Jakarta

Posted: January 19, 2008    Categories: Asia, Indonesia

The following question is for my non-Asian readers:

Name something about Indonesia which does not involve a natural disaster.

When do you think of Indonesia, what image comes to mind? Can you name an Indonesian movie? Any Indonesian outside of politics? Can you name any Indonesian food dish?

I asked similar questions when I first entered the Philippines. Both the Philippines and Indonesia are large Asain archipelago nations. Both before I arrived and after I left the Philippines, I met Filipinos everywhere I went. Every country seemed to have some population of Filipino workers.

I have met zero Indonesians.

Indonesia has three times the population of the Philippines. In fact, Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world by population (almost 234 million people) and the 16th largest by area. Look at a map and you can see just how far the country spans. It is huge. The distance from the tip of Sumatra to the border of Papua New Guinea is 3,200 miles (5,200km). That is longer than any distance within the continental US. It is the approximate distance from New York to Anchorage.

Despite the significance of the numbers, consider the following:

  • Indonesia won its first Olympic medal in 1988. Since then it has won a handful in badminton and women’s weightlifting.
  • No Indonesian has ever won a Nobel Prize in anything. (Technically, two Indonesians won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, but they won it for trying to gain independence from Indonesia, which East Timor eventually did, so they stopped being technically Indonesian.)

Despite their many differences, I cannot help see similarities between Indonesia and the Philippines.

  • Both are SE Asian nations which are made of thousands of islands. Indonesia has 17,508 islands, the Philippines has 7,107.
  • Both became independent within a year of each other. Indonesia from the Dutch in 1945, the Philippines from the US in 1946.
  • Both suffered at the hands of long sitting corrupt, dictators after independence. The Philippines had Marcos, Indonesia had Suharto.
  • Both people are of a malay origin.
  • They have similar per capita GDP’s: Philippines – $5,365, Indonesia – $4,356

(While sandwiched between them, the history and recent development of Malaysia seems to put it in a different category.)

I really have no explanations or even much in the way of observations at this point as I haven’t been here 24 hours yet. All I know is that Indonesia is a significant country which doesn’t have a corresponding large impact on the world. Why? I hope I’ll get some insight in the next week or two.

As for my first 24 hours in Jakarta, the city it most reminds me of is Manila. I had read about it being a dirty city, but so far I haven’t seen it. Air quality seems better than Manila. It could be cleaner, or it could be a function of the weather when I was in each respective city. It doesn’t seem nearly as dense as Manila. The area around the airport was very nice. The airport seemed like it would have been one of the best airports in the world in 1975. It is not dirty or falling apart. I get harassed by street vendors when I walk down the street, just like in Manila.

While Islam is the dominant religion in Indonesia, unlike Malaysia it is not the official religion. I’ve seen some women with covered heads in Jakarta today, but I’d say only 10-20%. The national mosque is across the street from the national cathedral.

Unlike the countries I’ve been which were British Colonies, I don’t see as much Dutch influence here as I’ve seen British influence elsewhere. (maybe I do, but I just don’t recognize it as such.) I can see less use of English here than in almost any country I’ve been to so far, including Japan and Korea. There you would see an occasional word or phrase in an advertisement. Here, not so much. Most people I’ve met have spoken some English, but I’ve only been around a hotel and the airport, so that really doesn’t say much.

I’m staying at a hotel in Jakarta, not a hostel. I couldn’t find one within reasonable distance of the city center with rooms available. The place I’m at is cheap and nice. I haven’t been in a real hotel in several months. Food here seems very cheap.

If anyone has any suggestions of what to do or see in Jakarta, let me know. I’m going to try and pull off an internet stunt in the next few days. That is my primary plan. Assuming I can pull that off, I’ll be off to Yogyakarta after that. (which is actually a sultanate still believe it or not).

I hope to have some Jakarta photos starting tomorrow.

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