13 March 2011


Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Jakarta, Indonesia: Once again I'm sorry to be leaving. You know how there are places in the world that feel like home, that stimulate all your senses and excite your intellect and make you laugh and where you just plain feel comfortable? Well, Indonesia is one of those places for me. It's hot and sticky and I don't do great in that kind of weather. I've developed a nagging cough - I think from the one-two punch of massive pollution and going in and out of fierce air conditioning in Jakarta. I call it "Sakit Jakarta" - Jakarta Sickness. At this very moment I am alternately sweating and chilled - and I'm pretty sure I don't have a fever. And yet I love this place, I can't get it out of my system.

Go figure.

I love the contrasts. Indonesia is one of the most modern, traditional, rich, poor, beautiful, ugly, natural, artificial, fast-paced, slow-moving, challenging and comforting places I know.

Last night I moderated a panel and gave a presentation on road trips across America, at a new U.S. Cultural Center in Jakarta called @america. It was in Pacific Place, a huge and super swank new shopping mall next to the stock exchange building. (There's a Bentley dealership on the ground floor.) Very few Indonesians can actually afford to buy anything there - even the food court is high-priced for most of them. But plenty dress up in their best to come and ride the escalators and window shop and look around.

My fellow panelists were highly educated, sophisticated, well-traveled Indonesians, as were most of the people in the audience and I felt as warmly welcomed and well-received by them as I did by the people in Jatinegara, where I was the night before (see the last blog), in a neighborhood that is poorer than anywhere in Los Angeles. Much poorer.

I don't know any other country that extends as genuinely warm, friendly, humorous and gracious a welcome to outsiders as does Indonesia. And I don't think it's just me viewing the place through rose colored lenses. I wish I knew what the secret is. I wish it were a virus and we could infect the rest of the world with it. My own country, the U.S., could use some.

So I'm loathe to leave. But I am looking forward to some good tacos.

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