Friends and Lovers:
If you’re in Jakarta next weekend, take some time out of your traffic-congested schedule to drive books instead of cars.
Come volunteer some of your time on January 28 and 29 with Drive Books, Not Cars. Y’all get free Starbucks and hugs, and all you have to do is sort through books and try to play nice.
Interested? Or just want a free hug? Get in touch with The Jakarta Globe’s ever so dashing Zack Petersen: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m one of those people that makes a list for everything … I even have a master list of my lists!
During my last few days in this maddening city, I started making a list of the “10 Things I’ll Miss Most About Jakarta.” It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, because as it turns out, there are over 20 things I’ll miss about this place.
But I’ve narrowed down the list to 10, which I now proudly present to you out of sheer boredom at the HKIA (which, incidentally, doesn’t sell honey roasted macadamia nuts. Fail.)
10 THINGS I’LL MISS MOST ABOUT JAKARTA
Allow me to explain. Yes, traffic is horrible, yes traffic is frustrating. But getting stuck in traffic gives me some alone time with my thoughts, scary as they may be. I’m normally always rushing about, but when you’re sitting in the back of a Bluebird with nowhere to go and nothing to do, this is the one moment in your frenetic day when you can muse, reflect and daydream without interruption.
9) Themed restaurants
Restaurants here take the “dining experience” notion seriously. I’ve eaten dinner in a train with Jim (Leko), had drinks with Lauren, Zack and his friends in a library (Bibliotheque), and chowed down on masala pizza in front of a big, red barn door (Pizze e Birre). Yes, themed restaurants can be slightly tacky (a nanny restaurant in Pacific Place? Really?), but they’re kinda fun.
8) Staff at Sofi Residence
The folks that run the serviced apartment I stayed at are absolute darlings. They’d greet me every morning and wish me a pleasant day. They’d ask how my day was each time I came home. They’d give me the biggest and fluffiest towels. Aaaaand, they’d refill my box of Keelex and toilet roll while everyone else had to buy their own.
It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s sunny. I like it. I’ve become so accustomed to wearing minimal amounts of clothing, I’m starting to dread the idea of donning chunky boots and Michelin-man coats come the Fall.
6) Street food/Warungs
It’s cheap. It’s good. And it’s cheap. Granted, I got mind-numbingly sick eating street food, but hey, I can’t say no to a bowl of rice, tempeh and bakwan, especially when it only costs Rp. 10,000 (slightly more than a dollar).
Speaking of street food. Gemblong is my absolute favorite roadside snack. They’re chewy, glutinous rice and coconut fritters coated in caramelized gula mera. Lauren, Astrid and I first discovered these guys on the way back home from Puncak, and since then, we haven’t been able to find them in Jakarta - Lauren, Cory and I walked through nearly every pasar malam in our neighborhood in search for these elusive treats, with no success. But Jim, being the darling that he is, wouldn’t allow me to leave Jakarta without taking a bag of these home (see No.2).
4) Bluebird Taxis
These airconditioned, leather interior cabs became my portable mini office. I’d slide in the backseat, slip on the heels, dab on some perfume, slick on the lipstick, then proceed to call sources, conduct brief phone interviews, write up drafts and interview questions before reaching my destination, all for under $5. The best part? The cab drivers are the sweetest guys ever. Try getting that in NYC!
So, it’s a running joke between Lauren, Cory and Christine that all I do is hang out in the spa (“I was at the spa the other day, and …” “Oh! Why am I not surprised!”), and it’s true. But with good reason. Let me preface this by saying I never go to spas in Vancouver or NYC. But in Jakarta, I can’t resist. Spas here are cheap, and they’re good! You get massaged, scrubbed, painted in volcanic mud, and soaked in a rose petal milk bath for under $40! I rationalize my spa habit by telling myself Jakarta is a frustrating, frenzied, harried city, and the only way to calm myself down is to hit the spa. It’s better for my peace of mind. Right? Right.
2) Jim and his driver, Pak Umer
I love these two. Period. They take road trips to a whole new - entertaining - level, and I can say with absolute certainty that my weekends won’t be the same without them. They are also the sweetest guys I know. I’ll give you three examples. 1) When I first came to Jakarta, Jim and I made plans to have dinner during the weekend. But his car was in the shop. Instead of rescheduling, he took a 1.5+ hour taxi ride all the way from Cibubur just to see me! 2) Jim and I were to meet up at Kelapa Gading for dinner after work. But Jim didn’t want me to take a taxi during rush hour, so he sent Pak Umer to pick me up at work while he took a taxi in the rush hour traffic! 3) I mentioned my obsession with gemblong, so one evening Pak Umer drove us around Jakarta looking for these guys. We came out empty handed, but they were determined that I have gemblong before I left. So the following morning, Pak Umer and Jim once gain set off around the city, and when I met up with them that evening, I was presented with a huge bag of gemblong. I have no idea how they managed to make it happen. But I’m glad they did.
I haven’t seen my family in 8 years, and although I only had a few moments with them, I’ve never felt so loved and cared for. For example, my cousins Shely and Chandra wanted to see me before I left, and they insisted they accompany me to the airport. When they came to the kost to fetch me, they came bearing presents! A beautiful scarf, a bag of krupuk and a big box of … you guessed it … gemblong.
Jakarta, I’m going to miss you something fierce.
After my farewell dinner with Jim, we went on our last jalan-jalan with Pak Umer. And true to form, Jim was flipping through his collection of CD’s to accompany our aimless drive through Jakarta’s streets.
“It’s already night. We need the right song for this,” Jim said as he deftly slipped a disc into the CD player.
“Okay, what are we going to listen to now?”
“Because it’s night. And vampires come out at night.”
Makes sense to me.
Need a place where you can watch the MU match, check Facebook, pray, AND stuff your face with Big Macs and french fries?
Look no further than the McDonald’s at Sarinah Mall.
This place has flat screen TV’s, computer terminals with free internet access (there’s also free wi-fi), a prayer room, and big comfy black sofas where you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your Rp. 5,000 (60 cents) chocolate sundae.
And the best part?
It’s buka 24 jam.
I’m lovin’ it.
Like Manila, Jakarta is brimming with happy, smiling people.
The cab drivers. The store clerks. The guys on ojeks. The folks running the local warung.
You get the picture.
But those happy people, who are so sincerely and genuinely happy that you can’t stop yourself from smiling back at them? Look no further than the ladies restrooms in Grand Indonesia.
In Jakarta, the restrooms (I can only speak for the ladies) are staffed by a lone woman whose only job is to clean up after you. And if there’s nobody in the restroom, and hence nobody to clean up after? She doesn’t wander off to socialize with her friends. She stays there. Wiping the sinks. The faucets. The taps. The walls. Over again.
It probably sounds like the worst job in the world, but these ladies - the ones in Grand Indonesia at least - sure don’t seem to think so.
They are the sweetest, happiest, nicest people I’ve met in Jakarta. They greet you with a warm smile as they say “Selamat pagi/siang/sore/malam Ibu, silahkan,” which roughly translates to “Good morning/afternoon/late afternoon/evening Madam, please go ahead.”
But the sweetness doesn’t stop there. After handing you a paper towel to dry your hands, she’ll open the door for you. Smilingly tell you to watch your step over the raised flooring. She’ll motion with her hand how to find your way back to the main part of the mall. And with an even wider smile, she’ll thank you for coming to the restroom, bidding you a pleasant day/afternoon/evening.
To top that off, they’re even more put-together than I am. Their hair is impeccably styled into a chignon at the nape. Their make up is tastefully done and quite classy. Their uniforms are neat and pressed. And they work in a restroom!
Here are these women, with arguably one of the worst jobs in the world, taking pride in what they do, and doing it well.
Rock on, ladies.
It’s high time I stopped being so selfish.
So on Sunday, instead of cavorting around the city or jetting off on another road trip, I visited my aunts, uncles and cousins from mum’s side of the family.
I haven’t seen them in eight years, and I was cursing myself for not making an effort to spend more time with them.
Although I can’t speak a word of Bahasa and it’s been years since I last saw all of them, the welcome I received was so heart warming.
My aunt and cousins drove for over an hour to fetch me at the kost. We proceeded to drive for another hour to visit my cousin Annie and her family, where we had a sumptuous lunch and a smorgashboard of my favorite Indonesian snacks. From there, it was off to Aunt Tutik’s home, where more snacks awaited. We then stopped by Aunt Lusi’s home for more snacks, a tearful and heart-wrenching look through photo albums, and chats about life as we know it. Our last stop was to my cousin Wiwik’s home for dinner and to watch a DVD of my cousin Chandra’s wedding last June.
I couldn’t converse with them as much as I would have liked, and I was rather ashamed for my blatant inability to carry on a conversation in Bahasa.
But it didn’t seem to matter to them. They would just look at me with kind eyes and warm smiles.
“We are so happy to see you,” they would say.
My heart melted.
It’s true what they say.
I thought August was going to be a rather boring month, in the sense that most restaurants don’t serve alcohol, many of my friends are fasting, clubs aren’t open (well, they’re not supposed to be open), and lots of street vendors close down in the afternoon, because of Ramadan.
Food wise, August is a pretty brutal month.
But food wise, August is a pretty fun month!
Allow me to explain.
Nearly every restaurant offers a “buka puasa,” or “open the fast” menu during the month of Ramadan, like the set menus you get at NYC Restaurant Week or Dine Out Vancouver. From 6pm onwards, you can get a a special “buka puasa” 3-course meal for as little as 75,000 rupiah, which is about $8. And the food is pretty darn good!
So as you can imagine, for the past week my friends and I have made a nightly adventure out of randomly picking a strip of restaurants and scoping out all the buka puasa menus. The best part is, the buka puasa menus aren’t limited solely to Indonesian restaurants. Last night it was good ol’ Southern US grub, the night before it was Swiss-German, and the night before that it was Italian.
Why club hop when you can restaurant hop?
Since arriving in Jakarta, I haven’t really felt any pangs of homesickness for Vancouver or New York. But I have, interestingly enough, found myself on numerous occasions wishing I could teleport myself to Manila.
I miss Manila terribly.
So, you can only imagine how delighted I was this morning when 1) I met a Fil-Kiwi, the latest addition to The Jakarta Globe, and 2) Said Fil-Kiwi swore there’s a Chowking at Ambassador Mall! A fellow Filipina whom I can reminisce about how wonderful Manila is AND a place where I can get halo-halo? Yes please.
I haven’t had halo-halo in two years, and I hate to say this, but es campur has got nothing on this baby.
And the best discover of the day, aside from a new friend and a place where I can get my halo-halo fix?
Ambassador Mall is only a 15 minute walk from where I live.
I’m ridiculously happy today. And it’s a feeling I rather like.
I haven’t really had a weekend to myself since setting foot in the Big Durian. Sure, I’ve taken trips to Bandung, Bogor and Puncak, but they were all work-related and I never managed to squeeze in an extra hour or two just to kick back and wander.
This weekend Jim and I made plans to spend the weekend in Pulau Seribu, because I’ve been itching to laze around on a beach since I got here. But the resort we wanted was fully booked, which was just as well, because Jim ended up catching a nasty cold yesterday after his futsal tournament.
Which means I had the entire weekend to myself. Holler.
Friday was spent hitting the party circuit with Astrid, Lauren, and a few of Astrid’s French friends. And an observation about Jakarta’s club scene: numerous people have praised Jakarta’s party scene, but to be honest, I have yet to find a club that completely blows me away. Probably due in large part to the clientele. In India and the Philippines, partying is fun because people completely let loose on the dance floor (at the clubs I’ve been to, at least). They come up with hysterical dance moves, and they don’t care in the slightest if they look like complete idiots. Yes, people come to clubs in a group, but cliques cease to exist when you’re on the dance floor … people eagerly pull you into their dance circle, and if you try to do the same, strangers gamely join in. But in Jakarta, it’s all about fronting. Girls don’t really dance, because they’re thinking too much about how to look hot. Guys don’t really dance, because they’re thinking too much about how to look hot dancing next to the girl who’s trying to look hot. Where’s the fun in that?
Moving on ….
So, the next afternoon, bleary-eyed, and in Astrid’s case still wearing the same clothes from last night, the three of us made our way to Social House for brunch. The brunch menu here is creative, downright delectable, AND the portions are huge! I could barely finish my Middle Eastern platter, and considering my hefty appetite, that says a lot. Definitely worth a threepeat.
Afterwards I parted ways with the girls and moseyed over to Taman Sari Spa, which is something I’ve been meaning to do since I got here. Taman Sari is absolutely beautiful! In addition to a lovely pool, jamu bar, and saunas, their treatment rooms all have personal showers designed to make you feel like you’re showering in the outdoors. After four delicious hours of getting steamed, massaged, scrubbed, soaked and painted in volcanic mud, I cursed myself for not coming here sooner!
But the self-indulgence didn’t stop there. With a quick pitstop back home to change clothes, I made my way to Le Meridien to meet up with Christine and Adriana for some Middle Eastern food and a bellydance performance. The food was tasty, the chef made some special dishes for us that aren’t on the menu, and he even came to our table later during the evening to chit chat. We didn’t leave Le Meridien until close to midnight, and instead of club-hopping, we decided to go hotel lounge-hopping! A much more classier way to have fun ;-)
On Sunday, bleary-eyed yet again, I met up with Christine for brunch at Canteen and proceeded to take gluttony to a new level (for me, at least) by ordering eggs florentine AND Belgian waffles, which I happily - and easily - polished off.
And I figured, since this weekend was meant to be about self-indulgence, an impromptu facial wouldn’t hurt. So Christine dropped me off at Senayan City, and for the next two hours I dozed off while a Shiseido esthetician gave me an incredibly thorough facial - my face is still puffy, glowing and slightly pink as I type this.
All in all, the weekend of self-indulgence was a resounding success. I think I spent more money in the past two days than I have in the past month, but you only live once. That, and I damn well deserved it. You know, attending concerts, exhibits, premiers and meeting some of Jakarta’s most fascinating people is hard work!
I think I may have found the song for the Indonesia 2011 portion to the soundtrack of my life.
Allow me to present to you “Moves Like Jagger.”