Jakarta. Ok, bye now!

Aside

So, Jakarta… I’m writing this as the train starts moving from Gambir station to take me to Yogyakarta, not only a new city but a solace from this, indeed, big durian. As I look out my window I’m surrounded by green and tall buildings, it doesn’t look bad. Suddenly I can see the street, the traffic jam, the layer of smog between the buildings and the sky, and I remember why I’m leaving so soon. Jakarta strikes me as a city of contrasts. Contrasts in what you see and in how it makes you feel. People walking barefoot along trash filled train tracks with shiny skyscrapers as a backdrop. Executive class trains passing by slums settled by a brown river, the brownest river you’ve ever seen. And more trash. As a woman traveling alone, I felt the eyes of people, men mostly, on me. Harsh, not sure if judgmental for not being covered or -and i feel silly for writing this- lusty. And I also found some of the kindest faces I’ve seen in my 2 months of travel. Bright smiles and welcoming eyes whenever I asked for help or directions, thankful seniors whenever I let them go before me. However, if you do not engage them, they remain distant and the curious stare is sometimes a bit heavy to bear. I never really thought what Jakarta would be like, I had no expectations. A couple of days before flying here I did a quick research and found that it wouldn’t be appealing at first. I thought I could deal with that. I was wrong. I got to Jakarta from Singapore, so the contrast was obvious at first sight. Took a shuttle into the city. The city: all I could see was gray, trash, sadness. I noticed my jaw had dropped a few minutes ago and I couldn’t believe my eyes. A need to escape was starting to manifest. After getting to Gambir station I took the TransJakarta bus to get me to the hostel. Pickpockets welcomed me to the city. Unable to put my backpack down cause the bus was full, the ride was a little tortuous. Sunday traffic jam made what should have been a 10 minute ride, last 25. The 200 mts walk to the hostel was a trek between flies-covered food stalls, smoking men sitting on the sidewalk apparently doing nothing more than that, cars parked on the sidewalks, very thin cats and motorbikes, lots of them. The hostel was very nice, an oasis within all that chaos. I had seen enough. For the first time ever in all my traveling experiences I wanted to get out of a place as soon as I got there. Of course, right after that feeling, came guilt. I felt so ashamed of how my mind was closing at the very sight of something I was not used to. I didn’t do much the first day, except go get some food. At the supermarket. I escaped the feeling of oppression by hiding in a western experience at Carrefour. I couldn’t even bother to get to a mall. Shame on me. I was so in awe at what I was feeling that I started researching what I could do in the city. Most comments held this ying/yang proportion. “It was nice but as everything in Jakarta the idea is good but the execution is very poor” Ok… Everything came with a “but” attached. Suddenly, i felt the need of knowing if anyone else had felt the way I was feeling so I googled “I hate Jakarta”. I know, I’m a horrible person. It turned out I was not alone. Even Jakartians describe it as a love/hate relationship. That made me feel good and bad at the same time; like if I was entitled to not like this city, but then again, guilt kept creeping in. My second day was a cloudy one. I liked the city much better without the blazing sun that makes everything more unbearable. It then rained, and suddenly all the wonderful greens splattered along the city popped up, making me feel that the air was breathable. And I felt it. A ‘liking’ feeling appeared in me and I couldn’t help but smile. As I walked under the rain to the train station to buy my ticket out for the next day, I felt bad about breaking the 3 day rule I had established for myself when I began traveling: even if you hate some place, stay 3 days, give the place a chance and amazing things can happen. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But I didn’t give Jakarta a chance. And I shamefully admit that I didn’t do anything in the city. So, as this train keeps gaining speed and leaves the city’s craziness and contrasts behind, I can’t help feeling sad. Maybe it was a timing thing, maybe I was not ready, maybe I’ll never be. But one thing I’m sure of, I can distinctively feel it, is that it’s definitely me, not you, Jakarta.

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