Asia, Indonesia

Indonesia: The Highlights

November 29, 2015

It’s a different trip this time around.

For one, I didn’t have an itinerary. Nada. I know right? I never thought this would happen either!

Typical scenery: fields of rice paddies and a rest house.

Typical scenery: fields of rice paddies and a rest house.

My entire plan in Indonesia solely depended on the people I spent my time with. While this was frustrating at first, I also knew this was the only way to “do” Indonesia, or I should say Jakarta, a place where traffic is the decisive factor of everything.

That said, it’s also different because I was going home. It’s not a new country where I have a list of sights to see. My purpose was to visit my grandparents and my parents. Everything else I get is a bonus on top of that.

I’ve always loved going a highlights post – I’ve done one for most of the trips i took since i started this blog (see, here, here, and here). Writing this out allows me to step back and evaluate a trip from a wider perspective.

Enough talks, let’s get to it.

The Highlights

Who: Solo, just me.

Number of Cities visited: 4 (Jakarta, Bandung, Medan, and Surabaya). Or 7 if you really want to get technical (Bromo Mountain, Ijen Crater, and Madakaripura waterfall are in different villages outside of Surabaya).

Bowls of noodles eaten: 6, most were consumed in Medan (of course!)

Indonesia 2015

Malls visited: Don’t even ask; it’s quite embarrassing. But if you really want to know, 8: Grand Indonesia, Central Park, and Kelapa Gading in Jakarta; Supermall, Lenmarc, Tunjungan Plaza, Galaxy Mall, and Pasar Atum (yes, I’m counting this as a mall) in Surabaya. None in Bandung and Medan, thankfully.

Asian malls are a category of their own.

Asian malls are a category of their own.

Number of (crazy) motorbike ride: 1. Thank God.

Favourite food: Plain Terang Bulan with Papa’s homemade Kaya. I usually hate terang bulan (or martabak manis for those of you hailing from Jakarta), but this combo had me eating seconds and thirds.

Favourite drink: Young coconut. If I can grow my own coconut tree in the frozen tundra that is Toronto, I would.

Favourite warung aka street side stall: Aris in Surabaya. Their fried rice is to die for.

A plate of deliciousness.

A plate of deliciousness.

I was most pleasantly surprised with: Madakaripura Waterfall in a little village in East Java. Pretty hard to get to, but it’s stunning!

Madakaripura - try saying that 5 times fast!

Madakaripura – try saying that 5 times fast!

Memorable moments:

#1 – Verbatim from Instagram: It’s been 7 years since I last saw my grandparents. After she let me go from her embrace, my grandmother said to me: “Nyi oi sik mo? Ngai you bikin gyuk sun” in Hakka, which means “Do you want to eat? I made you gyuk sun”. “Gyuk sun” is a really simple chicken soup seasoned with salt, pepper, and goji berry. It also happens to be one of my favourite foods. Grandma knows best!

My grandparents.

My grandparents.

#2 – Waking up to the sound of cockcrows, the call to prayer, and my mom’s constant wake-up call, which consist of her continuously calling my name for a good 10 minutes or so . I grew up with this, so having this happening is a nostalgic moment.

#3 – seeing our brand new family home and discovering all the nooks and crannies inside. Our family has lived in the same house since before I was born. A couple of years ago, my parents decided to go ahead with their dream to rebuild the house. They demolished it and rebuilding it from the ground up became my dad’s labor of love for a full year and then some. I love it because I can see the thought and love that was poured into every inch of the house.

The house on the left is ours. It's cozy and I love it!

The house on the left is ours. It’s cozy and I love it!

#4 – Spending time with my parents. This goes without saying. I find the older I get the more I realized how precious these moments are. It was extremely hard to say good bye to them when it came the time to leave.

#5 – Japan Airlines. Very friendly and courteous flight attendants, spacious cabin space, and great food! It’s an impressive airline and one that I will always recommend if you’re going to Asia.

The disappointments

#1 – With ubiquitous food stalls and numerous restaurants throughout each city, Indonesia has always been known for its delicious and cheap food. I, however, didn’t really enjoy this. I found the food to be too rich and too overwhelming in flavour. I found this so strange because I know what I’m eating is delicious yet my body and my taste bud are hating it. It’s a really strange sensation. Not only that, I had such a hard time keeping food down. Let me just say that I’ve had better time eating through South East Asia than this trip!

Batagor Kingsley: battered  and deep fried tofu and king fish (?) balls with peanut sauce. This didn't give me stomach ache after I ate it.

Batagor Kingsley: battered and deep fried tofu and king fish (?) balls with peanut sauce. This didn’t give me stomach ache after I ate it.

#2 – Jakarta is a terrible city. I’m not sorry I said that and I honestly don’t understand how my friends (and about 6 million other people) call this city home. It’s dirty and polluted, there is always a cloud of smog hanging in the sky, and traffic is ridiculous. I’ve never been so happy to leave a place.

I call this a traffic jam in Toronto. In Jakarta? This is normal.

I call this a traffic jam in Toronto. In Jakarta? This is normal.

Old town Jakarta.

Old town Jakarta.

#3 – I haven’t been back in 5 years and I find that things remain the same. While some tourism infrastructure has been put in place (I.e. well written signs at Kawa Putih, courteous attendants at Bromo, and very kind guides at Madakaripura), maintenance was severely lacking. Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII) in Jakarta comes to mind as an example. It’s a wonderful playground rich with Indonesia’s culture and history, but with crumbling buildings, peeling paint, and dried up lake? Not so much. It’s disappointing to see such a thing because I know Indonesia has a lot to offer – if only they can get their acts together…

A traditional patio in Taman Mini.

A traditional patio in Taman Mini.

Despite the complaints, I am always grateful I was given the chance to go home. Yet the more I say this, the more it confuses me because “home” to me is 2 different places – Surabaya and Toronto. I suppose this is a topic for a different post. Stay tuned!

P.s. Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends! I hope you ate to your hearts’ content and had a chance to reflect on the beautiful lives you have.


  • Reply Lisa December 1, 2015 at 9:36 am

    I love your honesty about Indonesia in this post!
    Now I understand why your parents are worried about where to take us to eat… ;)

    • Reply Pauline December 6, 2015 at 9:13 am

      It’s okay – we’ll figure something out when you come. We’ll take you to the market and we can cook majority of our food :)

  • Reply Jakarta: 7 Things | Tales of a Pilgrim December 6, 2015 at 10:19 am

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  • Reply Twenty Fifteen | Tales of a Pilgrim January 19, 2016 at 6:16 pm

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