The following is a one day account in the life of an American tourist (aka: me) in Jarkarta, Indonesia:

7:30a – Wake up and mosey downstairs for an international buffet-style breakfast.  Although my walk to the hotel restaurant is brief, three different staff members greet/accost me (by name) before being seated at my table.  I am scolded twice for pouring my own coffee while eating.  Hotel service is almost too impeccable.

8:51a – Exit hotel and prepare for my walk to the research facility.  At this point in the week, I've got my route optimally mapped out: narrowest segments of the road identified (best spots for crossing the street), where the sidewalks start & end (use these as much as possible), and which intersections to avoid (due to impassible traffic).  I shudder to think about my first day mistake of putting “Elephant” on my headphones before venturing out on my initial walking excursion (overstimulation at its finest – it took almost 10 seconds before I realized that listening to music as a pedestrian might be a fast-track ticket to an early coffin).

10:32a – Morning coffee served at the facility.  It arrives the same as always, with the automatic assumption that copious amounts of sugar should already be added.  I try my best to finish it, but can only stomach about half of my cup.  It certainly didn’t take long to learn about the Jakartan sweet tooth; every snack served is a fruit, dessert, or pastry (chips, pretzels, or nuts do not seem to exist).

3:00p (sharp) – Loudspeakers from the local mosque emit the Islamic call to worship.  This happens five times a day, but the mid-day broadcast seems the most noticeable.  Approximately 13% of Muslims live in Indonesia, making it the largest Muslim-majority country in the world.


5:57p – Return to hotel.  The stench of raw sewage permeates the air to a slightly stronger degree in the evening; the water trench that flows parallel to me on my walk back helps add to the effect.  On two occasions during my walk, I see trash burning near the side of the road, which helps remind me of the city’s drastically different social classes living alongside one another.

Class Contrast Example #1:  Shanty trash burning on the left and the rooftop pool on the right.
Class Contrast Example #1: Shanty trash burning on the left and the rooftop pool on the right.

6:03p – Once again, I find myself mesmerized by the rush hour traffic.  It is absolutely insane, and baffles me how drivers do not get into more accidents.  All the roads are extremely busy/crowded and there are barely any street signs or traffic lights.  What’s more, there is no grid design for the roads, so getting lost is a constant risk.

Typical Jakarta Traffic
Typical Jakarta Traffic

6:10p – Arrive at hotel.  As is customary at most commercial buildings, I go through a metal detector and submit my belongings to search.  No one is exempt from the scrutiny of security!

8:16p – Time for dinner at the only local restaurant (e.g., NOT a street vendor) within walking distance.  It is raining, so I borrow an umbrella from the hotel.  I have difficulty finding the restaurant, but as I drawn near, I spot a security guard.  I approach him to inquire about the location.  He immediately escorts me to the entrance and offers to hold my umbrella while I dine.  I politely decline, but it’s no use – he insists.  After a short discussion, I eventually comply – knowing that it will require a small gratuity to retrieve my umbrella after my meal.  This strikes me as somewhat corrupt, but I do my best to shrug it off.

Street Vendors
Street Vendors

9:47p – Off to a recently opened beer garden to socialize with new friends, whom I met through our research project’s translator.  I find myself quickly capitalizing on the advantages of being in the company of Jakartans:  instant access to more affordable beer prices, facilitation of meeting local residents, and the opportunity to learn a new card game.  The game required a wager of 20,000 rupiah to play and I was sworn to “promise” that I would honor my debt upon losing.  Upon hearing this, I (of course) promptly informed the players that:

  1. A promise was not necessary, because I did not plan on losing
  2. My unwavering integrity would prevent me from skipping out on any debts owed, in the unlikely event of losing (after all, 20,000 rupiah is only about $1.60 anyway)

As it turned out, I held the high score until the final round, at which point I lost everything and ended up finishing last...clearly, I got hustled!  (But I managed to be a good sport and paid the winner my 20k rupiah.)

Needless to say, after all was said and done, it was an interesting trip…

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