Unfortunately, I am incapable of sleeping well on a plane, despite my recent habit of napping instead of actually sleeping these last few days. Fortunately, that leaves plenty of time to attempt a coherent blogging experience. I will continue with my descent into Kota Tua, but as Indonesia was my first visit to a developing country, I would like to first list the things I found the strangest/most interesting about Indonesian culture:

Fun facts about Indonesia

  • Tissues are an all-purpose material. They are used as napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, and facial tissues
  • Toilets are quite strange (as you know)
  • Lines on the street are largely ignored
    • I would not recommend driving
  • They snack all the time – huge fan
  • The people are not fans of walking everywhere (understandable, I also dislike melting)
  • There aren’t many crosswalks, so if you want to cross the street you place your palm out to your side so that the cars will stop
    • I like to exclaim “The Almighty Palm Raise!” while performing this activity
    • Works for the most part, but there are some people who do not care (learned this the hard way)
  • They wave your bags with metal detectors upon entering malls and tie your bags in supermarkets as a shoplifting precaution
    • This doesn’t really apply to foreigners or it could also be the face of eternal confusion I wore over the first few days
  • They love taking pictures of Caucasian people
    • Some Indonesians are too poor to be able to travel, so they enjoy taking photos with foreigners (this includes most non-asians). Quite frequently I may add
    • No matter what you do, if you are light-skinned, you WILL stand out
  • They don’t use knives; you will customarily be served a spoon & fork
  • Everyone wears jackets and jeans despite it being 10 million degrees outside
    1. The deodorant market must be wildly successful
  • The people are some of the most hospitable beings I’ve ever met
  • Primary religion is Islam so I’d reconsider wearing those spaghetti straps ladies
  • Their ginger beer and guava juice are amazing
  • Breakfast is normally meats and rice and veggies versus eggs and cereal
  • They are big fans of spicy food

*disclaimer: I am no Indonesian expert and speak based on my experience in the Java region.

Kota Tua and the night my phone ran away

Monday we were introduced to our groups and the topics we would be addressing in our joint studio workshop the next week and a half. However, before any research was to be done, we took a tour in the historic – and poorer – section  of Jakarta and I will be honest, a lot of our tour was not pretty, but it is important to keep an open mind and put aside your Western way of thinking. I will also note that my outfit while cute and still fairly light and airy, did not save me from the real-world sauna session I was to soon experience. I don’t believe even Tarzan’s loin cloth would have provided him any relief from the heat – were he a) real and b) had a craving for Indonesian food.

Anyhow, after a train ride into the city we arrived in an open square where after noticing a few boys staring at my unfortunately rather pale skin, experienced my first photo request. Assuming they wanted Iliana and I to take a photo of them, I became quite baffled when the boy didn’t hand us the phone and instead kept incessantly waving his hand. Thankfully, one of the Indonesian students pulled my incompetent self to the side and explained things to me while Iliana happily posed for her glamour shot. The group of us already looked quite suspicious as we were a relatively large group consisting of Indonesians, Chinese, Americans, and British citizens, and a Colombian (our dear Iliana). We were essentially a beacon of nonconformity. Likely due to the abnormal amount of light skin in our group – I like to imagine some of us with lighter skin were sparkling in the sun like the vampires from Twilight – we were approached by the local tourist/government agency thing who ran tours of the Jakarta History Museum who invited us inside to give a brief presentation. The presentation was of course accompanied by cute snack boxes and then two of the guides joined our tour group, giving us easier access to certain areas of historical/public significance. We encountered many other guards along our journey, and if my tired mind recalls correctly, they were there to protect certain public buildings from street vandalizers/hoodlums/whippersnappers or whatever term fits your fancy.

Two main things stood out on this tour: 1) the stark contrast in buildings and b) the trash. When looking at a panorama or simply walking throughout the city you could see skyscrapers, old Dutch colonial buildings, and “informal” buildings of the slums all in one glance. Don’t worry, the center of the city is quite nice, but this area was an important, if not more significant, face of the city. The most notable part of the tour was the trash. With a little imagination, one could see how the old part of the city was once dominated by a beautiful canal system, with streets bustling with goods coming in from the Harbor and far lands beyond. Sadly, today the water is full of garbage, multiple mounds of debris forming walls to block the continuous flow of the river. There is so much trash in the water, there are even people who live on the trash. This would cause any person lucky enough to be born in a more developed part of the world take another look at their own lives and how many things we take for granted. Along our tour, we also visited some Kampungs along the water’s edge. The community we visited was fairly separated from the main streets of the city and lined a slightly cleaner body of water (likely due to the community’s efforts) on a fairly wide street filled with people of all ages. There was a very basic ferry system allowing for transport across the river by a simple raft and rope connecting the two sides. I found the skill of the residents quite impressive. There had recently been a project where the community worked with UI to improve their streets by moving back their homes 5 feet (themselves) and paint some of their homes to create a more pleasant environment. Some people with my background may find the neighborhoods to have a poor quality of life, but I found these areas quite pleasant. The people obviously cared about one another and the lives they had quite literally built for themselves.

After much walking, we ended the night in a nice restaurant on the street near the plaza. You can also get a tattoo on the street side if you prefer to live your life on the edge. Then came a long train ride home where many of us were trying to cope with the jet lag coma threatening to take over. You may be wondering if my phone had abandoned me yet, as pick pocketing is not that uncommon in the area we visited. However, my phone stil loved me at this point, or at least tolerated my presence. Unfortunately, this still means I do not have any pictures of my own from this day, but I did manage to snag a few from other phones and cameras:

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Back to the plane: The woman next to me is gradually nudging my arm off the rest so I will attempt to make the rest of this brief. Iliana and I went to the mall once again, since our suitcases were still being held hostage by the airline. It was upon our return home in a taxi that my phone left me for another. I had gotten out of the cab and had walked maybe ten steps when I realized I did not have my phone. I twirled myself around only to watch as the taxi drove off, too far to have a dramatic movie moment in which I would sprint and thrust myself onto the trunk of the taxi man’s car. After my dramatic experience with the front desk who likely only understood half of what I was even saying, I also realized in horror I had been lucky enough to get a taxi driver who did not give us a receipt and as a result I had no way of knowing who had my phone. So if you ride on a taxi make sure to note the taxi number, the name of the driver, and for goodness sake always ask for a receipt.

To avoid ailing myself with a permanent form of carpal tunnel, I will cut off here. In the next installment of my wonderful Indonesia trip that was so far kicking me firmly in the ass, I will bargain for a new phone and defile an innocent trash can. Until next time, Ciao!

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