Melanie Whitmarsh, WEEKENDER | Tue, 05/29/2012 3:05 PM |
A run through the city’s streets is a tour of color and character.
Running in Jakarta’s city center is worth the sweat. There are rambling graveyards, canal footpaths and vibrant lanes through village pockets. Along the way, you can encounter goats, fighting cocks, pigeon-racers, prostitutes, water sellers, cheers and high fives. Running is a way to explore the city. The trick is to piece together a route.
Here’s an 8-kilometer city center out-and-back trail between Batavia Apartments in Bendungan Hilir and Menteng, both in Central Jakarta. It’s a flat, friendly route but the characters we run into along the way are the real story. A banana and we’re off.
It’s breakfast time along the Kali Krukut river footpath. Chicken porridge scents the air. Cigarettes and coffee. Cats hunt for scraps among coconut husks. People point, “Look! Runners! Where are you going, Mister?” But with a wave we’ve already passed.
We jog up Jl. Karet Pasar Baru I, a pigeon-racing neighborhood. It’s a single lane flanked by shop-houses selling groceries. Signs advertise Wall’s ice cream and Nescafe. Sachets of shampoo hang like garlands in shop windows.
“Hello!” someone cheers. “Fitness!” someone pipes. A child peeps through an open door and, startled, screams. From ahead comes the sound of beating drums.
Ordinary tasks beget extraordinary anecdotes when you live abroad. This morning we run into a school marching band, parading through the village streets in radiant costumes. The girls wear luscious makeup, adding decades to their diminutive statures. The boys are toy leaders. Heralding the procession are the miniature musicians, immaculate in their cappuccino-colored uniforms and red ties. They crash cymbals, bang drums, blow into plastic melodicas. They beam with pride, hallooing as we overtake them.
A lane splinters left. Here in a square of wasteland are the homing pigeons. They live in pairs in pretty wooden houses painted pastel pink and blue.
“It takes the birds a month to learn to fly home,” says a pigeon-trainer. “Clever birds learn quicker. Stupid birds get lost.”
The lane comes to a dead end at the Karet Bivak graveyard. A one-eyed Minnie Mouse is speared onto the fence beside the entrance. For city runners, graveyards are oases. Karet Bivak is green, peaceful, fragrant with frangipani. Trees provide dappled shade. Grassy paths crisscross between the aging headstones, providing a chessboard of routes through the sacred space.
“Lots of people run here in the mornings,” says a water seller. Ironically, the cemetery rather pulses with life.
Kids and Cars
A goatherd ambles with his goats. Curly-coated kids frisk and fret, while their dams nibble grass and stand loftily atop tombs. Grave-keepers’ brooms swish and sweep. A wife supports her weeping husband. A man clipping grass on a grave raises a pair of old shears and asks, “Want a haircut?” His grin is stained and teasing.
We sprint across Jl. Mas Mansyur, the road monstrous after the graveyard idyll. Under the Karet flyover, a woman washes the bottom of a naked child from a plastic mineral water cup. Beggar children plaintively tap windscreens. Traffic fumes sour the air and all eyes watch the red light. Through the junction, we cut down to the bank of the West Flood Canal. The Shangri-La is across the water.
The canal path is tidy, paved and car-free, a grassy verge with rainbow eucalyptus to the left and potted bougainvillea to the right. It’s highly suitable for joggers. Beyond the eucalypts is a long, low wall. Through holes in the wall, we glimpse the city’s east–west railway tracks. A man in a checkered sarong approaches, silent children in his wake.
“What’s your religion?” he asks. “Are you hallelujah? I am hallelujah.”
Communities live along the railway tracks, using the low wall as an anchoring backdrop to their temporary houses. Leaning against the wall, people play cards, rupiah in piles before each player.
“Hello,” coos a sweet-faced old woman squatting in the grass, pecking from a bag of tofu. “Jogging makes you tired, ya!”
Prostitutes linger in the shade of the trees combing their hair. Some smile above their noodle bowls giving lipstick greetings. One mimes jogging and they all giggle.
“Let me take your photo,” says Rani, and her smile reveals the twin tracks of stick-on green imitation braces: an orthodontic status symbol. On the other side of the wall are the neat, tented, makeshift bedrooms, just a single mattress and the space to disrobe. A yellow butterfly loop-the-loops over the wall. Above on the telephone wire, a single bird sings.
Tethered to stakes in the grass beneath the eucalypts are fighting cocks, haughty-looking birds with pepper-red crests.
“They train here along the river, and fight weekly in Kemayoran,” says a man seated on a sarong. “The champion is over there.” He points to cages beside clapboard houses on the far side of the railway tracks. A woman sees us looking and waves.
“They fight with blades tied to their spurs,” he continues. “The loser has its throat slit and is eaten.”
Sudirman Station interrupts the canal path. The platform is malodorous and wet with urine. A beggar sits in a stupor on a disintegrating foam mattress. We run up the escalator and back down to the canal side, taking the footpath to its terminus at Jl. Madiun, Menteng.
The halfway point: All that remains is to turn around and run home.
City Running Tips
Plot your route in advance. Start before 7 a.m. to avoid the heat, bustle and pollution. Tuck small denomination money into your shoelaces to buy bottled water and electrolyte drinks along the way. Avoid sweating sunscreen into your eyes. Keep to footpaths, residential roads and shade. Watch the ground: Jakarta’s sidewalks and roads are hazardous. If you’re too puffed to speak, smile and wave in response to greetings. For group runs, see The Jakarta Free Spirit Running Club (www.jakartafreespirit.org) and Indo Runners (@IndoRunners on Twitter).