Reminiscing the Old Normal

43 comments
Asia, Indonesia, Southeast

Bundaran HI, one of Jakarta’s landmarks

Covid-19 is continuing to take its toll. Not only has the disease claimed more than 520,000 lives, but it has also brought the world’s economy to a standstill. As countries across the globe begin to publish the latest figures of their economic indicators, it becomes more and more apparent that what we are facing now is the worst global recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s. China – the world’s growth engine for the past few decades – saw its economy contract for the first time in almost half a century, and the United States as the planet’s largest economy (by nominal GDP) recorded the highest unemployment rate since 1941. Elsewhere, countries that are heavily dependent on tourism have been badly hit by the crisis, as have those that were already suffering from their own economic woes.

Some governments, in a rather desperate bid to prevent their economies from falling even deeper into recession, have begun to ease full or partial lockdowns that have been in place for months – with the risk of a second wave looming on the horizon. Meanwhile, here in Indonesia, the central government has also followed suit although we have yet to see the peak of the first wave. “New normal” is the mantra now, with strict implementation of health protocols as a requirement for businesses to reopen. From operating at half-capacity, to scanning customers’ body temperatures and providing a washbasin and soap or hand sanitizer outside the premises, business owners have no other option but adapt. Customers must do too, unless they stay home and rely on online delivery like so many Jakartans have during the partial lockdown.

This new normal makes me think of the old normal, or life as I knew it until the middle of March when things gradually turned more and more surreal. Through this post I want to share with you how some of the places that I went to in Jakarta within this past year looked like, and how they may change in the foreseeable future. While sorting out the photos, I must admit I really missed the old normal. I miss not having to worry about getting infected by the virus, I miss going out without my nose and mouth covered by a mask, I miss seeing people’s smiles, and although I’m more of an introverted person, I do miss watching people having a good time with their friends and families in the city’s public spaces.

West Jakarta

This part of Jakarta is not only home to the old town district – known as Kota Tua – filled with dozens of buildings constructed during the Dutch colonial period, but also the city’s vibrant Chinatown which is concentrated around the areas of Glodok and Asemka, directly to the south of Kota Tua. Last July, I went to Pasar Petak Sembilan, a traditional market at the heart of Glodok that basically occupies a narrow street leading straight to Jakarta’s oldest Chinese temple. It was my second visit to this part of the city, but unlike the first time when I only went to the temple, I had James tag along so we could also try some food Glodok is famous for.

On both sides of the street, we saw vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices and other ingredients that can be easily found at most traditional markets in Indonesia, as well as rarer items like frogs, sea cucumbers and some other stuff that are more prevalent in Chinese cuisine. The market was jam-packed with patrons, motorcycles, carts and a few tourists trying to move around from one stall to another. I’m interested in finding out how the recent movement restrictions have had an impact on this daily hustle and bustle, although I wouldn’t be too surprised if nothing has changed at all.

Five months later in December 2019, we returned to West Jakarta to check out Semasa, a quarterly pop-up market showcasing the city’s inspiring new talents who bring their best and most unique artisanal products to a broader audience. The venue for the event’s end-of-year edition was a handsome Dutch-era heritage building that has been turned into Museum Bank Indonesia – a history museum that is run by the Indonesian central bank. It was my first time visiting such a bazaar, and I was pleasantly surprised and heartened by what I saw. If you want to get a glimpse of Jakarta’s abundant creativity, this is a good place to start, although unfortunately this year’s March edition (which was supposed to be held at City Hall) had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. The organizer then switched to Indonesia’s most popular online marketplace for the time being, although in my opinion it can never replace the excitement and joy of touching and admiring the goods with your own hands and chatting with the creators themselves, whose passion for what they’re doing can only be truly felt when you see them in person.

Pasar Petak Sembilan, a lively street market in Jakarta’s Chinatown

It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the food here was amazing

A flower stall in front of the Chinese temple

Inside Museum Bank Indonesia

The al fresco dining set-up in the museum’s courtyard

The December 2019 edition of Semasa

More stalls were lined up by the open-air corridors

Semasa at Museum Bank Indonesia

Lunchtime at a restaurant in Kota Tua

Central Jakarta

This is where the presidential palace, the central bank, the supreme court, the national museum, the national stadium and many other important institutions of the country are located. And although I currently reside in South Jakarta, Central Jakarta is right on my doorstep since the Ciliwung River – which acts as a border between the two – lies less than two kilometers away from where I live.

On the very last day of February this year, James and I checked out the establishments behind Sarinah, an iconic 74-meter tall building that is also Jakarta’s first-ever skyscraper. Completed in 1962 and officially opened in 1966, the department store was conceived by Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, at a time when the nation’s economy was in shambles due to high inflation rates. Although ideologically closer to Moscow and Beijing, the president commissioned a Japanese company to construct the building using war reparation funds paid by the East Asian nation to the nascent Southeast Asian republic.

In 1991, McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Indonesia at Sarinah, paving the way for the department store to transform itself into a hangout place for young urbanites of the capital. However, the American fast food chain was not the reason why James and I went there earlier this year, just two days before the Indonesian central government announced the first two confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country.

Decades after the introduction of burgers to the Indonesian market, they are now widely available in Jakarta. Not only can they be found at the usual international chains, but also in residential areas, down narrow alleys, all the way to the many urban villages that, together with modern skyscrapers, have made the city what it is today. Independent brands have been doing well, with some names better known for their simple and affordable burgers, while others focus more on premium ingredients. Amid the jungle of burger brands in Jakarta, Lawless Burgerbar really stands out.

Famous not only for their tall, indulgent buns, but also for the blaring heavy metal music that is constantly played at both their outlets (the other one is in Kemang, an area in South Jakarta known for its trendsetting cafés and restaurants), the burger bar was jam-packed when we were there. Contrary to my initial doubts whether or not I would enjoy eating in such a noisy restaurant, the incredibly juicy burger and the energetic ambiance of this place actually made the dining experience even richer.

We left this place feeling satisfied. As we passed the “Healthy Food Sucks” sign on the dark corridor of the burger bar, and went out through the glass door, we looked at a restaurant right next door called Honu. Specializing in poke, a Hawaiian dish that is increasingly becoming popular in Jakarta, this outlet of another local chain originating in Kemang was the complete opposite of its neighbor. Honu was bright and peaceful, and here healthy food is king. And yes, both James and I had another round of food right after that very filling burger we had less than half an hour earlier. Seeing the burger bar and the poke place sitting together side by side, I couldn’t help but think of this juxtaposition as a much-simplified version of Indonesia – or what the country should be – where diversity is celebrated. As the pandemic rages on, I’m curious about how these two places are doing. Lawless Burgerbar might lose some of its spirit, albeit temporarily, for the people and their loud chattering have been a defining characteristic of the restaurant’s premises. Honu, on the other hand, might suffer from the new reality that some diners are now avoiding uncooked meals, although the fact that it has been doing online deliveries even before the pandemic may help keep its revenue from plummeting further.

Sometimes it does

At Lawless Burgerbar Menteng in February this year

The Lemmy, Lawless Burgerbar’s signature dish

A bowl of poke at Honu for the second round of lunch

Near an MRT entrance in Central Jakarta

South Jakarta

Home to some of the trendiest areas in the city, where a lot of Jakarta’s most unique and innovative independent businesses flourish, this is a part of the Indonesian capital I’ve been living in for the past eight years. I have written extensively about South Jakarta in a previous post, and when I was writing it earlier this year, ideas popped up in my head for future posts of Jakarta. I looked up inspiring new places across the Indonesian capital, and bookmarked them for urban explorations that I planned to do when the rainy season was over – supposedly around this time of year. However, due to this unexpected health crisis the world has been facing, it seems like I have to put those plans on hold for the time being and spend more time with my houseplants instead.

Talking about this part of the metropolis, I can’t help but think of M Bloc Space, one of the most inspiring success stories of old building preservation in Jakarta. The former warehouse and housing complex of the state-owned banknote printing company was given a new lease of life after being abandoned for fourteen years. In October 2019, it began welcoming people again, this time to dine in at its well-curated selection of restaurants, taste unique-flavored ice creams, and have discussions with experts on a wide array of topics: from building a more livable city and criticizing proposed legislation that would harm democracy, to talks about music and the arts.

M Bloc Space is one of the places that have hugely benefited from Jakarta’s MRT. But due to the current restrictions where the MRT can only operate at 50% capacity, and the fact that many offices still require their employees to work from home, I can imagine that M Bloc Space has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. It has partially reopened its doors since last month, but people have to register online beforehand, and it will be a while before independent bands and artists will be allowed to perform again at one of the former warehouses in this compound.

South Jakarta not only draws “southerners” to its cafés, restaurants, boutiques, art spaces and galleries, but also those from other parts of the capital. However, the current circumstances have undoubtedly presented a major blow to those businesses. We’ll be lucky if we see most of them surviving this storm, but with great uncertainties lying ahead of us, and the possibility of a severe economic downturn, I am personally expecting a bleaker outcome. I’ll be ecstatic to be proven wrong.

Nevertheless, I do still have hope that some sort of calm and normalcy will eventually return. Years from now, people might be doing some things differently as a result of months of being put under restrictions during this annus horribilis called 2020. But there can never be a replacement for direct interaction among people. Years ago, we were talking about the death of print publications with the advent of online media. But today, print not only survives but also thrives, only in a different way. It’s also interesting for me to see how Jakarta and its people will change in the next few years – if they change at all. But I really can’t wait for the day to come when I can explore the city like how I used to.

Hanging out with friends at M Bloc Space

Unearth, a retail and workshop space in Gandaria, South Jakarta

Taking a nap in front of a restaurant in South Jakarta

Get a daily dose of sun to boost your immune system

Reach out to see if anyone needs help

Keep blooming in these uncertain times

Find reasons to shine brightly

Sit on every other seat or row like the green alternating between the yellow on these leaves

And keep a safe distance from others, like how this dainty flower does to the nearest bloom

Posted by

Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

43 thoughts on “Reminiscing the Old Normal”

  1. You successfully got the essence of each area in your images and writing. I don’t miss Jakarta but this makes me feel a bit nostalgic a bit 🙂

    I also miss having or even just witnessing close human interactions. I have to admit I’m a bit shocked and worried when the Indonesian government decided to go on the so-called new normal, but I hope it works fine and things won’t take turn for the worse.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Dixie! There are art galleries, public spaces, and unique cafes in Jakarta I’ve been thinking of checking out. But the current circumstances leaves me with no other option but wait.

      We have more than one thousand new cases every day for the past few weeks since the government announced the “new normal” measures. I’m not overly optimistic about the situation in Indonesia at the moment and choose to remain fairly cautious.

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    • Yes, a good crowd always makes a place more interesting and exciting. Hopefully the day when we’ll be able to see such thing again safely will come sooner than later. In the meantime, take care and stay safe!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the messaging through your photos at the end of the post! It somehow feels easier to do. It’s so interesting to read about past and present in Jakarta and your perspective on things. I worry for the small businesses like Unearth (what a cool store) all over the world. You draw a great comparison about print in a digital world. Adapting is the only way forward. Even if there’s a vaccine eventually, nothing will ever be quite the same as it was.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m also very concerned with the survival of small businesses, although it’s quite encouraging to see how some in Indonesia seem to be doing relatively well by embracing online platform. In the near future, even when there’s a vaccine, I think the temperature checks and hand sanitizers will remain. I’m not sure about face masks, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly! Although some people are now wearing face masks with a big grin printed on them. I’m still getting myself used to seeing them. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

    • Writing this post made me miss exploring Jakarta too! I’ve been looking up updates of places I’d love to visit in the city, just to see if they’re already open or not. However, I will most likely wait before I go and check them out.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I must admit this post made me a little sad 😦 For various reasons Don and I have hardly been affected by the pandemic. Our life goes on as normal, but this tells me what I already know – it is not the case for most people. I think this pandemic will change the world, and that perhaps some of the changes will be a good thing, but much will be lost I think. And many adjustments will have to be made. Stay safe. Stay well Bama
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry for the rather depressing tone of this post, Alison. The world will definitely be changed forever, and travel as we knew it might become a thing in the past. In the future, maybe it will evolve into something a little different from what we’re used to. But whatever adjustments we all need to make, I’m ready to embrace that day when international travel is possible again.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. M Bloc definitely has a pleasant ambience (especially at night). Glad that they successfully keep the old-skul feel and pack it in a way that is much suitable to today’s younglings. Looking forward to be able to revisit the place when the pandemic ends!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve always wanted to go to M Bloc Space at night, but everything changed when the fire nation attacked.

      I can’t wait for the pandemic to end as well, so places like this can regain their energy.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Bama, we haven’t been to Jakarta in a few years, but from my memories, the markets were wonderful and I can believe that you miss the “Old Normal.” Your excellent photos are a nice reminder of better times and one of the things we miss about international travel.

    It’s interesting to hear how the Pandemic and the public response are evolving in Jakarta. I’m sure that it varies from city to city, but I think that for many places the “New Normal,” for the long term, will be a balance between public health and getting people back to work so they can support themselves. It’s certainly not an easy decision for anyone, and ultimately, at risk people will have to be extra careful with their own health. And in the meantime, like you, we’re looking forward to getting back on the road again. Take care. ~James

    Liked by 1 person

    • One of the things I love about Jakarta is its energy and the feeling that it’s a one massive kampung (village).

      It is true that for the time being, we have to get used to all these additional health protocols basically when leaving our home, whether for work, to do groceries, or for leisure. As much as I hate it, there’s no really other way, for public health’s sake. Take care, James!

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  6. I don’t think the “new normal” will be anything like what we’d desire…while the first wave of COVID hasn’t even gone away there is sure to be a second season of it as the northern hemisphere heads towards autumn/winter. And while I too wonder about the effects of no human contact or the ill-effects of not being able to gather as a species, I can’t ignore that our behavior of ignoring necessary evils of how we treat one another and our environment in the call to make money has gotten us to this point.

    It’s good to see that you’ve at least been able to get outside to enjoy the sunlight and the beauty of those green plants you’ve so lovingly captured. Wishing you well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • While some countries have yet to see the peak of the first wave, it becomes more and more apparent that some others are seeing a resurgence of Covid-19 cases which might lead to a second wave. I think we must be ready with the fact that the virus will stay a little longer than what we hope for, even with a vaccine. This is really the perfect time to reflect on ourselves, as well as on our interactions with one another and with the planet. I hope you stay well too!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Kaitlyn Canedy says:

    I have to agree with you about the businesses not being able to survive COVID. Many businesses here is the USA have been struggling, and so many of the ones that I know (even larger corporations) have closed their doors forever.

    The lack of human interaction has to be affecting people, and I personally believe that it is contributing to greater levels of depression and anxiety. Let’s just be hopeful that the future will be better than before!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are certainly businesses that thrive during this pandemic. But from what I see and read, it looks like most are hit really hard.

      We surely all hope that we can learn one thing or two from these times of great uncertainties, and change the way we live and treat others even when Covid-19 is over.

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  8. Great pictures! When I lived in Jakarta more than a decade ago, I didn’t know Jakarta could be this cool. I hope that people will pull thru (as always).

    Liked by 2 people

    • When I moved to Jakarta in 2008, I never expected that the city would transform into a place I fall in love with. That’s why I really hope those independent businesses that I love will be able to survive this pandemic.

      Like

    • And I’ve been looking up my old posts which always give me this surreal feeling thinking that not too long ago we were still able to roam this planet relatively freely (and maybe irresponsibly as well).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes surreal is correct. There are two tickets I am still unable to cancel, with the airline instead agreeing to let me use it in the next two years. I suppose that might be ok, if the airline lasts that long.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Same here. My requests for refund for two tickets (one domestic, one international) have been rejected by the airlines. They gave me travel credits instead.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Ahhh, so nice to see the old normal and so sad to contemplate the new paradigm. Sometimes I feel like the world and I will spring back eventually, but often I think we will never be quite the same again … in both good ways and bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It will certainly take time for things to be the “same” way again. Yesterday, Indonesia saw its highest daily jump of Covid-19 cases, and the WHO says the virus can be airborne. Every day, we learn new things about it, and we must adapt to the ever-changing new reality.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Same here, Bama. Houston is a Covid nightmare – highest case numbers almost every day for the last few weeks. We escaped briefly to Colorado by car but are now back and staying very much at home. 😦 Stay safe and healthy!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Love the plant based pandemic advice at the end of the post. Very clever.

    If we ever get to go back to Jakarta, because we were there very briefly with not enough time to really explore, we will definitely use this post as a resource because it is so chockfull with good information. I appreciate the combination of your thinking forward about our need to reinvent new protocols for all aspects of our lives and at the same time long for yesterdays normal, which becomes a fast fading set of imagery for so many.

    Ben

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hopefully by then most, if not all, of those places will still be in business. It’s incredible to think how this virus has changed our lives quite fundamentally. I hope you and Peta stay safe and healthy!

      Like

  12. Bama it is hard to imagine that travel will ever look as it once did. Finding that balance of people being able to survive economically against people not becoming ill is a challenging one. I did notice the numbers of cases in Indonesia rising. Sending our very best wishes. Stay well and here’s to it being safe enough to travel internationally one day soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ideally people should stay at home until there’s a vaccine to Covid-19. But of course we don’t live in an ideal world. Businesses need to keep running, people need to eat, and governments can only do so much to cushion the effect of this pandemic. I think we’ll all celebrate the day when we’re able to travel again. But until then, stay safe and healthy!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Despite the fact that you miss the old normal, the vibrancy of Jakarta (pre-pandemic) that comes through so beautifully in your words and photos is such a pleasure to read about. While this is a global issue, the new normal is so different from country to country. I’m really fortunate that Canada seems to be on the right track (fingers crossed). But what I see happening in other countries, particularly to our southern neighbours makes me so sad and anxious. Stay safe Bama.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seeing and feeling that vibrancy is exactly what I’ve been missing the most for months now. I really hope Canada stays on its path as other countries are seeing a resurgence of Covid-19 cases within their borders. We still can’t see the end of this, but we should all remain hopeful, especially since a vaccine is being developed by multiple countries at the same time at an unprecedented speed. You too take care, Caroline.

      Like

  14. This post is yet another reminder for me to be so grateful that I’ve traveled as much as I have. I have a feeling those days are over. And, truthfully, I have no desire to go anywhere anymore. Not sure my motivation to travel will ever return. I’m lucky that I live in an incredibly beautiful and relatively remote place. Summer tourist season is here now, and tourists have arrived, despite restrictions. It’s very difficult to work in the summer heat with a mask on. I am utterly exhausted. But grateful for a way to have income. Thank you for this look at Jakarta, a city of which I know so little. Take care, Bama.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, at least you’ve traveled to many parts of the world a lot of people can only dream of — your travel accounts from New Caledonia are particularly memorable for me. Stay safe and well in this tourist season, Julie.

      Liked by 1 person

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