Central Jakarta is more than just a busy, busy commercial area, it is the seat of Indonesia's government, and therefore hosts many national symbols. While this chapter is titled "Jakarta's Golden Triangle," the Triangle is just the southern part of the city center. This travelogue also covers the Menteng district north to the national square and Blok M to the southwest. And so, let me welcome you with the help of Jakarta's "Welcome Fountain" in the first photo!!!!
Jakarta is a city of stark contrasts, many of which present themselves right away. For example, compare the modern skyscraper backdrop to a busy modern traffic circle above to scenes like the road leading to the airport which is bordered on both sides by shanty towns and rice paddies. Indeed, though, Jakarta is growing much more modern and sprouting new skyscrapers on a regular basis.
Like many capital cities, Jakarta is filled with national symbols and monuments. Most speak of independence, either in general or specifically from Dutch colonial occupation. The largest, and most beautiful, of Jakarta's monuments is the Monas, or National Monument, shown in the second picture. The Monas is a 137-meter tall observation tower with a gold flame on top that symbolizes the country's independence in 1945. It is indeed an observation tower, although closed on the day I went, located in the city's central park near the Presidential Palace.
This park contains a number of memorials to various famous Indonesians (like Jakarta's icon Moh Husni Thamrin, the Indonesian poet Chairil Anwar, or the Javanese warrior Prince Diponegoro) or symbolic memorials that represent popular movements to oust the colonials. Elsewhere in the city, there are monuments scattered about like the Irian Jaya Independence Memorial -- Irian Jaya being the Indonesian half of the island of Papua. That memorial looked like a man breaking free of the chains binding him. You get the idea. All those memorials are plain bare cement, I noted, like the Welcome Fountain above.
But despite the anti-colonial theme, the city center has retained some of its European heritage. The harbor to the north had a number of Dutch buildings, though many of them were old and not particularly photo-worthy. A better example is shown in the third photo, the Dutch shopping mall known as Passer Baroe (pronounced locally passa-bah-roo). Passer Baroe is a mix of old traditional stores in a modernized setting. It is popular with the locals because compared with the truly modern shopping malls about, Passer Baroe is a discount center, comparable to factory outlets in the states.
Indeed, the shopping in Jakarta is fantastic, but to get the bargains you must avoid the big fancy "modern" malls. For example, the Plaza Indonesia (shown pictorially in the Sights and Sounds chapter) is a really beautiful mall with all the latest trends but with prices not indistinguishable from Europe. Passer Baroe provides you quality stuff at literally half the price. There was also great shopping near the harbor, where other factory outlet malls reside. Getting to them was a chore, though, as the Harbour Toll was always a busy road!
The fourth photo was taken from the same spot but in a different direction. The building in front is the Gedung Kesenian, or Jakarta Cultural Center, a general-purpose exhibition hall.
But the buildings more of note are those behind it, the Istiqlal Mosque at back right, and the St. Mary Cathedral at back left. The Istiqlal Mosque is among the largest in southeast Asia and is a magnificent complex of several mosques, actually. However, the main mosque, with its huge white dome, dominates.
Unfortunately, I was unlucky in that I picked a white overcast day to visit central Jakarta, because all my closeup shots of the mosque came out white on white. Oh well, you can't have everything. The gray Cathedral, that was right across the street from the mosque entrance, came out much better. As Cathedrals went, this one was very plain and simple in decor compared to its counterparts in Germany and Austria, but it had quite an impressive grotto in the back.
Much of the rest of Jakarta I took in on the drive. The Menteng and Golden Triangle districts are loaded with skyscrapers and modern shopping malls, like the aforementioned Plaza Indonesia. Blok M to the southwest was higher-rent residences and restaurants from what I remembered. (Yes, it really does mean "block 'M'", meaning that at one time Jakarta was divided into blocks... A, B, and M still exist).
I had dinner at a number of restaurants in Central Jakarta, mostly along a major restaurant strip in the south that contained both classy Euro-style places and old-fashioned Javanese restaurants. Nearly everything was available, particularly in the malls, where the younger crowds seem very interested in European or non-Indonesian Asian cuisine. Cafés were plentiful in the malls, and crowded with youngsters. Cafés were unheard of anywhere else in the city.
The traditional restaurants often operated in a fashion that would never be considered in the states. We sat down, and the waiters placed about 15-20 dishes in front of us, each of which had precisely two servings of everything. We would take what we wanted and leave the rest, then the waiter would tally up what we ate, give us the bill, collect up the remainder, and presumably serve it to the next guests. Efficient? Yes. Sanitary? Not by American standards!
Central Jakarta was also filled with museums, theaters, and other cultural sights, which I passed by but did not have time to enter. But having circled around from the Monas to Passer Baroe to the Golden Triangle and back, I did make note of a few other interesting structures. There was the Jakarta Post Office, with its bronzed sculpture of an old bicycle-riding mailman; the Rama chariots, displaying the hero immortalized in the popular Kecak Dance on Bali; the National Museum; and the Indonesian Presidential Palace (final photo) that in some fashion reminded me of the White House.
There was a lot to see, and I know I saw only a small part of it. Going around, I realized just how big a city Jakarta really was and how much history and culture it contained.
Trip taken 29 December 2002 through 03 January 2003 -- Page last updated 28 October 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin