What Facts About Indonesia do Foreigners Not Believe Until They Visit Indonesia?
● Government service ads recommending contraception on big billboards. I wonder if they re-route Papal motorcades to avoid? Indonesians please tell me.
● The Jakarta freeways are better than many first-world countries. Too bad if you’re in the 95 percent of the country that don’t live or commute to Jakarta. Conversely, the mountain road to Bandung is single-lane switchbacks. Must be dangerous in the rainy season.
● Blood-orange and -red chemical sunsets over Jakarta that would make Los Angeles look like some clean-air paradise like Boulder, Colorado.
● Vendors hawking water and snacks in the rush-hour traffic jams and pollution, wearing heavy-duty breath masks/filters and looking like an extra from Star Wars, except they’re just trying to sell you a bag of peanuts.
● Families of four on a motorcycle. No helmets. Doing 60 mph (96 km/h). Makes you super-nervous to be a driver.
● Jakarta is not a tourist destination, but it still has distinct charms. The Dutch cannons in Old Town Jakarta. Sampling the nasi goreng and rijstafel. Walking on the landscaped seafront past the kites and the coconut-sellers. Fishing boats in the harbor.
● Durian smells slightly bad, and is an acquired taste.
● Fruits you never knew existed or saw in an encyclopedia, whose names have no equivalent in your language.
● Movie rental partially still on video CDs and even laser discs. At least in 1999.
● Notwithstanding media portrayals and what you read in Newsweek or saw on CNN, the country is in general secular (less so than in 1999 when I visited) and the people are friendly to foreigners, even though by their standards your wallet is stuffed with obscene wealth. Just be careful about personal safety and learn the Bahasa for saying a polite but firm no to beggars, followed by ‘not interested,’ and finally ‘get lost’; raise voice and make angry face (generic developing-world comment, I suppose.) Always act like you’re in control and totally not frightened – but particularly when the converse is true.
● CNN is yet again laying off staff in what’s left of its once-great Jakarta and Bangkok bureaus. How can you have layoffs when you’re down to 4-5 people?
● I put this last since it’s the ultimate first-world cliche everyone remarks on: World’s fourth most populous country, population density is 323/sq mi. Average. But these are just numbers. Try to visualize what it looks like though and you just can’t. Consider that Manhattan is like a ghost town by comparison (again, generic developing-world comment).
● Trekking on a horse to the top of volcanic Mount Bromo at sunrise is said to be stunning. Do they actually sacrifice a live cow to it every year? I guess middle-class concerns like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) do not apply in the developing world.
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