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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

When an Accommodating Phony Tourism Officer Turned Hotheaded at Istiqlal Mosque


After my temple run concluded in Yogyakarta, I went back to Jakarta for a couple of days before my Cebu Pacific flight back to Manila. At the hostel I met two other Filipinas who became my accidental tourist buddies. Since we're all going home the same night, we decided to spend our last day just roaming the city aboard a tuktuk, stopping for some sights and shopping along the way. After walking out of the National Monument park (Merdeka Square), we were approached by a thin middle age man wearing blue slacks and tucked in polo, introducing himself as an employee of the local tourism office.

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While I already knew that he was not from the tourism office, he seem harmless, amiable and cheery that we find it more of an effort to dismiss him than just accepting his offer. I mean, we know he would ask a 'tour guide' fee afterward and it's fine with us because he promised to take us inside the Istiqlal Mosque, located just across the National Monument Park (which we kind of referred to as Quezon Circle due to its almost similar appearance and vibe). He keep telling us "Hurry quickly" but with a smile, as myself, Tania and Carmel trailed him ushering us inside the grand mosque.

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The word "Istiqlal" which means "Independence" was used to name the largest mosque in South East Asia upon its construction in 1978 after a long 17 year construction phase. Our tour guide walked with a demeanor of a confident man, telling people along the way that 'they're with me', I am not really sure about the procedure for visiting mosques, but at the ones I've visited in the past; non-Muslims are always welcome to go inside a mosque such as the Golden Mosque at Cotabato City and the Likas Bay Mosque in Kota Kinabalu. He showed us the way to the changing room where we removed our shoes and wore a robe to cover our street clothes. 

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If the sheer size of the Istiqlal Mosque is impressive on the outside, the interior brings forth a world-within-a-world feeling. The towering twelve stainless columns that adorns the grand praying hall easily dwarfs dozens of faithfuls seen deeply engrossed in their prayers from afar. Our jovial tour guide told us that "this is the biggest Mosque in Asia", though I told myself to consult Wikipedia first before believing him, I can't deny that hugeness of the Mosque, provides a palatial atmosphere.  

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 The courtyard is also impressive and gave us an   interesting perspective of the Mosque. Unique to other  Mosques, Itiqlal only "has a single minaret to symbolize  the divine oneness of God." We posed for some pictures  near a hanging large drum, referred to as 'Bedug' which  is made of cow skin and is used with the 'call to prayer'  or the adhan. Our guide was very accommodating and  even encourages us to take our time taking pictures. We  like him already.

 "This became popular after Obama visited this place", in  fact he was right, Obama really stopped by the Istiqlal  Mosque in 2010 and was also graced by the presence of  other world leaders like Bill Clinton, Prince Charles,  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and even the late fallen  despot, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. 


The Mosque was built in front of Jakarta Cathedral upon former Indonesian President Sukarno's suggestion, to convey a symbolism of harmonious relationship between the Muslims and the Christians in Indonesia, our guide explained to us. Meanwhile, Tania's chocolate melted inside her bag and as she and Carmel laughed about it, our jovial guide is slowly losing his fun attitude by showing a bit of an agitation. "Hurry quickly, Hurry". 

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Towards the end of the small garden path at the back of the Mosque leading back to the highway, he stopped us and recited his spiel. "I am a volunteer tourism officer, while I took you inside the Mosque, I will ask for voluntary money 20 Euros each ($25)". Wow!, voluntary amount but he specifically mentioned 20 Euros each. At our confusion Tania think she heard 20,000 Rupiah (1.8 US $), so as Carmel was about to give him 60,000 IDR for the three of us, he threw a wild tantrum by kicking an invisible soccer ball and told us "I get no salary just this free uniform" he was on the verge of crying and we felt bad, but at the same time there is no way we would pay him $25 dollars for each of us. 

So I just handed 50,000 IDR - and both Carmel and Tania pitched in around 100,000 IDR more, I don't know much we were able to pay him but he is still in a bad mood on the way out that when he saw another woman he was gesturing "ten only" while the woman laughed at him. 

I guess we paid him $10 as opposed to the $75 (60 Euros) he was demanding. I think $10 is a fair amount for a work that didn't even lasted for an hour and a half. When we reached the road and about to board a tuktuk, our cheery-turned-hotheaded phony tourism officer bid us a polite "Goodbye" and a nod. At that moment he went back to his nice personality, probably realizing he tried to milk us for a bigger amount, we never budged, regardless it's still not worth it to plant a seed of anger on us and vice versa.

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