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Friday, 6 July 2012

My First Week in Jakarta

Well, my long journey was fairly smooth across the globe. After flying from Toronto - LA - Tokyo - Singapore... I finally arrived in Jakarta and was happy to be back on ground (extremely foreign ground)! I was greeted by staff members and a personal driver to take me to my apartment. After dropping my luggage off we hit some malls to buy a phone and some basics such as groceries and bedding. While at the mall, I was treated to a fresh fruit slushy drink. This probably wasn’t the best idea! I ended up with a terrible stomach bug for the next 12 hours! After getting over the upset stomach, I developed strep throat!!
So my first few days in Jakarta were mainly spent catching up on sleep, adjusting to the time difference (11 hour difference from home) and trying to get back to feeling right!
I am feeling much better now and have started to venture outside of my apartment and tour around the area I am living.
My first impressions of the city:
- Crowded
- Crazy traffic
- A lot of pollution
- A lot of visible poverty
- More westernized restaurants than I expected (McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, A&W, etc)
- Extremely friendly faces and people
- A lot of shopping centres
- Intense humidity 
This city has roughly ten million people - from the very rich - to the very poor. It’s immediately noticeable that there isn’t much of a middle class. The high rises in my area are beautiful modern buildings, while the slums are directly next door. Throughout my travels I have not experienced seeing extreme poverty like here in Indonesia. The streets are lined with both children and adults begging and trying to sell anything they can to make a few cents. Despite all of the things they are without, almost every child I have seen is smiling or running around - laughing and playing. I saw two little boys barefoot, with raggedy clothes on playing with sticks in the dirt this morning. They looked just as happy as two little boys playing on their shiny new x-box. 
Seeing things like this has already given me a greater appreciation for my own country. As Canadians I think we’re automatically some of the luckiest people in the world. No, we’re not a perfect country and we have our problems with our government and our system, but overall we are taken care of in a way that many others around the world will unfortunately never experience. 
Getting around Jakarta:
Due to an unstructured and unplanned road system in the city, it’s basically a free for all when driving. There aren’t really any marked lanes. There are thousands and thousands of motorbikes that weave in and out of traffic. You will even see a family of four or five all on one small motorbike (small children without helmets on). There are tons of cars, buses, bicycles, tuk tuks, etc on the roads. Trying to cross the street is a bit like playing a game of russian roulette - you aren’t really sure if you’re going to make it!!! 
So far this week when I’ve gone out, I’ve opted for using a taxi. Apparently Blue Bird taxi is the only reliable taxi in the city, so this is what I’ve been using. Taxi rides are extremely cheap here in comparison to other countries. Today I took a taxi to a museum park which was over 40 minutes away - the cost of the taxi fare was $6!! 
Shopping in Jakarta:
Jakarta has over 200 malls. So far I’ve been to two! There is an upper scale mall down the street from my complex. It’s very westernized with a Starbucks and an English movie theatre. I have also ventured to a huge market mall. I cannot even describe how big this mall is. Inside are floors upon floors of vendors full of bootlegged dvds, knock off designer purses, electronics, fashion accessories, etc. I have gone here a few times as there is also a department/grocery store in the basement of the mall.

Food in Jakarta:
Because I started out my week being sick, I haven’t been overly adventurous with trying the local cuisine. My apartment complex has three restaurants in it. One of which is all Western Food. I have eaten here twice with some staff members and it is absolutely delicious!! The chef at this restaurant is Steven Spielberg’s personal chef, which is pretty exciting!
I have ventured out grocery shopping and managed to find a few familiar things (pasta, cereal, bread, fruit). Most kitchens here are not equipped with microwaves or ovens. My kitchen only has two stove top burners - so I’m trying to be creative and see how many things I can make in a pot or pan! I have a feeling I’ll be eating out a lot! :|
My building also has two asian cuisine restaurants. I had takeout from one yesterday. I tried the Javanese rice (Java is the name of the island I am on). It was really good - very similar to jambalaya.

Prayer Time:
Indonesia has a population that is 90% Muslim. Because of this, the city is dotted with many mosques. Down the street from my building is a fairly large mosque. They do prayer time five times a day, which I can hear from my building. Actually as I write this, I can hear the chants and prayers being broadcasted. 
Prayer times are roughly around 4:30am, 6am, Noon, 3:30pm, 5pm, and 7pm. I haven’t quite figured out how long prayer is suppose to last. But I know the 4:30am one seem to go on for quite a while! 
The People:
So far the hospitality has been incredible! Everyone is beyond friendly and welcoming. Indonesians seem to always be smiling and want to do their best to make sure you are comfortable in their country. I have also noticed that everywhere I go people are very patient with me since I do not speak the language (Bahasa). Often times when visiting a country that is not English speaking, people are quick to dismiss you and ignore when you ask for something. Everyone I have experienced here so far takes their time to try and understand what I am saying, and does their best to help me. I am still hoping to learn some of the language though :)

I had read that sometimes Indonesians (specifically children) are excited to see a white foreign person and may want to take a picture with them or shake their hand. I had not yet experienced this where I am living in Jakarta as it is somewhat of a multicultural area of the city. However, today when visiting a museum there were many Indonesians who most likely weren't from the city and were not used to seeing a white person. I got many stares, greetings, smiles, people shaking my hands or bowing at me. It was a bit of a strange feeling! I even had a group of school girls come up to me with their cameras asking for pictures! So I took one with them too :) Indonesians use the word "bule" when referring to a caucasian person. It comes from the word albino. So I had several people yell out "bule! bule!" today when they saw me. (I guess I need to work on my tan).

The Currency:
The money has been one of my struggles this week. I cannot seem to get used to the fact that I am carrying around millions of rupees or that a bottle of water is twenty thousand rupees. $1 Canadian dollar is roughly 9000 rupees. All of the zeros on the price tags have been quite confusing!
Today was my first day to go out and get a taste of the country. Myself and another new teacher who just moved here from the Philippines went to a park called Taman Mini. Taman Mini is a park that has replicas of different houses, buildings, and temples that are found throughout Indonesia. The whole park is suppose to give you a taste of the various islands that make up the country. We saw traditional tree houses, temples that are replicas of ones found in Bali. We took a tour through the museum which consists of traditional costumes from the different Indonesian cultures as well as instruments and other artifacts found throughout the land. 

The park also has a reptile zoo and water park. We opted for the reptile zoo today. While wandering through looking at the snakes, and crocodiles, I was so excited to spot a komodo dragon. Komodo dragons are deadly creatures that are native only to Indonesia! Upon looking at it, someone asked us if we wanted to go in and see it up close and pet it..... what probably sounds like a horribly stupid idea, somehow seemed like the best idea ever in my head. So in I went. I was face to face with a creature that could kill me with one quick lick (their saliva is deadly). After this amazing experience, I was feeling pretty brave, so decided I would also try holding a reticulating python! I wasn’t quite brave enough to wrap it around my neck like others were doing. So I just helped the zoo keep by holding one end of it!

My short few days in Jakarta have been pretty great (other than the sickness). I am looking forward to spending the next two years exploring this country and getting to know its culture!

Check back soon to read about my 24 hours in LA! 


  1. Great post!

    I've never been in a developing nation long enough to get used to the overt poverty. Let me know if you do.

    You're brave and awesome. I look forward to more of your adventures.

  2. Wow! What an advebture!! I almost bust out laughing when I read the albino bit. Hahaha
    Can't wait to hear more! Xoxox

  3. "My apartment complex has three restaurants in it. One of which is all Western Food. I have eaten here twice with some staff members and it is absolutely delicious!! The chef at this restaurant is Steven Spielberg’s personal chef, which is pretty exciting!"

    Can I ask what the restaurant is called ? Is the chef an Asian woman by any chance ?

  4. Wow what a lovely and beautiful blog is really i enjoyed. Thanks for sharing.
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