Monday, June 04, 2007

Indonesia: Walking around old Jakarta in Kota

Kota Tua Jakarta (Jakarta Old Town) or Old Batavia is a 130-hectare special region in the province of Jakarta (contained in the cities on North Jakarta and West Jakarta) that was declared a heritage zone by Jakarta's governor in 1972. It stands today as a legacy of Indonesia's Dutch colonial past. Although a bit neglected, what's important is that the buildings were not demolished and there are concerted efforts from both government and private groups to restore the area and rejuvenate Old Jakarta. Kota was therefore on top of my places to visit in Jakarta.

I arrived in Jakarta close to 9 p.m. My AirAsia flight was an hour delayed. But it wasn't too much a bother considering I paid so little for it. From the airport, I took a Damri bus to Blok M for Rp15,000. Taxis would most definitely cost you a fortune so ask around which Damri bus stops closest to your destination.

The plan was for me to meet up with my SSEAYP batchmate Wira at his office and I was instructed to take a cab from Blok M. I didn't take much notice to the detail which said I should take a Blue Bird Taxi. I would later learn that in Jakarta, taxis are branded and it's the passenger who refuses the taxi and not the other way around as is the case in Metro Manila. And they stick to safe names such as the Blue Bird Group (be careful because not all blue taxis are Blue Bird taxis) and Express. It turns out, there have been a spate of taxi holdups where drivers are in cahoots with the crooks, picking them up at designated places to rob their hapless passengers. Good thing nothing happened to me. Here's a detailed safety guide to taxis in Jakarta.

I met up with my other batchmates the next day. After a late lunch, we trooped to Kota. On the way there, we passed by the business district and I was impressed by the wide and well-landscaped avenues, grand fountains and monuments which one can find all over Jakarta. And there were so many trees... many, many trees! It seems Manila is the only Southeast Asian capital without tree-lined roads, aggravated further by MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando who declared an all-out war on trees in Metro Manila, with an Inquirer article once saying "MMDA chief Fernando: We'll cut more trees." Add to the fact that he churns out some of the ugliest infrastructure in the world (same goes for the DPWH). Those pink and blue pedestrian overpasses are plain and simple ugly! And he expects the Metro to look nice? He should fire his designers and consultants for lack of taste!

As we neared, there were already a significant number of grand colonial buildings. And I was quite happy to see an entire area of Dutch colonial architecture, many abandoned or dilapidated, but still standing. How I had wished the Americans had not carpet bombed Intramuros during the liberation.

Anyway, we walked towards the Taman Fatahillah, which was the old town square. The focal point of the square is the old city hall (stadthuys) of Batavia built in 1710 which stands on one side of the square. On the opposite side is one of Jakarta's chic bars, Cafe Batavia, named one of the world's best bars by Newsweek in 1994 and 1996. The bar is housed in an 18th century building, the second oldest in Fatahillah Square. As they say, the bar's authentic decor, celebrity visitors, fun parties and fine food have become world famous and it had thus become a must visit when in Jakarta.

All over the cafe, bathroom included, is an impressive collection of photographs and paintings of movie stars and celebrities, generals, royalty, and world leaders from days gone by to the present. And despite its celebrity status, prices are not as expensive as most 5-star hotels. Their best drinks include award winning cocktails Borneo Sunset and Marry Me.

From Kota, we took a bajaj (pronounced bajay) to another historic area known as Sunda Kelapa, which is Jakarta's picturesque 17th century harbor. It was getting dark when we arrived so I was not able to check out up close the magnificent Makassarese schooners which still dock in the port. Although the watchtower was locked, we were able to request the caretaker to open it for us. And we climbed up several wooden flights of stairs to the top of the tower which gave us a great view of the port.

We then took a cab to the 450-foot Monumen Nasional, or Monas for short, which was built to symbolize the fight for Indonesia's independence. Jakarta has a plentiful supply of monuments left by Sukarno, most in the Russian "heroes of socialism" style. Many of them have acquired funny and descriptive nicknames. And the Monas is called "Sukarno's last erection" (check out the photo to find out why) since he was overthrown before it was completed.

For dinner, we headed to Jalan Sabang, Jakarta's street food haven and sate center. There may be sate (satay) all over the Malay region. But none of them can match the heavenly delicious peanut sauce which accompanies the sate ayam we ate in Sabang. I want to try making peanut sauce to partner the pork barbeque we have here.

Anyway, the next day was mostly rest since I took a two-hour motorcycle ride from North Jakarta to South Jakarta early in the morning and got a feel of Jakarta's rush hour traffic. But it also gave me a window to check out Jakarta, the landmarks and the city's daily life. I'm off to the Gambir Train Station for my trip to Yogyakarta which is about nine hours away. I spent Rp190,000 (US$21) for an eksekutif class ticket. More photos in Jakarta, Indonesia 06/03

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