First Impressions of Indonesia

212Sunday was my first real day in Indonesia. We went around town in a car for a while, until we got to a central landmark: The National Monument; a huge pillar with a stylized flame on top. I am informed it serves no purpose whatsoever, except to serve as a landmark. In the basement, however, they do have an exhibition about the history of the country. Set up – oddly enough – with what looks like (mostly male) Barbie dolls. Events such as the first flight of a domestically produced 70-seat aircraft were shown in the dioramas.

215The place was really crowded, too. A line zick-zacked across the squarein front of it. The whole ground around the monument was literally covered with people who were out having picnic, and there was a parade of fire brigade and police and other paramilitary organizations (motto: “Drugs are not the way”). For a moment I considered sneaking in there and pretend to be the German guest of honor, but I didn’t wear a suit, and might have had a hard time convincing them.

My Indonesian hosts warned me to be extra-careful of my bag and wallet – pickpockets. as far as I can tell nobody tried to steal from me; I am naturally cautious and I’m a big guy, so maybe I just look like it’s not worth the hassle to steal from me. Or maybe I do look so poor. The salespeople were quite aggressive, however – especially one guy selling water (half a liter for 2000 IDR, which is about 20 cents). First, and so far only, Indonesian I got annoyed with.

We also drove a little around the city; from the hotel to the monument and on the way looked at museums, president’s homes and other such places. Pretty nice, by and far. However, that’s not what you’ll remember as a European who’s here for the first time. What you will remember is the darker side.

209At various locations, people set up “illegal” housing. Slums, in other words. Some of them looked surprisingly durable, but others were really pieced together from discarded wood, metal, and other bits of junk. Most were set up near little canals, which looked positively unhealthy. Black, brackish water bubbled in there, with garbage everywhere. These canals seem to be a combination of landfill and open-air sewe. I immediately decided not to get near one.

203The poverty of at least a part of the population is also evident in other ways. You’ll see many peoplejust sitting around at the streets. Some of them have set up little vendor booths, others sit and play chess or just stare into empty space. In Germany, such people would be an exception; here it seems to be a sizeable portion of the population – at least in the suburbs we had to cross. Made me feel grateful for my apartement, which has a roof that doesn’tleak, glass in the windows, and other basic amneties of life.

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