it or loathe it – there is no middle ground when it comes to the frustrating,
fascinating city of Jakarta.
Jakarta is many things, not least a tug
The issue goes beyond making a living in
the city. Those who are fond of the Big Durian want to stay close to its heart,
through thick and thin. But those who hate it will spare no love.
Just ask Jaya Salim, a restaurateur who
returned to Jakarta after spending 19 years in the United States.
“I can’t stand the traffic. I can’t
stand the people. There’s no common sense toward each other in public. And
there are no outdoor activities. It’s all about malls, malls and malls,” he
After only two years in the capital, he
moved to Bali, where he now runs a restaurant in the Tuban area.
Traffic is indeed a major component
determining the hate factor. According to data from the Indonesia
Transportation Society, each day 5.4 million commuters flow into Jakarta from
the suburbs of Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi, adding to the 10 million or
so already there, resulting in chaotic streets. Put that on the list of campaign
issues for gubernatorial hopefuls, which already include the problems of public
transportation, environmental hazards, jobs and health care.
In further evidence that it really is a
thin line between love and hate when it comes to Jakarta, current residents who
formerly lived abroad say it takes a smart approach to be able to survive here.
“I appreciate Jakarta more when I’m
overseas. What I really miss most are the food, family and friends,” says
Edmund Daniel, a TV presenter who calls Sydney his second home. “I have to
travel a lot to really miss Jakarta.”
Flora Harto, a fashion designer, agrees.
For her, coping with the city means escaping from it regularly: “At least once
a year I take at least three days or a week of vacation somewhere else away from
But Tito Imanda, a graduate of New York
University who now heads the School of Media and Communications at Binus
University, has enough love to overcome the hate. As much as he enjoyed living
in the Big Apple, he says life here is more interesting.
“I like the chaos, the friends, the
family and the challenges,” he says. “Problems in New York City are not as hard
as our challenges here.”
Indeed, challenges abound here in ways
and at levels incomparable to other megacities. Nevertheless, some people say
they are proud to have ways to overcome the problems, even though it is not
always easy. Suffice to say, this urban jungle requires survival of the
One of the survivors is Dewi Suciati,
marketing and communications manager at the British Council. As one of the million
of road warriors entering Jakarta each day from the suburbs (Bogor, Depok,
Tangerang and Bekasi), she would not call her commute easy, but she has found
ways to work around it.
To arrive at work on time, she and her
husband, who works at the British Embassy, must leave their home in North
Bekasi by no later than 5:30 a.m.. The two take turns driving, with Dewi almost
always multitasking in the car, whether sipping tea or applying makeup.
“I usually get off at the embassy and
then hail a cab to go to work,” she says.
She uses any remaining time to run
last-minute errands. “Sometimes I stop by at the Indonesia Stock Exchange
building to get a sandwich. Sometimes I fix my hair.”
The couple elects not to join the
afternoon crawl back into Bekasi. Instead, they spend their evenings at a
nearby mall, watching movies, dining or simply hanging out. Other days, the two
kill time by getting a massage.
“We had planned on getting an apartment
in Tebet, but the price was just outrageous,” she says. “Besides, Bekasi has
all I need, and it’s close to my parents. If we can cheat the traffic,
commuting isn’t that bad.”
Those who refuse to adopt odd commuting
hours find it wiser to stay where the action is. One of them is Febriko
Anggara, a journalist with KompasTV.
“It’s more comfortable to live at home,
but it makes more sense to be close to work,” he says.
Once suffering through a two-hour
commute (each way) from his home in Bogor, Febriko gave up and moved into a kost (boarding house) in the Kuningan
area of South Jakarta. The best part about his living arrangements now, he
says, is the flexibility.
“Staying [in the city] gives me more
time to do things,” he says.
In keeping with the changing urban
nature of this global city, survival skills vary from displaying outward toughness
to maintaining Zen-like calm. If there’s anything permanent about this city,
that would be its perpetual changes. Even the language changes every now and
then, leading to the creation of online or even print dictionaries. All proof of
how it is never easy to be gaul (hip)
in this town.
Studies show that despite its multitude
of problems, the city dubbed as “Indonesia’s overweight capital” by Lonely
Planet remains vibrant and dynamic. According to a survey by the Brookings
Institution, in 2011 Jakarta was the world’s 17th fastest-growing city,
trumping Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Bangkok and Singapore. The Washington-based
think tank also noted positive changes in income and employment rates.
Nevertheless, reality in the Big Durian involves
a smorgasbord of urban problems, on display the minute one leaves the house
Still, for Tito Imanda, there’s no going
back. Jakarta, with all of its shortcomings, is his home. “New York City is
nice but I want to live there when I’m retired. Jakarta is the place to
Things to Love …
This city is a 24-hour food heaven, a
must-try for global food adventurers. With its wide array of selections at any
time of day, from bubur ayam (chicken
congee) to cobra soup, from French cuisine to Middle Eastern delicacies,
Jakarta makes eating fun.
Can’t afford a real designer purse?
Mangga Dua offers quality fake double takes. But if you can spare the crime,
then head to the posh malls.
Never bought one? Yeah, right. They’re
cheap, good and up-to-date. Sorry, Hollywood.
Hate cleaning? Too lazy to cook?
Horrendous traffic? Relax, have someone else do it for you.
Order almost anything by phone: food,
wine, masseuse or even order someone to come help you out. Jakarta makes living
5 Things to Hate …
Unimaginably horrific standstill at
times, leaving motorists stranded for hours even on the main roads. Gets even
worse on rainy days.
MINIS AND MOTORCYCLES
Major enemies on the roads, whose
mission seems to be to drive everyone else mad.
TO AIR CONDITIONING
Can’t remember the last time you
breathed fresh air in the outdoors? You’re not alone. This city is addicted to
Holes on Sudirman, sandbags in Kemang. It
seems everywhere you go, there’s unfinished business left to annoy passersby.
Fear of what they may do next could be
paralyzing at times. But most of the time, it’s the little nuisances that bug us.
Yet another task for the authorities.