Mosquito Bite Count:
That’s just rude. Really.
And as I sit here, I’ve received one more. Make that 12.
As we began our “day tour” trip around Jakarta, I looked to my right and saw a train whizzing by. People were hanging off the sides and sitting atop the roof as it flew by the tracks.
These past few days, I’ve learned much about this interesting and bustling city.
Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia, an enormous city home to over 9 million people.
I won’t sugarcoat or over-glamorize my experience here - Jakarta truly embodies a developing country. The rich are rich, and the poor are extremely poor. The streets are dirty and the air is smoggy. Their traditions are strong and religion is the law.
The weather in Jakarta is the hottest and most humid in July. Adding to the fact, the majority of the population in this city is Muslim. It is Muslim tradition for women to wear hijabs (scarves covering hair, neck, and sometimes the face completely) and dress in a very modest fashion. Despite the unbearable heat, the women wear pants, long sleeves, and closed toe shoes, along with a hijab. It seems like a true feat for these dedicated women to continue about their day in layers and layers of clothing in incredible heat.
This month, and my arrival also marks the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim holiday of fasting and prayer. Followers wake up, bright and early at 4 AM and begin their prayer - loud chants that wake certain sleepy travelers (Mainly my mom and I.). They continue to pray throughout the day and loud methodical prayers can be heard all day.
The food is spicy! Indonesian favors curry and coconut flavors. Chili is common in every dish, so be wary of those rouge peppers.
And the traffic… Oh the traffic. In one word, it is insane.
There are no street lanes, and seemingly no street laws to abide by. Thousands of motorcycles flit through the streets, weaving in between cars squeezed within inches of each other. In any given moment, you can spot 5 or 6 motorcycles in view. Some carry up to 5 people on one bike, and some carry gigantic packages and boxes on the back seat.
There is endless honking, but it does no good in Jakarta traffic.
This city lacks a subway system, and has no plans for the construction of one in the near future. For a place home to over 9 million individuals, you can just begin to imagine how this damages the road ways. It takes an average of 5 hours to reach one end of the city to another.
Though the city itself may be backwards, in a sense, there are some interesting and positive quirks about this country, unheard of anywhere else.
Students in Indonesia begin school earlier than the United States - they start at age 4 or 5, allowing them to enroll in university by age 16 or 17. Besides learning their courses in their native language, Bahasa, every student is required to take an English course, and often they are skilled English speakers by age 10.
Indonesia places great value in family. The families are often quite large and extended, and they tend to stick together. They often live together (with elders) or live in the same neighborhood. The average parents have 3 or 4 children and sometimes even more.
The city boasts a number of statues, monuments, and national parks. Though the city is continuously developing, it is a place filled with people who pride in their nation.
Though often I feel very out of my element and sometimes very nervous about my behavior in an extremely foreign country, this traveling experience has opened my eyes to a new, far away world.
Hit the Streets
Bali, Indonesia, is beautiful in every corner of the city.
The rumble of the endless motorcycles that vroom by, the small market-style stores lined with shirts and bags that read “I Love Bali”, the dark-skinned locals and bleach blonde Australians, and the hot sun rays beating down with a beach breeze.
Missed my breakfast (slept in too late, oopsies) and instead its shopping time to wake me up.
Put on a swimsuit and a dress, hit the streets. The stores are a dream, to say the least. Lines and lines of shirts, dresses, and jumpsuits of every shape and color. Maxi dresses, short dresses, beach dresses.. all for the mere price of 100,000 rupiahs (a little over US$11). Its hard to resist the temptation, and the ability to simply blame it on a little confusion regarding the conversion rate, so my bag quickly fills with a new shirt.. or three.
We meander around the area, and before we know it, we’ve popped out of the other side of the market street and ended up right in front of the beautiful Bali beach.
The view is breathtaking and the breeze is warm.
Watermelon juice, lemon iced tea, and a tropical fruit platter please!
Rejuvenated and re-energized, we’re back on our way after a brief pause to buy a freshly sliced pineapple and mango from a fruit seller on the boardwalk.
Another block and we’ve reached the Americano side. KFC, Domino’s Pizza, Burger King, Starbucks, and of course, McDonald’s fill up the street.
The Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Gucci knock-off purses and wallets are in no shortage, along with Dolce & Gabbana and Ray Bans sunglasses.
The architecture is prominent everywhere, gorgeous Indonesian styled sculptures of (what I imagine must be) Gods and other religious figures, and the walls with detailed curls and twists of every color. The woodwork is gorgeous, little Buddahs and incense is available everywhere, and I might just be tempted to buy some.
The English is broken and the language is so foreign. The food has a major Indian influence and is spicy and curry-licious. The people are dark and full of smiles, and the tourists are bronze and beach-blonde Australians.
Its three days of pure bliss, pick up a book, lay by the pool, lather on some sunscreen, and have yourself a fantastic afternoon.
But before we know it, our trip is over and its time to check out. An early 4 am airplane call and we’re off to the airport, headed to Jakarta, Indonesia!
Introduction to Bali
From the moment I can spot Indonesian land from my airplane seat, I can tell its going to be a very interesting experience. The farm fields, shacks, and millionaire mansions are all dotting the ground as we descend closer and closer. The greenery is gleaming in the brilliant orange and yellow sunset as the wheels hit the runway.
“Thank you for flying Garuda Indonesia. Welcome to Jakarta!”
For once, the airplane food was tasty. That’s a good sign.
My mom and I landed in Jakarta, Indonesia prepared for another 1 hour and 45 minute flight to Bali, our final destination.
Unfortunately, I’ll admit, my knowledge on Indonesia is limited - I’ve heard of the dreamy Bali beaches and know vaguely about the Muslim culture, and how women wear scarves over their heads, but that’s about the extent of my wisdom regarding this far away land. There is much to be learned here!
My brief Wikipedia research informed me that the tourism in Indonesia isn’t booming quite yet, but there are sights to see. The culture resides in temples and other beautiful architecture that I begin to notice even in the airport. The fashion is enthralling (For a girl, especially. Bear with me guys.); beautiful tribal patterns on long skirts, sparkling designs on sheer scarves, and women parading around in fashionable attire while donning a hijab.
I’ve also learned that Indonesia isn’t the safest place to be. Australia rates Indonesia a 4 out of 5 on the danger scale, equal to some countries in Central Africa. If that doesn’t worry me, my mother’s report does. She tells me that relations between China and Indonesia aren’t the friendliest because of China’s lack of religious culture and success in commerce.
But besides the humbling news of my imminent death (Just kidding. I think.), I’m thrilled to be here.
The experience just in the airport has already been eye-opening. The service workers put their hands together and bow to you after your business is done - a sign of true respect. As we walk towards our gate in the airport, I notice a sign for a praying room, and many men sans shoes walking out, looking relieved.
The flight to Bali goes by quickly and soon we’re at the money exchange counter.
Wait. What’s the Indonesian currency?
Another thing, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know anything about before arrival.
Indonesia uses rupiahs, not to be confused with India’s rupees. The exchange rate is shocking, US$1 equals about 8,790 rupiahs. The colorful money reads 100,000 (the most commonly used bill) and I feel like I’m rich!
“1 million rupiahs. Here you go. Welcome to Bali!”
Well, before I get too excited, its time to practice some quick conversion…. 1 million rupiahs is a little bit over US$100.
So we hop in our taxi (left side drivers) and zip through the downtown alleyways and streets, now dark and quiet at 11:30 PM. We arrive at the Yulia Beach Inn, a small but charming hotel with a great location - in the middle of bustling downtown and just two blocks from the famous Bali beaches.
Exhausted, my mom and I collapse on the bed and begin to dream of our next day adventures.
Hong Kong, Night Two
Heels on. Dresses strapped. Make up applied.
Now familiar with Central, we head back on our last night in Hong Kong.
There were two clubs we were unable to venture in on our first night and that are considered two of Hong Kong’s most famous clubs. Beijing Club and dragon-i.
Step off the subway, walk towards the bar and club street and straight towards Beijing Club, a venue we had our eye on the first night but lacked the proper ID to get in.
The line is snaking down the street in front of Beijing club, as its now a Saturday night and everyone is out to play.
We’re handed a pass for a free glass of champagne and head up the elevator to Beijing Club.
The club itself is three stories high and each level is blasting a different techno remix. The neon lights are insane and the club is filling up fast. We grab our drinks on level 3, explore the rest of the club. Its still filling up so we decide to take a look at dragon-i and perhaps come back later in the night.
dragon-i is near Billionaire and Shake Shake, the clubs we ended up at the first night. dragon-i is considered the best club in Hong Kong, celebrities like Rihanna, Chris Evans, Michael Jordan, Dwayne Wade, and many more have graced the venue with their presence before.
We get our stamps and walk into the nearly packed dragon-i. With no VIP seating, we have no other choice but to grab a large circular table… and soon we realize it looks like our own stage.
Stand up, dance with the music, and the club is bumping throughout the night. Several people try and join our table stage and everyone is clapping along. We’re signing along and dancing on our stage all night.
I couldn’t ask for a better last night in Hong Kong.
The Peninsula Hotel (香港半島酒店) is considered one of the most internationally famous and historical hotels in the city of Hong Kong. It has been voted the “world’s best hotel” on a few occasions and is renowned for its famous “afternoon tea”.
The hotel itself is beautiful and pristine on the inside, boasting not only the five star hotel itself but numerous high-end brands. Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Dior, Gucci, Prada, and Cartier line the hallways of The Peninsula.
The line for afternoon tea is already around the corner by 1:30 PM. No reservations.
After about an hour of waiting, we’ve reached the top of the line and finally are seated for afternoon tea.
We decide to order the classic afternoon tea tray for two. Caroline orders a caramel tea, I order a passion fruit tea and we wait.
Then. THIS ARRIVES:
We started with the middle platter, the sandwiches and other goodies. We used our dining utensils and imagined ourselves as British royalty and soon realized it would suck because all we wanted to do was use our hands and pop the bite sized sandwich in our mouths.
Which we eventually did.
The top plate was next, and easily the favorite. The little deserts were divine and our favorite was a teensy-tiny chocolate mousse cup and a lemon cake.
The tea on the side was delicious as well, add a little milk, a lot of sugar, and wa-lah. Perfection.
Surprisingly, we were incredibly full by the time we reached the last plate, the raisin biscuits.
“These are my favorite. I have to eat one.”, said Caroline.
So, we grabbed a biscuit each, spread some butter and some jam and chomped away.
Nothing beats afternoon tea at the Peninsula. It was definitely worth the wait.
Hong Kong, Night One
We stepped onto the airport shuttle bus, headed straight for the Mira Hotel. Our 3 week Beijing experience was officially over as we embarked on a three hour southbound flight to Hong Kong (香港) - or the legal full name, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
What a mouthful.
Caroline was bouncing up and down in her seat.
“I’M SO EXCITED THAT EVERYONE HERE SPEAKS ENGLISH!”
English is one of the two official languages of Hong Kong. The other, Chinese, is a special dialect of Hong Kong-ese, or a play off of Cantonese. A popular tourist spot and a booming business center, Hong Kong’s tight-knit streets are glowing in the dark, quite literally, with neon signs covering every inch of the streets. It is said that there are so many lights packed into the small city of Hong Kong that from space it is one of the brightest cities on Earth.
They drive on the wrong side of the road (keep in mind, former British rule) and before we know it, we’ve arrived at the Mira Hotel.
We settle into our fantastic room, fully equipped with a free mini-bar, waterfall shower, and pillow menu (we picked a rose pillow and a temperpedic) and soon we’re itching to explore the area.
The Mira Hotel is not only high quality, but its also located in the heart of the bustling Tsim Sha Tsui downtown area. There are boutique shops lining the streets, 7-11’s at every corner, and Hong Kong local restaurants with bright neon signs.The people are diverse and everywhere. The streets are tight and crowded as people hustle to and fro.
After a few hours of shopping and a few Hong Kong dollars spent, we’re back in our hotel researching the nightlife - where to go and how to get there. Several club names stand out: Beijing Club, dragon-i, Billionaire, and Shake Shake. They’re all located in Central, an area on Hong Kong island, merely two subway stops away.
“Get dressed! We’re going out!”
Its a mere 30 minutes before we’re exiting the subway and headed towards Central. The people are already dropping hints that this is the place to be: girls dressed to their nighttime best and guys with hair ready and shirts buttoned. We follow the crowd and the signs and start hearing the booming beats.
In Central, there are probably over 40 bars and clubs throughout the streets. Its a Thursday night and its one of the many “Ladies Night” (aka, Ladies Night is every night of the weekend).
Caroline: “Here’s our plan. Go to every club and bar, get our free ladies night drink, and find the best place to be. Let’s go.”
Honestly, I can’t even remember the names of the first 3 bars that we went to. But it wasn’t because they were unmemorable..
Club 1: Fancy looking on the outside, beats pumping from within. Flash the IDs, get a “drink stub” and walk on in. Ladies night, no surprise. We ask the bartender to give us the tastiest drink they have on the menu and we end up with what tastes like a mixture of vodka, tequila, and gin. Tasty… my ass. The crowd is hilarious, its all men and women over the age of 30, attempting to dance to the latest Britney Spears remix. Down half the drink and ditch the rest along with the club.
Club 2: A smaller bar on the side with open advertisement for a free Cosmopolitan upon entry (ladies night, again). Meet two guys from New York, waiting for their own tour guide who decided the Harry Potter premier was more important than them. The Cosmo is slightly better, so we take the drink to go and head to the next.
Club 3: A little lost, so we pull over a security guard in a suit, taking a cigarette break Caroline: “Tell me where we should go!” Guard: “Uhh. Take this elevator and head to the 6th floor.” So up we go, and enter the club. A little confused, we keep walking through and end up at a stage. Caroline: “OH GOD! I’ve been to one of these clubs before in New York..” We ask one of the bartenders who informs us that the next performance is in 3 minutes. We take our seats and soon the curtains are pulled back and three girls clad in skimpy sequin outfits are shaking their, well, everything. Hilarious. We loved it, obviously. After the show ends, we immediately depart the club asking ourselves, “HOW DID WE END UP HERE?”
After our first experiments in Central, we finally get ourselves directed towards a real club.
Billionaire is a club up however many flights of stairs - I lost count - and finally end up at Billionaire. Its packed to the brim, people are bobbing up and down on the dance floor and yelling at the bartenders for their orders. Its crazy how many people can fit in this space, and soon we’re running out of air and ready to head to the next.
A floor below is Shake Shake, a new club that’s less crowded but still popular. We grab our drinks (yes, it’s ladies night here as well) and start dancing. The music plays all night as we enjoy the dance floor in true Caroline and Valerie fashion.
A great introduction to our first night in Hong Kong.
- Caroline: What do you think the key to life is?
- Valerie: Winning.
July 14th: Caroline and Valerie depart Beijing, arrive Hong Kong.
July 17th: Depart Hong Kong, Caroline returns to Beijing, Valerie departs to Bangkok, Thailand.
July 18th: Valerie departs Bangkok, Thailand, arrives in Jakarta, Indonesia.
July 20th: Caroline departs Beijing for Xi’an (西安).
July 23rd: Valerie departs Jakarta, arrives in Bali, Indonesia.
July 24th: Caroline leaves Xi’an, arrives in Guilin (桂林).
July 27th: Valerie departs Indonesia, returns to Beijing.
July 28th: Caroline departs Guilin, returns to Beijing.
August 1st: Caroline and Valerie fly home, to the USA.