Monday, 20 October 2008

Jakarta Rediscovered I - the art of shopping without breaking a sweat

It's a good time to visit Indonesia. You get extra millions of rupiahs for the Malaysian Ringgit these days! However hitting the shops in Jakarta is by no means a straight forward task. One has to come up with a game plan to beat the odds.

The Shopping Experience

For starters, you have the choice of blowing your millions at Plaza Indonesia or Senayan Mall with one purchase and then not have anything left for coffee or your taxi ride back. Malaysians that can, swear that Indonesian designer labels are cheaper here than in Malaysia. Then you have the Gucci's and Puccini's; Dior and Chanel etc only patronised by a certain sector of the local community.

Alternatively one can visit the local markets or pasar like Tanah Abang or Mangga Dua where your rupiah will stretch like elastic. It is not advised for the faint-hearted who only shop at air-conditioned upmarket malls as the crowds and humidity can hit you like a tsunami. . . and the floor is a tad dusty to faint on.

Revel in retail therapy to your hearts content from furniture to clothes to batik.

For a total batik experience, head for the fourth floor of Sarinah. Batik from all over the country in the form of fabric, clothes, sarongs, table cloths, bags, fans and souvenirs are available. If you are lucky you may chance upon a store wide discount of 20% or so.
Pasar Ikan in Kota Tua (Fish Market in the Old City of Batavia) reeks of outer city lifestyle where makeshift stalls line the narrow serpentine street, made for single vehicle passage but allowing a two-way flow with nerve-racking results.
The old Dutch warehouses lie adjacent to the market.
Indonesia, unfortunately, has the highest foreign debt after Korea, and the impact of the economic crisis is seen every where.
Transportation and security

Once you've mapped out the days' activities, the first taxi you jump into is crucial. It helps if the driver is polite, clean cut and smiles. You can then make the decision to stick with him for the days' activities.
I hit the jackpot with Pak Tarsono, a Blue Bird cabbie, who is a soft spoken 25 year old Javanese from Purokorto in Central Java. He had just returned from a 9-hour motorbike ride from his home town for Lebaran (Eid Celebrations). We struck a deal. He agreed to ferry me around using the meter and there after wait without clocking onto the meter. He humbly suggested that it was up to me to give him whatever I thought fair.

He was a gem. We were in and out of the car for photos and he even stopped traffic for me to cross the road. "Awas Ibu" ("Be careful Madam").
Pak Tarsono, Hape nombor (HP no) 081383283327. I highly recommend him if you need a trustworthy driver in Jakarta.

Just to give you an idea of how cheap taxi fares are in Jakarta, in the course of 4 hours and three city center stops, the meter clocked 59,000 rupiahs. This amounts to only RM 21.85! Granted the distances travelled were not great but the convenience and safety was much appreciated and duly compensated.

Not long ago, an obnoxious cabbie demanded RM20 for a trip from KLCC to KL Sentral.

"No can report me if you don't want!"

I am told by frequent users of KL taxis, that this is a common occurrence, so be warned. Give me the LRT, good walking shoes and a brolly anytime.

I digress.

The Jakarta Traffic

Jakarta can be summed up in one word, macet (jammed)! Sans macet, as far as I know is never. It may dwindle on Sundays and late at night. Oh yes, one Sunday morning (6-8 am) a month, Jalan Sudirman, the main artery of the city, is closed to traffic for joggers. How kind! From 4-6 lanes on the highway to two toll gates manually operated.The infrastructure has improved somewhat over the years with mega highway projects initiated by Pak Suharto lending some relief.
Bus touts angling for passengers in the middle of the road.

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