Culture

No Longer Homeland

As a child I was fortunate to have travelled quite frequently in and out of Indonesia via Soekarno Hatta airport (Indonesia’s flagship airport situated in what was once marshland in the outskirts of its capital Jakarta). One of the most lingering memories of the airport was not its antiquated brick floors, its old fashioned crème paintjob or its lack of acceptable catering and entertainment options (the one Dunkin’ Donuts it had held its ground firmly until Starbucks moved in a few years ago); it was rather the painfully slow immigration line you had to endure every time you arrived back into the country.

Like almost every other immigration line the world over, it was hobbled by the slow manual process. Made worse by the airports combustible frequency in which airplanes seemed to arrive on any given day and you have what makes for an endless queue of already impatient and weary travellers. The traffic outside was no better of course, but efficiency was never high on the priority list in the capital.

Fast forward 10 years and I find myself living in Australia as an Australian now (my passport says so), I’ve found that whenever I return to Indonesia for social or family visits, this inefficiency has morphed itself into a strangely effective but costly work around an old problem.

I had to give up my previous passport which meant that Indonesia was no longer my legal home. It’s a little bizarre to think that a place you called home for more than 16 years has suddenly become foreign soil; not by heart or by familiarity, but my legality. Foreigners traveling to Indonesia from certain countries are eligible for a relatively painless Visa process called the ‘Visa On Arrival’. As it states, those traveling from a select list of countries can purchase a short stay 25 day visa for the duration of your stay. At the price of USD$25, it isn’t the most exorbitant amount in which you will have to pay for on a holiday (the cost of a US Visa for Australians is roughly $15) but the sole advantage of this situation is getting to skip that never-ending immigration line. How? Perhaps due to design or by bureaucratic-inefficiency-turn-dumb-luck, the line in which you purchase your Visa On Arrival also has its own immigration booths, far from the ones which locals and residents use. It’s a breeze. An inefficient, messy breeze.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to the Visa On Arrival process is that there is no shorter term Visa than 25 days and there is no option to re-stamp once you have left the country. I have on many occasions taken short trips during my stay in Indonesia to places like Singapore, and even if I’m only traveling for 2-3 days, I have to purchase a new Visa when I arrive back into Jakarta, shelling out another $25. Does skipping a sometimes 40+ minute wait in a line warrant the $25 price tag?

It really depends on how lucky you are with your bags coming out of the carousel once both sets of queues merge post-immigration. My longest wait time after paying for the Visa On Arrival? About an hour before my sole piece of mid-sized luggage trundled its way on the archaic luggage carousel into my frustrated and tired hands.

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Travel

No Longer Homeland

As a child I was fortunate to have travelled quite frequently in and out of Indonesia via Soekarno Hatta airport (Indonesia’s flagship airport situated in what was once marshland in the outskirts of its capital Jakarta). One of the most lingering memories of the airport was not its antiquated brick floors, its old fashioned crème paintjob or its lack of acceptable catering and entertainment options (the one Dunkin’ Donuts it had held its ground firmly until Starbucks moved in a few years ago); it was rather the painfully slow immigration line you had to endure every time you arrived back into the country.

Like almost every other immigration line the world over, it was hobbled by the slow manual process. Made worse by the airports combustible frequency in which airplanes seemed to arrive on any given day and you have what makes for an endless queue of already impatient and weary travellers. The traffic outside was no better of course, but efficiency was never high on the priority list in the capital.

Fast forward 10 years and I find myself living in Australia as an Australian now (my passport says so), I’ve found that whenever I return to Indonesia for social or family visits, this inefficiency has morphed itself into a strangely effective but costly work around an old problem.

I had to give up my previous passport which meant that Indonesia was no longer my legal home. It’s a little bizarre to think that a place you called home for more than 16 years has suddenly become foreign soil; not by heart or by familiarity, but my legality. Foreigners traveling to Indonesia from certain countries are eligible for a relatively painless Visa process called the ‘Visa On Arrival’. As it states, those traveling from a select list of countries can purchase a short stay 30 day visa for the duration of your stay. At the price of USD$35, it isn’t the most exorbitant amount in which you will have to pay for on a holiday (the cost of a US Visa for Australians is roughly $25) but the sole advantage of this situation is getting to skip that never-ending immigration line. How? Perhaps due to design or by bureaucratic-inefficiency-turn-dumb-luck, the line in which you purchase your Visa On Arrival also has its own immigration booths, far from the ones which locals and residents use. It’s a breeze. An inefficient, messy breeze.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to the Visa On Arrival process is that there is no shorter term Visa than 25 days and there is no option to re-stamp once you have left the country. I have on many occasions taken short trips during my stay in Indonesia to places like Singapore, and even if I’m only traveling for 2-3 days, I have to purchase a new Visa when I arrive back into Jakarta, shelling out another $35. Does skipping a sometimes 40+ minute wait in a line warrant the $35 price tag?

It really depends on how lucky you are with your bags coming out of the carousel once both sets of queues merge post-immigration. My longest wait time after paying for the Visa On Arrival? About an hour before my sole piece of mid-sized luggage trundled its way on the archaic luggage carousel into my frustrated and tired hands.

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Culture

Inundated: Facing the Jakarta floods

It seemed like an ordinary Friday, I had decided to grab a bite at the mall situated just behind my house. It had been raining steadily for the past few days but it all seemed normal. Until I saw the endless traffic that had amassed adjacent to the mall entrance, it didn’t move an inch – for seven hours. The news the next day reported that unlucky motorists were kept at bay until the early morning hours and in some situations, overnight. The rain had caused flooding in key parts of the city and in some cases; the level of water was as high as 20 inches. Over 300,000 residents had to leave their homes and the final death toll stands at about 142.

I had been fortunate enough to live in an area that was saved from the flooding but some of the people I know weren’t as fortunate. My cousin’s daily post-work trip includes a cross-city bus ride but since the flooding had left major roads inaccessible, he was forced to walk home, highlighted by a brisk swim in a severely flooded roadway. Businesses, houses and all sorts of buildings were hit; perhaps one of the worst cases was the Four Seasons Regent Hotel. My uncle being of a high position there has not had a moments rest since. Three sub-levels of the hotel were completely submerged under water; a cruel mix of rain, river and mud inundated the lobby area and ground floor. Cars parked in the basement levels are still buried under water, power generators, computer lines and optic cables destroyed and everything from carpeting to the walls are now useless and have to be replaced. Needless to say, the damage is devastating and early estimates have the cost of repair to be at about $US40 million and will leave the hotel inoperable for the next 6 to 12 months.

Much of the blame has fallen with the government. Not just the current office but also those preceding it, most notably the infamous Suharto regime. Corruption led to poor infrastructure, irrigation and early warning systems that have now victimized the millions. With such a poor response to such drastic events, the people have taken it upon themselves to help those in need. You can’t drive around the city without spotting a local help center, awaiting donations of food, clothes and money. Volunteers have helped with the massive clean up duties and have provided shelter for those hardest hit. All this while the government has yet to lift a finger with any form of assistance that is so sorely needed.

Although the flooding has somewhat subsided, heavy rain falls continuously and with much of the city still under water, the long lasting effects of these floods on the national economy will be crippling. To a country ravaged by political unrest, corruption and a national debt exceeding US$70 billion, it’s one that cannot be overlooked. Unfortunately, with my experience, the likely result wills that of government officials counting their opportunities to cash in on such a situation. Much of the relief will rest upon those who volunteer and to those generous enough to donate.

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