We made it! I’m now blogging from our luxurious hotel (Alila) in the center of Jakarta (not joking about the luxurious part). We got in early Saturday morning after an uneventful plane trip from Singapore. We were given the remainder of the day off to rest up and stave of jetlag. So, naturally, a group of us decided to go hike around the city in 90+ degree weather. The trip eventually ended anti-climatically as we found our destination – a monument/museum – to be closed upon arrival; however, the short journey gave us a…unique first impression of the Big Durian.
This pic was taken from my hotel room window. Yes, that’s our pool. Mmmm. And that is central Jakarta below.
Do you remember the atari game “frogger”? Yeah, crossing the street in Jakarta is kinda like that. There are lines on the road and lights/signs on poles, but they are more like guidelines…that everyone chooses to ignore. You have cars, buses, odd little three-wheeled taxi things, and motorbikes…tons and tons of motorbikes usually with bundles, boxes, or people precariously strapped to the back weaving around each other at a good clip. So, the preferred method of crossing the street is to give up and go home. The alternative to this is waving one hand above your head in wild, large gestures and using the free hand to cover your eyes as you dash into oncoming traffic (of course I didn’t do that, Mom…).
I promise to get better pics of traffic, but this sort of shows the 3-wheeled taxis I alluded to earlier. Also, this video is a good representation (note how casually the people cross the street).
We emerged from our hotel again today as a large group to go to the Ambassador Mall to buy cell phones and DVDs. I can call home on the cheap now! Adding to my joy, I bought all 6 seasons of The Office and Band of Brothers/Pacific for less than $20. The greatest part of the day, however, was by far our cultural orientation which began at a hotel and ended at Ibu Irdi’s house.
Ibu (Ms/Mother) Irdi is a professor of intercultural studies in Jakarta, and she presented a session on how to become comfortable in our new lives. She had some comforting anecdotes and many wise words. My favorite quote of the day: “Tragedy + Time = Comedy.” She focused a lot on American “Individualistic” culture v. Indonesian “Collectivist” culture, stating that many American visitors complain about invasion of privacy/personal space. I haven’t experienced this beyond the stares at our “bule (the word for white people) parade” in the mall, but I’m sure it will come. She encouraged us to befriend our colleagues at our posts and rely on them as cultural interpreters. Fantastic advice.
After our session, we were invited to join Ibu Irdi at her home to observe her and her family and friends break fast. This is the holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast all day long and break fast after sunset and after their prayer. After they laid out their prayer rugs to face Mecca, the women donned white garments to cover all but their faces and they lined up behind the men. Ibu’s husband stood in front and led the melodic prayer in Arabic. After three repetitions of bowing, kneeling, and touching their foreheads to the floor, the family shook hands and invited us to eat with them. The whole process was absolutely beautiful and filled the whole room with peace and reverence. After dinner, Ibu Irdi led us up a spiral staircase to her roof-top garden, where we could feast on the amazing night view of the Jakarta skyline and be serenaded by the call to prayer by the very-near mosque. I’m sure this will go down as one of my most memorable times in Indonesia. I look forward to learning more about Islam.
This post is getting long; there was just so much to report from these first few days! So, so much to digest. I’ll end with a food report as it is one of my stated goals.
Today at lunch I tried: Snake fruit (more fun to peel than to eat), Ikan Bakar (grilled fish), Tongseng Sapi (beef in some sauce), and Gadu Gadu (a “salad” topped with peanut sauce). I’m disappointed in myself thus far. My stomach has been extraordinarily weak since arriving in Jakarta, so my exploration has been limited. I was assured that this was natural…this to shall pass.