The Second Version

14/02/07

Impressions of Jakarta, Part 1

The Air
Indonesia is a tropical country, so I naturally expected the climate to be hot and humid. But how hot and humid, I could not figure out before experiencing it. And I can say, a lot - every second there is like a hot and particularly humid summer day in Italy; one of those days when the smallest movement gets you drenched in sweat. Though my host told me those days of flood were very humid even for Indonesia. But the air in Jakarta isn't clean, not at all. The haze you can see over the city is not just water vapour, and the backroads are full of the smell of two-stroke exhaust, overused frying oil, stagnant putrid water, the occasional whiff of actual rotting rubbish and maybe durian, the most infamous fruit in the world. And this brings us to...

Durian
It's a cantaloupe-sized fruit, but with a spiky, spiny outside. Its most distinctive property is the strong smell, a curious combination of rotten, putrid notes and fruity ones. Some estabilshments in Jakarta, such as the hotel where I stayed, do not allow durian on their premises and define its odour "offensive". Still, many locals just love it - my host does, and so do some girls from the Philipines who work at my village's bar in Italy. I tasted durian, of course, but did not like it. It is like a sweet, creamy pulp with a weak taste much like the fruit's odour - I could bear eating it in an emergency, but not for pleasure.

The Streets
Many streets of Jakarta are like endless markets, lined with stalls selling food - a lot of fried (goreng) stuff - stuffed balls, pasty squares with some unidentified filling; the omnipresent rice and noodles with seafood or chicken. And stalls selling soft drinks, cigarettes, Chinese medicines, and lot of items I did not have occasion to examine closely. The rithm of life is more relaxed than in the West, and many people just gather to chat and kill some time at road junctions, under bridges and other structures - especially during the frequent squalls of heavy rain. But I admit, as an imperialist western male I did not spend a lot of time going native; I preferred the comfort of my hotel or at least shopping malls. However, adults seemed to barely notice my obvious diversity; only some small children did actually stare at the alien in front of them.

The Language
I gather that the local language, bahasa Indonesia, has been in part "designed" by the ideologues of Indonesian indipendence and nationalism, taking Malay as the starting point. Indonesian appears to have a rather simple structure with some curious features - in many cases, the same words appear to be used as nouns and adjectives (as in the bahasa indonesia expression itself). But the most evident characteristic of this language is the staggering number of borrowed words: polisi, kartu, mal, taksi, monumen, konsierse, teroris and many many more. I can only recognize words borrowed from English (Inngris) and european languages, but there are also ones which may be borrowed from Chinese and Arabic (selamat comes to mind). There are also tricky words: air over there means water, in fact...

Read Part 2

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