A lot of things in Jakarta reminded me of Manila. That’s why when I came here on a five-day study travel, I got homesick.
Practically, its the traffic. One of the major problems that this mega-Asian city capital’s dilemma has is its perennial traffic woes. On our way from the Soekarno Hatta International Airport to Gran Melia hotel, our Indonesian hosts warned us of the infamous “Jakarta traffic” which we experienced right then and there. First day, traffic.
Such a familiar problem in Manila, so I didn’t mind. I’m used to it. Getting stuck in traffic in Manila is very common. This fact, I think, made traveling to Jakarta enjoyable and bearable for me. After all, like Manila, Jakarta too is starting to experience a booming and vibrant economy.
I had my first dinner in Jakarta at Kuningan City–the nearest mall so far from our hotel. On my own, I boarded a taxi and mouthed off some instructions to the driver to “get me to a nearest mall.” The driver can’t speak much English, but he understood it when I repeated “mall.” Fortunately, it was a rush hour so I got enough time to clearly express where I want to go. The traffic provided ample time for the driver to decide which mall he would drop me off. He decided to choose the Ambassador mall which is nearly next to Kuningan City. But the Ambassador mall is a low-end kind so I decided to walk towards Kuningan City which even from a distance looked a lot like Greenbelt mall to me.
There was a popular local band on a mall tour that night so I decided to take a peek. I then scoured the place for a restaurant that serves authentic Indonesian dishes. I thought I won’t find one ‘coz there were a lot of American diners and a Starbucks and a Coffee Bean Tea Leaf, until I went up on the second level where I found Kopi Luwak. Kopi Luwak, based on its website, claims to be the most expensive coffee in the world. So much for coffee lovers, but I really enjoyed my dinner here.
It’s impressive to note there are so many department stores and shopping malls in Jakarta–both high-end and low-end. The big ones fall on the “city” or “plaza” category where you can get lost for hours. For mall rats and shopaholics like me, you’ll never run out of options when shopping in Jakarta. There’s one that I frequented during our short stay–the Grand Indonesia. Next to it, just a five-minute walk, is the Thamrin Square where you can buy traditional Indonesian clothes and accessories.
On our second day, we joined a guided cultural tour together with members from the Komunitas Historia Indonesia. Our tour guide warned the hot weather can be a let-down for first time travelers to Indonesia. As our tour guides pointed out they have two distinct seasons: hot and very hot. But because the Philippines and Indonesia has a similar tropical climate, I’m able to tolerate the hot weather. I came prepared. I’m a girl scout.
Our first stop was at the school were US President Barack Obama attended as a child, the Menteng 01 Elementary School. It is situated at a posh village which an Indonesian friend tells me is Jakarta’s own version of Beverly Hills.
From this park, is a five-minute walk to the school. I heard lots of families, specially the rich ones, wanted to enroll their kids in this School when they learned Obama studied here.
Needless to say, I believe, parents were hopeful as who knows, someday, their kid could end up someone big like Obama. I don’t blame them.
Our next stop is the Istiqlal Mosque (Masjid Istiqlal). Since Indonesia is one Southeast Asian country which is predominantly Muslim, it is only fitting to have a national Mosque constructed in respect to its religious belief and to commemorate their independence from their Dutch colonizers. But though they are the largest in terms of population, it has never withheld its arms towards other beliefs particularly to Christians. In fact across the street is a large Catholic Cathedral where most of its parishioners park their car at the Mosque grounds when they run out of parking space. The grand imam of Istiqlal, Dr. Ali Mustafa Ya’qub, said this goes to show that Muslims can embrace other religions and can harmoniously co-exist with them.
I and the other girls had to wear a scarf on our heads when we entered the place. It was huge. Actually, grand. And I was really impressed at the devotion of Muslims when they pray. I developed a deep respect and understanding of their culture and religion during our encounter. We also got to see the bedug, a large ancestral drum made of cow skin.
Afterwards, we went to the National Museum. We were supposed to proceed at the Monas or the National Monument which symbolized the Indonesia’s fight for independence adjacent to the Istiqlal Mosque but it was too hot on a noontime. So our tour guides decided to bring us first to the museum. As usual, I’m a fanatic of historical artifacts. I truly enjoyed the museum tour!
We went to lunch in a Chinese restaurant downtown in Jakarta. Then proceeded to Monas. To be honest, I wasn’t too excited about seeing Monas, I was already tired and sleepy. But what I was jolted awake to see the bazaars when we got inside the complex. The shopaholic in me was revived. Good thing, one of the tour guides helped us get a good bargain when we bought souvenir shirts here.
I’m glad we got to get back to our hotel after the trip to Monas. I was already so tired and exhausted. But it was a fruitful day! I didn’t know Jakarta is a vibrant place and that we had so much in common.
When I went back to our hotel, I sprawled on the bed and suddenly thought of a good ‘ole way to cap off a long wonderful travel day… 😉
I ❤ Jakarta!