One of the first places I stayed in Jakarta - for any length of time - was Kebon Kacang (Peanut Plantation!), an extremely densely populated area around the back of the plush Plaza Indonesia shopping mall.
The low rise tenements had been constructed to house the proletariat rabble evicted from the slum areas along Jalan Thamrin, but ironically many of these poor people couldn’t afford the rents and given the anonymity of the tenements, quite a few of the units that were not housing families were actually rented by opportunist businessman to secretly house their young concubines (sometimes I would visit them while their benefactors were away).
All in all, Kebon Kacang was a cool place to live: you could pretty much do what you liked, it was safe and noone ever gave you any shit. And it was so cheap you could save some money too – and even have enough dosh left over to take on that concubine for yourself if you so wished.
Another advantage of living in Kebon Kacang is its location: only a five minute walk to Hotel Indonesia – probably the area that most people consider to be the center point of Jakarta.
I went to the small gym in Hotel Indonesia and while working out would watch the ant-sized traffic cops far below “working the system” for all it was worth. Hotel Indonesia was completely run down at the time – but in a nice, nostalgic sort of way – stuck in the groove of the 1960s, which for most Indonesians didn’t mean the Beatles or the Stones, but full-on revolutionary fervor and all the mayhem that comes with that.
The hotel’s dark and gloomy Wayang Bar was made famous in the classic “Year of Living Dangerously” novel, but I never came across any Western foreign reporter types discussing the latest political intrigues – just a few trashy looking night butterflies and sad-looking hotel guests wondering how they ended up in such a dark and miserable joint.
Yes, Hotel Indonesia was a sleaze pit. And everyone seemed to be in on the act. But all that’s history now, and the hotel has thrown away its cheap and nasty apparel and undergone a remarkable transformation into the plush and sophisticated Kempinski.
When I lived in Kebon Kacang as a young lad the country was still under the jackboot of former dictator Suharto and I still remember running into enraged mobs after government forces had stormed PDIP’s headquarters in 1996, killing 5 people and making many others “go missing” (whatever happens to the missing people, I wonder?). I later watched England thrash Holland 4-1 (thank God for Gazza) and started on a journey - overland and by sea - which took me to Bangkok.
The large HI traffic roundabout is also home to Indonesia’s Hansel and Gretel, a pair of idealistic youth who will never age, and, even after all these years, are still welcoming the participants for the 1962 Fourth Asian Games!!!!