Jakarta à la carte
On an overland journey through Indonesia, it is hard to avoid Jakarta. As the old adage goes: “All roads lead to Rome” this holds true in Java. We could have done a quick overnight stop in the capital and catch our Boat to Singapore the next morning but I wanted to meet up with some old time friends: Francis whom we met on our way in August and later in Bali, Suryanto my first roommate and Iwan whom I had not seen for nearly 30 years. It is not everyday that I have the opportunity to mingle with old high school friends from Brockwood on the other side of the globe.
For two and half days we stopped being tourists or travellers. We sat at tables and choose to savour moments – there was no set menu. We are very grateful for Francis who hosted us once more, organised things so smoothly and took us to some fancy restaurants. Staying longer in Jakarta meant that we had to change our itinerary and offered us the opportunity to go through Sumatra. It also allowed us to relax in a homely environment and for Yoel to play with Francis and Iwan’s children.
Our time in Jakarta was a sort of mini-reunion reminiscing our time at Brockwood, speaking about common friends and catching up on each other’s stories, not to mention speaking about life, the universe and everything. It always surprises me how quickly we can become at ease with friends we knew from when we were young, even when we have not stayed in touch for many years. On one of his walls Francis has got a nice portrait of Krishnamurti – a common questioning friend of ours.
Jakarta is a city of contrasts. At one point we found ourselves in a large luxurious shopping mall that could have been in Zurich, Tokyo or Singapore, then as soon as we walked out we were hit by the stench of the old canal and the madness of midnight traffic. An instant later, we were walking amongst small streets with their busy food stalls and back alley markets. And five minutes onwards we were strolling along an avenue lined with villas that once sat in a leafy suburb of Jakarta and now has become an oasis of calm amongst the chaotic growth of the megapolis.
We had been warned about the semi-permanent traffic congestion in and out of the city, but the situation seems to be worsening. Even Francis who has to deal with it on a daily basis, was surprised by the queues we experienced during our stay. After having been on our pushbikes in Bali for more than ten months, where the traffic is quite relaxed, we were in for a shock – I don’t think I could ever drive let alone cycle in such conditions.
On leaving his house, Francis gave us two of his creations. He is a man of many talents, as well as being an interior designer and artist, he has been designing some ingenious and gorgeous objects such as a rocking bed, a large woven sofa in a shape of a clam, a wall-mounted wooden radio… just to mention a few. He has also recently brought back to the Indonesian consciousness the Suru – an organic eating tool originally made from banana leaves folded to form a scoop. The word Suru means spoon in Javanese and has almost been forgotten. Francis has recently managed to breathe life back into the Suru by making some delightful reproduction of the ancient shapes in paper, coconut wood, brass and silver as well as some original designs. Not only did we get to use them on a delicious Gado Gado meal, but he gave us two to take back home with us. We will remember the meals spent together each time we use them.