Monday, March 19, 2018

Bengawan Solo

Since doctors rarely receive any good news despite what people may think, the year began with the usual tiresome update that our medical practising certificate would be even more troublesome to renew. Not only did it come with a cutting-edge app that would probably drive the older codgers absolutely batty, there were several bureaucratic hoops and hurdles we had to jump over before getting our renewal.

So it was that I had to scour through the internet searching for a medical conference at least somewhere within the region - far enough that few of my own colleagues would head there so that I could ask for their help - yet near enough that I could just jet over for a brief spell without compromising too much of my regular work.

Serendipitously the name Jakarta turned up. 

Yes, I'll admit to some serious qualms when I saw the name. Utterly prejudiced as I was, all I could think of were dull, humdrum skyscrapers in the sweltering tropical heat of Java - with throngs and throngs, and throngs of people all packed together in one of their infamous traffic crawls. Not exactly a winning tourism slogan for Visit Indonesia but I figured I could easily hack it for just slightly more than a weekend. 

Boy, did Jakarta prove me wrong. 

Sure, most of the worries proved true enough since they did have the torrid weather, the terrible traffic and of course, the sadly indistinguishable gray concrete towers, all in spades. Yet it didn't take very long to see that there was more to Jakarta than just a random Asian metropolis perpetually shrouded in haze. In fact there seemed to be shades of an older, more refined Batavia everywhere I went.

For starters, having one of the hotel employees meet me right at the airport turned out to be an excellent idea since I saw firsthand right from the start that graciousness and hospitality seemed almost ingrained in the people here. From the streetside vendors serving bakso and sate to the most exclusive fine dining restaurants offering Rijsttafel, we only heard the most gentle greetings of 'Ya Pak, silakan.' None of the brash, loutish behaviour we would have associated with some of their less refined brethren working here. 

Also probably due to the fact that I chose to stay at Menteng, one of the more genteel upscale neighbourhoods in Jakarta. Just think tree-lined avenues with gracious colonial bungalows, refurbished hipster cafes and even hipper Indonesian youths. Imagine a dinner of traditional Indonesian fare with two dozen sate sticks from all the bigger islands in the archipelago coupled with artisanal black charcoal icecream serenaded by a group of youngsters playing a string quartet.

Incidentally playing a pop song by Katy Perry.  

Few boys the likes of Nicholas Saputra here unfortunately... but then again maybe they are hiding!

Not exactly what one would have expected from Jakarta.

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