Published by Francesca Perry on November 25th, 2016
Commutes that cause panic attacks – but the kindness of a village community. Jakarta’s residents tell us what life in the city is really like – and why they have such a love/hate relationship with the Indonesian capital.
Throughout our live week of in-depth reporting on Jakarta, we’ve been asking residents to share their thoughts, photographs and experiences of life in the city, what needs to change, and what the biggest issues are. The response was overwhelming – thank you to everyone who contributed.
Best and worst of city life
“The best could be the worse, and vice versa. I once lived in one of the most sterile cities in the world and found myself longing for the crazy hustle bustle of Jakarta. The traffic and pollution may drive you crazy, but one thing that Jakarta will never be is boring.” (Anonymous, resident for 32 years)
“Best: the people (they’re among some of the hardest hustlers I’ve ever met), the city skyline at night, the resident cats, Gojek (motorbike taxi app). Worst: the traffic, the sheer non-existence of pedestrian facilities, the public transportation system, the pollution, the heat.” (Kalista, resident for 27 years)
“The best thing is that Jakarta has never been a city that criticised anyone who took a chance.” (Alwinsyah, resident for 21 years)
“What I love most about Jakarta is how alive it is. It’s a city that never sleeps and you can feel the energy of life whenever and wherever. You can also find all kinds of people in the city, with different experiences, backgrounds and stories that you’ll never get bored, even if you try.” (Aninda, resident for 18 years)
“Jakarta is a city that grows on her residents in spite of, or because of, all the mess and chaos. Of course we hate the endless traffic jams, annual floods, filthy rivers, and creaking bureaucracy. We lament the lack of a rapid rail system and the depressingly small area of parks. Our roads are riddled with potholes and electrical blackouts occur. Our football team hasn’t won the national league in fifteen years, a source of local frustration in football-mad Indonesia.
But beneath all that is the most gracious and kind people, always willing to drop anything to help any stranger with a wide smile, the kind that you’d expect from a close-knit village rather than a bustling metropolis of ten million and counting.
Sure, we mock our own city through memes and on social media. And yet as shown during the Sarinah bombing earlier this year, Jakartans of all creed, colour, race, or religion will not hesitate to pour on the streets and rally against anyone who threatens the city we deeply love with all our hearts. We are a people who have had and will always have each other’s backs, united in our identity as Jakartans, and no one can mess with our city but us.” (Felix Utamah, resident for 20 years)
“I lived in a quiet small town in Central Java and used to be afraid of Jakarta. My mom used to say that she’d actually prefer to send me off to the US than letting me go to the capital city, but in the end she told me to take the risk and go. So I took off to Jakarta to study and yes, the capital does enable me to seize many life-changing opportunities and develop myself for the better. I won’t regret leaving my hometown for what I’ve achieved in Jakarta.
At the same time, the city creates a lot of tension and stress, with very limited or no relief in sight. There are only a few parks, even fewer trees and shaded sidewalks. In short, it seems like the city is only habitable as long as you’re in a cool air-conditioned room.
Then when you go off to the mall or cinemas, you’ll find it even more depressing, because of the big gap between your monthly salary and the cost of the goods you want to buy. So for me, or perhaps many others, Jakarta is one hell of a tough place to live. It does make us tougher and stronger if we survive it.” (Langit, resident for 5 years)
“Bagusnya Jakarta dijadikan sebagai tempat untuk mncari penghidupan yg layak yg bisa saja tdk didapatkan di tempat tinggalnya. Setiap hal pasti ada baik buruknya bgitu juga dgn Jakarta, dimna hampir smua orang brpikir akan mndapat hal yg baik jika tinggal dijakarta. Hal ini tentu sja membuat Jakarta makin lama makin terasa sempit sehingga sulit untuk mendapat kehidupan yang baik seperti mngkonsumsi udara yg bersih dan lingkungan yg bersih dan sehat. [The good thing about Jakarta is that it is a good place to make a living that might not be available in other places. The bad thing is because there are more people coming to the city, it gets increasingly crowded and harder to make a living here and also to have clean air and a healthy environment.]”(Reres, resident for 1 year)
What should improve?
“We need to humanise the city. Better sidewalks, better open space such as parks.” (Anonymous, resident of 32 years)
“Jakarta definitely needs a better alternative to malls, some public space that reaches beyond the limits of consumerism. It is worrying to see that it is absolutely normal for Jakartans to spend time with their children in malls, instilling the mentality that shopping is identified as ‘family time’ or ‘quality time’ and a completely acceptable way to relax.” (Ingrid Tambunan via Whatsapp)
“High housing rental prices near the city centre and horrible public transport services have been the greatest hampers in fully accessing my job opportunities. The safety of minorities is beginning to concern me. Diversity and urban vibrancy are what attract me to live here so I hope that they are not diminishing” (Maria, resident for 9 years)
“One thing I would like to see change in Jakarta, and Indonesia as a whole is acceptance towards other cultures.” (Anonymous, lifelong resident)
“I want to see a better environment in Jakarta. I want to inhale fresh air not the polluted one. I hope Jakarta can be a better place for various kinds of people from different backgrounds, races, religions” (Anonymous, resident for 7 years)
“Jakarta should be liveable for all, not just rich people, because everyone deserves to live in the city. That’s my hope.” (Rana, lifelong resident)
“I would like Jakarta’s government to hold participatory discussions with all Jakartans. Stop gentrifying neighbourhoods, and ask people what they want instead. What their aspirations are. Listen to them, engage them in a dialogue. The government should also help create a culture that is safe for women/trans/non-binary to walk on the street without harassment. It involves a lot of community awareness building.” (Prili, commuter for 16 years)
“Pemerintah dan gerakan masyarakat harus lebih kreatif mengelola lahan, sehingga tidak perlu ada lagi penggusuran yang memberikan dikotomo masyarakat yang berhak dan tidak berhak tinggal di sebuah daerah. Saatnya masyarakat dan pemerintah kota untuk selalu bisa duduk bersama membicarakan hak untuk tinggal bagi warganya. [The government and communities must be more creative to manage the land so that there will be no more evictions that segregate people between the entitled and non-entitled. The community and the government must sit down together to discuss life in Jakarta.]” (Johanes, resident for 22 years)
“I am a regular walker, and I notice this city is designed for cars, not for people. I’ve had some troubles during my everyday walk, either because of motorcycle interruption, or because of the street vendors that occupy pretty much the entire space for pedestrians. That’s the worst thing about Jakarta. It might seem simple, but actually it implies bigger picture, with regard to how to design a people-centred city.” (Nurulitha, resident for 1 year)
“The state of Jakarta’s footpaths (or lack thereof) means walking anywhere is nearly impossible. The number of people I know who have fallen into potholes/drains/gutters/something else (including myself) is ridiculous.” (Kate, resident for 4 years)
Traffic and transport
“The congestion is terrible. But come on, you can find a solution, just take the commuter line, Transjakarta, or just ride your bike. Don’t be a part of the problem, be the solution and contribute more to this planet.” (R N Afifah, resident for 4 years)
“The traffic is just so so so so bad. People tell me ‘Bangkok’s traffic is crazy’, ‘Manila’s traffic is terrible’, ‘You don’t even want to know about Beijing’s traffic’, and all I can say is ‘Have you been to Jakarta? Then you still don’t know what traffic is.’ I love Jakarta. I always do. Even with the crazy traffic. The most amazing feeling is to drive around Central Jakarta at 3am, when the road is clear and the tall buildings are around you. The city lights, the night sky, everything feels so right. In those moments you’ll forget all the craziness from the day, and you’ll love Jakarta again.”(Jeehan, resident for 23 years)
“It is hard to build a social life as it is hard to meet due to traffic.” (Anonymous resident for 15 years)
“I’ve been using commuter trains for years because it’s the fastest and safest way to get to the office. But, it’s often problematic; track disturbances, queues and delays are a routine challenge. Can you imagine, being trapped in an overly crowded railway coach during rush hour, and when the disturbance came, the train stopped, it just stopped, and we don’t know for how long. Could be hours. It’s so uncomfortable. In other words, it’s a nightmare.
I didn’t know I have this phobia, until one day, this panic attack came on. My train on the way home was experiencing disturbance. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe, and my head felt like it was going to explode. I had the urgency to scream and wanted to get out from the coach, but I couldn’t. I felt helpless. Since then, I was traumatised using the train again, afraid that I’d experience another attack. But I also had no choice. Jakarta’s road traffic during rush hour is way worse than that.” (Ficky, resident for 15 years)
“Berharap jakarta bisa seperti kota2 besar di negara lain. Yg tdk selalu mengandalkan krndaraan pribadi. Melainkan menggunakan transportasi umum. Atau mungkin bisa menggunakan sepeda dan berjalan kaki.untuk mengurangi banyaknya kendaraan pribadi yg memadati jalanan. Memberikan dampak terhadap lingkungan dan terhadap kesehatan yang baik. [I hope Jakarta can emulate other modern cities, where people don’t rely on private cars but use public transport, bicycles or even walking to ease the traffic and create a healthy environment.]” (Anonymous, resident for 11 years)
Discrimination, harassment and tolerance
“My wish is simple: that someday I can walk all over Jakarta on a decent sidewalk, without toxic pollution, without worrying that I look Chinese or the fact that I was baptised, without the harassment, whistling or comments just for having a female body. Human rights is a big issue here. We all should have the freedom of choosing religion – or no religion – without feeling threatened. We are all free to choose our sexual orientation without being socially exiled. We should not experience racial discrimination.” (Katarina, lifelong resident)
“I’ve experienced a bit of discrimination, from racism to sexism. As a woman, almost every day I hear some form of sexist retort, usually about how women should marry instead of work or about how ungentlemanly it is for men to be driven by women, even if the car belongs to the woman. Most people view women as inferior drivers, and the word ‘woman’ is synonymous with the word ‘unskilled’ on the road. I find it quite upsetting that people still throw around all these sexist stereotypes and have incorporated it into their daily life to create this huge division between men and women.
As for racism and other discrimination, I think the city, and the country for that matter, has a lot to improve if it wants to live up to its ‘unity in diversity’ motto. There is so much intolerance of diversity. People with different religions, different sexualities, even different clothes are viewed almost as a different species. Instead of focusing on the fact that we are all humans, diversity is viewed as a threat; it makes people so insecure that they have to pick on those differences and force others to conform.” (Vemmy, resident for 20 years)
Waste, pollution and green space
“Maksudnya ‘waste management’ di sini bukan sekadar membersihkan ruang kota, termasuk sungai, tetapi bagaimana meningkatkan kepekaan warga untuk mereduksi sampah dan polutan lainnya. Jakarta masih terlalu sibuk ‘bekerja’ untuk memikirkan limbahnya sendiri. [Poor waste management is not only about cleaning the city and the rivers, but generating public awareness about reducing waste and other pollutants. Jakartans are too busy working to care about its waste management.]” (Anonymous, resident for 12 years)
“There are not enough trees on the side of the road to absorb all of the pollution. As for public spaces, it’s rather difficult to find a park that we can go to just for having fresh air or a sit. The available parks are usually not very nice to go.” (Anonymous, resident for 27 years)
“Unfortunately, the lack of awareness about recycling plastic makes waste management a lot worse. In Jakarta, tonnes of garbage is piled up along the sea coast. Waste is produced from human activities in the city, then flows through nine rivers that flow into Jakarta bay. Waste contamination reaches a radius of around 60km.” (Rahmad, resident for 1 year)
“This land (pictured left) used to be an open field. Now it has become a trash re-sorting area. I find it appalling that nothing has been done related to building a proper, clean, hygienic trash processing plant within the city. If you look closely to our sewers, you’ll know we don’t live in a safe and healthy city.” (Anonymous via Whatsapp)
“Sebagai sebuah ruang komunal di mana anak-anak dari beragam latar belakang bisa berinteraksi secara sehat, keberadaan Ruang Bermain anak di tengah-tengah kota belum dipandang sebagai sebuah isu urban yang penting. Kalau ruang terbuka hijau dapat dianggap sebagai paru-paru kota, ruang bermain (ruang komunal) memiliki peran sebagai hatinya sebuah kota. [As a communal space where children from diverse backgrounds can interact in a healthy manner, the existence of playgrounds in the city has not been deemed an important issue. If green open space is the lungs of the city, playgrounds serve as the heart of the city.]” (Sri, resident for 12 years)
Food and street life
“I have heard rumours that there is a new café opening soon, with its theme being Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Shirley’. I do not like this idea. It is a novel few people in Indonesia will have any knowledge of, or any great affection for. So I suppose my hopes for the future of Jakarta are that there will be fewer literary-themed cafés.” (Sukarno, lifelong resident)