Jakarta must have one of the more loathsome reputations in Asia. When I mentioned I was thinking of going to Jakarta, most of my Asia-veteran friends reacted as if I’d cheerily informed them I was thinking of nipping over to Hades for a bit of sightseeing.
“Why would you want to go there?” was the general consensus “It’s the worst place in Asia. There’s traffic, smog, nothing to see, and also a lot of traffic. People have actually starved to death in their cars in the traffic there. And then the smog gave them cancer.” (I may be exaggerating slightly).
This was not exactly a great sales-point, but I also knew that if I had the slightest desire to work in journalism in Indonesia someday, I’d likely have to reconcile myself to the seemingly nightmarish prospect of living in Jakarta for a stretch. And so I bought a cheap Lion Air ticket over from Denpasar and gave it a whirl.
A former Cambodia Daily colleague of mine has been living in Jakarta for two years now and suggested a nice bed and breakfast to me, which definitely helped. I believe that my virulent hatred of Kuala Lumpur derives at least in part from the fact that I was unable to find anywhere to stay there that wasn’t a shit hole, thanks to the cruel machinations of delusional or paid-off TripAdvisor reviewers.
Meanwhile in Jakarta, I had a nice man meet me at the airport sent by the hotel, holding a sign with my name scrawled on it — who thought he was waiting for three people, one named Faine, one named Elizabeth, and one named Greenwood, and appeared surprised to instead get a single slightly undersized American instead. “Are you sure it’s just you?” he said.
“Sure,” I replied. And then we immediately got into our car and encountered the Dreaded Traffic, which was indeed extensive, but not really that bad at 9:00 PM, and it did give me a chance to take a sedate look at the city — note North Jakarta’s slums strung up with pretty lights along the river, many and sundry mega-malls, and a lot of extremely expensive lighting blotting out the stars for miles in every direction, as is standard for aspirant Asian metropolises. All this was fine.
The Bangka Bed and Breakfast turned out to be in a fairly sedate South Jakarta neighborhood, and I was shown to a windowless but comfortable room in a house that I pretty much had to myself, which included a lot of nerdy books the journalist owner had accumulated. There was even a nice lawn and a sitting area outside if one wished to brave the supposedly carcinogenic Death Air, which was a far cry from the deeply distressing and thin-walled place I’d booked myself into by accident in Kuala Lumpur. So far. So good.
More on the museum and some noodles I ate tomorrow. Gripping stuff, I know.