Jakarta in a Bubble

Jakarta, Indonesia

September 21 / 23 – 24, 2010

There were more Muslims in Indonesia than in the entire Arabian Peninsula. I just learned that Indonesia had the largest Muslim population in the world. At Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, I was initially confused to see men washing their feet in a public restroom. Then I realized right beside the washroom was a musholla, an Islamic prayer room; and the act was part of their ritual ablution. Indeed, I had landed in a Muslim country.

Plaza Indonesia @ Jakarta

Other than the ubiquitous musholla, there were not as many mosques and Arabesque architecture as I had expected, especially in Central Java where massive Hindu and Buddhist monuments were the major attractions. Flying back to Jakarta, I expected to witness more of the austere and conservative society that I had vaguely associated with Muslim culture. Instead, I found Dubai.

Just to kill time before our flight out, Donna and I asked the cabbie to drop us at the best mall in town. That turned out to be Plaza Indonesia, a high-end shopping complex that houses big-ticket international brands: Prada, Gucci, Jimmy Choo to name a few – a mall after Carrie Bradshaw’s fashion-victim heart. Like Carrie, women here did not cover their hair with veils; they wore them styled and free. They worked their outfits in similar fashion. The place was a posh and modern oasis – Dubai, if you will – in the capital city of this developing country. Even the parking area was rather snooty and nouveau riche.

Posh Parking at Plaza Indonesia @ Jakarta
Grand Indonesia from Plaza Indonesia; Starbucks overlooking Zara
Mall Wall

We hopped over to Grand Indonesia, its similarly posh twin across the street. Donna, a veritable mallrat, checked out Seibu, a Japanese department store I didn’t even know about, while I made a beeline for Batik Keris, a traditional-product chain store. Granted, their batik pieces were a tad overpriced, but rummaging through the racks revealed some good deals. I found a green gossamer batik scarf perfect for my equally dainty mother. Indonesian fashion designer, Priyo Octaviano, hinted that green would be the color of 2011. Mom would be Indonesian chic for a full year! Down at the basement supermarket, I bought packs of Java coffee and tea to the tune of Java Jive, which I was singing under my breath (“I love coffee, I love tea, I love the Java jive and it loves me….”).

Mom Modeling a Chic Scarf from Batil Keris
Durian Mooncake for Dad

The sweetest discovery I had made in souvenir-shopping, though, was not at the mall, but at a convenience store near Hotel Menteng, my stale-smelling but reasonably-priced and conveniently-located digs. It was a box of durian mooncake for my Dad, who had a sweet tooth (he managed a bite despite the loss of appetite from chemotherapy). Durian as filling tempered the sweetness of mooncake.

Selamat Datang Monument @ Jakarta
Jalan (Street) in Jakarta

Malls and their globalized air could get stuffy; I had to come up for local air. Outside, I only bargained for some of Jakarta’s pollution (the smell of smog stuck on my clothes after that short promenade), but I also got a warm tropical welcome from Tugu Selamat Datang (Welcome Monument) at the Hotel Indonesia Roundabout. The monument’s two bronze figures – male and female with arms outstretched in the wind – were built by Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno, in the early 60s, probably as part of a campaign to depict his country’s openness to foreign visitors and modernization. The efforts had paid off on both counts; the rotunda was now surrounded by five-star hotels, corporate high-rises, and sprawling high-end malls. Jakarta was keeping up with the Joneses in the ASEAN.

Later in the evening, I met Ahlyn, my Jakarta-based friend, and husband Joe for dinner despite the hour-long drive through city traffic. She more than made up for another friend who originally offered to host us but moved to Singapore without prior notice. Donna and I were actually jettisoned in Jakarta, but that would be another story.

Ahlyn and Family @ Jakarta
Minaret near Menteng @ Jakarta

There was hardly any indication I was in a Muslim country – not while touring temples in Jogjakarta and milling at the mall in Jakarta. However, one morning I was roused from sleep at 4:00 by a chant, the Islamic call to prayer. It was not particularly loud, more like a consistent drone. Considering that I was a deep sleeper, it was an effective wake-up call. More significantly, it was a solemn reminder that despite Indonesia’s Hindu and Buddhist heritage and its increasingly modernized (read: Westernized) capital city, it was at its soul a Muslim country – the largest one at that.


Now a warning: I had an unfortunate experience at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport – which was, for the most part, my fault. Despite my OC self, I fumbled for my missing departure card. Apparently, the Indonesian immigration officer had not stapled it on my passport upon my arrival, as was the practice in other countries I had visited. I turned my suitcase inside out, and searched all nooks and crannies – nada.

I had to eat humble pie and do a sheepish mea culpa. How embarrassing – the Transcendental Tourist had lost his departure card! A sign at the departure lounge said it all: pariwara. I didn’t know what it was in Bahasa Indonesia, but in Tagalog it meant “misguided” or “up to no good”, exactly how I felt at that time. Long story short, I ended up paying IDR150,000 (about $17) to the grim-faced immigration officer without receipt just to get out of the country. The amount was almost equal to my round-trip (Jakarta-Jogjakarta) Air Asia ticket! Perhaps this was my karma for getting a student discount at Prambanan by showing my school ID, not as a student but as a teacher. Anyhow, a measly stapler could’ve saved me all the drama. That burst the Jakarta bubble I was in.

Pariwara (in Tagalog – “misguided”) @ Soekarno-Hatta International Airport

38 thoughts on “Jakarta in a Bubble

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  1. I loved the outside of the plaza. The women waving their arm look exquisite. I am not much into the inside of the mall. It is all the same everywhere. The Selamat Datang Monument also looks wonderful and even here the two wave their arms. Is it done by the same artist? If yes, do the waving arms symbolise something? I’m curious.
    There was so much in this post that this could be a mini digest of the place.
    The post script is quite interesting as the word ‘parivar’ in Hindi means ‘family’ and the word ‘parivarthan’ means change. But the word has a ‘v’ and not a ‘w.’ But the pronunciation is all the same. Don’t think that I ask too many questions, but what does the word “pariwara” mean?

    Age, thanks for yet another delightful meandering on Indonesia.

    Glad that you didn’t stop bloging πŸ™‚

    Joy always,

    1. Wow, that was fast, Sus! The bronze couple was designed by one person, Henk Ngantung, and sculpted by Edhi Sunarso (got that from an Indonesian blogger). The waving arms is a welcoming gesture. It was built in 1962 to, specifically, welcome the participants of the Asian Games.

      Thanks for translating the word in Hindi. I dunno how similar Bahasa Indonesia is to your language, but I imagine some of their words are cognates of Hindi. After all, Javanese culture is heavily influenced by India.

      Oh, and yeah, blogging is a sweet obsession. πŸ™‚

  2. I have seen types of parking………………….but this one tops them all!

    ‘Pariwara’……sounds familiar. In Hindi ‘Pariwar’ means ‘family’ πŸ˜€

    1. I’m not sure if it’s a product or a company name. But I think the ad was for a travel agency. Maybe they offer “family tours”? πŸ™‚ Thanks Nehha for adding another word to my Hindi vocab pool!

  3. A FRIEND just came back from Indonesia —Jakarta that is—and nagustuhan daw nya ang mga buildings. Modern dw. at me touch of Indonesian culture. Unlike makati na so so lang. Nacurious ako bigla. hahaha

    1. @Anton, aka Stray Cat: I was also surprised to find some parts of Jakarta to be more progressive than Makati and Fort Boni. And the city streets are not as chaotic as ours. Buses stick to their lanes and stops. Just generally more organized than Metro Manila, as usual (the same impression I had of Bangkok). Haaaay napag-iiwanan na nga talaga tayo.

      @Claire, aka The Loafer: Nope, no Kia or Sarao owner jeep. LOL

      1. manager buti inexplain mo yung loafer…. muntik tuloy ako naghanap ng pagkain… hahahaha…..

        Going back to your story… I am a bit surprised on how indonesia really is from what you just have told. I was thinking that Manila is far better and progressive than jakarta…. hay…. at kamusta naman sa pagkawala ng departure card…. nakakatuwa naman yung sign na yun… ano kaya ibig sabihin nun…. dami kong ellipses no? parang gusto mo na i-edit? hehehe =D peace manager…. pagbigyan mo na ako hehehe =)

    2. Idol Ian, bigla ka na lang nagpaparamdam sa mga old posts ko. Nagugulat ako. πŸ™‚ No worries, idol. I love ellipses. Gora lang. πŸ™‚

      I thought so too – that Manila is better at all levels. It was really a humbling experience. We have a long way to go.

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  5. AJ, thanks for promoting my country with your very honest story.
    Yeah, bribery is still in practice to some extend especially if we have problem such as an incomplete documents etc. I feel so sorry with your inconvinience with the immigration officer, but grateful that you write it down, so that hopefully next time, they will not do that again although that was simply yr mistake.
    Many tourists they don’t go to malls but to airconditioning traditional market Tanah Abang and Mangga Dua, where you can bargain and get high quality Indonesian products. Most of the malls and big foreign importers buy their products from here; so, next time better maybe.

    1. Hi Neneng! That’s nothing compared to the bribery in my country! I do understand, though, that somehow the immigration officer had to be strict and stern so tourists wouldn’t be careless with their departure cards. But I think the problem could’ve been avoided upon arrival by the use of a stapler!

      Too bad I didn’t have the energy then to explore Jakarta. My travel companion and I were so tired and just wanted to take it easy. And I was a bit frustrated I wasn’t able to go to Bandung, as originally planned.

    1. Ah ganun ha! πŸ˜€ I already did – in Facebook. Believe me, you’re not the only person to think it describes me perfectly. Haha!

  6. Sounds like the guy without the stapler has a deal going with his departure counterpart…tourists are suckers , woohoo, we got another one.

    Hey AJ, loved the post. You excite me about Indonesia.

    1. Yeah, Jim, another tourist bites the…humble pie. πŸ™‚ I suspected that all along. If so, they must be making a killing from all the lost departure cards! After I got through, the Caucasian couple behind me seemed to have the same problem.

      I’m glad the post still sold Indonesia, departure card fiasco and descriptions of malls notwithstanding. But really, I had a wonderful time in Indonesia; I would go back in a heartbeat (but I’d be more careful with my departure card, haha). Plus, it’s just your next-door neighbor up north! Go!

  7. You know that you are in an upmarket place when the parking is held for top range cars. Do love the fact that ferrari and porsche had their own parking area – I guess a porsche can’t park in the ferrari place?

    After your experience think I will carry my own stapler with so that exit cards can’t go awol. Did they even give you the card….?

    1. But do you think they’d allow a stapler in your carry-on? I do remember being given the exit card upon arrival, but I really felt they put one over on me. Left a bad aftertaste in an otherwise wonderful trip.

  8. I couldn’t pin point exactly which part of this article I like AJ cause from beginning till end it seemed like I was travelling with you … And, having lost your departure card would have been the biggest nightmare! If I were in your situation at that time, I would have panicked… I haven’t seen much of Indonesia though but you had certainly brought words to pictures for me to see Indonesia through your story… Thank you for sharing…:) Your post is always a joy to read….

    1. I, too, was surprised I didn’t panic…and more surprised that what I felt was impatience rather than anxiety. To be honest, I don’t like airports and queuing, going through security checks, presenting travel docs (so much for being a self-proclaimed traveler, haha!). So when I got hassled that way, I was even MORE impatient! But I had to be extra nice to the immigration officer so she wouldn’t have me detained or slap me with a heftier “unofficial” fine.

    1. Sinabi mo pa. At isa pa, naki-hitch ako sa park shuttle from Candi Sewu to the main gate at Prambanan. Pa-simple lang kasabay ng mga Japanese tourists. Haha. Ayan tuloy, mas mahal pa nawala sa akin.

  9. You had a pleasant day in Jakarta. The departure card incident is amazing. I’m surprised they wouldn’t just allow you to fill out a new one. Is there a day date stamp on it?

    1. Hi Nancie! I don’t really remember what’s in the exit card. It’s just a small stub of paper that they rip out of your passport (if it had been stapled there). But in fact, they did make me fill out a new one -but for a price. I didn’t argue anymore; I just wanted to get on my flight…fast!

    1. Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world, so it should be on the travel list of IslandVacations! πŸ™‚

    1. You said it, Ed! I even had to exchange dollars I could’ve saved so I could pay the fine. Arrrgh! Only durian mooncakes could make me feel better. So if you do have a bag-full of ’em, please give me some. πŸ™‚

  10. The parking sign..oh my word! There must be a lot of rich people there πŸ™‚ Yoir mom looks stunning in the scarf! I love the photo πŸ™‚

    1. Nelieta, I have to see the actual cars to believe. πŸ˜€ Thanks for complementing my Mom. I’ll let her read your comment. πŸ™‚

  11. I will always keep my departure card or else I will be a PARIWARA in a foreign country! lol! Indonesia is more nationalistic coz she uses her own language in their signages. It is also perceived as one of the most corrupt country like us no wonder you were not given a receipt.

    1. Our country doesn’t have a monopoly on corruption. Dunno if that should be a relief or what. Jakarta ain’t so bad though. Comparing it with Manila, I can say in Jakarta, public spaces are generally cleaner, traffic rules are followed more (buses do stick to their lanes), gardens on street islands are well-tended, informal settlers are kept away from main thoroughfares, the airport has a more welcoming vibe, and city monuments are not vandalized. There is a sense of something that works, not sure if it’s city or national government. I don’t get that sense in Metro Manila.

  12. I’m from mindanao pero sa northern part so i’m not so familiar with the muslim culture kaya gusto ko rin magpunta sa indonesia.akala ko before mas maayos place natin sa kanila pero i’m surprised sa nabasa ko dito na mas maganda at maayos ang ibang lugar sa indonesia kay sa atin.how sad.

    1. Yeah, never mind Western countries, Japan, and Singapore, but it really is disheartening to see our ASEAN neighbors leaving us behind in progress. Even Vietnam has overtaken us. I was in Saigon 3 years ago and I was surprised to find a progressive and clean city!

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