"Now Nineveh was an enormously large city--a three-day walk across." --from the Book of Jonah
I wonder what Jonah would have thought of Jakarta. It took an hour and forty-five minutes to drive from the airport to our hotel. Part of that was traffic, and a remarkable disinterest in the usual practices of staying in one's lane or giving way. But part of it is simply that Jakarta is a city of 20 million people, very nearly the entire population of Australia. The internet is too slow here for me to post photos, so I can't yet show you the view from my window of skyscrapers, low buildings, and little shacks all jumbled together. A permanent haze hangs over everything, the result no doubt of too many cars stuck in too many traffic jams.
We have definitely upgraded our accommodation here. The beds in our hotel in Manado were quite comfortable (although I was astonished to realise on my first night that there was no top sheet on the bed--just a blanket). But the hotel was decidedly humble, and even on the fourth floor, the noise from the traffic below made it difficult to sleep past 6:00 a.m. In Jakarta, we've been promoted to the Batavia Apartments in the most expensive part of the city. We are sharing a three-bedroom suite on the 28th floor with stunning views. Unfortunately, the mosque below has its loudspeaker system turned up enough that the voice of the muezzin still carries all too well at 4:30 a.m. Still, it's a lovely place.
Our apartment has a reasonably-large living area, and that has been transformed into prayer space and fellowship hall for Shabbat. The food for the thirty or so attendees is stored in the kitchen, and we are using the different bedrooms for private meetings and get-togethers of like-minded people.
Yesterday we had a day of touring--an hour visiting Jakarta's historic district, an hour shopping, another 45 minutes or so for lunch, and about 2 1/2 hours in traffic. Indonesia became a Portuguese colony in the sixteenth century and was ruled by them until the Dutch set their eyes on this lush agricultural land and conquered it from the Portuguese. They were cruel rulers. The first act of new governor of Jakarta was to raze the Indonesian city to the ground in order to build his dreamland of Batavia. In 1740 when Chinese residents rebelled against the government, the Dutch massacred an estimated 10,000 people and threw their bodies into the canal. To this day the canal is known as the place of a bad smell. A number of Dutch buildings still stand, including the stately city hall, which has been turned into a museum. Just down the path from the city hall is the old women's dungeon, a dark space with a ceiling too low to allow for more than an uncomfortable stoop. As many as sixty women at a time were housed here, at least for as long as they survived. The men's dungeon is just as uncomfortable, except that the men were chained to cannonballs. I used one of my limited Indonesian words--sadi, meaning sad. Definitely not a place to tarry too long.
We drove back towards the hotel to go shopping. Our destination was a cavernous seven-story shopping mall packed absolutely full of little stalls selling shoes, clothes, handbags and watches. Lots of watches. The prices are cheap, the quality is often mediocre, and the place is enormously popular. Rabbi Kunin commented several times that he imagined this might be what hell would look like. In the middle of the mall is a shop selling Indonesian batiks for about 1/5 of their usual cost, and I went on a bit of a shopping spree.
Then off for a quick lunch and then a very long 90 minutes stuck in traffic to get back to the hotel. The few stoplights have cycles of at least five minutes, which allows hawkers time to walk through the traffic selling Indonesian flags and children's toys. Buses run on a parallel track that moves much faster, and I'm surprised that more people don't use the buses instead of spending hours sitting on the road. But it's not my country.
Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky
I've been the rabbi of Beit Shalom Progressive Synagogue in Adelaide since 2006. As part of the Council of Progressive Rabbis of Australia, New Zealand and Asia, I'm preparing for my second trip to Indonesia to meet with Jewish communities there.