Arrival at T. Priok
As expected, Pelni did not arrive quite ontime, so I awoke as we were just approaching Jakarta at 6am. The approach into the crowded harbor took over an hour due to no-wake rules and general navigation around other cargo vessels around. The sunrise made the whole thing seem almost romantic or at least surreal. Once inside the main barrier, tugs are required to push you around to make sure you make it in safely. After docking, about twenty harbor boys rush the boat and run all over looking for people who have more baggage than they can carry. After the traffic died down a bit, Iwan and I climbed down the stairs and he pointed me in the direction of a good taxi. But first, I searched the dock area for an official Pelni office to ask about my continuing travel. Nothing. I had already expected this and settled on staying in town for a couple days anyway, so I hopped an ojek and headed for Jalan Jaksa.
Not intending to visit Jakarta at all, I had torn the Java section out of my guidebook before leaving home. But after talking to a couple people on the boat, and receiving many offers from taxi drivers at the terminal, I realized that Jaksa must be the Khaosan Rd. of Jakarta. And I knew that the ojek motorcycle ride would be the way to get there. At least, it is the most fun way, even if it is not technically allowed by law. The ojek guy offered me the ride into town even though ojeks aren't allowed to operate in town AND the guy had no idea where Jaksa was. Both made for an interesting tour of the backstreets and frontstreets all around the town until finally we found our way in.
All the Comforts of Home
After surveying the area, I decided on the Borneo Hostel on a sidestreet from Jaksa. Although these backpackers areas can be a bit nutts, it is an easy place to check your email, pick-up an English book, meet some fellow travelers, and arrange your next move, all without walking more than a block or two in any direction. After satisfying all of my urges, I set off on a walk to orientate myself. Amazingly, my six dollar accomodation is only a couple blocks from the national monument (the new city center), the national museum, a MacDonalds Chilis Piz za Hut place, every major bank, and a shopping center with a cinema. Crazy.
Around town with Yo Yo
Of course, not far into my walk, I was approached by a random guy wanting to introduce me to the area (in return for English lessons and a small donation). Joshua insisted that I call him Yo Yo. His story is that he is from Sulawesi and came here to work in a Japanese construction company. Since that work died out, he has been working as a part-time teacher at a Catholic school and doing this tour stuff on the side. He introduced me to the national museum, monunment, and mosque, as well as the the flora and fauna exhibition that was on. While there, we happened upon a bambo bench which reminded me of some unfinished shopping that we could try.
Two years ago in Sumatra, I ran into some furniture made from very large-diameter bamboo posts and such which really caught my attention. I searched for similar work in the States and in China and Laos last year with no luck. But Yo Yo had an idea of where we might find the stuff here in Jakarta. So we hopped a one-hour taxi ride out to the suburbs to some furniture district. After asking around a bit, we found a place selling just what I wanted. But they were closed. It was Friday at 5pm and everything was shutting down for the weekend. However, we were able to summon one of the craftsman from his home upstairs and insisted on bargaining with him. Since the items in storage here were not stained and finished, he would offer them at basically half off the showroom price. Honest. So I pulled together a few items I would like and proceeded to ask about shipping. This also could be a problem on a friday evening, especially when talking about shipping a sofa, chairs, etc by boat to Tokyo. We called up a truck to hall us around, and then tried out one shipping place with no luck. Everyone gone home. Next, we headed into the backstreets of some upscale neighborhood which was home to a family shipping business. After some phone calls, we were able to get Yuli to come in from home to do business with us (meanwhile having noodles from a street vendor and meeting the rest of the shipping clan). By eight oclock we had sealed the whole deal and were on a bus back to the city center. I had exhausted the entire wad of cash I extracted from the ATM that morning, but I had finally satisfied my urge to buy this unique furnishing.
On Movies, Safety, and Guides
The main entertainment for one of my days in Jakarta consisted of taking a cab up to a posh mall and seeing a fine Hollywood movie. It seems like a funny thing to do in Indonesia, but I find it interesting to look at Guess shops, internet cafes, and Western movies from an Eastern perspective. Unfortunately, it is this stuff which is taking away the adventure and uniqueness of the world, but at the same time, if these people wanna watch Moulin Rouge and wear Adidas, it is nice that they can. In a way, Jakarta can seem not so far from Tokyo or New York... Until you try to take the bus home from the teater at 11pm. First of all, I found myself locked inside the parking garage of the mall. Luckily, there were a few other moviegoers who had taken the same elevator as me, so together we made our way out of the mall compound. Next I walked a couple blocks down a pitch-dark street to get to a busy street corner where about thirty people had gathered to look for the proper bus, bemo, or taxi for home. My case was confused by the fact that I wanted a kota bus going to kota, but there are kota (city) buses that go other places. Basically, as the bus is slowing down, a man hangs out the door and yells the destination of the bus. You can yell back your destination to double-check that you are not mistaken, and then you get on. It took me about 20 minutes to find the right bus, during which time, I watched over a hundred taxis go by. I was so happy to have mastered the bus system, though. And despite all of the horror stories in the guidebooks, I found that even at night I had no problems with pickpockets, etc.
To reward myself for my small victory, I stopped into the McDonalds where the bus let me off and had some fries and a strawberry shake. I hadn't set down for five minutes, when a guy comes over and introduces himself and asks for my name and country and all. After three days in Jakarta, I was thoroughly tired of being Hello Mistered every five minutes, so I gave the guy a hard time. This lead into a long sociological discussion about how Western people are too closed and selfish while Indonesian people are all so nice. I took offense at this as I could now see a pattern of random guides and touts beating you down with Hello Mister, Where do you go? And then giving you a hard time if you don't take their offers. I countered his story of closed-minded tourists with my story of money-hungry locals. I gave him the example of the last guy that started at me with Hello my friend, and later expected a payment for his friendship, or guiding services. We went through his lecture about how Westerners have no religion, and I countered with what seem to be the facts of young people in Indonesia too. Overall, we had a nice two hour talk. By this time, it was past midnight and he asks me for money to take a cab home. Dumb. I declined to point out the irony of our whole talk and I handed him 20 thousand rupiah.
The main road in town passes right by the national monument and national museum which are near the Jl Jaksa area. One direction of the road takes you out of town to Blok M shopping, movies, furniture, zoos, etc, while the other direction leads to the old city and the older port. I spent my last morning wandering through this area known as Kota, or just city, I guess. There is definitely some of the glory of the Dutch colonial days left in this area, but it sits right next to the nastiest black brew of garbage I have ever seen. The dock area shared the same odd contrast: most of the space taken by tens of ships with people manually unloading heaven timber, cement, etc, while the tip of the dock was reserved for the Cisadane express boat service which costs almost as much as a plane and is frequented by the upper middle class who can't wait for the normal Pelni boat, or even the Kapuas standard express. I hopped on this classy ship and headed for Kalimantan.