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Monday, September 1, 2008

Indonesia Report

Indonesia -Massive Archipeligo
By Jon Votraw

Tangkuban Parahu
April 18, 2008, I took off from JFK en route to Jakarta Indonesia. I had no idea setting out on a large comfortable Singapore Airlines plane I was on my way to a country that is sprawling with so many tiny islands and each with it’s own sub culture. Sure I had read about the many things that makes Indonesia unique, but until you see it first hand, even the words here won’t do the same justice as experiencing that for yourself.

As with many Indonesian people who think snow is such a wonder, to us here in the United States, Indonesia is by sight a tropical paradise. Upon landing in Jakarta, I felt what I had anticipated from the beginning. Heat. It really is not the same kind of heat as we have in the deep south. This is a heavy humid blanket heat that never seems to let up. Arriving in country on April 20th, Indonesia was at the tail end of the rainy season. It was still in the lower 90’s despite that.

Very sunny from the get go, one thing I noticed riding towards the hotel is that in Jakarta, there is little special differences in class and income. Along what would be considered a highway or Interstate to us, there were numerous little shanties and shacks built. It was a shock to see so many people living out of these structures that are little more then just a shack. These people will sell goods such as rice or bananas or coconuts off the highway for a living. I have seen things like this in the City of New York, but never in the numbers like this and for such a vast distance.

Even when entering the inner city of Jakarta, the shanties and shacks still exist, which is a stark difference from over here. Jakarta by far is no outdated city in terms of buildings and population. Many of the high rises are modern looking and large. Though Jakarta does not posses the number of large structures as lower Manhattan, you know from the beginning you are in the country’s capital city. There is on going construction of new buildings and the decay of older ones just as you would see in any major American city. Again though, the difference I noticed is the lower class and poor are all over this city, not just isolated or located in one area.

Street vendors dominate this country. Almost any area you go to, you are going to find people living in a small home on the street and have a small stand selling something. In my opinion, this brings new meaning to scratching a living off of almost nothing. Indonesia does not possess a social help program such as we have, nor do they have social services or social security. Jakarta is home to about 12 million people and a large number of these people literally live off a few dollars a day. I explain this like this. The Rupiah is the monetary unit in Indonesia. When arriving in Jakarta, the dollar was getting 9,000 to 1 USD for bills of 100 and up. Bills from 20 to 50 USD were getting 8900 Rupiah, and anything lower then 20 USD got 8700 Rupiah.

If you use that factor above, and figure for example, the price of say a bottle of coke is about 12,000 Rupiah, you can see how many sales someone would need to make in order to have a large sum of money. But there is caution to take when making this comparison. We must endeavor not to think in terms of our money and our way of life. One might think the poverty line here in the USA could be say about 20,000 or under? And by that basis, we cannot fathom how a person could live making maybe about 5 to 10 US Dollars a day. Yet even this much money is at least enough money for people to get food.

I stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in midtown Jakarta. It’s extremely high class. The security at this hotel was so high, you would think you were trying to enter the White House. I did note that the street vendors and stalls lined this area just as much as the outer city, and found this odd. You would think you might have even more people operating here as this is the money section of Jakarta but you don’t. As you approach Intercontinental, you hit a check point in which security will find your business for being there, do you have a reservation and such. Then you pass to a second check point in which police and local security scan your car for any weapons or bombs. After this check point, you reach the hotel entrance and you are screened yet again by a metal detector to enter the hotel.

I will say that all these measures does make one staying at the Intercontinental Hotel feel very safe and secure. It also makes one wonder, WHY? One traveling from the US to Indonesia would be well served to remind themselves, the major religion of Indonesia is Islam. Also that with the massive area of the archipelago, Indonesia is also the worlds largest Islamic nation. This is not to say that Islam in itself is violent or dangerous. I am a Catholic by education and being raised as such. I also have probably a higher tolerance and understanding about Islam then many others. I do realize that a follower of TRUE Islam would never support or condone many of the violent actions we see reported on our media, and I also know that in any argument, fight, or conflict, there are two sides to a story. I do believe very much in my heart, the people that do the many violent and evil acts we see, were and are doing so believing they are righting some sort of wrong done to them.

As an American in an Islamic nation, you still have to consider your own security. Intercontinental certainly does provide that. This hotel, is very striking as soon as you enter the lobby, and you’d think you just entered the Grand Hyatt in downtown Manhattan. There was a delay in the room being not ready, and consider this as well. Time departed JFK NY was April 18, 2008 at 9:00 PM. Arrival at Jakarta Indonesia was April 20, 2008 at about 8:30 AM. By the time customs, immigration, and luggage is cleared, the traffic on the travel to the hotel, it’s now about 10:30 AM so rooms are not always ready at that time. In the above travel listings, there was about a 90 minute wait in Frankfurt to change planes, and that plane goes to Singapore. Stopping in Singapore for about 60 minutes, change planes, then into Jakarta, so in many senses, this was a straight line trip with very minimal delays. 28 hours on a plane, and you have to wait for your room. While understandable, you are tired and this is something you don’t like to have to deal with.

First day in country and in the hotel room, it was time to unwind a bit, stretch out the legs and relax. The room was 620, on the 6th floor of 14 floors. It was high enough to see the sights of the city. I took a couple clips off the phone camera: Video 1
Video 2
Video 3

The next day was scheduled to go East to the local Safari Park and then to Bandung and the Volcano Tangkuban Parahu. I have prepared a video/slide show presentation of both:

Safari Park and Tangkuban Parahu.

I had planned on going to Krakatoa, however, it has become active again. For those that are not familiar with this historic Volcano, a few interesting facts about this volcano island. When Krakatoa blew in the late 1800’s, it was the loudest sound ever heard by man. If that same explosion had occurred today say in New York City, it would be heard at the same time in London and Los Angeles. When Krakatoa blew, it ejected over 100 cubic miles of material into the atmosphere and temperatures globally dropped about 2 degrees for numerous years. It’s hard to imagine this amount of power but even simple atomic weapons do not have this much power. Where Krakatoa sits in the Sunda Straits, it’s in close proximity to both Western Java and South Eastern Sumatra. Due to the face of the volcano, when Krakatoa blew, the Sumatran coast bore the front of most of the damage. Tsunami’s were also generated off this explosion. The island literally blew itself apart. In the late 1950’s, Anak Krakatoa, (Child of Krakatoa) emerged and surfaced from under the Sunda Straits. It is still an active Volcano and growing over 3 feet a year. Needless to say Krakatoa again will blow in the future.

Another interesting fact about Indonesia is it’s government is both weak and powerful. It’s powerful in the sense that it has it’s hands into everything that goes on in the country. There is little privatization of business’s. The power and medical are all in a sense, government run as is gasoline. The price of gasoline in Indonesia, by far is cheaper then here. I calculated based on the exchange rate, they are paying about 1.50 USD a gallon. This is due in part to oil located in the country and the government does not have laws like the United States does. They keep the oil and process it for themselves, thus gas is subsidized by the government and the price of gas is the same regardless of what island you are on. If someone tries to profiteer off gas, they will lose their business. At the same time it is also weak and layered with corruption almost as bad as here. I will go into that a little bit more in later pages.

As interesting as this is, another non law they have or rather do not have is laws against discrimination. Before going up to the Tangkuban Parahu site, they have a check point. At that check point it was assessed that I being white or "Bule" as the word locally is, I had to pay 50,000 Rupiah to enter. The Indonesian people in the car with me were only charged 25,000, and this was a big shock. It made little sense to argue or say anything about this as it would have likely resulted in my being charged double again or denied access. This concludes the initial leg of my report on the Island of Java and I will be preparing a page about Bali and Manado, Sulawesi next.


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