Two weekends ago I went to Singapore– my 30-day tourist visa was up, and I needed to flee the country and hide out for a few days and then sneak back in (or something). It was a pretty uneventful trip, aside from being sick on my way there (not a story you need to hear). I couch-surfed successfully for the first time, with a very kind family! (Best quote of the weekend came from awesomely sassy 5-year-old Ulfah, daughter of my couchsurfing hosts, commenting on my French-braided hair: “Why does your hair look like a unicorn? It’s not nice.”) They were leaving early Saturday morning to catch a plane to Kuala Lumpur, so we all left the house just before six. I had a few hours before I needed to leave for my own flight, so I took the amazingly efficient subway to Chinatown, and had the best stroll around the still-sleeping city as the sun came up.
Lanterns and deserted streets:
A Hindu temple and the nearly full moon.
Aren’t these shutters nice?
Shiny buildings in Riverside.
Later that day, I made it to Jakarta, where I stayed with friends I met at the ultimate tournament I played in during my first weekend in Bali– Melanie and Drew and their housemates. Turns out that Melanie and Drew, besides being wonderful people, just finished writing a guidebook to Jakarta– a unique guide designed to give visitors and resident expats alike the chance to experience Jakarta beyond the huge malls, skyscrapers, and gridlocked traffic. I couldn’t have asked for more ideal hosts, basically. (Here is Melanie’s awesome blog detailing all kinds of adventures around Jakarta, with amazing photography.)
That afternoon I took one of the book’s 20+ walking tours– around the neighborhood of Benhil.
Bright street-food vendor carts!
The canal at sunset. The end of my walk included a trip across this canal on a tiny hand-powered ferry.
The next day I went out walking around again– this time to Glodok and Kota (Jakarta’s Chinatown and Dutch colonial districts, respectively) accompanied by Melanie.
Interior of a Chinatown temple:
This temple has a ritual that allows you to ask the gods for some insight into the future, and receive a fortune in return. I tossed two painted wooden blocks into the air and shook a numbered stick out of a canister, and the temple attendant read the position of the blocks along with the stick’s number, and handed me my fortune, printed on a pink piece of paper! I’m not telling you what the gods see in my future, but it was much juicier and more satisfying than your average fortune-cookie platitude.
And a few blocks away, a Christian church:
This guy at the Chinatown wet market was visibly delighted to witness our half- awed, half-grossed-out reaction to his demonstration of his excellent eel-gutting skills. Warning: blood and guts ahead.
Along with the eels, there were live fish, frogs, and turtles, all destined to be deftly dismembered on their way to becoming someone’s meal (except a lucky few of the turtles, which were to be sold whole as pets, lucky guys).
More urban wildlife: creepy monkey performing in the street in Kota.
So there you have it! Two days full of lovely walks. Walking, in my opinion, is by far the best way to get acquainted with a new place. Even if your range is smaller, the experiences you have within that limited radius will be all the richer for being immersed in sensations and moving slowly enough to notice the changing light as the sun crests over glassy skyscrapers, appreciate just how red that eel blood is, and try new Indonesian words in broken conversations with guys chilling at the neighborhood hangout. (Yes, this post is mostly an excuse to share some pictures I thought were cool.)