Thanks to an early escape for the Memorial Day weekend, I can finally get this posted.
Back in January when my boss first became aware of a potential issue with our Indonesia office, I was immediately enthused. I mean, who doesn’t want to travel to places like Bali for its sun kissed beaches and elegant temples, Medan to visit the orangutan sanctuary, or Jakarta the capital for its modern massive shopping malls, right?
After months of back and forth with the business leaders, additional investigative work by our team, and a dozen late night conference calls the request came in from the president of that group to visit the office in Jakarta for formal interviews with several people. The timing wasn’t ideal…having to leave on Mother’s Day…but I thought it would be a good trip. Until?
My boss told me it was only going to be a one week trip. Fly in, interview folks, do a complete physical security review, and then leave. Wow! Once I finalized the travel plans the only real positive was the hotel we were staying in for the 4 days. I was going to spend close to 50 hours flying for just over 96 hours on the ground. Plus, my company no longer allows for business class travel so 26 of the 50 hours of flying were going to be in coach…DAMN!!!
So, the time came and I was able to use some points to get upgraded to business class on the first 13 hour flight, Dallas to Tokyo. I finally arrived in Jakarta at 1:00 a.m. local time and met up with my counterpart in the immigration line…after paying a $35 fee for a “Visa on Arrival” which appears to be nothing more than a shake down for money. You have to pay in cash, US Dollars ONLY, for the VOA (they conveniently have half a dozen ATM machines in the area that only dispense US Dollars) and are given a receipt. When it was finally my turn in the queue, I started getting nervous as the agent asked me a litany of questions that he hadn’t seemed to be asking anyone else. I even had to show my flight itinerary to prove I had my return flight booked. I was never more relieved when I saw him grab his stamp to mark my passport. I prearranged a car from the hotel and after linking up with the counterpart and the business unit president we found the car and left for the hotel. I got an early warning that my asthma was going to act up as soon as I walked out of the terminal. The thick moist air nearly choked me within a few steps of the door.
The drive to the hotel was not bad. Afterall, it was nearly 2 a.m. There were still plenty of heavy trucks on the road making deliveries and a few scooters. When our driver appeared to be lost I got a little concerned but we finally pulled up to a sign and covered lit driveway for our hotel. This is when my first dose of reality hit. The covered lit area was a full on bomb inspection station complete with under car mirrors, bomb sniffing dogs, and compartment searches including the glove box. At the time, I didn’t recall the 2009 hotel bombings in Jakarta. Later in the week I found out we were staying in one of the two hotels bombed.
Of course, the car inspection wasn’t the only layer of security. There were metal detectors and a luggage inspection prior to entering the hotel proper. This scene replayed itself for the only other two buildings we visited: the hotel across the street and our the skyscraper containing our rented office space. Listen, I live my life and try to never let the fear of “what might happen” dictate what I do when I travel. However, this trip I ended up not venturing far from the hotel. This decision was based; partly because we worked 16+ hour days the short time we were there AND my asthma got progressively worse all week long. I had to start the “emergency” steroid pack I now carry on Friday and scheduled a follow up visit with my pulmonary specialist for this past Wednesday to get a new one. Between the smog coupled with the humidity and the addition of smoke from the fires set during daily protest in and around our hotel, I found the best place for me was inside.
All I saw of the city was the view from my room or from driving to/from the office.
The room view was a typical Asian big city scene complete with modern skyscrapers engulfing a few more traditional homes. Of course the smog was evident as well. Just outside the perimeter of my hotel was a fenced field. There was a shanty, best word to describe it, with a single occupant caring for a few chickens. Other than the little corner maintained by the occupant of the shanty, the remainder of the field was overgrown with weeds and tall grass.
On the other side of this fenced perimeter sat two apparent private residences. Each had their own high wall security and tennis courts. I never saw anyone on the courts but could tell they were well maintained. Just across the highway, probably two blocks from the hotel was one of those modern malls. From the advertising blaring from the 40 foot tall video screen 24 hours a day I could tell the shops inside carried high end offerings: Michael Kors, Chanel, Jaguar car dealership, and several western food choices: KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, etc. It seems a little crazy…our mall food courts have lots of Asian food offerings while the malls in Asia have western food.
Oh, for those of you who like and use Uber beware. If you schedule an Uber in Jakarta make sure you specify you want an actual CAR. Otherwise, your driver will pull up on a scooter or small engine motorcycle. Just thought you should know!
Now, don’t despair. There was still plenty of GREAT food experiences and lots of interesting people watching.
The people watching was the most active, of course, at the airports and on the flights. The best of the bunch, and I’ll write about the others in another post, was the young lady at the Narito International Airport last Saturday. I have heard stories and seen many pictures of young women from Japan dressing up like their favorite anime characters. We had one on our flight to Dallas. From her electric blue romper, matching cute little hat, to her knee high white, blue, and yellow socks she was a site to behold. If she hadn’t had an additional several inches of rubber sole on her sneakers she probably would have not cleared any of the “must be this tall lines” for any of the adult rides at Disney. I don’t know what character she was mimicking but her hair and make up definitely made the anime come to life.
Long black hair fell around her shoulders in layers. Her bangs were scalloped with the longest peak sneaking from under the electric blue hat between her eyes to rest on the bridge of her nose. I am sure she was wearing some type of contact lens because her eyes were unnaturally large. The pupils overpowered the white in her eyes…thus the belief she had in lenses. Thin black straight brows were drawn above her eyes and, if even possible, a darker black eye liner ringed the orbs drawn out to a point on either side. She was definitely proud of her appearance, as she should be, and even stopped for selfies with young kids who asked. It was fun to watch. I didn’t see her after boarding as she walked past in the last group of folks getting on the plane (zone 8). I wish I knew how the outfit survived 13.5 hours of flying or if she had to take out the lenses.
As for food, the best meal of my trip came from the Pearl Chinese Restaurant on the second floor of the hotel. We were one of four tables for the evening so the service was phenomenal. However, the service wasn’t the best thing. I have never had fried rice as exquisite as I had the Pearl. We had some incredible braised thinly sliced pork belly, spicy chicken, and seasonal steamed mushrooms with bok choy; however, the fried rice was the star of the meal. Unlike most fried rice darkened by the soy sauce, this had no soy sauce so it was incredibly light and bursting with flavor. The hint of peanut oil used to fry the rice in did not overpower the shrimp and lobster generously mixed in with the peas and scallions. It was so light that I thought long and hard about using my fork to get it all out of my bowl…but…opted to follow local custom and bring the bowl to my mouth and use the chop sticks to scoop the remaining bits directly in to my mouth. Hey, I saw the men in suits at the table across the way do it so I knew it was okay!
After the table was clean, our server brought over some complimentary pineapple pudding. It was delightful and the perfect palette cleanse before a nice strong cup of coffee, yes I can drink coffee anytime of day.
Again, there were a couple of other really great meals. Sushi, yes! The best octopus I have had, ever! The roll we had was stunning as well. I also had seared Wagyu beef tenderloin tips with steamed rice. Local Jakarta/Indonesian dishes, yes! Our host, the business unit president, took us to a local restaurant Kembang Goela for lunch on Thursday. You would think being from the south that I would have had oxtail soup before but I haven’t. Let me just say this: the broth served with the braised oxtail had more layers of flavor than any other broth I have ever tasted. A hint of ginger, a hint of heat, and lemongrass accentuated the broth. There were many other layers…it was sumptuous!
All things considered, especially the asthma, I would still love to go back for an actual holiday style visit. I think the orangutans would be awesome. I know Bali would be stunning. When and if I go back, it will be with MrsL and will truly be a vacation!