Up All Night and Jakarta’s Insanity

After a numbing 24 hours on the plane, flying first over a frozen Arctic Ocean, cutting south across endless Siberian tundra, then changing planes in South Korea’s mall-like airport, we finally arrived in Jakarta around 1:30am. I barely slept, as expected. image Once off the plane, we glided through customs (more easily than expected), claimed our luggage, and sat outside the airport on a bench under a palm tree. My three friends, Zach, Jeff, and Tony, were smoking cigarettes. We were all drinking coffee (why I am not sure, but it seemed like the right thing to do). We were joined by a younger Indonesian man, no older than 35, wearing khakis and a purple Telemoto polo who introduced himself as Hendra (people around Jakarta were very willing to strike up a conversation with us, sometimes out of curiosity, and sometimes for money). He offered us a ride for $25 to the backpacker’s corner of Jakarta, Jalam Jaksa. We had few other options and accepted the offer.  The ride was through a darkened Jakarta covered in a warm fog and blurry with neon lights and billboards I couldn’t understand. Everything was surreal, and I felt both excited and calmed by the newness. Hendra told us he had lived in Jakarta for 16 years and his father was fromYogyakarta. When we mentioned we were from Chicago, he laughed in recognition, “Oh, Obama!” He said. My intitial fears that we were being scammed faded as the ride progressed deeper into the seemingly empty city, and by the end we had made our first friend. Jalam Jaksa gave the appearance of a forgotten corner of the city, with narrow streets lined with hostels, warungs (indonesian cafes with cheap and often delicious homemade food), and and a 24-hour indomaret. A few locals were wandering the streets, smoking clove cigarettes, one slurping noodles loudly from a bowl. Some were sleepng on benches or under awnings, others dazedly watching a soccer game on an old tv set. There was little sense of time, as if this relaxed 3am, asleep or awake, had been going on forever. We paid Hendra for the cab and began our search for a hostel. Most were full. Our options were running thin and we decided to split up. I stuck with Zach and we took a room at the Borneo Hostel off the main drag. Our room had two beds with white sheets and pillows, white walls, and white water-stained ceiling tiles. A wall fan hummed low, but the room remained hot and stuffy, the bedsheets sweaty from previous use. It would have to do for the night. I didn’t come to Indonesia looking for luxury, after all. image Neither of us could sleep. The humidity mixed with jet lag and the eerily beautiful muslim call to prayer at 5am brewed the perfect potion for insomnia. I got up an hour after lights out and headed to the Indomaret for a bottle of water. On the way back I was solicited by three prostitutes in yellow tank tops and white cut-off shorts. “Handsome boy, handsome boy!” They called after me, making kissy faces and giggling deviously. “No, no thank you!” I waved awkwardly and headed back the room. Soon the sun had risen, and I was tired of lying around. Zach and I got some coffee at a warung down the street, strong and sweet and muddy with grounds. Zach drank from a Hello Kitty mug, and mine bore the IBM logo. The morning air was sweetly polluted and the streets were chaotic with mopeds, cars and tuk tuks (three-wheeled minibuses, common in most southeast Asian cities). The sounds of car horns and engines revving filled the air, locals called their wares on the sides of the streets, the smell of fried food floated from brightly painted food carts. Stray cats hid and bounded from behind buildings and into alleys. I wasnt quite awake, but I did feel very alive, as if my dream life was mixing into my waking reality. Was this real? Was I really in Indonesia? Jakarta was waking up to its usual colorful chaos. image Zach and I headed back to the hostel and caught a hard hour of sleep, then met up with Jeff and Tony around 10:30. We had a full day ahead and very few plans, but things were off to an interesting start. More to come…

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