The air was hot, humid, and smelled like exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke; with spirited chatters of locals permeating the air. It felt so much like home, but was undoubtedly foreign at the same time.
I’ve touched down in Jakarta.
I had a resolution to go either way, with or without a companion. Thankfully though, a friend decided to salvage the extra ticket I had and went with me (tqtq Ken Jin).
Ken Jin and I had nasi padang as our first meal, and decided to dedicate our first day to the most important aspect of travelling; food.
We ventured to Jalan Pecenongan that evening. It was this stretch of road inhabited by rows of miscellaneous shops, but the attraction was the pasar malam-like stalls on the side of the road, complete with tables and chairs decorating the pavement for customers. From the hearty bakso (on sticks), questionable Siomay to decadent gorengan – Jakarta houses many interesting street food that should be tried at least once, despite the possibility of a stomach ache. We had satays, nasi Uduk and their famous teh botoh Sosro – among other things.
On the day of the festival, we visited Fatahillah Square; a big square hosting various museums. It was fascinating; the Kantor Pos Kota was a magnificent sight, primarily due to the size of its landscape and architecture; but what stood out the most was a towering bookcase. It was approximately 3 metres in height, constructed of black wood and gold carvings of the coat of arms for the Court of Justice in Batavia. A majestic relic built over 200 years ago; still sturdy and unscathed.
After, we were feeling a little peckish and decided to scout for a little shop famous for its iced coffee called Kopi Es Tak Kie. We traversed under the hot sun, weaving through traffic on foot and ended up in Glodok, which was a good 20 minute-walk away.
Jakarta’s traffic is a force not to be fucked with; an organised chaos consisting of heavily-tinted SUVs, ojeks, and ojek bajaj(es) conglomerating without a single inch of gap between each other. O many occasions, I found myself whispering frantic prayers under my breath whenever we crossed roads.
We walked aimlessly after, soaking in what that little piece of Glodok had to offer; rows and rows of street food, aunties selling traditional sweets and assorted nuts, wet market vendors calling out to us to buy their fresh produce, and little children scattering around carelessly only to be chided by the adults for disrupting traffic.
A while later, we realised we were lost – and figured it was the perfect opportunity to Go-Jek our way back to Fatahillah.
My first experience riding a motorcycle in a long time was amazing. The hustle and bustle of the world seemed more tangible from being on a motorbike than in a car. I could almost touch my surroundings; the pitter patter of people walking beside us, the honks of impatient cars, countless motorcyclists swarming from every direction, it was glorious.
After that little adventure, everything else was pretty festival-centric.
We arrived at the venue around evening. JIEXPO was huge; the entrance was a long stretch covered in a dome-shaped canopy, opening up to a massive circular centre where the Synchronize Fest directory was propped up for the world to see. A few feet behind was the merchandise store. On our left housed one indoor stage, and on the right three gigantic outdoor stages, and one small room housing the DJs and acoustic performances.
We laced our hunger haphazardly with Indomie Bakso and baksos on sticks (insert stereotype here) and caught the first act: Voice of Baceprot; a trio of tudung-clad teenage girls playing metal.
I think that was the pivotal moment that made me realise how foreign Jakarta was. Here, the youth are much bolder in expressing their individuality, belief, and opinions, whether it be through music or art. There were certain parallels between home and Indonesia, sure, but it’s a given that this isn’t a comparison to begin with.
The rest of the night was incredible. I caught Barasuara, Efek Rumah Kaca, and so many more great bands. Ken Jin and I split to watch other acts and I was pretty much alone for a good part of the festival, which was strangely comforting. Sometimes I get a little anxious when I’m with company for a long period of time so it felt nice to enjoy music alone, even if you’re in a sea of people.
After that night, we’d made a few friends along the way, and one of them even took the liberty to show us around South Jakarta the next day.
He took us to lunch at this amazing bakso place (that I cannot remember the name for the life of me), and later on introduced us to Pasar Santa; an eccentric place made up of a wet market, textile shops, and above, housed blocks of vintage shops, record stores, and a bookshop – which, unfortunately, was the only one open during the time. POST Santa was open-spaced, quaint, and brightly-lit, showcasing rows and rows of independently published books. There was a shop next door that you could order beverages and bring into the bookstore as you browse around. You could even sit and read the unwrapped books as you sip your coffee. Truly a scene plucked right out of an indie rom-com, I feel.
Later that day, we suddenly found ourselves in the pleasant company of a few strangers we’d met along the way, and caught a few acts together; post-rock gem Under The Big Bright Yellow Sun, psychedelic rockstars Rollfast, and cheeky indie pop foursome Elephant Kind. All bands I officially have a soft spot for.
I was also introduced to orkes music and was given proper instructions on how to enjoy it; gelek saja. You gotta feel it in your hips. Needless to say, my hips didn’t lie when I gelek-ed to an orkes rendition of ERK’s Cinta Melulu with dedication and drunken vigour.
We paid a visit to RURU Gallery in Gudang Sarinah the next day to check out events and their flea market. I settled for some adorable stickers and other cute novelties but our first choice was to buy a live chicken, no lie.
The last day of the festival was heavily packed. I arrived early to watch Mondo Gascaro (think of a retro, grainy video, with purposely out-of-focus shots of slender girls frolicking about in colourful streets, doused heavily in tropical tunes with a cinematic sound). Personally, he was the first artist to have triggered my affinity for Indonesian music – so I’d made it a point to see him live.
Later on, people flocked to see the likes of Payung Teduh, Silampukau, and other big names that were conveniently fitted together on the last day. I was exhausted by that time and chose to camp out at the hammocks for a bit before resuming to the next acts.
As the night came to an end, we celebrated it with psych-rock titans Kelompok Penerbang Roket, who tore the house down with their electrifying performance. Hell, it was so good I didn’t notice the beach ball in the air that ended up smacking me right in the face.
The next day, we had Nasi Padang again as our last meal, to commemorate the end to our Jakarta trip before heading to the airport.
As I was waiting for the plane to board listening to ERK on loop, the exhaustion set in. Maybe it was also happiness mixed with a tinge of melancholy knowing that my trip was over, and I was going to resume my life the moment we touched down KLIA2.
I could go on for miles about every little thing that happened, but I’ll save my 5000 words for the draft.
Travelling without the comfort of family has given me newfound perspectives. I was enlightened by the city, the youth and the culture; many things I wished I had more time for, but I’d say 5 days hit that sweet spot nicely.
I think it’s easy to grow jaded – especially if you’re confined to repetitive motion, and it is easier to overlook past the world you’ve built and see what the real thing offers.
Perhaps I do romanticise travelling, and would love to have my period of wanderlust someday, but it’s not just about the pretty pictures or self-discovery sentiments; it’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and realising the trivialities of your life count for nothing when you’re in a foreign place, experiencing different things.