JAKARTA: The omnipresent security was conspicuous by its absence as one seamlessly made his way out of Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport. For a country that is hosting the continental games after more than half-a-century — Jakarta hosted its maiden Asian Games in 1962 — there was nothing to indicate that the country was reeling under its worst terror attack in May and struggling to recover from last week’s debilitating earthquake that left more than 430 dead.
Instead, there were smiling and enthusiastic student volunteers in red T-shirts and light brown trousers guiding athletes, officials and media through the security channels and rendering every possible help to make life easy. If communication was a ‘barrier’, it was quickly swept away by a smile and a gentle bow.
One was pleasantly surprised to see a life-size cut-out of Jawaharlal Nehru at the accreditation desk calmly looking at the cut-out of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. A volunteer explained that Indonesia loved to welcome one and all with open arms and the motto of the Games “Energy of Asia” was aimed at rejuvenating friendship and reinvigorate relations between countries.
The three mascots of the 2018 Asian Games reflect the country’s diversity. Eastern Indonesia is represented by bird of paradise ‘Bhin Bhin’, the west by the one-horned rhinoceros ‘Ika’ and the central by the Bawean deer ‘Atung’. Much thought was given to selecting the mascots and volunteers say the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, personally oversaw the selection of the mascots.
Jakarta is wearing its prettiest frock for the Games. The monuments, its imposing buildings, the high-octane public transport, hotels bedecked with vibrant motifs and giant posters, reflect the mood of the city. And there is a spicy lining too.
The all-pervasive smell of the smoke from cinnamon and clove cigarettes are the two things that hit you the moment you step into the city, so clean that it can easily rival the neatness of the 2010 Guangzhou or the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
The Games Village, that more than 9,000 athletes will call their home for the next fortnight, is a picture of serenity. Amid the hubbub of the city, the imposing complex, resplendent in vibrant colours — each tower is of a different hue — is an island of calm. And the well-manicured lawns and amazing serenity give a feel that athletes will not feel homesick during their stay here.
But there are apprehensions.
Local newspapers still question the city’s state of readiness. Given the fact that Jakarta agreed to host the Games in less than a month after Hanoi withdrew because of financial concerns, Jakarta is looking good.
In stature, the Asian Games are only second to the Olympics and the next fortnight will be a challenging time for the local organising committee.
(By arrangement with HT Media)