In my final year of high school when I was young and sheltered, my Advanced Writing teacher gave us an in-class assignment where we were to draw destinations of foreign places out of a hat, imagine the scene and write about it.
We were not allowed to research the place; instead we were just instructed to write.
I drew “Jakarta at 6 am”, which I knew nothing about- in fact, I mistakenly thought this was a place in India. Still, I started writing. I imagined Jakarta at 6 am to be calm, with a pink sun rising on white buildings and locals starting to set up shop in the morning. I based my writing on films I had seen of foreign places. It wasn’t that I hadn’t travelled outside of Toronto before- I had- it’s just that as a teenager obsessed with North America and Europe, Indonesia was not a country that was on my radar.
When my teacher read my writing, she said what I imagined was vastly different from what actually took place during early mornings in Jakarta- she said the streets were bustling with people and cars; most people were up at this time already.
I did a quick Wikipedia search, which confirmed Jakarta to be more developed than I originally imagined.
During my time in Sydney when I was planning my trip back home, stopover flights to Jakarta and Thailand came up as around the same price as it would be for a single trip home. I decided to curb my curiosity and stop by to see if the Jakarta was really the way it had been described to me.
I got up at 6:30 am and was out the door by 7. The streets are not really as bustling as I imagined it to be, though there is a substantial amount of traffic by 8. I had thought the streets would be filled with people, like how afternoons in Hong Kong are- to the point where you can’t walk because there is a person right in front of you. There are many stands of people selling street food or water, and many more locals who just sit and stare at the traffic.
The traffic here is incredible. I stood at an intersection, hoping for the lights to change so I could cross the street. No such pedestrian light exists in Jakarta. Basically, you have to cross whenever the street is clear, or you just step out into the road while there are cars speeding towards you and hope that they slow down. I learned this by watching a woman cross in a really busy main road. Sometimes there are traffic police who help you cross, but most times it’s playing chicken.
I went on my first bajaj (pronounced ‘bai-jai’) yesterday, which is basically a three-wheeled motorcycle with a cover on it. For about the cost of a single TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) fare (our subway and bus network), I was zipped along the busy streets of Jakarta for about twenty minutes. I bargained this price from a little over $5 CAD to just under $3.
The ride was quite stable, though there were no seat belts. Bajajs are amazing because like a motorcycle, you can squeeze between cars on the roads, which is what we did. It is also very affordable to someone who comes from a Western country. The first night in Jakarta, I spent a good hour or two trying to find the place I was staying at, when it would have cost me at most $3 CAD to just get someone who knows his way around to cart me there in a bajaj.
Here is a photo:
This is what it looks like in the middle of traffic:
And how people generally look at me because I am a tourist:
Life in Jakarta is different from Toronto. There are many grown men and women whose life profession is being a street vendor- no worries of resumes, corporate culture, career development, or deciding what to wear to the next holiday party. I am not saying life is better in Jakarta or that it is better in Toronto. I am just saying it’s different.
During the daytime when you walk around, you will find locals asleep behind their stalls or in a corridor- something that wouldn’t really happen in a big metropolitan city.
Here in Jakarta, there are huge extremes. You can walk a few kilometres from an expensive-looking mall in the city centre to the slums, where people live in shacks and don’t have flushing toilets.
Here is a photo of a nice mall:
And one of the slummy areas:
I am staying in Jalan Jaksa, which is known as the backpacker’s area. I love it because it means seeing other visitors around and not feeling so out of place. There is street food and little huts/diners here where locals and travelers can meet.
At night, we watch the Olympics over drinks and Nasi Goreng, which is a signature Indonesian dish of fried rice with vegetables. I usually have this with a fresh fruit juice, which is quite inexpensive here. It is lovely and I know I will be complaining about prices once I get back to Toronto… which is why I must enjoy the moment while I’m here.
Here are more street pictures so you get a better feel of the area: It is usually humid, unbearably hot (39 C yesterday) and when you walk around all day, you end up with dusty feet.