Jakarta, busy, bustling and BB'd
Our resident columnist, Yeoh Siew Hoon discovers the delights of Jakarta
Here, people take their time to do things. I like that. I also like the friendliness of the people, they just smile a lot more than we find in other big cities.
There was a time when I was a frequent visitor to Jakarta then for some reason, it stopped. I suppose other cities in Asia stole my attention – the mega developing cities of China, for one, as more business reasons took me northwards.
Yet I always enjoyed Jakarta when I was there. The traffic jams drive you crazy but after you work it all out and organise your day well, you can overcome that.
This is a trick business anyway that travellers must master in any city you go to. And I reckon someone should (although someone probably has) set up a website or develop an app that gives tips on how to avoid jams in cities from Guangzhou to Beijing to Shanghai to Mumbai to Delhi to Bangkok and so on.
Even Singapore is seeing gridlock these days with 20 per cent more visitor arrivals due to new attractions and more events being held in the city and there are times when it's almost impossible to get a taxi which can be frustrating for tourists.
In Jakarta, taxis are not a problem. The best ones to take are the Silver Bird or Blue Bird taxis and they are a good way to get around the city.
Once you get your schedule and transportation sorted out, then you just have to relax and enjoy all the city has to offer. It goes without saying that as a bonafide foodie, I love the food – both the local and Western cuisine on offer.
Jakarta has a pretty sophisticated choice of Western restaurants actually – more than most people expect. My first lunch was at Rosso, Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta's Italian restaurant, when I caught up with General Manager Gerhard Hecker.
I knew Hecker from Hong Kong days and I have to say, he's looking way more relaxed than he used to in Hong Kong. He's getting used to the laidback feel of Indonesia. Here, people take their time to do things. I like that.
I also like the friendliness of the people, they just smile a lot more than we find in other big cities. And the one thing I will take away from the lunch – other than the conversation of course – was the coffee. It came with a Shangri-La logo on it – first time I’d seen it. Nice touch.
I was also taken aback by how wired people were in Jakarta – this is Blackberry country. Apparently this is RIM's biggest market in the world and everyone I met is pretty attached to his/her devices. In airports, at restaurants, from the man pushing a food cart to the executive in his limousine...
Social networking via Facebook is huge – this is Facebook's second biggest market at more than 34 million users. I met up with one of the leading experts in the online space and he told me that Indonesians love the idea of social networking. They love to chat in groups, and they share everything online. "Mostly they want to brag about where they've been and what they've bought," he laughed. This is why he's launching his own social network called Mindtalk.
I am also told that online gaming is huge as well. So there are plenty of business opportunities for companies who want to get into this new space.
Google and Facebook have opened offices there. Local digital media companies are branching out. And I met some guests at Shangri-La Hotel who were in Jakarta for precisely this reason – to see how they could grab a share of this growing market.
In the evening, I went to Lara Djonggrang for "imperial Indonesian cuisine". When you enter this restaurant, you feel like you're entering an enchanted land. It's decorated with wonderful antiques, every corner seems to hold a story and the dim lighting lends a romantic and mysterious air.
I don't know if the food was "imperial" but we certainly had a big enough spread to feel an imperial empire. We ordered nearly everything there was on the menu.
The two items I didn't get to try, well, that's on my must-do list for my next visit to Jakarta.
Note: For real insiders' tips on what to do in Jakarta, read this.