If you ever want to experience culture shock, without travelling particularly far, fly from Singapore to Jakarta. At a first impression, the two cities seem to be complete opposites. Everything clinical and hyper-organised about Singapore was suddenly whipped away from beneath our feet. The comfortable, air conditioned, polite world we’d just come from now felt like another planet.
After we managed to figure out which cramped bus was headed for the city centre, faffed around for a while at the train station-come-bus-interchange, sweated our way to the bus stop nearest our hostel, our haven was finally in sight. There was just one more challenge to face: crossing the road. Honestly, I think you should get some kind of recognition (perhaps a certificate?) for every road you manage to successfully navigate in Jakarta: the roads are CHAOS.
Ryan and I, two polite and nervous Brits, stared across at our would-be home for the next two nights. The Wonderloft hostel is painted bright yellow and looks incredibly inviting after you’ve trekked across the busy city with a backpack. But for a minute there, I didn’t think we’d actually manage to get to the front door. Anyway, this crossing the road saga probably isn’t the insightful and informative travel info you tuned in for… Although you’ll be happy to know we made it in the end. I never quite mastered the art of confidently walking into traffic, one authoritative hand outstretched in a ‘stop’ motion, but Ryan took it in his stride (perhaps the traffic stopping power went to his head?)
Other than the road crossing drama, our few days in Jakarta went pretty smoothly. It is a big city and could be given much more time for a thorough exploration, but with the short time we had, we mainly stayed around the old town area. Fatahillah Square turned out to be a great place to start. Flanked by museums on all sides you have an instant selection of arts and culture to choose from. I somehow got my way and managed to drag Ryan to the Wayang puppet museum (instead of the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics or the Jakarta History Museum) which was rich in Indonesian culture, but super creepy.
The puppets were all intricately decorated and the craftsmanship behind each style was amazing. Each piece was initially made as part of a Wayang performance, in which the puppets would be used to tell traditional folk stories. As impressive as the puppets were, and as much as we appreciated the artwork, wandering through those dimly lit rooms full of menacing looking characters without any other humans in sight proved enough to give anyone the creeps. Getting back into the scorching daylight and managing (quite skilfully) to avoid what was shaping up to be a perfect slasher film premise came as a relief.
As we’d already seen in Singapore, Jakarta’s colonial history was difficult to avoid. We ate at cafe Batavia which had a balcony overlooking the old town square and the whole vibe of the place, from the architecture to the framed black and white pictures of British royals, was heavily colonial. It seemed strange in relation to the rest of the bustling city.
Jakarta is a shockingly ‘real’ city, compared with the metropolitan dreamland that is Singapore. It definitely grounded us back in reality. The hectic life there was so interesting to be a part of, even in the brief whirlwind of a couple of days. Creepy puppets and death defying road crossings may not be the regular tourist itinerary, but I enjoyed Indonesia’s fast-paced capital nonetheless!