CHOICES

It’s partially due to the travel advisories and the mind set of people.  I’m referring to how Indonesia finds it difficult to attract visitors compared to its neighbour-countries. It has, undoubtedly, suffered immensely from the travel advisories, pushing tourists to cancel bookings en masse. Getting its tourism industry back on its feet took massive campaigns to change the tourists’ minds to set foot once again, for example, in Bali and Jakarta after the bombings. Bali, fortunately, won back its worshippers that momentarily abandoned the island – surfers, vacationing friends, honeymooning couples and singles mending broken hearts. Thanks to the movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray & Love Bali concretized its presence in the international stage once again. Who didn’t want to be like Julia Roberts and her hot lover in Ubud? Bali’s rolling hills, verdant landscape and utter simplicity shone through the screen eclipsing the fast almost chaotic vibe of other cities. The thought of setting sail to one of the quiet surrounding islands, trekking through the rocky paths and savouring the exotic fruits were more than enough to have Bali written again on one’s Places-to-Go-to list.

It's a smorgasbord of delicious food at Asia at the Ritz

Mind set is also to be blamed why certain places are favoured and some are eclipsed, if not dismissed. Prejudiced thinking is not only relegated to colour, race, religion, age and gender. It has widened its parameters to include country and we’re not talking about the economic index. Like your what’s in and what’s out list, a country is rated on its “tourist-ability” based on what is there to do, measured by the number of shopping malls, bars and clubs that can cater to the whims of the shoppers and party-goers. That malls have to be present has now become a prerequisite for places to thrive as an acceptable tourist spot is very similar to how every hotel must have a spa and Internet access to rate as a liveable hotel. This doesn’t bode well, for me for tourists spots. Look at what happened to Bali. Seminyak has a line of boutiques and clubs while Kuta has quaint boutiques, clubs and this huge shopping centre. To experience the tranquillity of Bali, its sprawling natural landscapes one has to get away as far as they can from Kuta.

Walk about when it's cool and sunny in Jakarta

Jakarta, on the other hand, has not really made it to everyone’s favourite spot to go to, with or without a travel advisory. Blame it on the people’s mindset – first it was snarled and kilometric traffic that was the major bugbear and now it’s the thought (or label?)  that it’s a Muslim country, and too think it’s just a city. Think about this irony: Bali, on the other hand, is not seen as Muslim country. It’s seen as the Island of the God, paradise and the place to party. Same with the islands of Lombok and Manado – they’ve got the reputation of being great diving places. The real score, hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth, is that Indonesia is not a Muslim country per se compared to its neighbour Malaysia.

It’s hard to get kin and kith down to Jakarta. In fact, it’s becoming like a tall order and which is why I’ve stopped inviting. Que sera sera. I’ve always like coming to Indonesia. There’s something about the country that lures me like a moth to the light but, unlike the moth, I don’t get burnt. Traffic, relative slowness in service and non-availability of books notwithstanding, the atmosphere of Indonesia makes it easier for me to breathe. There’s a sense of openness, which allows an agnostic whose gregarious personality doesn’t put anyone on the defence. It’s an openness that doesn’t push someone to change to fit in to be accepted because there’s a milieu of general acceptance. I dare say that it’s almost like being taken in and allowed to find a place in a mosaic pattern without any coercion.

Granted, there are annoying Indonesians much like there are the annoying Filipinos and other citizens. However, there are locals that are not, meaning they’re not parochial and have a certain bonhomonous character to them. The positivity that infuses the environment is the place I thrive in – the smiles and well wishes that greet one in the morning is a good way to start work unlike in other places where your smile and greetings are met with less alacrity and more with a pout and a grunt masquerading as a reply.

Dining at Kemang Raya is a breezy affair

The heat can be stultifying in the earlier part of the day but it gets cooler when night falls, which is half-and-half maddening. My bugbears at the moment, and which is why I miss Singapore, are the mosquitoes that like flying around my ear when I’m asleep. They’re everywhere! My arsenal of mosquito coils and aromatherapy sticks are not that stem-winding, but I’m pushing off purchasing a canister of Baygon given its lethal chemical compositions to humans and the environment. I chalk it up as a lesson in patience – I will just have to light my coils and sticks diligently until they stop meeting in my house.

Food is another bugbear given where I’m based and which is why I trek to Jakarta to savour the delights of the buffet at Asia Restaurant at Ritz-Carlton and Marché at Plaza Senayan, if not Bakerzin or Sushi Tei. And there’s Kemang Raya with its rows of bars, bistros and restaurants. Tuck in to dinner somewhere and then, the main event of the night, head to Laser Gamer (Jl Kemang Raya no. 16A Jakarta Selatan| http://www.lasergameindonesia.com) for a round or two. But in fairness to Bekasi, Eaton at Metropolitan Mall was a serendipitous find. Its menu is a hodgepodge of local and international cuisine (Japanese, Chinese and Singaporean). The salmon teriyaki was fresh and flavourful and the hakao (shrimp dumplings) was fresh. Next item to order is the roti prate. It looked enticing the as the waiter walked past my table to deliver the plate to the expectant diner.

The next part of the evening is pure entertainment at Laser Game

Admittedly, I get homesick, missing my family and close friends and when the exasperation knows no bounds my thoughts turn to leaving. But a nice cup of chamomile and positive thinking do the trick. I haven’t given up on the thought that someday they’d all drop by and we can all discover the beautiful nooks and crannies of Jakarta. It’s simply a matter of shifting the mindset.

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