Posts Tagged ‘jakarta’


Well, I finished the PhD. Still a little hard to believe. Still not sure all the things and places I might need to change my bio, or do other things. Not to mention the fact that for the first time in years I don’t have a big ongoing project looming overhead. I still have plenty of different things I want to research and write next, but nothing I need to be working on right now.

Lots of thoughts, of course, forthcoming, on how I feel about leaving grad school. But before that, let me first see what I can say about one more place I was fortunate to visit this past year.

The Old City Hall of Batavia, now the Jakarta History Museum.

I was fortunate back in the summer of 2017 to participate in a Japan Foundation Summer Institute, in which they brought together graduate students and professors from the US, Japan, and various Southeast Asian countries, to have some professional/scholarly networking that we (i.e. especially those based in SE Asia) might not have access to otherwise. It was an incredible experience, which it would seem I didn’t blog about (then again, I don’t often blog about workshops, conferences, quite so much as I tend to blog about the travel surrounding them). In any case, while there I was encouraged to apply to present at the next Japanese Studies Association of ASEAN, which was to be held sometime in 2018 in Indonesia. Long story short, I did. The conference was held in Jakarta in early December 2018 (you can see how far behind this blog has gotten), and I got to go.

It was my first time in Southeast Asia, my first time in Indonesia. I had hoped (expected) to see a bit more wayang and gamelan – two of the chief traditional Indonesian art forms known worldwide – but as I have continued to learn since, Jakarta is just not the place for that. If I’d had more time (and money), Yogyakarta or Bali would I suppose have been better for that.

Perhaps the only gamelan I saw on the entire trip: on display at the Wayang Museum. Quiet.

The conference itself was pretty good. Got to see some old friends, met many new people. Heard some really interesting talks about Halal tourism in Japan, regional security issues, anime tourism, and other topics; very few talks on history or traditional arts/culture, which was a shame, but so it goes. Also finally got to see Regge Life’s film version of Ôshiro Tatsuhiro’s play “The Cocktail Party,” a play about sexual assault by US soldiers/Marines in Okinawa and the complicated relationships between Americans, Japanese, Okinawans, and Chinese living there.

And even though there was no gamelan, we did get to see Pepen U-Maku Eisa, an Okinawan eisa group from Jakarta, perform. Afterwards, I realized I had met some of them in Okinawa back in 2016!

Above: Statue of Jenderal Sudirman.

Before, during, and after the conference, I also got to explore Jakarta a little bit. Overall, I’m really not quite sure what to say of the city. Much of what I saw is quite run-down, either just in very poor condition or in the process of (re)construction, but then intermixed with brand-new, very shiny, construction. Just walking down the street from my hotel – a pretty nice hotel, certainly nice enough, not run-down at all – one walked past lots of construction, as they’re building new apartment buildings or hotels and a new subway line, but then also lots of just run-down whatever. The streets are packed with packs of scooters and motorcycles in amongst the cars, trucks, and buses – a far higher proportion of scooters/motorcycles than on the streets here; in fact, it seems the chief default mode for Uber/Lyft (or Grab, the native Indonesian version) is to ride on the back of someone’s bike, and that seems to have been one of the primary ways to get around – rather than by taxi – prior to the age of smartphones as well. But getting back to the walk, one walks past all this construction and run-down whatever, on the side of a very very busy road, an exceptionally urban space, eventually coming to a brand-new-looking, very shiny, very upscale, and massive shopping mall. Reminded me of the shopping malls in Istanbul.

The Istiqlal Mosque, largest mosque in all of Southeast Asia. A Brutalist, 1970s, eyesore.

This proved to be a pattern. Went out to check out the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in all of Southeast Asia, and found that it’s just a huge Brutalist concrete thing, lacking any of the elegance of, say, Hagia Sophia, or indeed of pretty much any of the other mosques I’ve visited. I suppose I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s beautiful on the inside – all the mosques I’ve visited in Turkey and elsewhere have been. But it was just way too crowded, so I didn’t feel comfortable trying to get inside. Just across the street is the Jakarta Cathedral, seat of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Jakarta. A gorgeous building, reflective of historical/traditional architectural styles.

Cafe Batavia, the second-oldest building on the square.

I also made my way on one of the days to Jakarta Old Town (Kota Tua), the center of the old Dutch city of Batavia. In terms of history, this was the highlight of the trip. Though the Batavia Museum and Wayang Museum were somewhat sparse, small, not too well-lit, not too well air-conditioned, and just overall a bit less modern, less upscale, however you want to say it, than museums I’ve seen elsewhere in the world, still it was a great opportunity to see some historical Dutch East India Company buildings in person, and to learn something about the local history. I took tons of photos of objects, displays, and explanatory plaques, as I always do.

While I would certainly be interested someday to learn more about Indonesia’s pre-colonial and post-colonial history – the histories of the various kingdoms and sultanates which played a role in the oh-so-vibrant maritime world of pre-colonial Southeast Asia, and the post-colonial modern history of this country – as an early modernist, and as a Japan specialist, it’s the Dutch East India Company which really attracts my attention. And Batavia was the center of that Company. I’m not sure how many of the buildings are original, but in this one spot, surely one of the chief tourist traps of the city, where one is bound to have one Indonesian student after another ask you to help them with their “interview a foreigner” English homework, the buildings are all organized around a central square.

A plaque inside the Wayang Museum summarizing the history of the Dutch Church which previously stood on the site.

The Wayang Museum (a small museum dedicated to Indonesian traditional puppet theatre) stands on the former site of the chief Dutch church, and the gravestones of a number of Dutch East India Company governor-generals are kept on display.

The Jakarta History Museum is housed in an 18th century Batavia City Hall, the oldest building in the square. And Café Batavia, a nice place with a combination of Indonesian and Western dishes, is housed in the second-oldest.

Above: a former lighthouse, now part of the Bahari Museum.
Below: inside the Bahari Museum.

I then took a walk a few blocks to the city’s maritime museum, Museum Bahari, housed in a set of old Dutch East India Company warehouses. This museum, like the last, is also not too well-maintained, well-lit, air-conditioned, whatever, by I guess big-city Western standards. But, hey, I don’t mean to expect too much. The content was pretty good – lots of models of ships, history of the port, etc. To be honest, it was a lot better than the first half of the Istanbul Naval Museum, which just displays the sultan’s fleet of pleasure craft, more a display of wealth or whatever than a real history museum.

But, the point being that the walk between these two spaces was, again, a taste of the “real” Jakarta. Tons of extremely run-down homes and shops, people selling live chickens on the roadside, crumbling sidewalks. Not to criticize, but just to give a sense. I suppose this probably isn’t too unusual throughout much of the developing world – brief spots of upscale, very new construction, surrounded by all the rest.

The view outside the Maritime Museum.

Now, this post is getting even more disjointed, but I’m going to share a story of my most adventurous day in Jakarta – an adventure which got me thinking about travel more broadly, and about how the more you travel, the more you come to realize just how familiar, understandable, navigatable, the world is. As wonderful and incredible as the diversity of our human world is, and even with it being my first time in SE Asia, and one of my first times in a developing country, as much as I definitely enjoy visiting new and different places, with their very different history and culture, still some things are shared in common all across the world.

One of numerous antiques shops along a small antiques-shops-street (I forget the name of the street :/).

Trying to get to Blok M Plaza shopping mall today in order to try to catch the eisa group’s rehearsal, I took a cab which, I don’t know if he was trying to scam me or something or if this was genuinely the best way there. But in any case, we ended up stuck in traffic amidst a massive crowd of soccer fans. Just huge. Continuing on for blocks and blocks. So I got out and walked, before the cab fare came to exceed the money I had. But I think my phone must have been dead. So I had little choice but to just walk…

I finally found a Circle K, and used the ATM, and then kept walking…

It’s funny, even halfway around the world, in a country so foreign so distant from what I have any familiarity at all with, some things are just inevitably just basic, I guess, to anywhere you go. This is a very poor country, and a relatively poor neighborhood compared to some I’d been in, and the process of crossing the street is different from what I’m used to. But still, a sidewalk is a sidewalk, and a train station is a train station. And so you walk. Just like I have done X number of times in Japan, or Okinawa, or Istanbul. Sometimes you even walk through neighborhoods that are especially rundown, and just so different in aesthetic and smells and sounds from what you’re used to – so different even from the more touristy parts two blocks over – but, no matter how unfamiliar, still, a street is a street. And so you walk. And so in this same way, I walked from the main square of Old Town Jakarta (ringed by museums, very touristy) to the Maritime Museum Bahari, in an old VOC warehouse a 15 min walk away, through neighborhoods of just shacks and ruins, giant piles of rusted chains for cars or something I guess, a bunch of guys sitting on the sidewalk managing birds and other animals in little bamboo cages, women behind counters selling bottles of soda, cigarettes, whatever else. And then a couple hours later, as I worked to make my way away from the football crowds, once again, I was passing by lengthy areas of “nothing.” But actually, as foreign as it may be, I don’t know the language, or the foods, or the customs, in a lot of ways it’s just no different from doing similarly in Naha or Fez or a half dozen other places. The next day, too, I walked down totally middle of nowhere feeling streets, with just totally local shops or no shops or just nothing I could really discern or interact with, and then what do you know, a Starbucks. Not that it has to be a recognizable brand name, but just…

The main square of old Batavia.

One thing I did notice in my exceptionally limited experience of Jakarta is that here and there throughout the neighborhoods I saw, there are plenty of very new-looking, nice-looking shops, cafes, restaurants, intermixed with the more run-down or just “nothing” sorts of areas. I feel like a lot of other places I’ve visited, there are the good neighborhoods and the bad neighborhoods, if I may – that’s not really exactly what I mean to say but I trust you take my point. There are the neighborhoods where you can go to find good cafes, brunch, a nice place to walk up and down and just shop or whatever, and then there are those neighborhoods where you won’t find anything like that. Here I could be totally wrong but from my very limited experience I feel like it’s much more interspersed, intermixed.

And eventually, you find tiny bits of things that are in fact familiar. Like Circle K, and Pocari Sweat. It is interesting – not too surprising I suppose maybe, but interesting, to see which brands exist here. Both in the main shopping mall and elsewhere I found many Japanese brands, not really Chinese or Korean ones I don’t think, and yes American brands or at least ones we’re familiar with in the States like H&M, but then also things like M&S, Topshop, British brands which I don’t think we tend to have so much of – if any at all – in the States. The Circle K (not sure if it’s a Japanese company or just also used to operate in Japan) carried a whole ton of drinks I didn’t recognize at all, plus Pocari Sweat. For example.

The view from inside my hotel room.

I don’t know if I just wasn’t noticing or recognizing the European or Chinese/Korean brands just because I’m not familiar with them and my eye catches on noticing those things that I am more familiar with. But, I dunno, I don’t think they were there as much. I don’t think they were. And they have Uniqlo and Coco Ichi and Marugame Udon, and H&M and Zara and… I dunno, whatever. Coffee Bean. Starbucks. In this age of globalization I’m not too surprised, but even so I am still surprised that it’s so much Japanese and British companies, and not so many I recognized as European or Asian. Watson’s – which I had never seen anywhere else outside of Turkey, and which turns out to be a Hong Kong company. (Yet, interesting that a Hong Kong-based company has no locations in Britain. Or maybe not so surprising?)

It’s a funny thing, coming to a place like Jakarta. Before coming, I had more or less no idea what to expect. It’s my first time in southeast Asia, my first time certainly in Indonesia. I had some sense of Indonesian music, Indonesian dress, and food, and a general idea that Jakarta is a huge big city, but probably pretty poor, … But I dunno, it’s hard to say, I guess I had some sense, but still felt really unknowing. Excited to experience a new place.

But now that I’m here, and I guess Morocco was kind of the same, I get a strong feeling of just, oh, okay, yeah, this makes sense.

I’m not sure what I think about that. It certainly does make world travel less exciting in a certain sense. When I went to Japan for the first time, *everything* was new and exciting. And now, I’m going to places like Morocco and Indonesia – I mean, wow, places so far beyond where I at 18 or 20 years old might have ever imagined I’d ever be traveling to, and I’m finding these places, well, certainly new and different, certainly worth visiting, certainly experiences I value, but at the same time, whether it’s because of my own experience in traveling or what, it’s just not that eye-openingly different I guess anymore. Of course, the flipside of that is that I *can* go halfway around the world, get lost, and be okay. Remain calm, know what to do, what to look for, how to manage myself. And that’s pretty awesome. Anyway, I dunno. This post has gone on long enough. I know it’s terribly disjointed, but it’s also six months late. I’m just going to leave it at that. Cheers. Construction along the street just outside of my hotel.

Read Full Post »