Deriving its energy from contrasts and an historic port like a giant fairground, Indonesia’s capital Jakarta is a colorful window opening onto Asia’s most exotic worlds.
jakarta’s fate was changed in the 16th century when the region was discovered by Europeans in pursuit of the riches of the countries of the Far East. Concluding an agreement with the local people, the Portuguese seamen who came to Jakarta, a modest port town up to that period, obtained a concession for commercial goods, primarily spices. This agreement, which changed the fate of both parties, was celebrated with the erection of an obelisk. Buried in time under the earth, this obelisk was brought to the light of day in 1918 and transformed into one of the most potent symbols of the city’s history.
Captured by the Fatahillah in the wake of the Portuguese, the city began to be known as ‘Jayakarta’, meaning ‘Great Victory’. The scene of power struggles between the Dutch and the English, Jakarta finally achieved peace as the country’s capital city when Indonesia declared its independence after the Second World War. With its natural harbor at the intersection of the Asia trade routes, Jakarta today is a cosmopolitan city combining modern life with the exotic atmosphere of the colonial period, aka The Age of Discovery’.
UNITY IN DIVERSITY
Having transcended those historical conflicts, Indonesia is enjoying growth and development today as one of the key players in a rapidly developing Asia. What’s more, with its population of around 200 million and striking geography spread over more than 17,000 islands, it is a country seeking opportunities to exploit its energy. This rapid process of development is naturally reflected in every aspect of the city’s physical and social image.
The capital Jakarta is a melting pot in which stark contrasts blend together in one giant metropolis, as evidenced by the skyscrapers that bristle on the horizon of this city where over 200 languages are spoken and close to 300 ethnic groups live. Meanwhile, people struggling to survive in shanties just a few paces from where foreign executives dash to their offices in designer suits in the heart of the business district present a picture of a completely different Jakarta. To describe this situation, the Jakartans use a term, Unity in Diversity, which has become a national slogan.
LOYALTY TO TRADITION
As welt as enjoying the blessings of development,
Jakarta is also a city that succeeds in preserving its culture. The Betawis in particular, the region’s indigenous people, are extremely sensitive to this. Residing in areas such as Situ Babakan and Condet, these people still take great pleasure in living in traditional Betawi houses, donning colorful traditional costumes and intriguing headdresses to dance the Topeng, and listening to haunting melodies played by orchestras known as ’tanjidor’.
Another distinguished representative of the cultural heritage are the Wayang puppets. Synonymous with the word that means ’shadow’, they closely resemble the traditional Turkish ‘Karagoz and Hacivat’. Operated with lights from behind a curtain, they transform a shadow play into a theatrical performance.
A SEAFOOD PARADISE
Jakarta’s cosmopolitan and multicultural structure has spawned a multiplicity of eating and drinking alternatives. With the growing interest of the business world especially, Jakarta is home to cafes and restaurants that offer tasty choices from the world’s diverse cuisines. Besides the highly spiced, seafood-rich Asian cuisines, it’s possible to find French, American and Italian alternatives as well in the city. We especially recommend that you not leave Jakarta without trying the ‘rijstaffel’. A legacy of the Dutch period, this dish consists of a variety of rice pilaffs served with up to 30 different garnishes. For those who can’t do without their local cuisine, there is also a Turkish restaurant in Jakarta.
Jakarta harbors within it major monuments and venues reflecting its history and natural features. Foremost among them is the National Monument. Erected in the period when the country declared its independence, this 137-meter giant stone is crowned by a flame encased in 35 kilograms of gold. You can take the special elevator up to the tower, which also has a museum inside it, for a bird’s-eye view of the city and a general idea of its extent.
If it’s a little excitement you’re after and you have no objection to getting up early, then head for the historic area known as Sunda Kelapa. For the fish market in particular.
This harbor, where fishermen hawk their fresh catch at a raucous auction in the early morning hours, is where one of the city’s major water sources, the Ciliwung River, empties into the sea. Practically every kind of seafood you can think of can be found in the ubiquitous shops. This is the port of call of the ships that have been sailing to Asia’s leading ports since the 16th century. Even today, seeing the bustle of the stevedores unloading the vessels that arrive and leave in never ending succession is an experience not to be missed in this district that hums with the city’s historic dynamism.
HISTORY AND ENTERTAINMENT
Yet another way to experience the region’s art and historical texture is to visit its museums. Jakarta boasts museums with monuments from a variety of periods. One must-see is the National Museum on Merdeka Barat Street. Housing over 100,000 historical relics, this museum offers a select exhibition of everything from prehistoric artifacts to ethnographic objects. Opening at 8:30 in the morning, the museum is closed on Sundays and official holidays.
Fatahillah Square at Kota in Jakarta’s old city is home to a number of museums large and small including the Jakarta Museum of History. This museum is chock full of objects that take one far back in the region’s history. Other museums you won’t regret visiting include the Maritime Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics, the Ancient Inscriptions Museum and the Shadow Puppet Museum.
If you want to set aside time for entertainment besides cultural activities, Jakarta offers many alternatives from which to choose. Sea World, for example, which boasts a giant aquarium, also offers a host of activities relating to the underwater world; Fantasy World is a fun fair designed to afford visitors from around the world an enjoyable time; and Jaya Ancol Marina has a number of attractions in the area of water sports and yachting. Palav Seribu (Thousand Islands) meanwhile is like a comer of heaven, and the Ragunan Zoo with its views of natural life is another must-see.
JAKARTA ON THE RISE
One of the so-called Asian Tigers with a high potential for growth, Indonesia has taken important steps in recent years to realize that potential. The mining sector in particular constitutes a major share in the national economy. Rich in natural resources like oil, coal, natural gas and gold, Indonesia is working to develop its real sector. Starting with the automotive sector in particular, Indonesia, and especially Jakarta, is on the way to becoming a major base for electronic goods as well as printing and publishing services. Not only that but as a port city it also offers excellent opportunities for the development of shipping.
Another Jakarta plus is that it is the springboard for regional tourism in Indonesia. The way to such popular tourist destinations as Sumatra and Bali, where nature on the Java Sea has been generous with her bounty, lies through Jakarta. A Jakarta that can achieve harmony out of all this diversity is one of the key locomotive forces that will enable Indonesia to renew its fate, which has unfortunately been cursed by natural disasters of late. Always full of surprises, this cosmopolitan city looks set to continue impressing visitors with its rich potential.