I arrived in the Jakarta airport well past dark – the corridor leading me to baggage claim was made of windows. I couldn’t see much outside, but I could see the outlines of trees and bushes. Already I liked this place. I walked to Immigration, a young officer took my passport with a slight glance up at me. Another face in the line. “Hello,” I greeted him in my best Beth Rumble voice. The immigration officer in Hong Kong had only stamped my little blue book with a grunt, but this guy stopped what he was doing to smile at me. “Hello. How are you ma’am?” His English barely contained an accent. “Tired.” He gave me the beginning of a wink as he asked, “Why so tired?” I shrugged, “Ahh, traveling, you know?” His smile faded slightly, he looked disappointed. “Well, I’m sorry. And now you will be more tired, because you have not yet bought your visa.” No big problem, just a matter of retracing my steps, explaining with a bit of embarrassment in my voice to the security guards asking why I was going the wrong way. Newly purchased visa in tow, I made my way back to the friendly immigration line. “Florida, huh? I don’t have a friend in Florida, but I do have one in Colorado.” He pronounced my home Floor-e-dA. I let him. “Oh really? I have two very good friends in Colorado – actually thinking about moving there myself one day.” We chatted a minute about Denver and Boulder. “When you move to Denver, can I come visit you when I go to visit my friend in Boulder?” I smiled, “Sure why not.” He smiled back, “Great, I’ll see you then.” What a friendly introduction to Indonesia.
Ipang was waiting for me outside. I felt like I walked into a heat wall. He told me that it was a good thing I hadn’t flown in two days earlier – the flooding had been so bad that people had been stranded at the airport for days. The humidity seemed to have done a good job of drying up the roads. We caught a bus to Ipang’s office where I would be staying for the next two nights. The bus was a rather inefficient system if you ask me. Everyone loads on, the driver goes about 20 yards, then he stops and walks through the isles collecting everyone’s money. Slowly down the isle he went, trading tickets for rupiah. Finally, after about 10 minutes, we were on our way. As we drive through the streets of Jakarta, I notice the signs lit up in front of their shops. Some are easy to desifer. Londri. Taxsi. Some, I don’t even dare wager a guess.
My sleeping arrangements in the office were…interesting. A thin mat on a tiled floor. Let’s just say that sleeping on a tile floor with a towel for a pillow doesn’t make for a good night’s rest! That, and it was incredibly loud. Even though we were well off the main street, all night long there was the constant sounds of motorcycles reeving by, roosters crowing at all hours of the night, bells clinging from passing food carts, people talking, laughing, arguing, the calls to prayer over the loud speaker, and the chanting prayers of the faithful Muslims every few hours. The noise doesn’t ever stop.<–the street outside of the office where I stayed
<—my “bed” for the first two nights
The next day, Ipang showed me around Jakarta a little bit, helped me secure a ticket to Semerang, and explained the public transportation in Jakarta as well the standards of living in the city. Prices were high, but wages were low. The average minimum wage worker makes only $100US a month – at best. But even food is expensive, and often families would spend over half their income on food alone. Being able to afford things like phones and the Internet were out of the question for most people.
Transportation in the city seemed to be a mess – cars, vans, jeepneys and motorbikes were everywhere. There are so many motorbikes in Jakarta it looks like a convention just rolled into town. Only, instead of cut-off leather, the women wear bike helmets over their head shawls. I was informed that, before there were only open vans that people jumped in and out of without the vehicle ever coming to a complete stop. Recently, Jakarta had attempted to offer a more reliable means of public transport – a rail car that had a special lane, and during rush hours was overloaded with people. Ipang told me that this transport was quicker, but that it cost more money too.
When I went to bed that night, the guys in the office were diligently working in front of their computers on one project or another, some relating to upcoming conferences. There would be three conferences back to back that their office was involved with – the UN Conference on Climate Change, the meeting with the families on Migrant Workers, and another that I didn’t hear described. When I awoke the next morning at 4:30am to leave for my next flight, everyone was still hard at work. The office that never sleeps.