A Beautiful Clear Day In #Jakarta

Jalan Thamrin on a clear day

Yesterday I noticed high alto cumulus and cirrus clouds in Jakarta. I wondered what this meant. I know what these clouds mean in my own city but here in wet season Jakarta I was puzzled by their significance. Today dawned clear and bright, the air beautifully clear a stiff consistent monsoon breeze from the west-north-west driving away much of the city’s usual haze. Fair weather cumulus clouds began rolling in around mid morning under a few remaining wisps of high cirrus. Such days are ideal for walking in Jakarta, the three day New Year break and reduced traffic also boosting the air quality. I noticed that even the security guard outside the Spanish Embassy, near my hotel, had taken of his face mask.

Plaza Indonesia and Grand Hyatt

Sitting over coffee this morning and reading the Jakarta Globe, I came across an ad for Periplus bookshops and was pleased to find there was one at the exclusive Plaza Indonesia. Here in this spacious retail precinct incorporating Jakarta’s Grand Hyatt hotel, names like Valentino, Versace, Gucci, Armani and Ermenegildo Zegna are common place.

I remembered Periplus as an excellent source of cultural and historical resources on Indonesia and since I’m going on to Solo then Bali shortly, I thought it would be a good idea to see what sort of maps and other information they had.

Periplus is the creation of an American known as Eric Oey. In the 1970s Oey was studying Indonesian and Chinese at UC Berkley when he picked up a years work with Singapore’s Apa Insight Guides. This seems to have wetted his appetite for publishing on Asia. He started out in 1988 publishing travel books and post cards. Now the Periplus Publishing Group claims to be the world’s largest publishers of English language books on Asia, it’s probably right although I suspect that some Indian publishers of English language books wouldn’t be far behind them. This morning I learned that India has a middle class amounting to 300 million people, that’s 60 million more than the population of Indonesia. Such a large middle class almost guarantees a high level of effective demand for books and other resources in English.

Here in Jakarta the Periplus bookshop is well stocked and well organized. It was with great pleasure and with some friendly help from a shop assistant that I acquired, yet another map of Bali and an interesting book by I Gusti Made Sutjaja, “ Everyday Balinese – Your Guide to Speaking Balinese Quickly and Effortlessly in a Few Hours”, something I’ve always wanted to do. Unfortunately 18 years intensively traveling to and from Bali has left me with little Balinese language. “Here’s my chance to learn”, I thought.

Making my way to the cashier I was greeted with a studied indifference that was reminiscent of Garuda flight attendants during the New Order period. There seemed to be a clear message, I’m not really meant for service, you’ll just have to wait until the mood comes upon me.

Of course, I was probably sending out the wrong dress signals as well, but I wasn’t wearing T-Shirt, Shorts and sandals, although only my trousers were tailor made, I changed out of my multi-pocketed cotton travelling pants before going to the Plaza because I didn’t want to stand out too much. Unfortunately I think I must have miscalculated, I didn’t wear my good shirt, only one of those travel shirts made in China and bought off the rack at Khatmandu.

I prefer those sorts of travel shirts because they’re so easy to keep clean. I don’t wear one everyday, but I could. At night washing them only involves a quick scrub in the wash basin using that cheap shampoo hotels always seem to supply in such abundance, then it’s just a matter of hanging the shirt on the air conditioning grill. This serves the dual purpose of drying the shirt quickly and humidifying the air. It’s the perfect solution. Yes, I’m definitely not a Plaza Indonesia fashion statement.

My friend Henky and I perfected this clothes washing and drying technique back in the 1980s when we were involved in an extended survey of tourism possibilities in Indonesia. Walking back to my hotel was a pleasure, what a clear beautiful day; I was reminded of the clear skies of the 1980s.


Since writing this post I’ve come across a very useful Inside Indonesia article ‘A City Without Social Justice’.  I was written by Deden Rukmana (rukmanad@savannahstate.edu) is assistant professor and coordinator of the graduate program in Urban Studies and Planning at Savannah State University, USA. He publishes Indonesia’s Urban Studies (http://indonesiaurbanstudies.blogspot.com )

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