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Before my 2024 visit, the last time I was back in my home city Jakarta was in December 2019/January 2020. I’d planned on going back sometime in late 2020 or early 2021 but uh, something happened that upended travel plans for humankind.

Even so, back in 2019/2020, I didn’t get to explore Jakarta, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover we finally had mass rapid transit that’s slightly better than Los Angeles’. And trust me, that’s a huge improvement.

For decades, the development projects in Jakarta (and Indonesia) were hindered by so much corruption that they were either canceled or completed haphazardly. Yet, during my month-long stay in Jakarta, I could feel this city was going in the right direction, at least superficially.

That said, Jakarta is a lot like LA. They’re both vast. They’re both car-oriented with awful traffic jams and gridlock. This is why I feel so at home in LA.

Here’s what we did for eleven+ hours in Jakarta, from the perspective of someone born and raised in Jakarta, and then went away to live in Los Angeles for a long time.

What to Bring

I’d recommend a backpack over a tote bag or a sling bag to carry these items:

  1. Zinc-based SFP45 sunblock
  2. Bottled water (tap water in Jakarta is not drinkable)
  3. Small towel (you’ll be sweating a lot, thanks to the humidity)
  4. Tap card (you’ll need an e-card if you wish to use the Jakarta Light Rail Transit/LRT, Trans Jakarta bus system, or the KRL/Electric Train)
  5. Small bills (most vendors like Blue Bird taxi drivers don’t carry change for large bills, so I’d recommend having IDR 2,000, IDR 5,000, IDR 10,000, IDR 20,000, and IDR 50,000 with you. If your money changer gives you IDR 100,000, purchase bottled water at a supermarket to break the large bill).

How to Get Around

  1. TransJakarta (colloquially known as “TJ” or “Teedge”)
  2. Jakarta Light Rail Transit (LRT)
  3. Kereta Rel Listrik (Electric Train)
  4. Bandara Soekarno-Hatta Train to get to the city center from CGK Airport
  5. Blue Bird Taxi
  6. Rideshares like Grab or GoCar.

Except for the Blue Bird Taxi and rideshares, you’ll need a tap card for the other methods of transportation. Tap cards are available at kiosks at every station and you’ll have attendants who will help you. They’ll be standing right next to the kiosk, by the entrance, and everywhere else to make sure you get to your destination safely.

Blue Bird Taxi and rideshares can be hailed with their own apps. Blue Bird’s rates are comparable to rideshares and I used Blue Bird whenever I went.

10 am: Fatahillah Square

Jakarta (and Indonesia in general) has very few plazas. This is one of them. Granted, many malls in Jakarta have “plaza” in their name (Ratu Plaza, Plaza Indonesia, Plaza Senayan), but the Fatahillah Square is the OG plaza.

It’s surrounded by three museums: Museum Sejarah Jakarta (Jakarta History Museum, previously known as Museum Fatahillah), Museum Wayang (Puppet Museum), and Museum Seni Rupa dan Keramik (Fine Art and Ceramics Museum).

Entrance is free and we spent about twenty minutes exploring the Fatahillah Square and taking photos.

10:20 am: Jakarta History Museum

I’m so glad I look Indonesian (and speak Bahasa Indonesia), otherwise, I’d have to pay more than three times to get into the Jakarta History Museum (although against USD, it’s still very inexpensive).

This museum was in bad shape. Some spotlights didn’t work, so it was difficult to see the object, the English translation had mistakes, and the AC wasn’t on in several rooms, thus exposing the paintings, photographs, and vintage furniture pieces to the humid Jakarta air.

However, our main objective was to take photos of Matt and Chrissy with the Hermes/Apollo statue. This statue has a modesty leaf, but still, it’s fun to find (almost) stark nudity in a prudish city like Jakarta.

If you’d like to see the statue’s twin brother outside the museum, you can find him in front of Tugu Harmoni. Apparently, at one point, someone draped a cloth around his waist. Sigh.

11:05 am: Wayang Museum

Just like the National History Museum, Indonesians get a major entrance fee discount.

However, taking photos with DSLR isn’t allowed, so please excuse the quality of some of these images as I used my crummy phone in a low light condition.

Indonesia has a rich and illustrious puppetry tradition, but before we get into that, I want to mention how bizarre it is that the museum also apparently houses the memorial wall of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, who opened the floodgates to the Indonesian colonization by the Dutch Empire in the early seventeenth century.

The museum also houses at least two gamelan sets. Not as weird as the memorial wall, but still.

As an Indonesian-born doll photographer, I consider visiting the Puppet Museum a rite of passage. It’s better taken care of than the National History Museum and also better curated, with a flow that makes more sense.

A highlight: I grew up knowing that shadow puppets were made using cow hide, so seeing cruelty-free cardboard shadow puppets that are just as beautiful as leather ones blew my mind.

There’s a room that houses International puppets. This unicorn is simply called “Boneka Amerika” (“American Puppet”).

Since Matt loves seeing Chrissy with horses, and we’ve done two photoshoots of Chrissy and Steve the white stallion as a unicorn, this was the perfect photo-op moment.

Noon: Old Town Canal

Like all major cities, Jakarta is plagued with dirty rivers. The canal, however, is pretty clean. Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos of how the water looked. Instead, I posed Matt and Chrissy in front of this awesome, unknown building.

12:20 pm: Kota Train Station

I hate taking doll photos in public areas. The paranoia and discomfort are bad enough in the US (well, Los Angeles and San Francisco), especially because these aren’t your regular Ken dolls.

Even though Chrissy’s showing less skin in this Jakarta shoot (don’t mind the nip slips), I was still apprehensive. Luckily, I was accompanied by HP, my best friend from high school. He and I were the only out gay kids in the all-boys Catholic school, at least when were there for six years. We were out and proud because well, we didn’t have a choice. We were visibly feminine.

Plus, HP knows the ins and outs of public transportation in Jakarta, so we took the electric train from the Kota Station to our next destination.

“Kota” means “city” in Bahasa Indonesia. “Stasiun Kota” simply means “City Station.” This is one of our oldest train stations in the city, hence the name.

HP and I used to ride the train when we were accepted to the same university, but that was more than two decades ago. I was pleasantly surprised to see the train system and the clean cars with AC.

Please note that we boarded the train on Friday at noon. HP warned me that it could get really crowded (like, Tokyo-rapey-style crowded) during rush hour.

12:50 pm: Lapangan Banteng (Bull Plaza)

Although the train ride was only eight minutes from Kota Station to Juanda Station (four stops), we still had to walk from the station to Lapangan Banteng.

I’d almost forgotten about the traffic in Jakarta. It’s a jungle. Here in the US, as selfish as cars are, they will stop when they see people crossing. Not so in Jakarta. There was quite a bit of waiting and paranoid crossing.

In fact, this photo was taken in a little square sandwiched between major lanes. There was no traffic light, so HP and I had to be extra vigilant when crossing. But I love that it has that “Jakarta: Kota Kolaborasi” (Jakarta: City of Collaboration) signage in the back, just like at the Kota Station. Far in the back is the West Irian Liberation Monument, ironic considering Irian suffered even more after The Netherlands “gifted” it to Indonesia sometime in the 1960s.

Some twenty or thirty years ago, Lapangan Banteng was famous for being a cruising spot for gays and gay sex workers.

Way back when, HP and I would cruise around Lapangan Banteng at night in my car, looking at guys (not for guys, we were too chicken shit).

However, HP told me Lapangan Banteng was no longer cruisy. I can see why. Lanes for cars have been replaced with parks and nice open spaces.

1:50 pm: National Monument

It was a bit of a walk from Lapangan Banteng to the National Monument, but this is another iconic place to visit in Jakarta.

The obelisk-shaped National Monument is 449.48 feet (137 meters) tall and is topped with a 47.6 feet (14.5 meter) bronze flame coated with 70.56 lbs (32 kg) of gold leaf.

We didn’t ride the elevator all the way up for a 360-degree view of Jakarta because well, we were already tired and hungry, so we hailed a Blue Bird cab.

3 pm: Vegetarian Lunch at Burgreens Menteng

I became a vegetarian in 2003, and back then it was difficult to be vegetarian in Jakarta. Indonesia is a meat-based culture.

There were a few vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Chinatowns in North Jakarta because they catered to Buddhist monks.

There was a relatively short-lived vegan restaurant/food court outlet called Dharma Kitchen. Their fake meat was made of soy or mushrooms and it was delicious. When I visited Indonesia in 2013 and 2019, Dharma Kitchen was still in business. Unfortunately, it folded.

However, one of my besties MHS told me about this new vegan/vegetarian restaurant called Burgreens. It’s not Dharma Kitchen, but it’d have to do.

The food’s pretty good, but the portion’s a bit too small for my Americanized belly.

Apart from being plant-based, the flagship Burgreens restaurant in Menteng area is within walking distance from the legendary Sarinah, one of Jakarta’s oldest department stores.

4 pm: Sarinah Department Store & Sky Deck

If you’re looking for Indonesian souvenirs (Batik shirt/scarf, carvings, dance masks) to bring home, Sarinah is your best bet. Don’t even bother going to Alun-Alun in Grand Indonesia. Sarinah is the place.

After the renovation, Sarinah is almost unrecognizable. The upper level was turned into a sky deck, complete with greeneries and the most amazing view. A huge section of the parking area was also converted into a cozy place to hang.

Sarinah was my playground when I was younger. In fact, that CD store I mentioned in my Annie Lennox/Why Tribute post? That was in Sarinah. Unfortunately, thanks to digital downloads, CD and music stores in Jakarta are no longer a thing.

5 pm: Bundaran HI from TransJakarta Station

“Bundaran” means “roundabout” and “HI” (pronounced “huh-ee”) stands for “Hotel Indonesia,” Indonesia’s oldest five-star hotel. It was purchased by the Swiss-based Kempinski luxury hotel management sometime in 2004.

The Bundaran HI TransJakarta Station has a viewing deck that overlooks the circular fountain that frames the Welcome Monument. Around it are the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hyatt Hotel, and the Hotel Indonesia Kempinski.

This viewing deck is so popular that there are attendants for crowd control. Only twenty people are allowed on the deck to take photos or videos and take in the view for five minutes, and then they’re ushered out so a new group of twenty people can go on the deck.

5:20 pm: Back at Sarinah Sky Deck

We decided to return to Sarinah Sky Deck so I could take sun-out vs evening photos. Luckily, there are so many restaurants and cafes in Sarinah.

I’d recommend Gado-Gado Boplo in the basement food court. Gado-gado (guh-doe guh-doe) is Indonesian-style salad doused in peanut sauce, and Gado-Gado Boplo (boh-ploh) is famous for its creamy and delicious peanut sauce.

7:20 pm: Sarinah Sky Deck (Evening)

We were almost at the end of our eleven+ hour trip in Jakarta. I felt so gross and sweaty and tired (hence the small towel).

Like most cosmopolitan cities, Jakarta looks better after sunset. Darkness hides the flaws and the lights glitter like diamonds.

Unfortunately, it also means extremely low-light condition to shoot and I’d opted not to bring my tripod because if it weren’t allowed, then it’d just be added weight.

8:45 pm: Bundaran HI from TransJakarta Station (Evening)

To round off the day’s excursion, we returned to the TransJakarta Station’s viewing deck for some after-dark photos.

After sunset, the roundabout looked even more vibrant, with bright digital billboards and glimmering vehicle lights.

Jakarta is a lot of things: loud, noisy, polluted, and infested with motorists who wouldn’t mind running over you as long as they could get to their destination a second faster. But it’s also home.

After four years of not seeing my friends and family IRL, it felt so good to talk, laugh, and cry in Bahasa Indonesia.

I can’t wait for my next trip to Jakarta.

Complete videos and photos:

BTS Thoughts:

My immense gratitude for HP and AD. Thank you for accompanying me.

I wore my Andrew Christian short shorts (and a shirt) whilst going around town. Yes, people stared, but I didn’t care. It was too hot to wear trousers.

It was mostly an in-and-out/guerilla type of situation, so Matt and Chrissy’s poses are super basic and sometimes they’re not looking at the camera since I didn’t turn their heads correctly.

I already hate taking photos outdoors in the US, and there’s a different layer in Jakarta, especially because of how gay the dolls look and Matt’s “Trans Lives Matter” tank top. Again, I’m thankful that HP and AD were there.

Matt: Tank top and shorts by Dollsexposed; sunglasses and sneakers by Easy & Simple; watch by Soldier Story (modified by Dollsexposed); saddle bag by Fashion Royalty; cap model’s own.

Chrissy: Tank top, Wonder Woman drawstring bag, short shorts, necklace, spike bracelet by Dollsexposed; shoes by Soldier Story; beaded gold bracelet by Fashion Royalty; glasses model’s own.

Music for “Eleven+ Hours in Jakarta”: “Lowest of Fi Riddim” by Konrad OldMoney.

Music for “Puppet Museum Jakarta”: “Spring Thaw” by Asher Fulero.

Click here to see the complete episodes of Dollsexposed’s residents, or choose below:

Dollsexposed showcases queer erotica, kink, fetish, and activism through twelve-inch doll photography. Their adventures in the doll world began in 2011 before establishing a home on eleven years later.

Dollsexposed's works have been displayed at Seattle Erotic Art Festival and Los Angeles Leather Getaway.

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