Wednesday 27 January 2010
Boy, was I thankful for the kind assistance of a young parking lot attendant in Jakarta. The traffic is fierce, even heavier and faster than Yangon or Bangkok. Even at traffic lights you take your life in your hand. Cars and buses may stop but motorcycles, the most popular mode of transportation, often regard lights as a signal to keep going. Usually we watch for a local and walk beside him to cross the street.
We stayed at a guesthouse within walking distance of the train station and an internet cafe. My route to the internet cafe was through a mosque parking lot and across a busy street. The parking lot attendant is there to help mosque attendees safely enter and exit the parking lot. He took pity on me. Whenever he saw me he would rush into the street waving a big lighted wand. The traffic would obediently stop and I would cross safely. Grey hair has some benefits!
A great introduction to Indonesia is a visit to the National Museum in Jakarta. It was started in 1778 by the Dutch as a home for collections of artifacts collected by many of the colonists. It has grown many times since then and houses an important collection of artifacts and information about Indonesia.
We had a little trouble getting there for our free English tour of the museum given by ex-pat members of the local historical society. Our pedicab driver didn't understand where we wanted to go and took us first to the gates of the huge Merdeka Square, instead of the museum building on the other side of the Square. We showed him our map and he indicated he knew where we wanted to go. He did not. We ended up nearly where we had started. A third try got us with sight of the museum and we stopped the driver, paid him and walked the rest of the way. If we had known the local nickname for the museum we might have fared better, but who knows!
At least we were on time for our tour. Ray and I had a private tour with two guides, an Austrian woman who has lived with her family in Indonesia for 20 years. A Malaysian women was our co-guide, being trained to give tours on her own. This was great for us. If one woman could not answer our questions, the other could. The majority of our two hour tour concentrated on the ethnology of Indonesia. With 300 ethnic groups and 742 different languages and dialects spread over 17,508 islands, it is extremely diverse and surprisingly unified. The displays helped us better understand what we could expect during our travels in Indonesia. It was time well spent.
We still had time to visit some of the exhibits housed in a brand new wing of the museum before hailing a cab to get us back to our hotel, no more pedicabs! Of course the cab driver had trouble finding our guesthouse which was in a back alley, but he could at least get us to the train station and we could walk from there.
Ginny and Huibert Arnold's son Mike and his wife Lea live in Jakarta. Mike first came to Jakarta in 1997 to work for Crown Shipping. Except for a few years posted to Shanghai and Hong Kong, he has been there ever since. Huibert had emailed Mike to alert him to our planned visit to Jakarta and we had been in touch. Mike kindly invited us to join him and Lea at an Indonesian restaurant not far from our guesthouse. It was a treat for us to meet Mike and Lea, plus we don't mind enjoying a much better meal than we normally find in our Cheap and Cheerful spots on the backpacker route.