countries

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South(east) Asia Indonesia

Jakarta / Beautifully Ugly

inner beauty & authentic travel - less pretty cities well worth the visit

   Well Jakarta, there is no easy way of saying this, but you didn’t make it into my Top 10 Purtiest Cities. Or the top 50, or the top, or even just the list. But then again, you know that I disdain these lists and that I just made this one up to tease you. You’re alright Jakarta. Sure, you are no Paris, but why would you (want to) be? I'm sorry, if I'm getting under your skin here, but see, that's exactly where I want to be. For what you lack in superficial Paris-beauty, you wear under your skin and for those who look at you with kinder, more curious and patient eyes, you wear that prettiness inside out.

"Why pretend that you are easy on the eyes of strangers who are just checking you out, soon off to generic liaisons on Bali? You aren’t Kuta, you don’t wear makeup. You look run down. Your old town has seen much better days. And you don’t smell so nice either. But you have character."

To me, your beauty was woven into your seaside decay, the way the elements had their way with you, chipping off layer by layer of your facade to unearth the character under your flesh; and it was woven into the peculiarities of your street life, and, most of all, into your people. The farther I wandered into the outskirts of your heart, the more the walls crumbled, the friendlier the people became, greeting me with smiles and laughs and picture poses. And that’s more than enough to make you well worth the visit Jakarta – your culture, your reality, your true self. Why lie? Why pretend that you are easy on the eyes of strangers who are just checking you out, soon off to generic liaisons on Bali? You aren’t Kuta, you don’t wear makeup. You look run down. Your old town has seen much better days. And you don’t smell so nice either. But you have character. And soul. And true Javanese street scenes. Let the tourists find pleasure and their inner selves in Ubud’s yoga retreats and art galleries, let them snorkel the turquoise waters without a worry in the world. They are the ones missing out on the most revealing encounters and lessons of travel: rawness and authenticity, the look behind the facade, where the genuine life and culture of any given country dwells. You are not catering to the slim appetites of hasty tourists who crave easily digestible chunks of beauty, sun and fun. You are serving the ones who truly want to see what life is like elsewhere, in its entirety, complexity and absurdity, beauty and ugliness.

"Our eyes are naturally quick to judge. They’re quick to swoon over the world’s Parises, the easy sights."

There seems to be a common sense of aesthetics shared among humans. Even though we might have preferences – mountains over beaches, Barcelona over Madrid – we all seem to concur that the Venices, sunsets, Grand Canyons, and Machu Picchus of our little earth aren’t too shabby, and, well, that the Jakartas fall short of this beauty ideal. Our eyes are naturally quick to judge. They’re quick to swoon over the world’s Parises, the easy sights. But, given some time, they adjust. That's when the beholder's eye takes over. Once it looks closer, it finds gorgeousness between the lines of places that looked bleak on first sight and maybe this subjective reevaluation is the best proof of our universal longing to see beauty in the world. It’d be exhausting to live in a place whose every corner feels repulsive. That's why probably few people see their home town, or a place where they reside, as a shithole – excuse my French.

"Immersion gave me enough time to get to know these charismatic cities and feel their beauty before I could actually see it. And when I saw it, it was abundant and profound and our bond was strong beyond looks."

I’m also sure you are one of these cities Jakarta; the ones that just grow on people, once they let them in. Like La Paz and Chennai, who I wasn’t attracted to at first. After some days I saw them with different eyes, after some weeks I was in love, and leaving them after months left me with heartache. Immersion gave me enough time to get to know these charismatic cities and feel their beauty before I could actually see it. And when I saw it, it was abundant and profound and our bond was strong beyond looks. As for you and me Jakarta – we didn’t get to spend much time, not enough for me to fall for you. Who knows what could have happened? But one thing I knew right away: character you have and with me a new friend, albeit not a lover (yet).

 

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elsewhere

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in South(east) Asia

Cambodia
green and specked with temples
India
complex and wondrous fabric
Laos
lush & tranquil realm
Malaysia
blend of contrasting flavors
Nepal
Himalayan heart
Philippines
joyous culture, island nature
Singapore
future vision
Sri Lanka
of vistas, beaches & animals
Thailand
paradisiacal beach day
Vietnam
much latitude, much to see
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