How I learned to stop worrying and love Jakarta

by Michael

This post is Part V in my series: Jumping Around Java. You can see the Preview with index here.

Jakarta is big, busy, dirty, and loud. It’s just the sort of place that Elizabeth and I can easily handle — we have traveled most of the way around the world, after all. The trick was handling it with her parents.

The main part of this planned mid-trip meet-up is our scuba diving trip on a live-aboard dive boat in the Raja Ampat Islands (where I am sitting while I write this, missing a dive due to ear trouble). That’s the sort of vacation my in-laws are used to; not Jakarta.

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View from the hotel.

We booked rooms at the Merlynn Park Hotel (that is spelled correctly — I guess it’s a cross between Merlin as in the Magician and Marlyn as in Marlyn Monroe). This was the first good thing about Jakarta: nice hotels are shockingly affordable. Fancy hotel for under $45 per night. Elizabeth’s parents arrived before us and Priscilla squealed with with joy upon our arrival! I’m sure the two other people in the hotel restaurant at the time were wondering what was going on…

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Not the hotel lobby that we typically are greeted with on our travels.

We did our excursions by taxi, which are incredibly cheap in Jakarta. The first was to Kota, the former Dutch city center. There we visited a puppet museum, giving my in-laws a chance to view the same sort of puppets we saw in Yogyakarta. Inside the museum, a friendly gentleman began talking to us, and invited us to his puppet show. We chatted a bit in the museum and then he showed us around to his shop and put on an abbreviated version of the Ramayana Epic (including a special guest appearance by the world famous former resident of Jakarta, Barack Obama).

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Jakarta traffic. Oh so much traffic.

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Ramayana puppet performance featuring Obama.

It was clearly a bit of a tourist trap, but it worked well. Jim and Priscilla were interested in the puppets, and the sale at the end (one small puppet) was reasonably priced. Not bad for a short diversion.

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Our “guide” and puppet master.

The old square, on the other hand, became an exercise in avoiding schoolchildren. A photo here and there is one thing, and even one English-class chat is ok, but there were so many children and so few western tourists that we were each stopped to practice English multiple times. Once again, the kids laughed when I said I like eating Gado Gado.

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What don’t you like about your country?

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Once a teacher, always a teacher.

One particularly inquisitive kid asked me what I liked about my own country — to which I had a long answer — and then asked what I disliked about my own country. It’s a strange question to have to answer while traveling. I paused before saying that the thing I don’t like about my country is Donald Trump.

After our escape from the main square, we made our way to Sunda Kelapa, the old schooner port. Priscilla wanted to see the brightly colored ships that were pictured in her 1999 edition of the Insight Guide to Southeast Asia. It turns out that the same ships are there today, and they have not been repainted.

Also in the shipyard, there was a group of young Indonesians doing a photo shoot with fancy clothes and toy weapons. Of course, just like every other attraction, they wanted us to join the picture. Elizabeth and I joined while her parents took pictures of the whole group (though it seems we only have my photos of Elizabeth in the photo shoot before I joined):

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The revolution may not be televised, but it will be photographed.

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“Come here, in photo”

We then made our way to the Merdeka Square in Gambir — the city’s main square with a large central monument. We overpaid for lunch at a vendor in the park and introduced Jim and Priscilla to Indonesian street food. Honestly, not our favorite street food from our travels. We took a short walk around the square before rain pushed us into the Museum Nasional. The museum had some nice displays, especially on the bank-vaulted uppermost level (which we almost missed because the central stairway doesn’t go up that far) that was filled with various gold jewelry and ceremonial items. Priscilla also got to briefly try out batik in the lobby.

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Really large square/park.

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Clouds showing signs of rain.

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Trying out the waxing stage of batik, which is a traditional textile method used in Indonesia that uses wax to create voids in the dyed material.

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Why is there part of an airplane outside the museum? It’s Indonesia. There’s always an airplane.

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Did I mention we photograph courthouses? This is the Constitutional Court (we think).

So far so good. Unfortunately our evening excursion for dinner in Glodok (Chinatown) failed to find workable Chinese food. We found my eatery of choice but it had already run out of food by 7pm, and we struggled to find another place where we could order. I had learned some Indonesian food names, but I couldn’t order Chinese food in Indonesian. The area was also very run-down and the vendors were lining the sidewalks with garbage bags (hopefully for collection). It wasn’t lively like the sort of Chinatown areas we are used to in the United States (or, for that matter, Malaysia) and appeared to be largely shutting down for the night when we showed up. We ended up eating at A&W — the American fast food restaurant — though three of us ordered curry.

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Eli Manning?

Our second day we made the trip out to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, which to me seemed like an Indonesian Disneyland. The amusement park is built around a lake that has artificial islands that look like the map of Indonesia. Around it are pavilions that show different cultural or natural exhibits (and a water park, which we skipped). We saw traditional long-houses of the type that are still in use on some islands, and walked through large dome aviaries to see Indonesian birds. Then we wandered over to the Komodo exhibit, where we saw a sleepy Komodo Dragon (known as Ora, though somehow we all forgot to photograph it since it was sleeping in an awkward spot).

The park was huge and is actually designed for people to drive around it and park at the various exhibits. The entrance price was low (about $1 each) and then many of the exhibits include a separate entrance price. It was intriguing, but oddly empty (we visited on a weekday) and a bit rundown. I wonder if Barack Obama’s mother and step-father ever took him to see the park when he lived in Indonesia as a child.

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Sumatra, with Java at the end.

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Indonesian islands, as seen from the cable car that crosses the park overhead.

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Aviaries.

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Longhouse.

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From the Komodo exhibit. A komodo shaped building…

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Water park.

We wrapped up with a relaxing afternoon and evening back at our hotel, where I had a chance to use the Merlynn Monroe Fitness Center. Traveling includes a lot of exercise for legs, but few chances to use free weights and machines. I’m not a regular gym rat, but it was a nice break before heading to the airport for our midnight flight to Sarong.

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Hosting Elizabeth’s parents in Jakarta ended up going better than expected given all the doom and gloom predictions that we’d heard from people. We only had one taxi that we had to exit because the driver refused to use the meter. We only had one meal where we couldn’t find what we were looking for and ended up wandering around a less than attractive neighborhood. Jakarta isn’t paradise, but it’s worth a couple days as a diversion.

[This blog post describes our trip to Jakarta, Indonesia, January 14-16, 2017.]

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One thought on “How I learned to stop worrying and love Jakarta

  1. Pingback: Jumping Around Java: Our plans (or lack thereof) for 13 days on Java | two backpacks, no plan

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