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For a long time I'd been curious to visit this out-of-the-way destination. Curious about its history, culture, economy, obviously women too. Plane fares for early December were unusually cheap and having some vacation to burn, I went ahead and bought a ticked. It was about half the usual price. At the moment the exchange rate is quite favorable with the dollar - 13-14,000 Rupiah make a dollar today where a year or two ago it was 10,000, so a cheap trip became a steal that was hard to ignore.
Having a conventional job, taking my work abroad for several weeks or months at a time via computer is not an option, so an extended trip was not an option. I had two contacts there, both were girls who I met online, one recently, one a long time ago. I stayed in Jakarta most of the time but did venture out to Bandung (second largest city) with one of those friends, as it's her home town, and met some of her friends from there.
What to expect:
Jakarta is HUGE. Metropolitan area has over 28 million people with the city itself having over 10 million. Jakarta itself is nearly 20 miles in diameter. Not like an American city, but very densely built up. POLLUTED. You can't drink the water (no surprise) or even brush your teeth with due to fecal coliform being found in all samples, ubiquitous mercury contamination and commonly lead as well. Whole city has a bad smell, a mixture of a slight odor of burned plastic, stagnant water and street food. The storm sewer system there is quite different from what North Americans or Europeans are used to. It's very roughly formed concrete channels located under the sidewalk, and the sidewalks tend to be a mixture of clay tiles, brick or patches of poorly finished concrete, most of it under perpetual repair. BIG holes in it, many so large you could fall into the sewer channels if you're lost in a daydream. I went out walking the first night there, had to see the city (and couldn't sleep). There were skinny stray cats EVERYWHERE but no stray dogs, and rats were more common than the stray cats. I mean EVERYWHERE, so many I kicked one by accident as it was carelessly crossing the sidewalk. Rats feast on garbage of the street vendors.
Streets are congested. Vendors set up along the sidewalk and where I stayed it was rare to have a clear, walkable path of sidewalk stretching more than, say, 5 yards. Unlike many other places, nobody followed me, hassling for money. English is almost unknown among the general population, and even most of the staff in airports and many hotels frequented by foreigners know so little of it that communication with them on basic matters is a bit of a stretch. The whole trip it was rare to see any white people, maybe 5-10 in total outside of the airport. None at the hotels. There are some Africans there as students or businessmen, I think (couldn't tell), and the Indo-Chinese are supposedly 1-2% of the population.
First couple of nights I stayed in an area common for foreigners. I'd have to say money buys less hotel there than in the rest of SE Asia (Philippines or Thailand being the reference points). Sometimes breakfast was provided depending on which hotel, normally various rices/noodles with bread/toast sometimes being available and occasionally chicken chunks to go with the rice, or corn flakes/milk. Doughnuts seem to not be a thing there; only where tourists congregate.
City was surprisingly safe. There were cops or military almost everywhere. I never got a danger vibe walking anywhere. Police there don't have a reputation for extortion of tourists like in Latin America, and although they have a fairly militarized vibe, they seem to have little reputation for heavyhandedness. Should you be caught with illegal drugs in even minimal quantities, though, you're looking at a hefty bribe (supposedly around $5k on the spot) or 8 years in jail. Larger quantities can bring a death sentence. Supposedly traffic accidents involving foreigners can put the foreigner in grave legal danger as well. Indonesia was under dictatorship from the late 60's until the late 90's (Suharto) so the militarized appearance of the policing may be a holdover from that era. They didn't seem to eye me over in passing like they do in some countries. Taxis are cheap and abundant. Take Bluebird or another metered taxi (forget what the brand is) or they will try to take you for a ride. Metered taxis were 7500 Rupiah (around 60 cents) to get in plus a fairly low cost per km, plus the cost of wait time (traffic jams, stop lights). I never knew the exact figures but $4 will take you a few miles in minimal traffic. For driving on the main roads when they aren't busy, maybe $4 will buy 8 minutes of travel time. Even the metered taxis can be a bit shady. If you don't speak the language you can't phone in a complaint, even when there is a meter, a driver number, and a phone number publically displayed. One driver drove extra distance, seemingly purposely, then claimed he could not make change for a 100k rupiah note and a 77,000 rupiah charge.
Now what you really wanted to hear about - the girls and the food.
Food. Sorely disappointed. Have to say it was the worst I've ever had. Not my taste, and my tastes are pretty accepting. First night I went to get some street food. Street food tends to be lukewarm to cold. White rice with sauce is the norm. The sauce tends to be peanut-based, sweetened with brown sugar, various spices added (garlic, likely cumin and/or coriander plus possible others) then vegetables a very little bit of meat. But don't think broccoli, carrots, onions, green beans, peas or any vegetable you're used to. Sprouted wheat or rice seemed common. One street meal I had included diced chunks of fat. I finished it out of good manners. It was something like $1.50 for a plate. Another had a sauce similar to what I described. The starch base for it had the appearance of crumbled cheese but was really rice starch chunks. It had the texture of white rice that's been in the fridge and gotten hard, but the flavor was worse. Vendors normally serve their food on permanent rather than disposable plates, use permanent cups and silverware, and wash it on site. Dirty dishes are put into a plastic tub filled with wash water, set on the ground and none of them seemed to heat it. Rats can easily drink out of those containers. Knowing what's in the water, it's no wonder I got sick, although it's impossible to nail down for sure whether it was street food.
Indonesians seem to have little sweet tooth and bake very little. Wheat seems to not be very important there. Indonesian food contains no milk or cheese, and very little meat, mostly chicken. Pork and other Islamically forbidden meats are sold (dogs, rats, even bats and monkey meat depending on what locality) although about 88% of the country is Muslim. I did go to a bakery where there was the usual bread, cake, etc. and bought a loaf of chocolate/cream cheese bread which was tasty. Foreign cake tends to be dry and not very tasty everywhere I've been so I let them be.
There are many tropical fruits Indonesians have that I couldn't recognize. There was the obvious durian fruit, sold fresh or fermented (smelled awful). The tropical fruits that would normally come to an American's mind - coconut, pineapple, bananas, oranges - seem to not be bought by the locals or sold as commonly as a place like Thailand. The cost at the supermarket for most of those things was more than here. I didn't see any pineapple sold anywhere.
There were tastier options than street food. Convenience stores like 7Eleven are everywhere and you can get a prepackaged meal of seasoned rice and chicken for about 20-30k rupiah. A decent sit-down restaurant meal can be had for 60,000 or less per person. Western food is expensive, not much cheaper than in the West, when you account for portion size.
Chicken there tends to not be what we're accustomed to. Very little meat on the bones, strange flavor. I saw some skinny chickens in some slummy parts of Jakarta pecking around in what looked like ashes, probably looking for bugs to eat, and assume that most local shops' chicken originates from similar sources. KFC is common there and my friend told me the meat tastes different and the pieces are far meatier than the local chicken. All the beef I had was good; supposedly Indonesia is the destination for 60% of Australian beef cows. You can find rabbit too if you know where to look. I had to try some and it tasted like chicken. There are cooked duck eggs sold too but the locals have a very odd method of roasting them buried in ashes and crushed brick, something like that. They acquire a very salty flavor through this method. A friend of my friend tried explaining it to me but it was had to remember what he said.
The strangest food I heard of there was kopi luwak. Kopi is coffee (a major cash crop there), and luwak is an animal that swallows the coffee beans whole. In the digestive tract of the luwak, the beans acquire an enzyme that changes the bitter flavor. Beans are pooped out whole and sold for a premium, many times the price of ordinary coffee. I didn't care to test the flavor.
I must preface this by saying that I didn't come with international playboy intentions that many have. So, there's not a conquests list to brag of. I'd communicated with various girls online prior to visiting. Overall the ones online had a stronger princess-vibe than you would expect from Filipinas or Thais. They are also more introverted. Many profiles express interest only in expats or men with plans to come very soon. They seem less interested in relationships with large age gaps than Thais or Filipinas. 8-10 years max would be the normal acceptable gap. Surprisingly, Christian women were no more likely to be responsive than Muslims, despite that interfaith marriage is illegal in Indonesia. I got a surprising number of flirty glances from women in headscarves and very modest attire. Totally unexpected. Off the top of my head, maybe 30-40% of women aged 20-35 wore the headscarf in public.
It is illegal although common for women to be available "for rent" and on certain streets there are many who will offer their services (I didn't do business). Jakarta has a big, seedy underside of bars and clubs where pretty much anything goes. I didn't visit these places but had heard of them reading about Indonesia prior to visiting. If that's your thing, you can find out what you want to know doing a few minutes of research.
The typical Indonesian woman is short (5 feet even would be the norm), stockier than a Thai or Filipina and has a Malayan appearance. I would say they are more uniform in pigmentation than Thais and less uniform than Filipinas. Also probably a bit darker than the Filipinas on average. Thais, on average, appear to me to be a bit darker than Indonesians. If you have been to either other country, you'll likely find the average physique of that country more appealing. There are plenty of beautiful women in Indonesia, but I'd have to say it's definitely more common for Thailand or the Philippines. Average physique here would be maybe about halfway between an Indian and a Filipina, if you could visualize that.
Most of the women seem to have, privately, loose views on premarital sex, typical of Malayan countries. They don't want their private lives to become public knowledge. They don't post up homemade videos online, they don't tell their friends. Most come from conservative homes where the parents would be VERY displeased to learn that their daughter was not a virgin. Seems these conditions have been the case for a long time, although probably looser sexually today than in the past. I would not get involved with a married woman anywhere, but should you do that in Indonesia it could cost you your life if the husband is upset enough.
Most women there dress conservatively. Many Muslim women will wear the latest in makeup, jewelry and modest fashionable clothes with a headscarf. Shorts are not common but the Chinese girls do wear them. FWIW the Chinese girls on average were much more attractive and tended to flaunt it with shorts and sometimes midriff shirts. Many Malayan Indonesians don't care for the Chinese living there and the Chinese girls are envied/hated by the indigenous Indonesians for their relative prosperity and beauty. Many Chinese girls prefer to marry/date other Chinese or only foreigners with a little money or status.
Average girl even in Jakarta wants to get married and have a family. There was not a whiff of feminism there. I read that the birthrate outside of marriage there is just 1%, and only 10% of children are in single-parent households. Girls seem to defer to their husbands/boyfriends, and not grudgingly. The local men seemed decent and honest on average. Having even a simple apartment and enough to get by takes considerable effort there but the process seems to be regarded as valuable and rewarding. There seems to be no culture of playing around and staying single. Average Indonesian men seemed not to be in a perpetual sexless-loveless bind that even well-qualified western men can't shake off in their home countries. Women there seemed to not be looking for an upgrade. Divorce is climbing fast but still quite low by western standards. Girls start thinking about marriage in their early 20's even in the big city. Supposedly it's younger in the rural places. Most seem to take satisfaction in family life, and I would hate to see that westernized.
Impulse control is higher here than in other SE Asian countries. Thrift is the norm for men and women, and materialism is not as pronounced as in the two major destinations. Average woman puts less effort into being beautiful than in those countries as well. For the rich/professionals, it's a different story.
People had good personal hygiene despite the gritty streets and dilapidated buildings. Manners were impeccable. People were friendly and seemed well-adjusted socially.
Islamic influence was everywhere but there was not a whiff of radicalism, not that I could see.
Country seemed better off than the Philippines but Thailand is doing better. Everyone seemed to have enough to eat. Family ties are extremely important there and It's growing fast and changing fast. Big wealth gap. Ordinary Indonesian struggles just for basic food and housing but there is serious capital in Jakarta.
The malls and commercial buildings/skyscrapers are of a grade we just don't see in America, reflecting WAY more labor to construct. If we were to have something like that domestically, the rents in those malls would be so astronomical no one could afford to shop there.
Houses were in far better shape than in the Philippines (it doesn't take much). Most were made of red brick or concrete block rather than sticks and plywood sheets. Masonry looked very amateurish and homemade. Red clay tile was the norm for the roof although corrugated iron was common too. Infrastructure was poor and reflected no foresight or long-term planning. Congested narrow streets, traffic jams. Jobs that would be done with machines and power tools here are done with hand tools there. Lots of commercial and heavy civil construction going on with no end in sight. Indonesia is on its way up in the world.
I really thank you for this report, but going to a country with this Protestant-Stocism isn't going to give any kind of victory.
You have to sample the local women - pro - and/or non-pro. You have to find out which events people are holding - sexual
and non-sexual. Learning the local language would take a long time, but you will learn how to manipulate your environment,
even if you discover that people are disrespecting you and/or others in that language that you now know.
You must be a non-ethnical person for you to not like peanut sauce with rice. That combination is an epic win for all epicureans.
Make immodium and bottled water your best friend, and you'll love thse SE Asian countries. At least you had tried out
street food, so you aren't uber-prude. I understand how horrible texture rice is off-putting, but you have to find solutions
to such food and make it better.
Other than that, I'm still appreciative of your report. Ciao.
It's time to expatriate to evade your fate; it's time to expatriate before the barn door permanently closes on "US" sheep.
Debut mixtape "The Skilled Neophyte of RNB (x64)" dropping Spring 2016 - Follow me on Twitter @eirizarryRNB
Great post, Wanderlust! Indonesia seems like a fascinating country. BTW, if you happen to visit China, there's quite a number of HA'ers there now. We have our own group. You should come and check out China and compare the two countries. I would be really interested to read a post detailing just that.
Find teaching jobs in China at http://workabroad.today
Funny you should mention that. En route to Indonesia there was a long layover in Japan (I stayed overnight). I did as much observation as possible during that time and was quite favorably impressed with what I could gather. I know what everyone says about Japan (sexless loveless place) but the people seemed stable, decent, well groomed, impeccable manners, very little fakery, basically positive. Much more healthy social/emotional atmosphere than domestically. Seems hard to imagine how sex could not happen in that kind of a place.
Now Japan's not China but I had a layover last year in the Middle Kingdom and was also quite favorably impressed. Different vibe but again positive. It made NE Asia seem like a place well worth visiting. The cultural mindset of both countries seems like it would be easier to grasp than that of the Malayan nations; those have been a bigger struggle to relate to at least for me.
I had a layover in Korea two years ago and have to say Japan or China seemed more like my alley.
Americans (and various Malayan people) have often said I am too serious and think too much. Perhaps someone who gets a reaction like that would mesh better in NE Asian countries? If the opportunity to see China ever comes it would be enlightening to meet HA people there in real life.
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