It is a sunny and quiet morning in Kemang, a district in South Jakarta. The usual traffic congestion is absent, supplanted by silence, the occasional sound of chirping birds and the faint banter of breakfast vendors. I walk around the neighborhood and turn down one of the streets which I often drive through in my car. Only this time I have ample time to gaze upon the beautiful sun-kissed walls, ornate fences, and green patches along the street – things I had never paid attention to before.
Kemang is one of the hotspots for nightlife and upscale restaurants and cafés in the Indonesian capital. Arrays of Indonesian, Italian, American, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Indian restaurants along with Irish pubs and ubiquitous fast food chains throng the narrow streets of Kemang. Many times I find it rather overwhelming to walk around this area, particularly at night. But the scene and ambiance are completely different in the morning.
As I walk further in the tranquility of a morning in Kemang, a street opens up to a double-decker street where a newly-built flyover provides shade to the older paved road beneath. Construction is evident in this part of the city, for the sake of both development and growing business opportunities. It is such a peculiar and slightly disturbing thing to see the concrete monoliths standing side by side with pretty houses and their manicured gardens.
At another corner, I take another turn to head back to my place. But before that I enjoy breakfast from a traditional food cart which I have never noticed before. An old man, probably in his 60s, attends the modest cart. He is a vendor of bubur ayam (Indonesian rice congee) – a delightful concoction of smooth rice porridge, yellow chicken broth, sweet soy sauce, shredded fried chicken, fried soybeans, chopped celery leaves (sometimes also scallions), fried chopped shallots, kerupuk (seasoned starch crackers), emping (Gnetum gnemon crackers), and a spoonful of sambal (ground chili-based sauce). A bowl of this satiating breakfast only costs 6,000 rupiah (roughly US$ 0.60). This is probably one of the things I love about Kemang. On one hand upscale eateries are abundant, but on the other hand it is so easy to find food which costs less than US$ 1.
Going back home with full stomach, I cannot help to think. I have just discovered so many things I never knew existed, yet I was not traveling. I was only wandering around my own neighborhood.
So what is the definition of travel? Is it a journey? A movement of people or objects from one place to another? Going on a trip? What else?
For me, my passion for travel has brought me to some of the world’s most amazing places. But the more I travel, the more I realize that the world has so many more amazing places to explore. Planning any trip will always open my eyes and further my knowledge about places I barely ever heard before, beyond the obvious internationally-renowned sites. But in the excitement I often forget how little I know about my own backyard, my own neighborhood.
Walking around the place where I live often brings me the same excitement of discovering exotic locations in far-flung places. Looking at beautiful houses and enjoying vibrant street scenes are some of the things I often ignore and only take for granted.
For me, travel is beyond the “been there, done that” paradigm. It is about discovery of new places, and of myself. There were times when I surprised myself for what I did when I was traveling. But above all, I am very grateful for the experiences I had in 2012. A new year has come and more amazing places wait to be explored this year.