The Second Version

30/01/08

Indonesian Things

I have mentioned only in passing my trip to Indonesia around Christmas. It's not that I don't want to talk about it, but I've never been inspired.

Tonight, the time has come.

The thing that most impressed me over there is the chaos: the traffic is always heavy to the point of congestion, and sidewalks (often, a gravel strip between the road and the buildings) are crowded with people. A multitude of people moving around with no apparent direction or purpose, in the streets lined by an endless procession of shops and stalls and carts - the traditional bakso soup carts; vendors of fruit (including the mighty durian, huge jackfruit, curious manggis, hairy rambutan and disturbing snakefruit); shops of all sorts mixed with no order or logic: shiny new electronics shops next door to rickety, dusty and oily motorbike mechanics; minimarkets and eateries (warung or wartel), and the frequent mosques. All immersed in an air thick with pollution, humidity and heat.

But if you spend some time over there, order will begin to emerge from chaos. You will notice that all those people do in fact have a purpose - only a few are just milling about. There's customers and vendors - of course - and people going somewhere for a purpose.

Same as in any other city you may think. Well, not in my opinion: in London, for example, most people had a very apparent sense of purpose around them. It's not the same thing in Indonesia; over there people don't have this urgent look and demeanor.

There's those folks who stop incoming traffic in order to let parked cars get into the road - for a tip, of course. So if you plan to drive over there, have a wad of 1000 Rupiah bills handy. There's plenty of security guards (guarding community gates and malls and all sort of places), all proud of their well-kept uniforms - they usually carry a baton, but some also have pretty large knives.

But these scenes are not exclusive of Jakarta. In fact, a good part of the road from Jakarta to Cipanas in the mountains is lined by houses and shops and huts and stalls... But away from the city the type of shops is different: eateries are more common, together with construction materials and handicraft stores. There's also quite a market for those metal cusps with a crescent or "Allah" shape at the top, which are used to decorate mosques and minarets - and of course artisans making them. And even more vendors of plants, including some very curious ones.

More travel chronicles will follow in the next days.

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