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Indonesia—A Tale of Two Cities

A+python+is+seen+at+KRUS+National+Park.
Maria Esquinca/The Prospector
A python is seen at KRUS National Park.

Editor’s note: Maria Esquinca is a staff reporter at The Prospector and is currently in Indonesia for a study abroad program.

The giant leaves of trees larger than my torso loomed out into the sky as we drove into the core of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. The teeming tree limbs beside me seemed to struggle to escape the concrete walls of the freeway that held them back as they stretched out into the sky, their struggle told the classical tale of the clash between an expanding city and a diminishing forest. indonesia9

When we first arrived at the FM7 Hotel last night we could vaguely make out small huts, whose walls were held together by wood and scraps of metal. One of my classmates had said, “It looks like our hometown, Mexico.” But as we left the hotel behind and the bus rose onto the highway before our eyes we saw Jakarta rising in all of its glory through the smog. Looming large like Godly titans, the tall buildings had an air of wonder, grandeur and power commanding the eyes to look from near and far—tall, sleek, glass towers who had become the emblematic symbol of the capital.

In the streets a seemingly endless flow of motorcyclists zoomed by us.

A cigaratte hanging by the tip of his fingers while still clinging to the handle of his bike, one single man foreshadowed to me two of Indonesia’s greatest love affairs—cigarettes and motorcycles.

Cars are a sign of affluence and luxury not many people can afford, making motorcycles the more common mode of transportation. Everybody has one. Passing by a store or the street you’ll see the motorclyes lined up in masses, orderly stacked up against each other. They’re as abundant as the humidity. indonesia5

The popularity of motorcycles allows them to transcend age and gender. I saw a helmetless ten-year-old boy zooming by us. I saw a three-year-old kid seated in front of his parent’s, resting atop a makeshift seat. One girl was wearing a skirt and side-straddled the bike, her crossed legs hanging to the side of her.

As abundant as the motorcycles is smoking. According to a 2012 Global Adult Tobacco Survey, an estimated 61 million Indonesians smoke. However, it is mostly the men that smoke, sign of masculinity that has skipped women.

After almost two weeks in Indonesia, I saw one young twenty-year-old women smoking inside the mall in the restaurant. From afar I could see her hand nonchalantly holding the cigarrate in front of her. She was some rarirty I had spotted out of chance.

Later that day we went to the Grand Indonesia, a mall with six stories. I had never been in such a big mall. It had an abundance of western stores, all the upscale brand names like Dior and Louis Vitton, stores I had never even seen in my life. Stores whose name I can’t even recall but remember had “England” or “London” in their title, like in a high end movie who I wouldn’t even be a side character in. indonesia3

The people in the mall were affluent, fancy and urban. They did not look at us with wonderous eyes like the vendors in the street. In our jeans and t-shirts, we looked slightly out of place.

In the mall I struggled to get adjusted to the currency. One american dollar is roughly 10,000 rupiah. Change comes in bills rather than coins, so 10 cents translates to a 1,000 brown colored bills.

That same day in complete opposition to the mall we got to go to a street market. The market was full of noise and people. It was much more packed and lively than the shiny tiled floors of the mall. We walked in between vendors selling small trinkets, food and clothes, while shuffling in between people.

In the park beside the market people flew their kites in the humid air, while vendors heckled us with pens and keychains.

As the sun set we made our way back to the FM7 Hotel. A thirty minute trip took two hours due to the stagnation caused by traffic. When you are in the the biggest city in the country, and one of the biggest cities in the world, transportation doesn’t come easy.

The night falls around us and we come back to the FM7 Hotel letting the first taste of the city settle in our minds.

Maria Esquinca may be reached at [email protected].

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Indonesia—A Tale of Two Cities