Friday, 24 September 2010

Trying to get under the skin of Jakarta

I was trying to think what to call this post, and I suppose ‘trying to get under the skin’ is about as close as I can get to the reason why two white blokes were following an Indonesian teenager round an itinerary written by a Jakarta pop princess.

If that sentence doesn’t make sense, then you’ve started at the wrong point in this thread… go back two posts and start again for the full picture, I can’t face trying to explain it all in a sentence. Sorry.

So where did we leave off… oh yes, the driver was just leaving the Intercontinental Hotel. Pretty soon we were in a fairly scruffy part of town where we stood out a mile. At last! We were in a place where Europeans stood out! There was no air-conditioning, and no-one opened the door for me.

We were in Pasar Benhill, a busy market that seemed to sell everything that didn’t cost more than £10. I didn’t like to take photos here, as I felt very conspicuous and not 100% safe. Angke bought us ave (a fried pancake with coconut in the middle) from a street stall.

Man with pancake. Potential for
food poisoning not shown
The one thing you’re told in every guidebook to Indonesia is not to eat any food from a stall – European stomachs aren’t able to cope with it – but at this stage I knew it would be rude to refuse, and besides, it was fried… what could possibly go wrong? Should anyone ask you, by the way, the local Sundanese name is kue tetek. Now you know. What did it taste like? A coconut crepe, I suppose. What did you expect?

The market was amazing – a real smorgasbord of smells, sights and sounds, but all painted in dirty, dull, dusty colours. The smells all had a tang of hard work and the sounds weren’t cheerful – they were real working sounds. Children and cats wandered around unconcerned by the noise and local people worked and sat and stared in equal numbers.

Tanah Abang
One (bottled) iced tea later and again we were off. This was like going to where the other half shops – Tanah Abang. This was a classic shopping arcade on 7 levels, each level with a different theme – shoes or bags or ladies’ clothes or whatever.

Our driver drove up about 400 floors to park. Eventually he found a parking space, just before the point at which we needed an oxygen chamber to be able to breathe. This space was only blocking in three other cars, but we casually got out and walked away.

Contemplating purchases
in Tanah Abang. Or escape.
Either is likely.
‘What happens if any of them want to leave before we do?’ I asked casually. ‘Oh, that’s OK,’ said Angke, ‘he’s left the handbrake off so they can push the car out of the way’. Well that’s all right, then. Can you imagine leaving a car with the handbrake off in London? Me neither.

In Tanah Abang, I was most fascinated by the huge range of Batik and the incredible amount of fake designer goods on sale. Batik is a traditional pattern used in Indonesia. Rather like paisley, it’s a style rather than a specific material, colour or form. I really like it, but I know I’d look like a twonk wearing it, so I won’t. The fake brand I really liked was a range of suitcases labelled ‘Samnosite’. Who wouldn’t be fooled by that?

Angke also let us know, in conversation, that the hardest part of her job was that during her long shifts she was required to stand up most of the time, and the hotel insisted that she wear high heels. That was what really got to her. Me too.

Let's do tourist
Next to Monas. This is about the only area of green space in Jakarta, with the national monument – a flame atop a high pillar (sound like another monument somewhere else?). Apparently when it was first designed, President Sukarto wanted the design to be in the form of a linga and a yoni. That's a penis and a vagina. Looks like he got half his own way. I'd love to have seen his blueprint...
I love this statue,
but sadly I've no idea
what it is

We stayed here for a while, me trying to keep out of the sun, watching the kite flying that takes place here every day.

Grass! In Jakarta! It's a miracle!

Time for lunch at Restaurant Dapur Sunda. We drove for ages to get here. Apparently Angke’s mother is Sundanese, and this is the local racial grouping, so we had to try the food. Had to. In case you’re wondering, my colleague had Gourame fish, battered, which tasted just like classic (good) fish and chips such as you might get in a decent seaside town in England, and I had Ayam Goprek Bakar, grilled chicken in a peanut sauce.

Helpful advice in the restaurant
toilet. And to think that for all
these years...
Angke insisted that we try Rujak Serut (fruit with spicy peanut sauce), which was seriously strange, but rather nice. Try putting small slices of fruit into crunchy peanut butter, make it more liquid by adding fruit juice, then add Tabasco. Wow.

Being the drunkard I am, I also asked for a bottle of the local beer, Bintang. The bottle that arrived was possibly the biggest bottle in the world, so I knew that my participation in the afternoon was endangered.

Where next? As we were in the area, the other examiner suggested that we drop in on Angke’s parents. That turned out to be very strange indeed… more next time.

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