My first visit to Indonesia was in July 2010. I stayed in Jakarta for a few days, then took a train to Bandung where I met up with Indonesian friends I had met in DC (good to see familiar faces for a couple days), and from there boarded another train to Yogyakarta.
When I visited Jakarta, I stayed with the family of a friend I met back in the United States. Their modest home was located in a small back alley community within a larger housing complex, set back from the official roads. It resembled a rural village hidden inside the workings of a megacity. There was a natural knowledge of the kith and kin of the residents, a curiosity about all newcomers, and a hyperlocal scale of business: my friend’s younger sister operated her business from the home, selling propane tanks to the customers who occasionally came by during the day; and we would walk to another neighbor’s house to dine on noodles in another shop based out of a home.
Some scenes from around Jakarta:
The National Museum of Indonesia (Museum Nasional) had exhibits filled with great artifacts and provided a solid primer on the nation’s history.
Masks in the National Museum.
A glance at some of the modes of transportation in Jakarta – motorbikes, passenger cars, and the Transjakarta BRT system, known locally as the “Busway.” Go to Jakarta knowing the macet (traffic jam) never ends.
The enormous Masjid Istiqlal, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. It is a symbol of Indonesia’s independence.
Interior of Istiqlal.
More of the traffic in a residential area in Jakarta. Motorcycles filter to the front and their drivers are incredible at weaving through traffic. The Busway lane can be seen on the right, with the pedestrian ramp to the Busway stop on the far right of this photo. The stops are located in the median of the road.
I didn’t have much time in Bandung, but spent one wonderful evening with a friend’s family sampling the wares and catching a student jazz show on the ITB campus, and another drinking beers with locals while an Indonesian guy strummed American songs on his guitar.
In Yogya, my plans went astray and I decided not to sweat it. The loss of my ATM card meant taking it easy, cancelling my original plan of visiting the nearby Borobudur and Prambanan temples. I also nursed a bad burn on my leg from the tailpipe of a motorcycle I rode as a passenger. In Thailand these burns are known as “Thai tattoos”; likewise in Indonesia, friends joked that it made me an honorary Indonesian. I still managed to visit the markets downtown and made a visit to the kraton (the Sultan’s palace) by bicycle, which was much more nerve-racking than any cycling I had done in the U.S. At a nearby warung (small family-owned business), I tried gudeg for the first time, a delicious jackfruit and rice dish from Yogyakarta.
I would love to return and spend more time getting to understand the workings of Jakarta. It’s incredible that such teeming movement within the city can come to such mind-numbing standstill so often: macet, the Bahasa word meaning “traffic jam”, is a fact of everyday life in Jakarta. Yet residents there accept that going certain places takes a lot of time and they approach these trips with patience. Much of daily living is localized – it makes sense to buy food from the local street vendors than to travel to another neighborhood for it. You know your neighbors and the patterns of their lives because they’re the ones you interact with daily, catch up with in the mornings and pass several times each day.
I also plan on visiting Yogya again, because even more than before, seeing the amazing Borobodur and Prambanan temples is a dream. I find that Buddhist temples are serene, balanced, and a great place to find inner calm. And the aesthetic of Hindu temples is unique, often offering intricately formed elements like figures that dance together in a larger mosaic, splashes of bright color leading the eye into new places.
As for Bali, I do hear good things so I’m sure I’d make a trip off of the main island of Java. Up to now, my Indonesia travels have only brought me around Java.