It is a city of contrast for languages and cultures, as well as the juxtaposition of everything in between poverty and wealth
by LYDIA NATHAN
HOW does one describe Jakarta? Well, if you only have a couple of days to “browse” through the city, you’d definitely have a tough time painting the full picture of Indonesia’s capital.
There are just too many sides to Jakarta. If you don’t know it well, you might just end up like the group of blind men who were asked to describe the elephant as per in one very popular Indian folklore. The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said that the elephant was like a “thick snake”.
The blind man who managed to reach the elephant ear said that it was like a fan. His friend whose hand landed on the elephant’s leg, said that animal was a pillar, or like a treetrunk.
The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant was “a wall”. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last, who felt its tusk, stated that the elephant was like a spear.
The truth is, the one who knows the elephant well is the only person who could ride and control the beast. Such is Jakarta. If you know it well, you could be the king of the city (even if for a short while).
The well-travelled will tell you that your Jakarta would be different from the next person, according to your budget.
For instance, the backpackers might experience a bit more of the vibrant streets and the culture among the ordinary people, while the well-heeled might only see (and smell) five-star hotels, expensive restaurants, exclusive clubs and grand shopping centres that offer the latest in fashion and lifestyle.
Jakarta is many things. It is a city of contrast for languages and cultures, as well as the juxtaposition of everything in between poverty and wealth.
Home to about 10.7 million people, the city, in general, boasts of some of the best nightlife in Asia and a variety of traditional food that might be derived from different geographical locations and periods.
And yes, among the worst traffic in the world.
The First Impression
Arriving at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport at 5.30pm proved easier for the writer than expected.
Queues through immigration were barely in existence and there were surprisingly no crowd! The weather outside was hot and humid, strikingly similar to Malaysia.
In fact, it seemed to get darker very much earlier here.
In anticipation of getting to experience the city traffic like the locals, one would have to admit that the journey to Pullman Jakarta Central Park was an exciting but a heart-stopping trip. Yes, most passengers did not wear seat belts.
The roads, albeit jam-packed with vehicles, had motorcycles whizzing past in a blur of green from riders of GrabFood and Gojek, in a showcase of true road stunts.
Honking seemed to be a common practice. Whether as warnings or friendly hoots — no one could really tell — but the drivers were noticeably very brave as they attempted to manoeuvre into the smallest pathways possible.
Still, it was a relief once the van came to a stop, and as the suitcases were heaped on trolleys for the bellboy to collect.
Although the trip from Kuala Lumpur wasn’t very long, it was still comforting to walk through the metal detectors and be given room keys at the only five-star hotel in West Jakarta.
The Brilliant Accommodation
Located in the Podomoro City, the hotel is a unique blend of a pop-up interior designed concept with its artsy sculptures and modern pieces. Its upscale vibrancy and style stood out, offering experiences for both the business and leisure traveller.
The lobby is welcoming with soft classical music and smiling staff.
Adorning the walls are optical illusions of artwork and painted geometric 3D sculptures — a pleasant splash of colour against the hotel’s white walls.
The guest room on the sixth floor, with its contemporary design, is exceptionally comfortable. It features soft, carpeted floors and a queen-sized bed with unusually large plump pillows.
There is ample storage space with practical amenities like an iron and ironing board, as well as small weighted dumbbells and a yoga mat for those wanting to squeeze in a quick and more private workout in the room.
The most unique feature is the bathroom, which has a marble-top counter, a separate walk-in toilet and shower.
The shower, almost adjacent to the bed is encapsulated in a glass wall, set higher off the ground with bamboo flooring to allow water to flow from both the showerhead and rain shower to be recycled.
The room also offers centralised heating and cooling, switching over when occupied and going on an environmentally-friendly temperature when empty.
Now, even if you want to stay in, no one would fault you as the room has everything that would keep you safe and comfortable. Then again, staying in a city like Jakarta might not be a wise decision.
Time to De-stress and Unwind
Located right beside the lobby is the Bunk Lobby Lounge, an afternoon tea venue that transforms itself into a glitzy, cosy bar at night.
Decorated with a dramatic spiral stairway, guests can choose to sit on the white leather sofa chairs or at the bar counter to experience bartenders creating magic with their drinks.
The bar area in itself is an interesting amalgam of coloured hanging beads against bright blue lights, creating an atmosphere of illusion, while one of its main decorative icons is an iron zebra curtain that reflects those lights.
Serving a delectable array of hot food, tapas, mocktails, and alcoholic drinks, the bar sees many walk-ins who come through especially on Friday nights.
Among the food served included a Bunk Platter of beef short ribs, crispy calamari and coffee barbecued chicken lollipops, nachos, dynamite sushi rolls and truffle fries.
A must-try is the Indonesia Belgia Moscato, the Isola White 2016 sweet wine that is fruity and pleasant to the tastebuds.
For the old-school cocktail lovers, customers can choose from varieties like Whisky Sour, Old Fashioned or Mai Tai’s.
Additionally, the morning buffet breakfast at Collage All Day Dining restaurant on the 12th floor showcases a huge variety of dishes from international cuisines as well as local flavours.
Its spread includes Japanese- styled breakfast, pastries and varieties of bread and spreads, pancakes, an egg station, dim sum, as well as an Indonesian and Indian section.
Strangely enough, the locals seem to be able to eat an entire bowl of rice or noodles all at a go while snacking on a hot fluffy chocolate croissant!
For something on the sweeter side, the waffles in particular, are delicious, served piping hot and buttery with an assortment of jams and chocolate spreads that melt easily.
Meanwhile, one reason to stay at this hotel is its proximity to the Sogo Central Park which is just a walking distance and set among a pet-friendly park area.
Targeting the upper middle consumers, the mall is currently the largest Sogo Mall in Indonesia, comprising of four floors with an array of both lower-end and higher- end retail shops.
It also provides a different choice of food for hotel guests who want to experience different cuisines, from international brands like Hog’s Breath, Carl’s Junior and Sushi Tei to local delights like Seribu Rasa, Kafe Betawi and Bumbu Tjobek continue to attract many tourists.
The pet-friendly park, Tribeca, gets crowded over the weekends with people lounging at the cafes while dogs run around and play, much to the delight of little children watching.
There is also a water fountain for children to play with, making it an all-rounder family destination.
Let’s Go Again…
Despite experiencing Jakarta for such a short while, it is true that there is so much more to the country than just Bali or the party islands.
One of the biggest nation-states to emerge in the mid-20th century, Indonesia has continued to showcase a historic mix of cultures in its food, language, cuisine and people.
A couple of days (alas, the writer was on a business trip), might not be enough to give you that total Jakarta experience.
It was just a teaser, or an appetiser if you may, to a bigger world that is waiting for travellers to experience. Next trip then…