Wow! Jakarta is seemingly in a different world to that of Batam, let alone it being the same country. This was my first visit to Indonesia’s capital and I have to say the similarities with Batam stop at the currency I used to pay the taxi driver. I left the dishevelled streets of Batam (passing a huge billowing fire near my hotel which destroyed over 50 homes and killed a young girl – it made the front pages of the national newspapers the next day!) and arrived in Jakarta flying along a three-lane highway from the airport at breakneck speed to my hotel in the middle of an endless sprawling mass of concrete jungle. The place is HUGE, with a metropolitan population approaching some 20 million people.
(As I write this Lionel Richie has just started blaring out of the ceiling speakers in my hotel room at excruciating decibels and the technicians can’t seem to turn it off!).
I’ll continue. As far as consumer choice goes, what Batam lacks Jakarta certainly makes up for it. It really did come as a surprise and some of the malls here surely rival those in Dubai and the USA with more international brands than one can shake a stick at (please Google this if you’re not au fait with English idioms!). And the aisles of all the shops, be it Louis Vuitton, Zara, Apple or Burberry, are jam packed with locals, so clearly there is a large middle and upper class demographic in bustling Jakarta who have rupiahs to spend. I say bustling, but this is apparently the quietest week of the year here as the locals leave the capital to celebrate for a week after the end of Ramadan. This was very evident from the astonished taxi driver as we had a clear run from the airport in 25 minutes for a journey which usually takes up to two hours.
Leaving Jakarta behind, I’m now in Balikpapan which is located in the Indonesian portion of Borneo (I’ll be visiting the Malaysian and Brunei parts later on this trip). My only previous visit to Balikpapan was five years ago and I clearly remember there being very little joy here for expats who like their imported comfort foods from home. Well, the situation has improved somewhat, nothing like in Jakarta but better than Batam. The city is fairly small but is the centre of Indonesian Borneo’s oil industry and so what would have been a forgotten outlier away from the main island of Java has become a rather industrious little place, if a little un-photogenic. The transport option of choice, similar to Batam, is the moped/motorcycle and you don’t have to walk far down any street until a local stops and asks where you want a lift to. They’re a friendly nation of folk, often smiling, but mostly staring timidly at me in an inquisitive way.
(Lionel Richie has stopped now and the technicians have gone but I’ve just spotted a small cockroach crawling on the lampshade!)
Hello…Where was I? Yes, the local people are very welcoming and like many nations of Southeast Asia there is no obvious aggressiveness or machismo which makes a pleasant change to being hollered at in the streets of Freetown or Dakar. Even the technicians were overly apologetic for the Mr Richie interruption.
Tomorrow morning I’m flying back over to Java to Indonesia’s second city Surabaya which will be my last place in the country before heading to East Timor which itself was part of Indonesia before gaining independence in 2002. Until then I’ll leave you waiting with bated breath All Night Long…all niiiight!