Friday, February 26, 2016

Jakarta, Indonesia

Friday February 26, 2016

What a day! After a long day touring yesterday it was another long day of touring today. Mercifully, we did not leave quite as early today as we did yesterday but we were still on the road before nine a.m. Our destination was something called "Little Indonesia" which is an open air museum focusing on the various cultures of the Indonesian nation. There are 17,000 islands in Indonesia and something like eight hundred different ethnic groups. So this park was, I think, a pet project of former President Suaharto (sp?) and a way for him to make money (his family used to own the park) while strengthening the Indonesian nation by celebrating its diverse elements. The park consists mostly of buildings that represent the typical architecture of specific areas of Indonesia. Inside the buildings are exhibits on traditional dress, ceremonies/rituals, or activities of that particular group/region. It was well done but there were a few things working against it as far as I was concerned: 1.) the exhibits and infrastructure seemed dated (it would seem that there isn't enough money available to update/maintain the park's exhibits properly) 2.) it was exceedingly humid this morning as I suspect it is on most mornings because you could almost feel the mold growing in the shady areas while in the sunny areas it was hard to drink water, fan vigorously and listen to the guide all at the same time!

Traditional Indonesian building
Interesting roof line

In fact, listening to the guide seemed to be a bit of a problem for both Russell and me (myself? I? I don't know -- just pick one)  today. Not sure if it was just because we were tired or because we didn't bond with our tour guide (or maybe both) but we spent most of the day wandering away from the group and generally doing our own thing. There was also another person on the tour who I suspect has a mental issue or dementia or something but he is fond of frequently saying out loud negative and inappropriate comments. It's very disruptive and tends to annoy any group member within hearing range. I feel sorry for the guy especially because at other times he can behave perfectly normally but that doesn't mean I want to tour with him.

Digging holes and carrying water
More road work

We visited only a couple of the areas in "Little Indonesia" and when I had had too much I went outside and watched these road construction workers move two completely full five gallon containers of water using a piece of wood balanced on their shoulders. In their bare feet. Now let me tell you, I hauled a lot of water when I was young on family camping trips so I was just awed that these guys were moving this amount of water on such a hot and uncomfortable day in their bare feet. There were other workers who were digging ditches with shovels and some that were down in the bottom of the ditches digging deeper, completely covered with sweat and dirt. Yikes!

Giant map displaying ethnic groups of Indonesia
National Museum
Interesting hat
Beautiful batik

There definitely is some serious, industrial-strength poverty here in Jakarta. We caught throughout the day glimpses of illegal shanty towns that were as bad as you can imagine. And I said to Russell that Jakarta definitely wins the award for "Most Unappealing Riverways" of any city I've visited. Not that there was a lot of trash in them, it's just that there didn't seem to be any life left in them either. They were just dark, contained, abandoned and abused.

Industrial strength poverty
Care for a swim?

Of course there are plenty of parts of Jakarta that are modern and fancy even. I saw a Jaguar dealership and a Louis Vuitton store so it would seem that somebody has money. And we drove along plenty of avenues that were lined by modern office buildings, hotels and shopping centers. But if you looked carefully these streets seemed to be only one building deep and the side streets intersecting with these grand boulevards were what I think of as "tropical-ramshackle". There just didn't seem to be a lot of extra money floating around for trash removal, beautification projects or maintenance. But then again there were highways (jammed with mostly new cars) and roads with impressive overpasses and interchanges. The port was huge and relatively modern. So, I don't know maybe there is money, maybe there isn't.

White House of Indonesia
Giant "candle and dish" monument

Back to our day of touring though. So after "Little Indonesia" we headed to the National Museum where we saw some impressive displays on the ethnographic diversity of Indonesia (again) before heading for a photo op of the White House and a gigantic monument that looked to me like a mamoth candle in a an equally large dish. Lunch was at a modern hotel and the surroundings were clean and the food good. After lunch we headed to Old Jakarta where we visited a puppet museum. It was an excellent but threadbare museum. I have to say those were some seriously scary puppets! Nobody does "weird and scary" like the Indonesians.

Weird and scary puppet head
Sorry this is blurry but you get the idea -- also weird and scary
Old Jakarta
Colorful bikes
Street food

Our last stop for the day was the "Old Port". Here we saw dozens of old fashioned schooners being loaded and off loaded with cargo. Apparently Jakarta is the only place on earth that still uses wooden sailing ships to deliver cargo. Mostly the ship's go to other spots in Indonesia but apparently they are still building these boats as they remain profitable. Amazing. (You know it's funny because I am so far removed from basic functions like loading a sailboat with cargo that I was able to stand there and watch like it was the most interesting thing in the world and I am sure the dock workers were thinking "What are these idiots looking at?" and "Why are they here?").

All wooden construction and sail-powered
There were a lot of them
Loading cargo the old fashioned way

So we have now concluded our visit to Indonesia which I found to be very interesting. I was surprised by some things (the number of motorbikes, the Hinduism and devotion I saw in Bali, the fact that they drive on the wrong side of the road, the politeness and friendliness of the people) and I wasn't surprised by other things (the poverty, the number of people) but what I was most surprised by was the combination of poverty and population -- that is, the sheer number of people leading lives that are materially so different from our own. One really comes to appreciate the fact that this -- Indonesia -- is how the majority of the world lives today and how it is we -- in the west -- who are the weird or different ones. And you know our wealth in the west didn't just happen. The people of the world didn't just voluntarily give up what they had. They were conquered and their wealth was taken. Our success was, to a very large extent, built on violence. I am not saying that we didn't do anything to earn what we have in the West. Of course, we did. And I might even go so far as to say that we are more than fifty percent responsible for the way things are in the West today verses the rest of the world. I might go that far. But I think it's important to also acknowledge the role that colonialism and racism have played in creating the huge disparity between the "first" and "third" worlds today. But I will get off my soap box.

Need a water jug?
Traffic was ever-present
That's a modified motorbike carrying approximately ten people

And I will conclude by saying that although I have enjoyed my time in Indonesia I am not sure I would have the strength to return here and explore on my own. I could, of course, return via cruise ship but how hard is that? I saw a woman from the ship today who was in one of the other tour groups and she had on her "convertible pants" (you know those pants made from "quick-drying" fabric where the lower leg can be zipped off thus "converting" the pants into shorts) and she had on a photo-journalist type vest as well as a safari hat and her whole get-up just screamed "World Traveler" and I thought to myself: "Come on lady, get a grip. We are on a cruise ship here. This isn't a fight for survival." But it's true of me too. I mean I fancy myself some world traveler but guess what? I don't know the first thing about real, honest-to-goodness travel. You know, the kind of travel that you read about in books. All I know is that I am damn lucky and having visited Indonesia only proves it to me a thousand times over and I say this with absolutely no disrespect for Indonesia intended.

Your intrepid duo
At the sail-away from Indonesia 

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