively relaxed atmosphere about the place.

We first went to enjoy one of the few pieces of open space in the city – Merdeka Square, the city's massive central square – which was full of relaxed courting couples, boisterous boys playing football, and families strolling. Next we went to the National Museum, whose highlight was its treasure of exquisite ancient gold jewellery found at various archaeological sites around this diverse archipelago.

For me, the best part of the day, was our visit to Kota, the old Dutch town, which survives from the time when Jakarta was known as Batavia – the Jewel in the Dutch colonial crown. The rest of Jakarta is overwhelmingly modern (and not particularly attractive), but this small section of the city that survived the redevelopment and concreting over of Jakarta, is full of atmospheric historic buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

In the main square, we visited the Puppet Museum, which to be honest, is not the most promising subject matter for most western visitors. But, visiting on a Sunday, meant that we were able to see the performances put on by local children, in a cacophony of clanging gamelan music and impenetrable puppet-based plots. There's only so much of this that I could sit through, but what made it so endearing, was all the families watching on proudly, pointing out their performing children to me, and asking me about where I was from and why I happened to be here.

Because, it was the incredibly friendly people of Jakarta who really made our visit. In most large capital cities of the world, you'd expect a group of western tourists to stand out perhaps, but not to be the centre of such attention and good-natured curiosity. I lost count of the times that we were asked to pose for photos with groups of smiling people, or the number of youngsters who just wanted to come up and chat and practice their English.

Jakarta (and Indonesia as a whole) gets a bit of a bad press. Of course it has its problems with poverty, with traffic, the occasional bout of terrorism (what large city doesn't?), but by and large the city has some of the friendliest people that I've met in any capital city. We shouldn't be in the least surprised by it, but it's reassuring proof that an Islamic capital is full of people who are just the same as us – happy, smiling people who are interested in the outside world, and want you to like the city that they're so proud of.

It's not often that you can say that a polluted, overcrowded city like Jakarta was like a breath of fresh air; but, I really enjoyed my day there. Sunday, Sunday, looks good to me…….