I’ve had a long relationship with Indonesia. I lived there for a couple of years in the 70s, I’ve got a continuing marital connection and I gave my cameras, cash and credit cards to an unnamed Balinese a few years ago (click here to read about that!).
Last week I returned for a little more than 24 hours and it was another case of ‘the more things change the more they are the same’.
Certainly Indonesia in general and especially Jakarta has gone through incredible change over the 4 decades that I’ve known it. Jakarta today is littered with shopping malls and expensive high-rise hotels. I don’t recognise the street plans that I used to confidently navigate. The statues are still there of course, hot plate Harry and the 7-up man, and the roads still follow the same lines but there are more lanes, more levels and more cars. It takes for ever to travel comparatively short distances and then when you track the route that your driver’s taking you find that you’ve gone round 3 sides of a square. I always felt that to get from A to B in Jakarta you had to go via C!
I was with David Lim and we travelled on Garuda which has improved immensely. I know it’ll never match SQ but at least it is today where SQ was yesterday. The cabin crew were confident and the food (breakfast out, lunch back) wasn’t totally bad. There was even a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon to wash down the fish which, old habits die hard, was the only option available by the time the trolley got to me.
We arrived on time with nobody to pick us up. Our contact arrived a quarter of an hour late because he didn’t expect us to be in time.
We enjoyed 2 meals in Jakarta and were taken out by the people we met at our morning and afternoon meetings so that there was no escaping the local food, I’d have to wait until Saturday night in Singapore for that, and since I’m no fan of Indonesian food that didn’t fill me with excitement.
Lunch was at the Restoran Bukit Pelayangan which serves the local Sundanese food and it was not totally bad: sweet and sour fish, (beef) ribs, various vegetables and rice. However I begin to think that Indonesian food is all about serving skin and bones and shells and challenging the diner to get at the meat.
Dinner was at a ‘lakeside’ restaurant, Talaga Sampireun. More skin and bones ands shells: chilli crab (spicier than the chilli crab the previous night in Singapore), prawns, very bony fish, vegetables and rice. And bravo … hidden in the menu the magic words ‘Bintang Beer’.
Back at the hotel and a night-cap. The chilli Bloody Mary seemed like a good idea until the cocktail bar advised that it had run out of tomato juice. There was no juice either at any other of the hotel’s outlets so it was a case of get some out of the stores. I should have gone for the Guinness which David had.The more things change ….
On the plus side of course I will never get fat with Indonesian food and this was confirmed at the regular Saturday morning weigh-in: 70kg. Right on target.
Our hotel was the Pullman which was fine. Check-in easy enough, with free wi-fi in evidence but the slowest lift I’ve experienced for a long time. I had a nice big room but it took me ages to work out how to switch the lights off, the shower door opens inwards and the room safe was at such a low level that guests like me who wear varifocals (or bifocals) can only read the instructions by lying on the floor or standing on our heads.
Breakfast buffet was perfectly good and only spoiled by the enthusiasm of the waiters clearing my place when I went up for a second croissant. But as always the smiles were there and the enthusiasm which Indonesians have always shown is still evident.
And finally on the way out and as we walked the length of the terminal to get to our departure gate the guy sweeping the floor decided that we needed help with our directions. Very confidently and without being asked he told us in English to which gate we should go. The more things change … but sometimes they do improve.