A revised, 2016 look at the merits of being a bona fide citizen of the capital of Indonesia
Many, many moons ago, I saw an article on this very magazine covering ten traits and characteristics that are, supposedly, the mark of a “true” Jakartan. Are you desensitized to the stress of being stuck in heavy traffic? Do you have “a black belt in defensive driving”? Do you stay calm when it floods—as in when it really floods with waters reaching your waist? Well, you’re already a couple of steps ahead in the quest to become the ideal inhabitant of this great city.
Still, a lot has happened in—and to—Jakarta during the past few years. So, maybe this old list could use an update, no? If not, then a short addendum to take into account some new observations and some of the most important (or at least significant) developments that have shaped the 2016 version of the Big Durian. So, for this year’s anniversary of the city’s founding, let’s extend the years’ old top 10 list into its teens by proposing that in 2016, a “true Jakartan”:
- … is resistant to climate change.
Well, on a smaller scale than what’s usually meant when the words “climate change” is thrown about. See, since time immemorial, a big part of living in Jakarta is adapting to the heat. And the humidity—let’s not forget that, along with the grit and grime of Jakarta’s highly-polluted air. But, for a lot of the capital’s denizens, daily life involves a lot of transitions between air-conditioned oases and blazing infernos (or steamy saunas—depends on what season it is). This transition is actually a lot harder to adapt to than just old plain heat. It goes without saying that developing this kind of resistance is an important first step to any long term residency in Jakarta.
- … is familiar with Jakarta’s most important culinary hotspots.
So, you know where the best surabi is sold in Bandung or which warung has the best nasi campur in Denpasar—but do you know where the best eateries are in Jakarta? Point is, Jakarta being the melting pot that it is means that there is a lot of choices for even the most discerning foodie, and a culinary tour of the city can be an absolute delight for newcomers and old hands alike. And if you consider yourself an old hand, you better know where to take the newbie eager to sample the city’s best kwetiaw or martabak. And you better know the exact café, warung, or restaurant; simply recommending Pecenongan or Kelapa Gading doesn’t count. (Hint: Of course, you could always grab several back issues of this very magazine here for extra references.)
- … understands the true value of online, app-based transport.
Ordering a ride via your smartphone is now as mundane as ordering takeout, but most people use this option it for their daily commute or when more, shall we say, traditional alternatives are hard to flag down (like, for instance, when you’re pulling overtime until past midnight, when even the hardiest ojek drivers have gone home). An increasingly popular use for the likes of Uber, GrabCar, GoCar, and the like, however, is as an alternative weekend transport option for leisure. Beyond the usual convenience points of not having to drive yourself through Jakarta’s weekend traffic, this option also frees you from the arduous task of looking for parking space (ever seen the parking lot of a popular mall on a Saturday afternoon?) and from the outrageous parking fees. And you still get to be driven around in a pretty nice private car. It’s mind-boggling the way some Jakartans still insist on driving their own cars during the weekend. Madness, I say.
- … knows the rhythm of the city’s incessant traffic.
Developing patience while trapped in traffic is a very Jakartan attitude. A real Jakartan, however, knows the ebbs and flows of Jakarta by heart. He (or she) knows which underpasses to avoid when it rains, and which side streets will remain relatively unclogged when the hour strikes five. A Jakartan knows how to deal with traffic; a true Jakartan knows how to not deal with traffic.
- … has real hope for a better Jakarta.
At first, I wanted to keep this list (or list extension) apolitical and free from any melancholic sentiments. But it seems that lately, hope—as in real, genuine hope—for a better Jakarta has become more than just symbolic. An actual MRT project is well underway, the amount of red tape the average citizen has to go through is markedly declining, and some of the city’s rivers are now clean. This last bit, in my opinion, carries an incredibly important message. It used to be that the mark of a true Jakartan is pragmatism that the city will not change—that the broken and dirty parts of the city will endure no matter what slogan or reform is spouted by the folks at City Hall or the Governor’s Office. But now, it would seem, we see rivers being cleaned; by fulltime sanitation workers; who are paid an actual living wage. And now children are plunging into rivers in the middle of Jakarta, and even the monitor lizards are back!
Life in Indonesia’s capital is still harsh enough to squash any fanciful notions of Jakarta following in the footsteps of, say, Calgary, which nabbed the “cleanest city in the world” moniker a year ago. It certainly doesn’t help that in the Jakartan politics (and Indonesian politics as a whole) “continuing my predecessor’s reforms” isn’t exactly a popular option for politicians looking to advance their own pet projects and make the most of their limited time in power. Still, even with a healthy dose of cynicism, it’s hard not to embrace the idea that now, at long last, hope is once again alive in Jakarta. And a true Jakartan would know that! (JOSH GERARD)
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