Monthly Archives: January 2008

Jakarta Take 2

Posted by on January 21, 2008

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.

Go Pack Go!

Posted by on January 20, 2008


I’m often asked if there are things I miss from home. Outside the obvious friends and family there is one thing I miss.

Watching the Green Bay Packers.

Today they are playing in what will be one of the coldest games in NFL history for the NFC Championship at Lambeau Field. It doesn’t get much better than that. The tundra will be frozen. (well not really. they have heaters now)

I grew up about 20 minutes from Green Bay. The Packers are something you have in your DNA if you are from that part of the country. In fact, I’m part owner in the franchise (1 share of stock thank you very much).

So tomorrow morning, I’ll be waking up early to watch a live text feed of a football game on my laptop in Indonesia.

*EDIT* Temperatures are expected to be 1° F to -8° F (-17° C to -22° C ). Winds are gusting at 11.0 mph / 17 km/h.

Jakarta

Posted by on January 19, 2008

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.

KL Quickie

Posted by on January 18, 2008

I’m in the cheap-o airport in Kuala Lumpur waiting for them to start check-in for my flight to Jakarta.

I can tell that I’m in SE Asia. The airport is full of the gap year English backpackers. I last ran into this crowd in Fiji and probably wont have to really deal with them again until I get to Australia.

They’ve had free wifi at most of the Asian airports I’ve been to, which is more than I can say about American airports (except for Las Vegas, where they put the internet in the airport, but not in your hotel room).

I also came down with a helluva runny nose on the flight from Kota Kinabalu. It is still dripping like a fawcet.

Technically I you need a flight out of Indonesia before you enter. I’m going to leave via the border with East Timor, so I hope it isn’t an issue.

*EDIT* For the first time on my trip, I’ve encountered a 15kg weight limit for check on bags. The flight from KK had a 20kg limit, like every other flight I’ve had. So I take my tripod and boots out attack them to my carry on and suddenly I’m good. Net change in weight on the airplane: zero.

The exchange rate for the Indonesian Rupiah is about one dollar for every 10,000 rupiah.

Bye Bye Borneo

Posted by on January 17, 2008

Tomorrow I’m off to Jakarta. I hope to be in Indonesia for two weeks going through Java, Bali, and then a few days in East Timor.

I came to Borneo not really knowing anything about the island. Next to nothing about the political divisions on the island, the history, the people, and very little about the natural features of the island.

Most of the people I meet on the road are usually on vacation. They are usually traveling for 2-3 weeks have put a lot of thought into their itinerary. They’ve surfed the web, purchased the guidebooks, and know down to the day exactly what they are going to be doing and where they will be. This is usually their “big” trip and so they take it seriously.

I, however, don’t travel that way. I really can’t. When I came to Borneo I knew there were three countries on the island, two World Heritage sites, and that was about it. So when I go to a new place, it is really a learning experience. What can I say I know about Indonesia? I know a fair amount of their post WWII history, I know vaguely about their colonization by the Dutch, I know in a general sense of the big things I want to visit while I’m there and I know that the most popular tourist destination by a wide margin in Bali.

I don’t use guidebooks. I have used one guidebook since I’ve started my trip, and that was Moon’s South Pacific Handbook. I purchased that back in the US and carried that around for the first several months of my trip. It was heavy, it was expensive, and the information was often out of date. (especially flight information). Given the cost of guidebook and their weight, I just decided not to buy them anymore. I’ve done fine without them. You can get all the information you need online, and all the travel tips and knowledge you need you can get from local tourism groups and other travelers. Once you get the skill of traveling down (and it is a skill), guidebooks are superfluous.

I also don’t like Lonely Planet.

The flip side to not knowing much when you arrive somewhere is leaving somewhere wanting to do more. Almost every country I’ve been to I’ve left with a list of things I’d like to do if I ever returned. Example:

  • Japan: Visit Hokkido, see a Japanese baseball game, visit Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
  • Marshall Islands: Visit Bikini
  • Micronesia: Dive in Chuuk lagoon and visit Yap
  • Vanuatu: visit Tanna Island and visit the John Frum cults and watch mount erupt.
  • South Korea: almost everything I didn’t get to do because of weather
  • Palau: dive more, sea kayak
  • Hawaii: visit the islands I haven’t been to
  • Philippines: visit islands that are not Luzon

You get the idea. (The only places I don’t have a list of things undone is Guam and Samoa, and even then I’d go back to Samoa to visit Tokelau and just because it is a nice place)

The biggest list of things left undone, by far, is going to be in Borneo.

I was really blown away by Borneo. The amount of ….stuff… here is amazing. There are quotes on many of the tourism banners here citing Borneo as the “World’s Greatest Tourist Attraction”. I’m not in a position judge if that is right or wrong, but Borneo would certainly be on the list.

I did not see any orangutans. I did not see any probiscus monkeys. I did not see any hornbills.
I did not see any wild pitcher plants. I did not get to see a blooming rafflesia. Most orchids were not in bloom. I only saw giant insects in a museum (save for a moth I saw last night that was the size of a small bird). I didn’t get to Kuching. I didn’t get to Kalamantan…..which makes up most of Borneo. I didn’t get to climb Mt. Kinabalu.

What the hell did I do, you ask? Quite a lot actually. Explored caves, climbed in the rainforest canopy, bathed in hot springs, saw a million bats go out for a night of hunting. It isn’t as if I was doing nothing.

Looking at the map, I’m sure I’ll end up saying the same thing about Indonesia.

Borneo does get a fair amount of tourism, but nothing like other places. It is still sort of secret. If you want to see the rainforest, most people would go to Costa Rica or Brazil. If you want megafauna, you go to Africa.

The tourism industry here is pretty well developed. Mulu and Kinabalu are very well run and professional national parks. The facilities were good and staff seemed to know their stuff. The infrastructure I found in Malaysia was surprisingly good. Communication was not a problem and for the most part, things are cheap. My room in Kota Kinabalu was US$17.25 a night for a single. I could have had a dorm for about $6.50 a night. The BBQ place just outside as great grilled squid for about $1.

I hope that I can one day return to Borneo.