Jakarta: first impressions

I saw a guy juggling a soccer ball on the 8th floor of a scaffolding today. The floor was partially installed. If the ball dropped down a floor or two, he would slide down on the I-beams. It reminded me of ‘Man on Wire’ where the french tightrope walker went across the world trade center towers. But he wasn’t doing it to show off or get attention. I’m pretty sure I was the only person watching him, standing on the fringe of a busy road. Death was on the line; it didn’t stop him.

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A nice young boy opened the door for me after I picked up a snack of mixed nuts from a convenience store. I thanked him cheerfully for his overly friendly gesture. He stuck out his hand in need of food or money. Oh…right.

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Like in Bangladesh, I’ve gotten huge smiles here in Jakarta. For the most part, people are genuinely happy to have foreign visitors. It’s a very welcoming place. I was greeted by “Hello mister!” all over the city.

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I went to the harbor, through the poverty stricken neighborhoods of North Jakarta (the most vulnerable to disaster). Many lived in tin shacks, some of the homes were even built on stilts on the water. At the harbor, men were loading cement onto gigantic wooden clipper-ships. The ships had gigantic bows then would bend like bananas into the water were the middle would sit only a couple feet above the water then the stern had large cabins and cockpits like cargo freighters. I paid a man five dollars to canoe me around the harbor. I didn’t enjoy the elderly man laboring on my behalf so I asked for the extra paddle. There were only a few strokes where I didn’t stroke through some sort of garbage or debris.

 

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I got a tour of the Masjid Istiqlal, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia from a man named Bibi. The central prayer room was a fantastic indoor space with four floors of balconies for overflow.

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The traffic in Jakarta is notable. There are times that its so slow that I want to get out and walk. But I cant get out of the taxi because I can’t even open the door. It’s not just bumber to bumber. Its window to window. Tire to tire. The city’s train line is practically empty most of the time so a great way to get North or South. It seems that the city’s transportation system is all about self ownership. There are millions of motorcycles and cars for those who can afford them. The traffic is a case in point that Adam Smith’s theory does not apply universally. The pursuit of self-interest does not lead to any societal benefits. It leads to a gridlocked traffic.

Jakarta is not walkable. Many streets don’t even have sidewalks. With no side walks, there are therefore no crosswalks. So you just have to go. And don’t make any sudden movements or you are mushed meat. The streets in India are more  crowded, but here everything moves at much higher speeds making them much more intimidating to cross.

I saw a man put on his prayer cap underneath his helmet. (At least the majority of people here helmets). It’s swelteringly hot. So I can’t see why he put it on unless to say ‘The roads are dangerous. My safety will be decided by Allah.’

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As the end nears (I even have a domestic US flight booked from NYC to Memphis for the final presentation and conference) I’m finding it strange to think about heading ‘home’. I’m getting closer and closer to committing to London next year.

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