Jakarta is a complete assault on the senses. The traffic is intensely bad, the rivers and canals are terribly polluted, there is a layer of filth covering everything, and it’s truly amazing!
There is a constant bustle of activity everywhere that never stops. On one street you see beautiful, modern houses and across from it you see shacks with garbage strewn about. There is colonial architecture across from modern office buildings. The malls have the same shops you would expect to see in Europe or the US; walk across the street and there are literally hundreds of street vendors selling everything from vegetables and soup to kid’s toys and women’s underwear.
Despite the cacophony of people and traffic, there is a certain geniality about the whole thing. Just when you think you will snap from the craziness of it all, someone flashes you a smile and reminds you that we are all in it together. People are truly friendly and extremely welcoming.
At one point in the traffic another car was literally inches away. I smiled and waved at the driver who did the same back before returning to the serious work of navigating Jakarta’s traffic. And serious it is. I’ve seen some bad traffic, but Jakarta’s is by far and away the worst. People ride motorcycles on sidewalks, navigate in between speeding vehicles in death-defying maneuvers, go the wrong way in one-way lanes, and constantly jokey to move one inch closer to their destination.
No one gives way for any reason. To do so would mean a flood of cars and motorcycles that would take advantage of your weakness and continue to cut you off. Fortunately for us, we had a driver (very common for middle class families in Jakarta) so we didn’t have to worry too much.
When you finally reach your destination, you are rewarded with beautiful temples and a rich menagerie of people celebrating the new Chinese month. There is a large Chinese population in Jakarta, mostly centered around Glodok. We wandered in and out of incense filled room at the Buddhist temple Jin de Juan and continued on through the Petak Sembilan street market that surrounds the temple.
All this and it was our first day in Jakarta!