Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The City of Victory

The City of Victory

Feels like I've never left this place: suddenly I'm blogging from my favourite cybercafe in Jakarta.

Started with a phonecall from my ex-employer last Friday to seek my help for an on-going project. A couple of e-mails over the weekends, a few clicks of the mouse to redeem my free ticket from Krisflyer, a few more clicks to book my hotel room and suddenly I'm here in the City of Victory--Jaya-karta.

What is the first thing that hits you when you step into the terminal of the Sukarno-Hatta airport? The faint smell of kretek, which you will cease to notice after 10 seconds. To me that's the smell of Indonesia. And to paraphrase Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now, "I love the smell of kretek in the morning air...smells like...victory"

Immigration didn't give me much trouble, even though the guy did ask to see my return ticket. His fear is justified: I have to admit: I did toy with the idea of staying here indefinitely...

Once you step out from immigration and customs, so many things vie for your attention: placards, limousine counters, and the throng of people who mill around the exit. One is greeted by the usual taxi touts; and if you are a male traveller, pimps will be shoving business cards at you (and they always speak to you in Mandarin).

The trick is not to look everywhere--stare at your feet and walk briskly to the Silverbird taxi stand outside, like a local. A Silverbird cab and a friendly Javanese driver is the perfect reception for me.

And what sights to behold as one is driven into the city: modern elevated freeways, gleaming glass towers standing high and aloof; and beneath: the ugly infection of ramshackle huts everywhere and murky canals that cut like open wounds across the metropolis. It feels as if there's a mass of vanquished feeding off the leftovers of a few victors. And everytime I see these sights, I remember why I find this city so fascinating and I marvel at the optimism of its name.

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