Sunday, August 01, 2004

A Breath of Fresh (Jakarta) Air

A Breath of Fresh (Jakarta) Air

Despite the expected hassle with the immigration at the Sukarno-Hatta airport today, I'm happy to be back in Jakarta again. This time, I decided to stay in Kota--Chinatown itself. I thought it'll be fun living within walking distance to all the popular nightspots there; furthermore, the food in Kota is very good. The hotel is cheap but respectable; well, they don't have in-room broadband access but that's OK, I'll dial up to TelkomNet Instan.

With the TransJakarta Busway system spanning the all the way from Fatahillah to Block M, transport is not going to be much of a problem for me too--there's a stop right in front of my hotel. The other attraction of staying in Kota is that my hotel is within easy access to a lot of historical sights like the Jakarta History Museum, Cafe Batavia, Kali Besar and even the port of Sunda Kelapa.

Kota is indeed where the real "kota" of Jakarta (or Batavia) used to be--the adminstration center of the Dutch. The city of Jakarta grew from the nucleus of the old Sunda Kelapa port, all the way down south. These days all the up-market middleclass enclaves are down in Kemang, Bintaro and Kebayoran Baru--areas that used to be jungles, padi fields and plantations.

Sunda Kelapa today is a sorry sight. It is the gathering point for all the rubbish and filth of Jakarta, washed down by the foul-smelling canals of Kali Besar and the Molenvliet. With some proper planning, the place actually has the potential to look as beautiful as the Boat Quay area in Singapore.

The first thing I did after I've settled down into my hotel room is to take the Busway to Sarinah to have my nasi padang dinner at Sederhana. Feels good to be able to disappear into the chaotic Jakarta street crowd after two weeks of living in the stiffling and sterile yuppie worlds of Singapore and KL. The dirt, fumes and squalor of Jakarta immediately felt like a "breath of fresh air".

Well, maybe it's a good thing that they didn't turn Sunda Kelapa into another Boat Quay.

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