I’m leaving Jakarta today. I”ll be taking a short flight to Yogyakarta later in the afternoon.
I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable guy. I certainly have become very knowledgeable about the places I’ve visited, and before my trip I considered myself pretty up to date on what was going on in the world.
I have to confess, however, to how ignorant I was about Indonesia. I really didn’t know crap. From a strict learning perspective, yesterday was probably the most educational day I’ve had on my trip.
I also didn’t realize just how big Jakarta is. I knew it was big, but I didn’t realize it was the 5th largest metropolitan area in the world at 19.3m people. (I have now been to 6 of the 12 largest urban areas in the world on this trip: Tokyo, Seoul, Jakarta, Manila, Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto, and LA)
I didn’t really intend to do anything special today. My hotel is only a few blocks away from independence square and the National monument, so I figured I’d walk over with the camera and take some photos to at least prove I was in Jakarta.
Independence Square is to Indonesia what Tineman Square is to China or Red Square is to Russia. I picked my hotel because it was in walking distance to the things in central Jakarta (which a good idea in most cities if you can swing it). There I met a guy named Andy who started talking to me. Unlike most strangers who approach you when you are at touristy areas, he wasn’t trying to sell anything. He was a tour operator and was extremely knowledgeable about everything Jakarta and Indonesia.
He showed me around the area, doing an impromptu tour of the national monument, the Istiqlal Mosque the cathedral across the street and Chinatown.
The Istiqlal Mosque is the first mosque I’ve ever been in. I was sort of nervous about doing something wrong and pissing everyone off. The man who worked at the mosque took gave me a tour of the facility. He had me wear a garment which looked like a dark grey labcoat. I also had to take off my shoes.
The mosque can hold about 200,000 worshipers. It is the 3rd largest mosque in the world after the ones in Mecca and Medina (which I don’t think I can visit being non-Muslim). There were only a fraction of that number when I was there during one of the afternoon prayers. My guide pointed out the Catholic Cathedral across the street and how they have no problems with each other. The mosque even allows overflow parking during Christmas.
The dimensions of the mosque are all designed to signify the independence of Indonesia. The diameter of the domes and the height of the spires all are number to reflect the date of Indonesian independence: August 17, 1945. (The Freedom Tower they are going to build in New York is supposed to be 1776 feet tall, which will be the American version of the exact same thing they did with the Istiqlal Mosque.)
I have what I think will be some great photos of Jakarta, but those are going to have to wait. I still have to get through my Sabah photos.
The Yogyakarta area has a lot of really interesting things to see and I’m really looking forward to it. There are three World Heritage Sites in the immediate area: the Sangiran Early Man site where the fossils of Java Man were found, the Prambanan Temple Compound which is the largest Hindu shrine in Indonesia, and the Borobudur Temple Compound which is the largest Buddhist monument in the world.