The Jakarta Post
This is not a good time for celebration, but in so many ways Jakarta residents never lack reasons to be grateful for the city, particularly on its 493rd anniversary, which fell on Monday. The city is roaring back to its usual zest after about three months of partial lockdown. People are flocking to sports stadiums and joining the biking rush on the streets in an excited move to reclaim the life that had been taken by the coronavirus.
The war against the disease is far from over. And as people make up the time with their families and friends, there is always fear and anxiety that there will be more infections. Are we doing enough to protect ourselves and our loved ones?
The virus is something we have to live with now. To survive it, we should overcome the fear and count our blessings.
This is a good time to remember that the city has existed for almost half a millennium. It has gone through wars, unrest, outbreaks and regular flooding. It has deteriorated along the way. No governors have successfully controlled the worsening floods and air pollution, or provided enough housing for everyone.
But the city is still the country’s political and business center. The seemingly unbearable challenges facing the city prompted President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to plan the relocation of the capital to East Kalimantan. But even when Jakarta is no longer the seat of the capital, the city will maintain its strategic roles.
And it seems that the city has had all the luck to maintain its spark across the centuries.
Then called Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta was an important port that local kingdoms and foreign forces aimed to control. When Fatahillah led Demak troops to occupy the area, he was in possession of one of the largest trade hubs on Java, to which European and Chinese traders had come for spice, gold and cattle.
Under the Dutch administration, Batavia, as they called Jakarta, morphed into not only a trade and business center, but also a pivot of education with the establishment of Stovia, the first school of medicine in the Dutch colony. Later the school became a learning ground of some of the country’s founding fathers.
Fast forward, as the Java Sea got murkier by massive industrial activity and uncontrolled city waste, modern Jakarta developed its new role as a trade and financial center, with its maritime past forgotten by many.
Having the most advanced infrastructure, Jakarta has taken strides to becoming home to major service industry players in the region, with companies, especially tech ones, relying on its convenience. Jakarta is just a one-and-a-half-hour flight from Singapore, where venture capitals and other strategic firms that control many sectors in Indonesia reside.
When the capital relocation plan materializes, Jakarta will continue to thrive and remain a city of dreams for many, from artists to engineers. The resilience the city has displayed in nearly 500 years of its history will help it survive another 500 years.
Happy birthday, Jakarta. Stay alive and kicking.