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The heart and arteries of Jakarta.

INDONESIA | Sunday, 1 February 2015 | Views [628]

A guy definitely designed that thing!

A guy definitely designed that thing!

After my close encounter of the non-consensual kind in the last journal, I wasn't feeling as suspicious of Indonesians as what most people would. So far, I would rate them pretty highly in the friendly stakes with the other Asian countries I have visited. Not that I would recognise a terrorist unless he looked like Flavour Flav with a string of hot dogs wrapped around his chest, but even the surly looking, 'stab first, ask questions later' looking dudes can be quite friendly. And how can they not be when good morning, or 'pagi', rhymes with huggy.
I obviously have too much time on my hands!
While carefully manuevoring down the pavement, which in reality, is just the part of the road too deteriorated for cars to drive on anymore, I passed a hardened looking crim, carrying a rooster round the neck and looking like he was strangling it non-chalantly because nothing else was in stabbing range. As I approached, I thought if he wanted to cop a feel, I'd probably just drop the soap and get it over with. 'Pagi' I ventured and the broadest grin spread across his face as he responded in kind. A wave of relief passed over me, but the poor rooster probably didn't feel the interaction changed his prospects much.

Any disembarktion point from a train or bus stop has swarms of touts for personal transport options ranging from angkots, SWB van's with no doors and wooden benches where you sit, hold on and pray, to ojek or motorcyles, to a taksi if you prefer air-conditioned comfort to feeling like you're strapped to a road rocket in a Bond movie. If you answer 'Jalan jalan' to their offers, meaning 'I'm just walking around', they almost seem overjoyed for you and would probably wish you and your family a most auspicious day if they knew more English than just “hey, Mister”.

Before getting back onto whatever topic I thought this journal was going to be about, it is worth mentioning Jakarta's traffic. I've banged on about it plenty of times before as every Asian country seems like a royal rumble on wheels compared to the prim and proper way we drive back home. The traffic in Jakarta is a living, breathing entity in itself. It is an enormous, hive minded like beast that never rests and it arteries pulse through the city in such unbelieveably disorganised looking harmony that it is actually awe-inspiring. Each tightly packed road is an Autobot that continually transforms into a more complex traffic jam in motion. To move as much traffic around in a western country would take at least ten times as long, result in untold fender benders and entirely new expletives being created every five minutes.

My blind stroll of faith to escape my new lover had just seen this pollution belching snake incorporate me into its insanity and spit me out the other side unharmed. And that's how it had to be done. Everyone was used to avoiding all the other speeding vehicles around them, so avoiding a pedestrian is probably something you're taught before learning how to park. This I finally accepted as I boldly strode across another 4 lane road and into the massive park that surrounds the huge Monas spire, short for Monument Nasional. It was designed to resemble a mortar and pestle, one that is used with such vigour that the top of it has inexplicably burst into flame.

As the Monas marks the heart of the city, in a very bold and almost phallic manner, it is a popular place for locals and foreigners alike. Do not visit on weekends or public holidays warns the guide book, unless your favourite pastime is queing up in stiffling heat. I was there on a Wednesday, but school had just started for the year and it seems the first thing they were going to learn is how to run amok in public spaces.

A friendly and pimply faced kid had obviously quit his job working the deep fryer at Krusty burger and gotten a job selling tickets to ride an elevator to the top of Monas. He was the first of many to be absolutely beside himself with the honour of being able to practice his English on me. Heaven help any whitey who doesn't come from an English speaking country. That would baffle the would be student, but wouldn't stop them from requesting a photo.

A slow moving queue of about 50 people waited to get up the top, and even though I had other plans for the day, it soon, or not so soon, became evident that they were not going to happen. Fortunately this whitey spoke English so before long I became a sounding board for the people queing in front of me. Visiting from West Sumatra, Dile ended up being quite entertaining, and not just because her name was pronounced 'delay'. She was also a very necessary distraction for someone who is so scared of heights, they get vertigo standing on tippy-toes.

Two hours later, after every school kid had gone up first, we were up the top and Dile's desire to get a photo with me set off a chain reaction that meant my celebrity stocks sky-rocketed before I could even have a look around. Families, couples, groups of hoods I normally clutch my wallet as I walked past, and even giggling young ladies, all wanted their photo taken with me. While I'd like to believe that I am the latest social media sensation in Indonesia, those pictures are probably just sold off to the likes of that mornings escalator groper and added to his wonderwall of whiteys his practiced his juggling skills on.

Jakarta really is a sprawling metropolis, with sky scrapers dotting the landscape as far as the eye could see in every direction. Thanks to pollution levels that make smoking cigarettes a healthier option, and ominous clouds lurking around like they want a photo taken with me as well, I couldn't even see the extent of the cities sprawl. One thing was quite apparent was that Jakarta is acutally quite green as well. Claire lives in what would be considered a more affluent area with her neighbours belittling her scooter with their shiny Mercedes and Volvos, and I thought all the trees there were the exception to the rule. Sure, the poorer areas are so tightly squeezed in with co-joined corrugated iron that running around at roof level seems more likely than trees being able to grow. But from 118 metres up, pockets of green can be seen littered around everywhere.
It's definitely a jungle of some sort.
After so long in line, and having more photos taken of me than at family reunions, I bought a bottle of water before heading home. I don't know if they lacked changed, or whether it was standard proceedure, but paying for a 40cent bottle of water with a 50cent note got me a ferrero rocher like sweet instead of change. Too insignificant to be concerned if it was a scam of the strangest kind, I was actually stoked to be getting a chocolate surprise, just for the sake of it. Until I tried to eat it and realised it was hot enough to have been microwaved and tasted like it probably should have been microwaved. A few more people offered water on the way out, but showing them my full bottle in my bag pleased them immensely that I was staying hydrated rather than disappointing them at a missed sale.

As I had started the visit with a groping, I thought I would end it in a similiarly sexually ambigious manner. When the guide book tells you the Ikad Statue is of “five firm-bottomed guys raising a flag for the environment”, most people probably wouldn't use that as the solo reason for going to check it out. Unfortunately, that was probably the only reason why you would check it out, and confirming my suspicions that Jakarta has a thriving gay scene, the statue was surrounding by about 20 guys lounging around it in poses that would turn most peoples hair white were they not wearing clothes.

To confirm my own heterosexuality, if only to myself, I tried unsuccessfully to sneak onto the ladies only carriage then had to resort to scouring Tinder hoping that someone other than 'Chunky and curvy' would swipe right to my profile. No such luck, so I fell asleep on the train and gave everyone the chance to stare at me as much as they like without being conscious of the fact. Who I am kidding? No one has shown any shame when it comes to just flat out staring at me.

By one of those inexplicable strokes of luck, I woke up just as we pulled up at my train station and I went home feeling pretty pleased with a day of very little other than random intimacy, queues, a million photos and the simple pleasure of being able to communicate with the locals in their own language. To celebrate, I tried not to kill Claire with my attempt at curried fried rice, we got a little pissy and played uno until school work got the better of Claires fun time.

Tags: city, jakarta, language, locals, monuments, transport

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