19 November 2010

Trip to Indonesia, Part 10: Port Tour

Not far from Jakarta's old town is a busy port where goods travel back and forth between Jakarta and the hundreds of islands of the coast of Java. We took a walk through the port last weekend, and got a pretty unique experience.

Walking through the port.

The merchant fleet based at the port is made up of dozens of wooden ships that look like they come out of a different era, and manned by what seemed to be hundreds of rough-looking--but friendly--men and their families. While the men are loading goods onto the fleet of ships, kids are running around laughing and swimming in the water.

Kids swimming in the bay. As they jumped off the ships we passed, they all waved and asked us to take their pictures.

A ship.

After some lively bargaining with a fisherman by our host, we chartered his dinghy for a fifteen-minute ride around the port for about 8000 rupiah, or about 90 cents. He took us past all the docked ships and past the adjacent shanty village, which was filled with people mending their clothes, repairing roofs and boats, and just doing normal Sunday chores. The water here, like most everywhere in Jakarta, is highly polluted, and trash and human waste fill the port's bay, but the children swimming in it don't seem to care, which leaves me wondering if they have grown immune to the effects of the water, or are just used to symptoms.

Homes of the fishermen and workers.

The boat trip left me amazed at human ingenuity and resourcefulness. The people in the village manage to make what seems to be a thriving village out of such meager resources. At the same time, I could not help but be saddened at the effects of water pollution on the area and its people by the huge population of Jakarta.

The homes even have TV antennae.

The villagers repair the seawall below their homes.

18 November 2010

Trip to Indonesia, Part 9: Jakarta's Weather

In a lot of ways, staying here in Jakarta reminds me of my time living in Florida. In both places, the days are hot and humid. Rain storms are frequent and torrential. And just like Florida, most buildings here are over air-conditioned, forcing me and most other people to wear a jacket while indoors, while sweating when out.

A typical midday scene in Jakarta.

When I lived in Florida, I actually bought a space heater to use in my office so that I could be comfortable, and I wasn't the only one at my company to do so! Alas, I have no space heater here. But generally, the temperature and humidity are actually one of my favorite things about Jakarta, if only because it reminds me of Florida.

Mornings are particularly hazy.

But there are so many ways that make the environment here nothing like Florida. It is almost never sunny here. The combination of clouds and smog make nearly every day the same white haze. I'm not sure I've seen a patch of blue sky yet during my time in Jakarta. The smell of burning trash is a constant here, but I was surprised to find that some of the American expats here actually enjoy the smell.

One of the strangest things here is the complete lack of seasons. Because the island of Java is so close to the equator, the days are the same length year round, and the temperature doesn't fluctuate much. Basically, everyday of the year, the high is 90 degrees F and the low is 75 degrees F.

Jakarta has a strange blue tint to it. (Just kidding, I took this out of a tinted window!)

17 November 2010

Trip to Indonesia, Part 8: Economic Classes of Jakarta

One of the strangest things about Jakarta is the contrast between the wealthy and the average person. From what I can tell, there are really four classes of people here: the ultra-poor, the average, the upper-middle class, and the upper class. The ultra-poor live in the slums, barely eeking by by collecting rain water to drink and selling recycled trash.

Collecting rainwater in the slums.

The next group, the average, is the vast majority of the population. They live in the millions and millions of ramshackle houses that line the streets and alleyways of the city. They travel mostly by bus and motorcycle to get around the city. They fill every imaginable job here, as anywhere else. They are also the backbone of the service industry, acting as drivers, maids, cooks, restaurant personnel, etc. Perhaps because there is such are large workforce of low-wage workers, prices for food and services here are incredibly cheap. You can eat a good meal complete with multiple courses for less than three dollars or take a 30-minute taxi ride for two dollars. Even if you pull out all the stops at a really nice restaurant, you can eat for under $10.

The upper class are a small, but visible, part of the population, living in mansions on the same roads as the poor.

A mansion in Jakarta.

For a long time while in Jakarta, I thought those three groups were the entire population. Then we went to the mall and discovered the invisible middle class. The huge malls are packed with tons of well-dressed, affluent people shopping in stores that would not seem out of place in a high-end mall in an American city. Our hosts explained that the middle class seems invisible here because they are shuttled between their homes, their jobs, and the malls, and don't venture out much beyond that. The malls are hubs of social activity here, filled with bands playing live music, dozens and dozens of nice restaurants, TV shows being filmed, and trendy boutiques selling designer fashions.

A television show being filmed in a mall.

One wing of many in a four story mall in Jakarta.

A four-piece jazz band playing in the atrium of a mall.

The DC Comics store in the mall.

The cosmopolitan scene outside the mall.

Trip to Indonesia, Part 7: Jakarta's Old City

For many years, Indonesia was a colony of the Dutch, and in Batavia, Jakarta's old city, that history is most apparent. On Sunday, we took a trip to Batavia to eat breakfast, visit some museums, and then eat brunch.

The Jakarta History Museum (formerly the city hall) and a cannon in the middle of the old city.
Bustling open market in the old city.

Unfortunately, Batavia has now become hugely run down, and most of the once beautiful buildings are in urgent need of repair before they completely collapse. Walking through old city made me really sad, because there is so much potential there. If this part of town was restored, it would be a huge tourist attraction, and would rival the European capitals for its architectural history.

Crumbling facade in the old city.

Many buildings look like they came straight out of Amsterdam.

Kids and homeless people hang out the windows of three-hundred year old buildings in dire need of repair.

Another old Dutch building near collapse in the old town.

Batavia is split in two by a canal, with traditional Dutch buildings lining the sides. The canal is crossed by a beautiful old bridge. But the buildings are falling apart, the bridge is rusting and near collapse, and the canal is filled with human waste and the smell is hard to bear.

Jembatan Kota Intan drawbridge in the old city.
But the old town is also home to a very vibrant scene of merchants, teenagers, families, and tourists all playing together in the streets. There are also a few museums, including one that featured the famous shadow puppets and gamelan, which I got to observe. Gamelan music has an amazing other-worldly sound, and the shadow puppets were fun to watch, though the plot was impossible to follow due to the language barrier.

The museum housing the shadow puppet show.

A picture I took at the shadow puppet show.

Gamelan players at the shadow puppet show.

We also got to eat brunch inside the beautiful Batavia Cafe. The cafe is another remnant of the Dutch colonial era, and being inside of it was exactly like you would expect a tropical colonial club house to be from the movies.

Inside the awesome Batavia Cafe.

13 November 2010

Trip to Indonesia, Part 6: The Botanical Gardens at Bogor

We decided to make use of the weekend and experience Indonesia outside of Jakarta, so some of the school's administrators took us out to a city called Bogor. Like everywhere else we go in Indonesia, we were taken their by our dedicated driver. All westerners in Jakarta, and seemingly most middle-class or wealthier individuals here, have their own full time driver, which goes along with the general trend here of having multiple assistants, but I will go into that in a future post.

A rice paddy along the highway.

Bogor is about an hour and a half drive from Jakarta on the highway. Unlike the normal roads in Jakarta, the toll highways are very reminiscent of highways in the western world, with cars travelling fast, and few motorcycles. If it were not for the rice paddies and jungle environment, it would be easy to think you were in the US while driving along them.

Administration building of the botanical gardens.

Map of the gardens, with the presidential palace in the green area.

When we got to Bogor, we hired a tour guide to take us on a tour of the botanical gardens, which is also home to the Indonesian president's palace. The palace grounds are home to a herd of deer, apparently the descendants of a pair of deer gifted to Indonesia by Gandhi. The area immediately around the palace is also home to a collection of replicas of famous statues from Europe.

Replica of the famous Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen, in front of the presidential palace.

Me in front of the presidential palace, complete with deer in the background.

Replica of a Swedish statue in front of the presidential palace.

Our tour of the gardens took us past a huge collection of exotic trees, flowers, and other plants, including some of the tallest bamboo I have ever seen. The gardens are incredibly beautiful and a world away from the hustle, pollution, and crowds of Jakarta.

A huge, hundred-year-old tree. They call these trees the redwoods of Indonesia because of how big they get.

Gardens in the park.

"Sausage fruit" trees.

The biggest spider I have ever seen, weaving its web. The spider was easily the size of my fist.

Flowers in the garden.

A plant which the locals literally use as umbrellas.

Some local university students who were learning English, politely asked us if they could interview us for a project. We all helped them out, answering their questions about America and which movie stars we liked the best. Not half an hour later, another group of students also approached us, and we gave another interview on camera. In some English class in Bogor, I am going to be famous!

One of the themed gardens at the park.

At the end of our trek around the gardens, we relaxed in a cafe and drank delicious fruit juices. I had an amazing avocado juice, which of course reminded me of avocado milkshakes, my favorite (though hard-to-find) milkshake flavor. Well prepared fruit juices here seem to have the same place in the culture that cocktails do in western culture, probably due to the fact that most Muslims don't drink hard liquor.

Park around the cafe in the botanical gardens.
Real coconut drink that my coworker drank.
My delicious avocado juice with coffee syrup.

Trip to Indonesia, Part 5: Slums of Jakarta

Today, along with a group of students at the school I am here with, I visited Bintaro Lama, a slum in Jakarta. The students learned about how the people there are learning to filter their water to make it drinkable. They also learned how important it is to conserve water. My coworkers and I were invited to join the students and observe. There are multiple international aid agencies working in the slums to teach the residents how to properly dispose of waste, filter their water, and use proper hygiene to reduce the spread of disease.

International aid workers demonstrate how to filter water using special silver-lined ceramic pots.
Rain water is captured from the roof of the latrine, which they later filter for drinking.
They leave plastic bottles in the sun to sterilize their water.

The people in the slum live literally in the middle of a trash dump. There is no official trash collection in Jakarta, so people dump their trash wherever they can. The people there sort through the trash, looking for valuable things and recyclable materials as a (meager) source of income. Trash that doesn't end up here seems to just end up in piles or is just burnt, which accounts for the constant smell of burning trash here in Jakarta.

The students talking with aid workers.

A gas-powered motor pumping water out of the ground, which is later filtered.

The "canal" running through the middle of the slum. Aid workers said the water is so dirty in the canal that they can't even filter it.

A view across the canal.

Though hard to see here, they use old tires to hold down the sheet metal on their roofs.

Behind each latrine is an artificial wetland created by aid workers to help break down the waste.