Jakarta – statues, boats, kidsSaturday, 19 December 2015
Jakarta appeared briefly on my travel itinerary in 2015. It’s a city somewhat lacking in iconic attractions, apart from Monas, the giant column better known as ‘Sukarno’s Last Erection.’ Like Mao – and many Western leaders for that matter – Sukarno was reputed to have a notable sexual appetite and since this mighty tower wasn’t completed until after his departure it was definitely a final effort. That alternate name leads to florid descriptions of the marble cladding of the prodigious shaft and the concluding eruption of gold-leafed flame.
Monas may have been his last erection, but in his final years Sukarno gifted Jakarta with a large collection of imposing statues in the socialist realism style so much loved by Stalin, Mao and North Korea’s Kim dynasty. They serve as useful landmarks for taxi drivers and, like Monas, many have been dubbed with witty alternative names. The city’s overwhelming favourite, mine too, is the ‘Flaming Pizza Man.’ He looks like an emaciated Incredible Hulk, howling at the world with open-mouthed rage while holding a pizza with outstretched arms high above his head. Nobody knows what this one is all about, but the pizza has clearly been in the oven rather too long because it has burst into flames. ►
◄ But it’s back to exuberant energy with the ecstatic Freedom Monument, commemorating the Indonesian takeover of Irian Jaya. Today it’s known as West Papua, but it’s unlikely the ‘liberated’ Papuans were so happy about trading Dutch rule for Indonesian freedom. All this expensive statuary was erected while regions of the country were racked by famine, the Indonesian rupiah was falling through the floor and the banks printed more and more money to finance Konfrontasi with Singapore and Malaysia.
Fortunately there are other attractions like the old harbour area Sunda Kelapa. Once upon a time the waterfront was totally lined with Bugis schooners, an amazing confirmation that the age of sail was not yet over.
▲ I walk all the way to the end of the waterfront and then pay for a boat ride back, admiring the view from the other side and waving to kids jumping in to the less than healthy looking water from jetties and piers.