20 years ago seems like the distant past and that’s exactly when Brigitte left Indonesia after living there for nearly 4 years. Therefore going back to Jakarta meant so much more than just visiting yet another Southeast Asian capital. We planned for 5 nights in the megalopolis and stayed with Izabel, Brigitte’s best friend from growing up in Indonesia. During those 20 years Izabel embarked on an illustrious modeling career followed by heading up the editorial departments of various fashion publications. But today she’s a dedicated mother to an adorable baby girl (Zoe) and has a great husband in David. We were super excited to stay with them and catch up, and coincidentally it also just happened to be Jakarta Fashion Week 2012 – Oh yeah!
Jakarta is a sprawling city and home to 13 million people. The first and most noticeable thing about it was the inescapable traffic – apparently not much has changed in this regard in 20 years. Short distances can take aggravatingly long periods of time to cover as we found out time and time again – if anything, I shouldn’t complain about New York City traffic anymore when we get home. The other aspect of the city that stood out was the contrast between older colonial style architecture and the ubiquitous modern towers in forms of banks, hotels and residences. But apparently this duality existed for years, even in the time when Brigitte lived here. Although her main impressions of Jakarta after 20 years were that of a city “frozen in time” with 2 major exceptions: 1) a hell of lot more traffic and 2) a lot more security. The level of security personnel and measures at major shopping/commercial and residential areas was impressively thick. I think we walked through more metal detectors in 5 days in Jakarta than we did in our last 5 years of air travel.
For Brigitte catching up with Izabel meant reigniting tons of memories from their past. It also meant checking out the old compound where Brigitte lived and the old French school she and Izabel attended together. We had a lot of ground to cover in various parts of the city so Izabel’s car and driver were clutch. We couldn’t actually go through the gate of the old compound because of security reasons but we did walk down some of the very streets Brigitte and Izabel hung out on (and we did see her old house from outside the gate). We also went to “Hero”, the old supermarket where Brigitte’s favorite snack (Nutella), seemed to spark up memories. There’s nothing like walking down memory lane, and watching the girls relive those moments together was truly precious. The other special moment was when Brigitte and I visited her old school – LIF – Lycee Internacional Francais. Security was in full effect there too with a prison-like guarding fence but Izabel had arranged a tour for us. Once inside a cascade of memories flooded Brigitte and I could sense her nervous excitement. None of her old teachers were still around but parts of the school remained unchanged. She pointed out to me where her science, Spanish and history classes were along with the bathroom where she once hid trying to avoid some boy. Overall visiting the school was an amazing experience for Brigitte and I was also very happy crossing that bridge to a tangible past.
Seeing various areas of Jakarta also entailed one of its oldest parts along with the former Town Hall from the colonial period (which also served as a prison). Right across from the old town hall is a restaurant called Batavia, the name Jakarta went by during the Dutch occupation. The colonial-style place felt like a time-warp to the early 20th century, cool black and white photos of old movie stars and vintage posters decorated some of the walls. The vintage-like mahogany bar on the upper floor spoke of its past glory – my mind couldn’t resist conjuring up visions of the smoky room while privileged patrons clinked Singapore Sling filled glasses together. We enjoyed an amazing lunch there which included one of Indonesia’s staple dishes, sate (pork and beef) served with a chilly induced peanut sauce – Yum!
Jakarta was great for reliving the past but also delivered on forming new memories. With Fashion Week in town and Izabel playing a dual role between model and VIP guest, the front row seats to the runway shows were only fitting parts to the overall logistics. Back to back nights of pure glitz-and-glamour followed by afterpartying is how we rolled. The mid-week party scene was pulsating with models, prominent designers and entertainers all part of the mix. Good times!
Our last night in Jakarta was a little more low key than the previous nights. Izabel and David took us out for Korean BBQ where we toasted our time together and finally catching up. No crazy afterpartying this time but we did grab one last drink at another one of Jakarta’s tres chic bars (Union).
20 years seem like a long time but Brigitte’s finally come full circle in Indonesia. Being able to relive some of her old memories was long overdue. And hanging out with Izabel, David and playing with little Zoe was priceless. We’re going to miss them!