Tom and Tessa

South East Asia 2016-17


Everything we’d heard and read about Jakarta was that it wasn’t a particularly tourist-friendly city and wasn’t really worth spending too long in. As the capital city of Indonesia, we felt obliged (verpflichtet) to visit for a couple of days and so we booked our 09:50am flights from KL.

Whilst packing the night before, Tessa asked if we’d checked in online yet (which we hadn’t) so I opened up my emails to dig out (rauskramen) the Air Asia reference number. Upon putting the reference number into the Air Asia app, it returned a message saying “You can only check in online from 14 days to 1 hour before your flight. Please try again later”. “Hmm, that’s odd”, I thought, returning to my emails. Oh. Shit. I’d booked our flights for 21st DECEMBER, not 21st NOVEMBER! We had less than 12 hours before we were due to fly (or rather, wanted to fly) and hoped that there would still be seats available and that it wouldn’t cost us the Earth to change our flights.

“Phew. There’s still seats on the 09:50am flight. And they’re 289 ringgit so, minus what we’ve already paid, it should only cost us about an extra 26€ each. That’s lucky”, I said. However, come payment time, the price had risen (ansteigen) steeply. Then I noticed an additional line at the bottom – “penalty fee” (Strafgebühr). “240 ringgit! That’s 45 fucking quid!”, I raged. I could MAYBE understand if I’d had to call up someone to change the flights – they have to pay that person to answer the phone etc – but I’d just made the change MYSELF on MY phone using MY data and had to pay 45 quid (52€) for the privilege (Privileg/ Ehre)! Bastards.

Arriving at KLIA2 airport next morning with a lighter wallet (leichterer Geldbeutel) and a sour taste in our mouthes, we checked-in, boarded and flew to Jakarta without any problems and then got an Uber to our hotel for our two-night stay; Madu Inn.

Jakarta has a population (Einwohner) of over 10 million with a population density (Bevölkerungsdichte) of over 15,000 people per km2 (for comparison, London has 5,431 people per km2 and Berlin has under 4,000 people per km2) meaning it is one of the biggest and busiest cities on the entire planet. Whilst other mega cities have extensive public transport (öffentliche Verkehrsmittel) systems for their citizens to use, Jakarta has no major public transport systems to speak of and people rely heavily on their cars, motorbikes and buses of various sizes (from pick-up trucks to larger buses) to get them about. What this means is that Jakarta, to put it mildly (sanft ausgedrückt), has a traffic problem.

After experiencing only mild traffic jams coming from the airport, we decided to see if we could get a public bus from our northern base to the central Grand Indonesia shopping centre (Trip Advisor says this is the number one thing to do in Jakarta which tells you quite a lot about how much there is to see and do here!). Hailing (beirufen) the light blue pick-up, we just about managed to confirm (wir konnten grade so erklären, wo wir hinwollten) with the driver (via three other passengers) that he was heading in the general direction of the Grand Indonesia mall. We then proceeded to spend well over an hour in the back of the hot and sticky ‘bus’ as we crawled (krabbeln) down the main road towards the mall. Fortunately, one of our fellow passengers spoke reasonably good English and told us that this bus actually didn’t go all the way to Grand Indonesia and we’d have to change to another. He very helpfully showed us where to get off and which bus to get and so, over one-and-a-half hours after setting off, we’d managed to complete the 8.6km journey (that’s an average of about 5km/h!) to the Grand Indonesia shopping mall.

Really not much to report from there. It’s a shopping centre. It has shops. The air conditioning was nice. Number one thing to do in Jakarta, right there.

We got an Uber home which ONLY took us about 40 minutes for which we were thankful. Realising that I didn’t have an adaptor for the Indonesian plugs (Steckdose), we headed out for dinner at about 19:30 and planned to pop by the nearby electronics mall (absolutely massive, everyone selling the same stuff) to buy an adaptor. Only to find that, apparently, all the shops close at 7pm! (Fortunately, after many discussions, the hotel reception managed to find me one.)

Throughout the day, we’d noticed that the people of Jakarta didn’t seem especially used to (an etw. gewöhnt sein) or friendly to tourists (us, as white people anyway) and the men, in particular (vor allem), stared (starred) and sometimes pointed (zeigen) at Tessa as we walked by. Whether it is her light skin, blond hair or the way she dressed (how dare a woman show her shoulders and legs!), it made us both feel quite uncomfortable. And it wasn’t subtle (unbemerkt) either. Quite often, someone would shout from a passing car or point and tell their friend to look at her. Tessa remarked “what would they do if you weren’t here?!”. We can only hope that it is just a complete unfamiliarity (ungewohnt) with foreign people rather than anything more distasteful (geschmacklos). Living in very metropolitan and multi-cultural countries, we think nothing of encountering (begegnen) people of all races, colours and sizes, but here, it is very apparent (offensichtlich) that tourists are not the norm and people are intrigued (fasziniert) when they see someone that doesn’t look like them (we can count the amount of European-looking people we’ve seen in the city on one hand).

Next morning, we were woken at 08:15am to one of the hotel staff banging (schlagen) on the door shouting “breakfast, breakfast”. Upon opening the door, he thrust (schieben) two plates of Nutella-on-toast at me. This now explained why we had to tell reception what we wanted for breakfast when we checked in at 1pm the previous day! Although we weren’t expecting it to be delivered to our room whilst we were still asleep! Very odd.

Feeling very de-motivated (unmotiviert) after our previous day’s experiences, we decided not to bother (Mühe machen) walking the 1km north to the Old City and the Bank of Indonesia museum and instead (stattdessen) spent some time planning the rest of our Indonesian itinerary and then took an Uber to the National Monument park. This 4km journey took us an incredibly frustrating half an hour.

A giant 132m white concrete obelisk, the National Monument of Indonesia was built in 1963 after independence from the Netherlands. The surrounding park area is one of the largest open spaces in central Jakarta and, is rather pleasant compared to the screaming streets surrounding it. On entering the park through the police-controlled gate, we noticed dozens (tausende) of police cars and vans parked as well as several large black tents (Zelte) with ‘Polisi’ written on the tops. We speculated (spekulieren) that it might actually be a sensible place for the police to base themselves as they could skip quite a lot of the surrounding traffic via the park’s criss-cross (kreuzend) diagonal roads should they need to get anywhere quick. Quite a ridiculous situation.

After admiring the height of the National Monument, we walked across the park towards the Gambir train station where we hoped to buy train tickets for the next day’s planned journey to Yogyakarta.

“Why are there two metre high green fences (Zaun) with barbed wire all the way around the park”, I asked Tessa. “Don’t they want anyone to come in?!”. My suspicions (Verdacht) were somewhat confirmed (bestätigt) as we reached the edge (Rand) of the park opposite Gambir station to find there was no gate in sight, just endless fencing. Walking a few minutes along the fence, we came across a road gate hoping to be let out by the three guards in attendance. Signals to keep walking along as we approached nixed (vernichten) that. We ended up walking almost the entire way back around the park, all the while along the green barbed wire fence, which certainly changed the vibe from ‘pleasant, open green space’ to ‘concrete and grass prison’. We then had to retrace our steps on the other side of the fence (wir mussten den ganzen Weg wieder zurück gehen), back past the guarded gate, and to Gambir station where, thankfully, we were able to buy our train tickets to Yogyakarta.

Rather than relying on Uber, we decided to give the local tuk-tuk (called ban-jay) a try. We used the Uber fare of 19,000 rupiah (£1.09/1.27€) as a guide and approached the line of blue ban-jays. “Jalan Madu. How much?”, we asked. “500”, came the reply, meaning 500,000 rupiah (£29/33€) or a roughly 26 times increase on Uber. Walking off in disgust (Abscheu) at how they would so blatantly try to rip (abzocken) people off, we ordered an Uber and headed home vowing to eat dinner, sleep and get out of here.

My overwhelming opinion of Jakarta is that it is an utter (völlig/absolut) cesspit (Klärgrube) of human existence. It showcases (prästentiert) the worst aspects of modern society: massive urban development (Entwicklung) with no planning or taste, complete traffic chaos with arrogant drivers (nobody lets anyone into a road for fear of the car behind or next to them taking the available space (keener lässt irgendwen reinfahren, weil derjenige da dann seinen Platz nehmen würde)), rude (unfreundlich) and dishonest (unehrlich) people with little respect for visitors, zero respect for the environment (Umwelt) around them (huge amounts of rubbish everywhere, astronomical car emissions).

I should note that most of the people we encountered (hotel staff, waiters in restaurants, shopkeepers etc) were pleasant enough but they didn’t ever seem overly pleased to see us and the surprising language barrier may exacerbate (verschlimmern) this (Indonesian is identical to Malay which is made up of Roman letters. Almost all Malaysians we encountered spoke impeccable (einwandfrei) English so I guess it goes to show the lack of English-speaking tourists in Jakarta). Our Uber driver from the airport (Andi) was very friendly and gave us some recommendations (Empfehlungen) of things to do, the man in the phone shop chatted away as he sorted out our SIM cards and the man who helped us on the bus on the first day was very helpful and chatted to us about a trip to Scotland, Manchester and London he’d taken the previous year (vergangenes Jahr).

Overall, we’ve found few (wenig) redeeming (tilgen/ausgleichen) features (Eigenschaften) and both agree (einverstanden/denken das Gleiche) that it is the worst place either of us has ever visited. We are, however, very hopeful that the rest of Indonesia will confirm (bestätigen) our decision to visit this country and provide (liefern/bieten) us with a safe (sicher) and fulfilling (erfüllend) home for the next few weeks. Good riddance (“Ein Glück, dass ich dich los bin”) and onwards (weiter) to Yogyakarta.

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© 2021 Tom and Tessa.