Saturday, April 26, 2008


I know I should continue and finish my entries on my Jakarta trip. It is already more than a month. I'm still trying to find the right words. As I try to do so, sadly, some details have begun to be lost from my memory.

While I find my words, feel free to check out the earlier entries. I've added a few photos and sketches.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Day 4 (18/3/2008) - T-shirt and Jeans

That was what Mutiara wore. MP and I had just finished checking out our driving license when she arrived. I had expected her to be formally dressed. She had mentioned that the errand was some sort of paper work at a government office. Unfortunately she couldn't run her errand because of some incomplete documents. I could see in her eyes that she was kind of agitated. She could have stayed over the night had she know the documents weren't ready yet.

Anyway, we were still going to the government office. We were going to meet two of her friends. Leaving behind my big hiking bag, we left MP’s place. At the main road, we got on an "angkot". I lost track of our route. We soon arrived at a busy crossroad. There seemed to be cars, motorcycles, van, buses, and "angkot" from every direction. Above us was a new and huge pedestrian bridge. We waited at a bus stop under the bridge.

Soon, a lady with a very fair skin and long straight hair, walked toward us. She could be considered attractively dressed. Not like the two ladies out-of-fashion-magazine previous day, but nevertheless "cakep". I met Mutiara’s first friend. L, as she would be known from now, is an Indonesian Chinese – which explained her fair skin.

After a brief introduction by Mutiara, the three of us made our way to an ‘angkot’ across the road. I thought we would be using the pedestrian bridge above us. I should have taken the cue when Mutiara held my left hand. Immediately after one of the traffic lights turned red (there seemed to be many traffic lights at the crossroad), we dashed across what seemed to be 6 lanes road! We crossed yet another road (a smaller one) and hopped into an ‘angkot’.

As I sat, I could felt that my heart was still racing, even though my legs had stopped running. Eventually I calmed down. Mutiara chatted with L. I fell into my habit of keeping quiet. Mutiara noticed, and she told L that I couldn’t understand them if they talk too fast. I laughed. I explained to them that it was sort of my habit to just keep quiet and just listen. Before long, we reached our destination.

Friday, April 18, 2008

One month later

It has been a month since I left Jakarta.

This entry is dedicated to Mutiara who has taken a complete stranger unconditionally into her home, family and friends. Everyone's (and especially hers) generosity and hospitality never failed to amazes me.

Without realizing it, she has reminded and taught me many things that I will never be able to put into words. I thank the Almighty for letting our path crossed.

Mutiara and I shook hands in Cibinong Terminal as strangers but left embracing each other like old friends in Jakarta.

My greatest hope is that our friendship will continue though we are seperated by distance.

Thank you very much for the experiences, kindness, generosity, hospitality, and friendship. May you have joy, happiness and a blessed life.
(p.s. I know it has been a month and I still haven't finish all the entries about the trip. I'm getting there. Thank you for your patience.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Day 4 (18/3/2008) - ‘Checking out’ and ‘Check out’

‘Checking out’ is like looking and examining something. ‘Check out’ is what I had to do on the morning of Day 4. After tossing and turning, it was finally time to get off the bed and hit the shower.

Then I went down to the coffee house for breakfast (of course after properly dressed!). Except for a guy at reception, the lobby was kind of deserted. The coffee house was dark. I went to the reception and checked if I got the right place for breakfast. Yes. Perhaps I was early. I returned to the coffee house then realized that there were some waiters behind the dimly lit counter. And the breakfast 'buffet' already 'spreaded' on a small table.

The breakfast ‘buffet’ was simple – fried rice and porridge. There was nothing wrong with the rice but it was kind of ‘hard’. I prefer my rice to be ‘soft and fluffy’. I ate a few spoon-full. I should have eaten the porridge before the fried rice because the porridge actually tasted better. Could have eaten more (of the porridge) if my stomach wasn’t already filled with the fried rice.

I returned to my room. As in Mutiara’s house, I looked around the room a few times to make sure I didn’t left anything. Satisfied, I went down to the reception and checked out of the hotel. During Mutiara visit on the previous night, we made new plans. I was to meet her at MP’s house. I would leave my luggage there. We would meet her friends, run some errants and go for a last sightseeing in Jakarta. She gave me a piece of paper stating the location of MP’s house. Even after rehearsing the pronunciation, I didn’t think I could pronounce (hence remember) the name.

I got out of the hotel gate, onto the sidewalk of the main road. After a short while I saw ‘bajaj’. I hailed (more like waved) for it. It stopped. I showed “Abang Bajaj” (translation: the ‘driver’) the paper. I tried to ‘negotiate’ the price. The fact that I wasn’t a local must be obvious - I was in front of a hotel with a hiking backpack and my cheap-looking-canvas backpack. He drew a hard bargain. Couldn’t get the price suggested by Mutiara. I only got as low as IDR 10 000. I agreed to it anyway. Off I went on my solo ride in the 'bajaj'.

Similar to the train ride previous day, I got to see life ‘unfolded’ in the morning. Children in school uniforms. People going to offices. I took out my DSLR and began snapping a few photos. Later on the flight homebound, I was told it was sort of dangerous to do so. I ran the risk of being mugged by dubious characters that might lurk on the road. That really explained the weird face of “Abang Bajaj” reflected by the side mirrors.

I reached my destination without any untoward incidents - still oblivious to the risk I just took. I returned my DSLR into my cheap-looking canvass bag before I alighted the 'bajaj'. I gave MP a call from a nearby wartel (that’s short for “warung telefon” or telephone kiosk) where instead of putting coins, you pay at the counter after you use the phone.

I waited MP in front of a small grocery shop. The shop owner invited me to sit on a stool next to his shop. Not wanting to look very lost, I chewed on a bun I bought from the shop. I didn’t know where to look. Wondered where he would come from, left from the many houses, or right from the main road where a church stood.

Three bites into my bun, I saw MP coming towards me. We walked to his house, stopping at a lady selling local patries or “kuih-muih”. He greeted the lady and picked a few “kuih”. To my amazement, we left without paying. It was only while continuing our walk that he told me that the lady was her aunt.

When we reached his house, I was introduced to more of his families. No thanks to my quietness and reserve-ness, MP and I fell into some awkward silences. Somehow the conversation turned into cars. I told him that I have a second hand ‘kapchai’ and a second hand car. From him, I discovered a shocking truth: if our math was right, my second hand car is about the same price of a Mercedes (I can’t remember what series) in Indonesia!

Besides that, it is cheaper to get a driving license (for motorcar and motorbike) in Indonesia than in Malaysia. However, renewing a Malaysian driving license is cheaper due to the fact all class (motorcar, motorbike, lorry etc.) is on the same license. Indonesians have separate license for each class. Imagine how thick you wallet would be if you have license to drive five different classes of vehicles!

We ended up ‘checking out’ each others driving license. I have to admit, my laminated pieces of license looked cheap and fake next to his thick, bar coded, license or what they call SIM, short for “Surat Ijin Memandu” (loosely translated into: permission letter for driving). Even so, I much rather have my cheap and fake looking license, because it is thinner and fits nicely in my wallet.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Day 3 (17/3/2008) - Kantor

A few minutes of uneventful ride in the bajaj was all it took to get to Mutiara’s “kantor” (that’s Indonesian’s for office). The office is situated in a business centre in Kemang. The area, as told by a taxi driver later, is a favourite spot among the expatriates. Houses there are predominantly occupied by expatriates.

Her office is located on the first floor (that’s second floor if you are using American system) of the two-storey building. The office is simple and neat. There is area for administration, a training room, and a reception area. The reception area doubled as the library. Plenty of books. I had a great time browsing the books there. And could have continued the whole day. Unfortunately three nights of sleeplessness finally caught up with me. I began to feel a little dizzy.

At first I thought I felt dizzy because I hadn’t had lunch. But when the dizziness continued even after lunch. I knew I had to lie down for a while. Mutiara accompanied me to the main road and helped to hail for a ‘Bluebird’. I got on the taxi and off I went to the hotel. We planned to meet at the hotel later.

As the taxi drove, I traced our route in my little map. We passed Malaysian Embassy. We also passed the famous Monas (that’s short for “Monument Nasional” or National Monument). As we passed the Monas, I can’t help but compare it with Malaysian National Monument (also known as “Tugu Negara”). Here in Jakarta, the Monas was visible from the main road. ‘Tugu Negara’ on the other hand, is tucked away on an almost remote hill away from any public transport lines.

Anyway, after a little guessing game with the taxi driver – we didn’t know whether the hotel was up north or down south of the road – I safely reached the hotel. I thought of doing a little unpacking and taking a little nap before heading out to see more of Jakarta. Unfortunately that plan had to be shelved. By the time I woke up, it was already dark. Mutiara came to the hotel but couldn't stay over. So I spent the rest of the night trying to get the much-needed sleep.

That restless night, reminded me of my travelling companions who at one point of our travel together, drugged me to sleep (with flu medication). I wished I had brought something similar to Jakarta.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Day 3 (17/3/2008) - Singing in the train

It wasn’t a typo. I typed ‘train’ and not ‘rain’ because I wasn’t referring to an old film (‘Singing in the rain’). Someone did sing in the train. We were making ourselves comfortable on the bench when I heard a soulful female voice singing an Indonesian Oldie. Then there was a male voice. It was a duet accompanied by simple strumming of a guitar. I couldn’t remember the title, it was a sad song.

Then I caught the sight of the couple at one end of the coach. A blind couple. The woman’s voice was great. I couldn’t help but think that if they have good looks, they could make good money singing instead of busking in the train. The blind couple walked on to the next coach (I did enjoyed their rendition of the song, hence I paid them when the passed me).

Passengers began to pack the coach. Mutiara sat on my right. A few feet on my left was the open door. I was really glad that there were some men between the open door and me. I didn’t think my heart could endure the pounding and the suspense from seating next to the open door. The funny thing is that some years ago (what now seemed to be a different lifetime), I used to have no problem standing at the open door of a speeding train with my little hands holding on the railing near the door.

The train had just left the station. While chatting with Mutiara, I noticed a guy across the isle, handing out small packets of what looked like shampoo. I thought he was handing out free sample as people normally do in Kuala Lumpur. But I was puzzled when the same man return to collect the ‘sample’ and passengers voluntarily returned the sample. Mutiara explained that passengers are free to examine the sample, and pay if they decided to keep the sample. To this I replied that in Kuala Lumpur, if people give (as in put in your hands) small ‘sample’ packets, most of the time it’s free.

At some point of the ride, two beautiful ladies stood in front of us. Both were impeccably dressed in black (or at least in that same tone). One was wearing pants and the other skirt – or more like a little black dress. Their fair skins were accentuated by their black clothes. The lady in the pants had a paper bag bearing the word ‘MANGO’

Nothing wrong with them, but among the ordinary looking people in the coach, the two “cakep” (that’s attractive in Indonesian) ladies looked out of place. They looked like they came out of a fashion magazine. Thanks to fashion and brand conscious friends, I know that ‘MANGO’ is the same with ‘MNG’ in Malaysia. I don’t buy anything from the shop, correction, boutique, but I do know that the clothes from the MNG probably cost one-month salary of some people in the coach.

Anyway, about the same time the “cakep” lady in skirt got off the train, a lady with a small girl boarded the train. They stood near the open door. The little girl practically clung to her mother. Fearing the safety of the little girl, I immediately stood up and surrender my seat to them.

It was while standing did I really look out of the window. It was sort of an assault to my senses. The houses were built very close to the railway track. So close that I thought the train could scrape off some roofs or walls. I was worried for the house dwellers. Again, Mutiara assured me thing were as normal as they should be.

The lady and the little girl got down. I got my seat back. A few stations later, we got off the train. I think it was at Pasar Minggu Station. After being disoriented for a few minutes at the station, Mutiara managed to lead the way to a busy road where we got on an “angkotan”.

Then we got off at a less busy road and waited for a “bajaj” (a three wheel motor taxi). We could have taken an “ojek” (a motorbike ‘taxi’) each as there were plenty waiting. But pillion-riding motorbike with a stranger is a strange (no pun intended) concept to me. So we patiently waited for a “bajaj”. Jakarta might have one of the best-connected networks of public transport because before we could break into sweats, a “bajaj” came along. And off I went with Mutiara on my first ride in a “bajaj”.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Day 3 (17/3/2008) - Suicidal

My mental capacity was (and I think, still is) intact. I wasn't about to commit suicide. I’m not a pious person, but in my religion, suicide is a big no-no. Imagine how I felt when I saw people, including teenagers (or “abege” in Indonesian, short for “anak baru gedek”) in school uniforms sitting in the middle of the rail track!

I told her, if someone does that in any Malaysian railway station, not only the police would come. They’ll bring the ambulance too. Instead of ending up in the police cell, that person might ended up in a sanatorium for some psychiatric evaluation. Mutiara assured me that they weren’t suicidal. Everything was as normal as it should be. Those were just how things are.

A few minutes later, true to her words, those people on the track scrambled away when the train arrived. We boarded the non-air-conditioned coach. There were two bench-like seats lined against the two sides of the coach. We managed to get a seat. The doors remained open throughout the journey. There were passengers sitting at the doors, with their feet dangling outside, despite the sign on top of the door forbidding people doing so. There were people peddling snacks (and even vcds) in the coach. There were also people begging.

Above the noise, Mutiara explained to me that we were heading to Bogor train station (opposite direction of Jakarta). It was sort of the end of the line. From there, we would take a train to Jakarta - just to make sure we would get a seat. I told her that I used to take train to work too. But my town is at the end of the line. So, I had no problem in getting a seat. But I had problem in retaining the seat. I tend to give my seat to elderly people, pregnant ladies, and all sort of people. Due to this, I got tired of taking the train and changed my mode of commuting to express buses.

I think two stations later, we reached Bogor. We got off the train, onto the concrete platform. We had to buy the tickets to Jakarta from the counter at the other side of the track. Like the previous station, there were people on the track. I looked around to find overhead bridge to cross the track. None. When I saw Mutiara walking down the stairs toward the track, I realized that I need to walk across the track to get to the counter. I looked to my left and right a few times, then, with heart pounding, I tailed Mutiara across two railway tracks.

She bought the tickets to Jakarta and asked the ticket man which platform would the train be. It was the same platform we came from. And so, with the same anxiousness, I followed Mutiara, crossing the track. The same train we were on, was heading to Jakarta. We shouldn’t have gotten of the first train because by then, it was full.

Not wanting to stand in the train, Mutiara decided that we should wait for the next train. We crossed the track, again, and headed to a “Dunkin Donout” kiosk. I “traktir” (that’s Indonesian for ‘treating someone for a meal’) Mutiara for breakfast. I was about to finish my tuna croissant when the train arrived. Mutiara packed her muffin and we rushed across the track and into the train. Thanks to polite Indonesian men who move aside to make room for us, we managed to sit.

As I sat, I quietly thank God for giving me a strong heart, otherwise it would not be able to handle all the pounding so early in the morning. I was also glad that we had eaten our breakfast. At least I have a full stomach should we need to do more ‘suicidal attempts’.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Writer's Block

Not because I don't know what to write (I still owe that "Day 3" and "Day 4").

I couldn't find the right words.

Stay tuned while I try to clear this blockage.