Many people love to hate Jakarta, and I suspect it’s because they get a kick out of it.
It’s a flawed city in many ways, from traffic jams, pollution, to the lack of green spaces — sometimes it could feel like SUCH an achievement to survive a day in this city. Nothing drives me crazy as much as when it starts to rain, because that’s when everything tends to get even more chaotic.
There’s no doubt that Jakarta could improve in many different ways, but I think we are living amid that process right now. I mean, we finally got the chance to welcome the MRT this year, after waiting for decades. There’s been a notable improvement in traffic recently, too, with a global traffic index announcing only earlier this month that Jakarta’s congestion has been decreasing over time. As someone who commutes from Tangerang to Central Jakarta and back on a daily basis for work, I think that’s pretty accurate.
Much of the improvement, of course, feels like it’s heavily focused on Central Jakarta. Sometimes, visiting other parts of the city — like North Jakarta, for example–could feel like a whole other world entirely. And I think I would know, since that’s pretty much where I grew up. Not much has changed in almost 10 years since I graduated high school in that area, aside maybe from the fact that the place feels so strange yet still so familiar.
When a friend would come and visit me in Jakarta, I never really know where to take them. We certainly never run out of cool cafes and coffee shops, or some kind of a rooftop bar (it’s like, just pick one!). While many other cities have incredible icons to boast, Jakarta’s Monas could feel a little underwhelming in comparison, and after that it often feels like you’ve run out of options aside from the food options and malls.
In time, I’ve become more certain that Jakarta is the sort of city that grows on you. What makes this city so great won’t be apparent right away, but that doesn’t mean it is devoid of treasures. To not judge a book by its cover, here, might be the best piece of advice to open your heart to the Indonesian capital.
My favorite moments in Jakarta have always been so unexpected and random, often times striking a real chord when I’m on a Go-Jek ride, heading from one point to the next.
I remember this one afternoon just last year, when Eid holiday was on its early days. Most people have already left town by then, so there were notably less cars on the streets and thankfully congestion was out of sight. I was heading to my bus stop, on a Go-Jek ride, and the sun was just about to set. The colors are so spectacularly bold that it felt so uncharacteristically Jakarta. It’s one of those moments that I can still replay so clearly in my mind, for I can’t help but feel so blessed to have witnessed such a rare occasion.
Another instance happened only a couple of months ago, as I was heading home from a late event, when a couple guys played the violin so beautifully at Underpass Tomang, that I first thought my taxi driver was putting a classical track on the car. But no, it was real, it was in the middle of traffic, and it was glorious.
And what about those dinners I’ve had with my friends near Taman Menteng, where we’d enjoy food from a gerobak, hoping it doesn’t rain ’cause that would suck, and just letting the night turn darker as we talk from A to Z? Those are my personal treasures, and I cherish them with all my life.
One can’t say these things are unique to Jakarta, as I’m sure any residents of any city would have had similar moments of their own. It doesn’t lessen the special feeling I associate with them anyhow, and as most of the city’s residents would probably tell you: it’s a city that you love to hate, and you hate to love.
It is also through Jakarta that I’ve learned so much more about my country, sometimes with awe, other times with disappointment. It’s part of the job-description, of course, working as a journalist. But us humans, we can be so arrogant, thinking we know all there is to know. However, as Albert Einstein (and I suppose so many other people out there) once said — “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
Jakarta celebrated its 492nd anniversary on June 22, and there’s so much more I want to say and share about this city I love, but I’ll leave it short and sweet for now. As Indonesia *might* be moving its capital city soon, I wonder how’s that going to impact the future of Jakarta. But even way before that, the city is not without its troubles, one of them being the fact that it’s running out of time to avoid (what should be) a preventable disaster (and I’ve been talking about this for years, smh).
I hope Jakarta will become a safer city for women, may we see improved sidewalks in the coming years, more green spaces, better and more sustainable water access for its people, and may its residents continue to take care of it the best way we could, both individually and collectively.