49: Plaza Senayan

Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.

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When I took a look around FX mall there wasn’t really a great variety of shops for a place designed for shopping. There were probably more places to eat than anything else. I did find one sports shop, but they didn’t sell swimming goggles. However, the eager young sales assistant told me that I would find more sports shops in Plaza Senayan, which was a much larger mall that was “only next door”. Naturally “only next door” isn’t quite as simple as it sounds in a mega city knotted together by traffic, pollution and crazy paving. It’s even less simple when the place isn’t actually next door.

Plaza Senayan is behind FX at best. Quite a long way behind it. Nevertheless, it isn’t too hard to find as it is the largest of all the nearby structures, with its apartment block towering a good few stories higher than any of the surrounding buildings. There is also the Senayan City complex across the road from the plaza, so if you miss one of the developments you will probably find the other.

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Senayan City on the other side of the street

When you see Senayan Plaza, it is clear that this place is one of the showpiece shopping malls in Jakarta. It is a pristinely maintained mecca of high-end consumerism. Most people probably go there by car, which spares them the embarrassing discomfort of facing the contrasting display of poverty that clings to the fringes of this extravagant development. I myself got the full view of Jakarta’s gaping poverty gap as I walked from FX mall to the rear entrance of Plaza Senayan. Turning the corner down the street that runs alongside Gelora Bung Karno National Stadium, I passed the poor street vendors sat at their mobile rickshaw shops and the many homeless people sat begging on the street before turning left down the side street that leads to Plaza Senayan car park. As I teetered along the edges of the unpaved pavement, trying to avoid slipping into the deep gutter that ran alongside, and ducking and dodging the overgrown trees and bushes pushing their way into my path, I could see this gleaming palace of commercialism just ahead. There was a queue of Mercedes’, BMWs, Land Rovers and other $60,000-plus cars queuing up to the barrier and security checkpoint that allows you through to the rear car park of this big shopping, office and apartment complex.

At the checkpoint security guards opened the boot of each car, took a cursory glimpse inside and glided their bomb detection mirrors underneath the chassis’. Indonesia has been targeted by Muslim extremists several times in the past, but it seemed that the security was there for show more than anything else. I’m no expert, but looking in the boot of a car for a little less than a second is not the most vigilant or committed of security check procedures. I managed to stroll past this security pantomime unchecked, through the outdoor car park across to the rear entrance of the building, past another security guard, beyond the information point, across a road coming out of the underground car park where there was a valet service, and straight through the underground promenade that leads to the main shopping arena totally unchecked. I guess putting people in uniforms and giving them shiny badges is good for morale if nothing else.

As I walked through the promenade that led to the main shopping centre, there were bistros and coffee shops flanking either side. They were serving a busy looking assortment of expats, professionals and ‘suits’. An oriental man waved his hand in the air without looking at anyone in particular. His casually arrogant gesture prompted a waiter over holding a very modern looking digital ordering pad and ready to service the customer’s needs. As I looked around I noticed that there were more white faces and English voices in these bistros than I had seen anywhere else since being here. It could have easily been a hot summer’s night in an upmarket business district of London.

senayan-coffee-shop I carried on into the mall and there they were – Gucci, Dior, Bulgari, Armani, Rolex – all the commercial marques of distinction (and Zara) that tell people they’ve made it, or at least give them the appearance of someone who has. There were no gaudy, clashing colours or tacky promotion people hanging out of doorways with frivolous gimmicks. Everywhere was polished, cream marble, brass, chrome and glass. It was undoubtedly a very classy place; aesthetically at least. For as beautifully designed this temple of exclusive commerce was, I suddenly found myself filled with this feeling of contempt.

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Plaza Senayan, a gleaming temple of consumerism

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