Monday, June 23

A Month in Jakarta: The occasional calm

I have been back in the States for about three weeks now, but that does not mean the past month is no longer on my mind. No, very much it continues to occupy my attention, and I need the rest of the summer just to process what all happened and all that I experienced. Thus, the "A Month in Jakarta" series goes on. I will take a line break or two to allow the applause to die down.

I spent my elementary and high school years in a town without a stop light. If even that little traffic noise became too much for me, I could walk outside the city limits. When I moved for college, that did not change terribly much. Yes, I do now live in a city of roughly 200,000, but the campus is in a fairly calm neighborhood and insulated enough to be a quiet place itself. While escape is no longer possible on foot, a 20-minute bike is enough to get well away from everything.

Jakarta, a lot louder, a lot bigger. The heaviest traffic was a block off and a row of houses absorbed most of the noise, but piped motorbikes exploded the occasional calm. Food carts and their owners, and there were an awful lot of them, made their presence known with bells and calls or the most irritating possible 5-second recording on loop. The morning call to prayer, a swell of layered voices from innumerable mosques, did not have that same beauty as the later ones, probably because it began sometime around six in the morning. Getting away from the noise was not really an option, given my debilitating fear of Indonesian public transportation and nowhere quiet within a reasonable distance.

All of this made those few opportunities to escape to somewhere quiet all the more appreciated. These came twice in the form of visits to Monas and Bogor.

is the national monument, Jakarta's attempt, I figure, at the Eiffel Tower, a symbol that the city can instantly be recognized by, a little something for the keychains and to be integrated into national advertising campaigns. Normally, this sort of thing does nothing to attract my attention. I rarely have an interest in joining a swarm of tourists and the beggars and trinket sellers. Jakarta, however, is still a far cry from being a tourist city. The only people to populate the massive park which surrounded the national symbol were, as far as I could tell, locals, waiting in line to see their nation's constitution in Monas' base or taking advantage of skies not crossed by powerlines to fly their kites and a few open soccer fields with proper goals and dimensions. My first opportunity to enjoy something nearing peace and calm, the visit was marred by also being my first time seeing Jakarta's homeless population. Not just stuck in the slums, these were people who, for whatever reason, were sprawled out on sheets of cardboard under bushes and small groves that could provide some shade. I work at a homeless shelter and walked through the slums a few times yet seeing them was still unsettling. Maybe the system is set against them for whatever reason or they do not know how to help themselves or simply cannot, but you see them and know that things are still not working.

Bogor, in contrast, was a small city about 30 minutes by train outside of Jakarta and had something very special besides a lack of traffic: green space. A few patches of lawn with lines of trees took up some space around Monas. They were nothing special but a far sight better than the park jammed into a rectangle smaller than most lawns in my hometwon a few blocks from the orphanage and only one in the area. That was all put to rightful shame by Bogor and the expanses which surrounded it. Once away from the main drag which ran past the train station, it was nothing but the lushest, deepest green rolling hills and little encroachment by urbanity. Walking one of the few streets, a local pointed out to me all the fruit that was available for picking and grabbed me starfruit and Indonesian cherries straight from the branches. It was more than enough to make the attempted pickpocketings on the train worth it. Too bad about the military kicking me off their base, but I can understand why you would not want a foreigner, especially one as obvious as me, walking around with a camera.