Oct 14, 2001
My parents sent me an email wanted to make sure that I had an escape plan from Indonesia. I don't think that they wanted to hear that my plan involved me going through Jakarta. Okay, maybe it was a bad idea especially considering that I was coincidentally going to Jakarta on the day that the major anti-american protest was scheduled for. I didn't know until after I bought the tickets that the train station dropped me off right in front of the US Embassy the site of the protests. I was certainly nervous, but not actually worried - scared enough to pretend that I was a Canadian for a day or two.
The protest made headline news on CNN, but in person it was quite an anti-climax. There's a great view from the train looking down on the embassy, the police, the barricades, the barbwire and the protesters. There doesn't seem to be much going on. Instead of walking the 1/2 mile to Jalan Jaksa, the backpacker street, I decide to avoid any protesters by taking a taxi.
Jalan Jaksa is a void of tourists, but it's Friday night and the expats show up for a couple of drinks. Many of these expats have been working in Jakarta for 10 year or more. CNN made a big deal of the protest. Here's the expats take on the days events. "Some people showed up after prayers then the whole thing just kind of fizzled out." On an island of 100 million people, 1000 showing up for a protest just isn't a big deal.
There was an article in the Jakarta Post two days earlier. The article read something like this. The FPI (extremist muslim group) had marched from the US embassy to Jalan Jaksa in an attempt to force or at least intimidate Americans into leaving the country. The noble residents of the street rose up, met the mob at the start of the street and convinced them to turn around. The expats had a different take on this too. The FPI tried marching here 6 months ago to protest the alcohol and prostitution. This time they're protesting the alcohol, prostitution and Americans. Each time the local street mafia stopped them. So much for the medias "noble residents".
So, I went through Jakarta on the day of the biggest anti-american protest since the bombing of Afghanistan and nothing happened.
And a boat...
After a night in Jakarta, I get on a ship bound for Batam, an Indonesian island next to Singapore. It's my 1st proper cruiseship for the 24 hour journey. Deck class is a bit of a mess with everyone crowded on the floor. I splurged for 2nd class ($24); air-conditioned room with 6 beds to a room.
When disembarking I had my 1st real encounter with protesters. There were 3 guys wearing matching green jackets with patches labeled "BEM". Two of the three were wearing bin Laden shirts under their green jackets and carrying a rolled up banner. The third is wearing a Levi's shirt and carrying the megaphone. I have no idea who BEM is, but I'm pretty convinced that they were now on their way home from the protest in Jakarta.
Mr. protester "Levi's" asks me "Where are you from?" Thinking nothing could happen to me on the boat I bravely tell him "San Francisco". At this point I suppose that I shouldn't have even been surprised by his response. "Ah... American... Good" he says. Once again, so much for the scary protest and protesters.