By Frankie Chee
IN JAKARTA WITH...
Length of stay: Two years
Not too far from Singapore is a city that will remind you of home, yet provide enough reprieve from the hustle and bustle to help you forget about work.
Jakarta offers familiar dishes such as wonton noodles and satay, but has a rich culture, artistic traditions and a take-itin-your-stride vibe to call its own.
The Indonesian capital is now home to teacher Lydia Tan, who has lived there for two years.
Like most Singaporeans, the 28- year-old, who is single, spends her weekends there at the mall, and says her favourite restaurant in the city may have been responsible for inspiring Singapore's national dish, chilli crab.
The best way to explore the city is by...
The ubiquitous bright orange buses (MetroMini) that ply every road. These buses stop everywhere and anywhere with just a wave of an outstretched hand. They're dirt-cheap, about 30 to 40 cents per trip, but you need to be agile enough to board the bus while it is still moving.
The best time to visit is...
All year round. The weather is always hot and humid but be wary of the rainy season from November to February, which may cause floods and ruin your best-laid plans.
Which places in the city excite you?
The markets. Pasar Baru (Jalan Pintu Air Raya, 10710, Jakarta Pusat); Pasar Festival (Jalan HR. Rasuna Said Kav, 12910, Jakarta Selatan); Pasar Kebayoran (Kebayoran Lama District, Jakarta Selatan) and the league of other pasars that are a treasure trove of authentic sweet and savoury local food. You get to experience the sights and sounds of the locals going about their daily business. This is a raw experience not for the faint-hearted.
Where can you find food that is close to Singaporean fare?
Satay, kueh kueh, murtabak, nasi padang, wonton noodles and everything else sold in Singapore's hawker centres can be easily found at any street corner, sold from 'kaki limas' or five legs in Bahasa. These food carts have five legs and serve piping hot food 24 hours a day. However, those with weak stomachs are advised to avoid these unaccredited mobile restaurants.
Your favourite breakfast is at...
Pancious Pancake House (12 Jalan Permata Hijau Blok A, Jakarta Selatan, tel: +62-21-530-4325) where the waffles and pancakes come with all sorts of toppings. Sauteed chicken and mushroom savoury pancake, anyone? Or the sinfully rich blueberry cheese waffle? They have a few branches in the malls but the branch in Jalan Permata Hijau is cosy, with daybeds (even a pond) where you can lounge for hours.
Your favourite eating place is...
Jun Njan Seafood Restaurant (35 Jalan Sultan Iskandar Muda, Arteri Pondok Indah Jakarta Selatan, tel: +62-21-725-2604) is truly Jakarta's most legendary Chinese restaurant.
Seafood fanatics say that no other Chinese restaurant in the city can match the uniqueness of Jun Njan's cuisine.
This is where you get the best deep-fried pigeon in oyster sauce and its award-winning kepiting saus padang (crab in padang-style sauce). People have long speculated that this dish was the inspiration for Singapore's national dish, chilli crab.
The coolest place to chill out is...
Cork and Screw (Ground floor, Wisma Kodel, Jalan H.R. Rasuna Said Kav. B-4, tel: +62-21-5290-2030). The wine, the music and the people are just great. Strategically located in the business district, this restaurant-cum-lounge is an interesting contrast to its surroundings. Sophisticated yet cosy, you can indulge in excellent French food, an extensive wine menu and to-die-for desserts.
What do you think Singaporeans will like most about your city?
The way of life. A common local saying is, 'If we can eat today, why think about tomorrow?'. Come to Jakarta and you will understand how this city manages to stay true to itself. Singaporeans will love just looking out of the window and seeing the colourful and vibrant street scenes that are not found anywhere else in the world.
What's the biggest difference between Singapore and this city?
The attitude of the people. In Jakarta, the people have learnt to take unexpected situations in their stride. Nothing fazes them and the smile on their face is a testament to how they simply live one day at a time.
THINGS TO DO
Where's one place you'll always take your friends to when they visit?
Dunia Fantasy at Ancol (Jalan Lodan Timur, 14430, Jakarta Utara, tel: +62-21-6471-1511). The young and old will love this theme park. Its proximity to the beach also means that you can enjoy the sunset there.
What is the one thing you must do in this city?
Indulge in the many opportunities to experience and learn about the rich culture and artistic traditions of Indonesia. Visit the National Museum (12 Jalan Merdeka Barat, tel: +62-21-381-1551) or the Batik Museum (Jalan Aipda KS Tubun 4, Menteng 11421, Jakarta Pusat, tel: +62-21-560-6613) and try your hand at making your own piece of art to take home as a unique souvenir.
What do you do on your weekends?
Jakarta is a mall haven. The newest addition, Grand Indonesia Shopping Town (Jalan MH Thamrin No.1, 10310, Jakarta Pusat), is a destination in itself.
It is home to designer labels, the best restaurants and a huge cineplex that screens both blockbuster and independent movies. I can spend my entire day there.
Where is the best place to go on a shopping spree?
World Trade Centre Mangga Dua (Jalan Mangga Dua Raya 14430, Jakarta Utara). Be prepared to bargain and jostle with the aggressive crowd and shop-owners. It has more than seven levels of shops where you can get runway rip-offs at a dime. Get ready to be bombarded by the constant calls of 'belanja' (spend).
Are there things to do or see outside the city?
The provinces of Puncak and Bogor are worth a visit. There are some picturesque mountain views a three-hour drive from the city. Shop at the factory outlets, relax at the many spas or play golf in the crisp mountain air.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 11, 2009.
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