Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Between Bangkok, Jakarta and KL

Between Bangkok, Jakarta and KL

Bangkok appears to be a lot less polluted than Jakarta. In Jakarta, sometimes it is impossible to walk the streets without being choked by the dust and smog; not to mention the unpleasant smell from those stagnant canals.

Bangkok in contrast boasts of an ultra-modern skytrain system. Taking it can be quite a joy--the elevated station platforms are clean and airy; the train rides, smooth and fast. And this efficient train system is to be complemented by the new subway system which is opening soon.

But is Bangkok a much better place to live in? Well, it depends on what you are looking for. Expatriates are normally shielded from the gritty living conditions of Third World cities; so it doesn't really matter. One service apartment looks exactly the same like any other, whichever country you go to.

Even backpacker communities look the same everywhere. You see the familiar cheap guest houses, travel agencies, Internet cafes, used-book stores and restaurants serving American breakfast sprouting up wherever these international drifters choose to congregate. Bangkok has Khao San Road; Jakarta has Jalan Jaksa.

The people in both cities are endearingly courteous and graceful. Though I must say, Thailand has a better international image as the Land of Smiles. Indonesia has been doing a lot lately to promote herself as the land where there's "Endless Beauty in Diversity" but people still have a bad perception of the country due to all the negative press reports related to corruption and terorrism.

I can understand why many people are apprehensive about visiting Indonesia. We all have a tendency to exaggerate things a little bit--both on the good and bad side. I like Indonesia because I feel comfortable with the people there and I do not face much of a language problem.

I think if we stay long enough to understand a place, we'll grow to love it. It takes time to correct some of our misperceptions and biases. I'm liking Bangkok a little bit more everyday and am making an attempt to learn its language. Perhaps someday I'll love Bangkok as much as I love Jakarta.

All these foreign cities that we go to--they are like those wild romantic affairs that we occassionally allow ourselves to be embroiled in. We tend to see them as some kind of adventure because we know they are never going to last forever. We believe (mistakenly, sometimes) that we can parachute out safely anytime we find things getting a bit too hot for us to handle.

When we are asked about our own home city--KL for example--we get very mixed feelings. It's like asking a man whether he has any regrets about getting married. Somehow you never seem to be able to get a straight forward and simple answer...

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