I got out of the taxi to a wall of humid heat at Merdeka Square, or "Independence Square" as it translates in English, and looked down a long road towards the impressive National Monument or Monas as it’s more commonly called. The heat stayed with me for the rest of the day like a loyal companion.
Immediately I noticed a huddle of policemen at the entrance and the fear awoke inside me again as I recalled, almost word for word, the stories I'd read about corrupt officers asking “Westerners” for proof of ID and issuing illegal “fines” if appropriate documentation wasn’t produced. Had I put my passport in my bag? How much money do I actually have on me? What if they don’t speak English? I wish I knew more Bahasa Indonesian! The anxiety tornado-ed around inside.
I needn’t have worried.
I was politely greeted with a handful of smiles, and was ushered through the entrance with a “Hello Missus” and a wink.
Two minutes later as I strolled towards the impressive Monas and admired the surprisingly pleasant park that surrounds the monument, one of the policemen appeared alongside me on a motorbike and offered me a lift with the broadest and cheekiest smile I’d seen since arriving in Jakarta.
I smiled back and politely declined not because I thought it was a kidnap attempt (I could have had 'im easily), I was just genuinely enjoying my walk and indeed I continued to enjoy my walk albeit an often dirty and smelly one around the hectic city for the remainder of that day.
Here is what I saw...
Monas was unfortunately closed so I couldn’t go inside or climb to the top, but I happened to be there on the day they were celebrating 40 years independence so there was plenty to see and do in the surrounding area and the park is a nice green break from the unrelenting traffic.
A walk away from the temple and through China town’s bustling street markets is an education to Western cities on what a real China town looks and smells like. Much to my naive disgust I saw snake blood being sold, the legs being pulled off frogs and even a live turtle being decapitated. As I turned away clutching my stomach I saw Chinese businessmen in suits gathering and watching in excitement on their lunch hour.
It was therefore heartbreaking as well as stomach turning to see a number of families living in self-made shacks under bridges and along the river bank. It was very evident from my walking around that there are a lot of shockingly poor, displaced and unemployed people in Jakarta and I felt deeply sad and uncomfortable as I noticed this.