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Published: November 24th 2009
Mention "Jakarta", and most people will think of a chaotic city with traffic jams, smogs, slums, beggars, touts, floods, riots, and a bunch of other bad things. Thanks to all these negative impressions, Jakarta acquired the nickname "Big Durian", which more or less summarises the characteristics of the city - smelly, thorny, thick-skinned, overwhelming.... Hence, it's not surprisingly that Jakarta is not a popular travel destination. (Most tourists who went to Indonesia probably spent most of their time in Bali... That's why when I visit a bookstore I will normally see a big pile of Bali maps but not a single Jakarta map.)
I last visited Jakarta in 1990, when I was only 8 years old. The purpose of that trip was to visit my aunt (my dad's second sister) who was operating a clothes factory in Jakarta. That was my first overseas trip out of Hong Kong (my birthplace) and Singapore (my home from 1990 until now) My first impression of Jakarta at that time was similar to most people's first impression of a durian - smelly, overwhelming, unpleasant. The most memorable sight during that trip was the ubiquitous and everlasting traffic jams, and the accompanying smogs. After that
trip I told myself I would probably not going back to Jakarta again.
19 years later, I was back in Jakarta again, this time as an experienced and independent traveller. I went to Jakarta because I wanted to see how the city looked like now. Also, I was feeling bored in Singapore and I wanted to go for a short break to a big city which is nearby, cheap and yet somewhere which I have not visited recently. (This year I already visited Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Manila and Bandar Seri Bengawan.)
Before going to Jakarta, I read from several websites and forums about the notorious taxi touts at Jakarta airport. The tales of the taxi touts made me so paranoid that after I landed at Jakarta airport, I approached the first taxi counter that I saw. But it turned out that this taxi counter belonged to Golden Bird, the most luxurious taxi company in Jakarta. In the end I paid almost US$40 for a one-way trip to the city. (Later I found out that a normal taxi costs less than $20 for the same trip.) There was a saying: "The more afraid you'll lose, the more you'll lose."
This is particularly true, as I was afraid of being overcharged by taxi touts but I ended up paying more for an "executive" Mercedes-Benz taxi...
Leaving the airport, the scenery at first consisted of trees, small houses, and the occasional highway toll booth. The traffic on the highway was smooth. But once the taxi approached central Jakarta, the scenery changed to a typical Asian rld urban landscape - a jumble of skyscrapers, apartments, factories, shopping malls, highway ramps/overpasses/underpasses, advertisment billboards, clogged rivers, occasional clusters of slums, and the ubiquitous traffic jams (again!). The traffic was equally bad, despite the construction of new highways and the opening of the Transjakarta busway system.
After checking into the hotel and putting down my luggage, I went to explore and savor the Big Durian. On the map, the National Monument (known locally as Monas) looked near. After a 15 minutes walk, I reached the Lapangan Merdeka (a huge square around Monas). However, the square was fenced and I couldn't find a way to the Monas. After walking a kilometer or so, I finally found a small opening into the square. After a long walk from the corner of the square to the
Monas, I saw another fence, this time around the Monas. After walking 2 rounds around the Monas trying to find a way in, I later discovered that the entrance to the Monas was actually a hundred metres north of the monument itself. (From the entrance there is underground tunnel to the Monas itself). By the time I figured this out, it was closing time, and I didn't manage to go up to the observation deck at the top of the Monas.
Unable to go up the Monas, I decided to take a walk around Lapangan Merdeka. After walking one big round around the square and watching the sun set, I decided to spend the evening on one of my favourite pastime - window shopping. I visited 3 modern malls that evening - e(x), Plaza Indonesia and Grand Indonesia. The first mall, e(x), is a small mall with a selection of trendy shops and eateries. There was also a live DJ playing electronic music! Beside e(x), Plaza Indonesia is a much larger mall, with more upmarket shops, several art galleries, and even a Mercedes-Benz showroom. Across the road, Grand Indonesia is probably the largest, most impressive and most upmarket mall
in Indonesia. Consisting of 2 blocks linked by a multi-level bridge, the mall has 8 storeys of shopping and houses numerous brands which can be commonly found in Singapore and Hong Kong. Parts of the mall are even decorated with themes from around the world, such as Chinese, Japanese, Arabian, American, European, etc. I never expected such an impressive mall in the heart of Jakarta!
On the next day, I went to Kota (Jakarta's historic district), Mangga Dua (shopping district with a massive cluster of massive malls) and Ancol (a seaside park). Please refer to my next post (Savoring the "Big Durian" - Day 2).
On the 3rd day, I explored Glodok (Jakarta's Chinatown district), Senayan (Jakarta's another high-end shopping district) and Blok M (Jakarta's middle-class shopping district). Please refer to my next post (Savoring the "Big Durian" - Day 3).
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