A Haze of Traffic
Jakarta – it’s everything in Indonesia rolled into one. DC meets LA meets NYC. Government, entertainment, and business all in one huge city. Officially the population of Jakarta is around 9 million. But that of course does not count the number of people who commute in everyday and then leave after work and this also doesn’t include the number of people who are unaccounted for. I’ve heard estimates that Jakarta is really 12-15 million people strong and honestly, I believe it. There have been debates recently about moving the capital elsewhere because there are way too many people and cars in one place.
Yes, everything I heard about the horrendous traffic before I got here is true. There are way too many cars on the road. The upside is you never wait more than 5 minutes to get a cab, but then sometimes you sit in that cab for a long time. The motorcycles here are a bit crazy and you really have to double and triple check before you attempt to cross a road. This photo below is common sight here. That’s why the TransJakarta busway is a good public transportation bet – it has its own lane. The downside is there are not enough of these buses and you will be way closer to people you don’t know than you ever wanted to be. But at 40 cents a ride, I take the bus everyday, and there is some mild air conditioning.
That brings me to my second point: the weather. It is hot in Jakarta. As soon as you step out of your air conditioned room it hits you hard. And then there is the haze. If you thought it was a bit cloudy or foggy in the above and below photos, think again. That’s pollution. On the days I go outside and can spot blue sky I smile and am in a better mood. I have a bit of a cough and I think it’s due to the pollution and all the exhaust you end up breathing in when you walk along main roads. This is definitely a city full of sharp contrasts, from skyscrapers to the little village-like areas outside of my kost. I’m renting a room in an apartment-type complex. I have my own room with bathroom, tv, air-conditioning, and wifi. It’s comfortable but a bit sterile. By September, I am hoping to move into an apartment or house with a few friends.
I haven’t really explored very much of Jakarta so far because I have been working from 3 p.m. to about midnight and this past weekend I had to go to Singapore. I am slowly going to start getting into a routine here where I wake up earlier. What I did go check out were some malls. Everyone told me that people here hang out in malls and that is true. I think a lot of this has to do with one simple fact: malls have air-conditioning. The malls are ridiculous. Two huge malls are by the main welcome statue and the traffic circle with all the high-end hotels in Central Jakarta.
They really are excited that you are here:
Plaza Indonesia is an extremely high-end mall. Every designer from Louis Vuitton to Versace seemed to have a store there. The ironic thing is that I didn’t see very many people buying things, which made me wonder how long a mall like this can last? To be sure there are a lot of wealthy people here but there are also a lot of poor people. The contrast is stark from the old beggar woman at my bus stop to the highly made up elderly woman driving a BMW. The contrast is there in the US too, but it is far more intense here. More people now have cellphones in villages here then the number of proper toilets in said villages.
The second mall I went to was Pacific Place. I went there to go to the @america center, a US cultural center that partners with the embassy, for an event that hopefully will turn into a story. This mall had an ocean theme and the night I was there a cirque-du soleil-esque performance was happening.
It seems that the one crowded place in every mall is the food court, where you can sit down in a Coffee Bean and listen to Feist over the speakers and feel like you are back in the US. The really irritating part is that people light up and all of a sudden you are eating and then a cloud of smoke hits your face. I am pretty sure there are laws against this, they just aren’t enforced. And of course who doesn’t want to eat dinner on a boat in the middle of a mall?
This town is sure something. It intrigues me, that’s for sure.