It is the biggest, most expensive, most polluted, most corrupt, most westernized, most crowded, most lurid, most worldly city in Indonesia. It’s so big, it’s in danger of imploding. It can’t quite seem to cope, but somehow, it does. It’s all there: gloss, fashion, technology, machinery, attitude but… something’s not quite right. Look closely and see that everything is slightly broken, chipped, cracked and skew-whiff. There’s no apparent logic behind its design – it seems to have just happened this way.
It’s a city under constant revision. The signs are everywhere: hopelessly struggling transport systems with endless traffic jams, the super-rich living opposite the very poor, a suffocating confusion of red tape, and an increasingly restless yet apathetic young generation. Jakarta’s map is vast and it doesn’t have a centre as such. With nothing to grab hold of, everything hurtles past in a random rush of snapshots. And people are absolutely everywhere.
Jakarta is all of Indonesia concentrated into a single fat Mother City. Some ten, (twelve? fourteen?) million people call it home, although nearly every one of them originates from somewhere else. From the air, it is still surprisingly green. This is the tropics and it doesn’t take long for plant life to claim squatters’ rights on land unclaimed or awaiting the developers. Apart from a tight area of skyscraping office towers and apartment blocks in the centre and along a few major roads, the city is still a dishevelled mass of red residential kampung roofs.
It’s an entire planet of its own. It isn’t boring but it does depend on what you find interesting. People seem to sit about, hang around, play cards, strum guitars and watch the world at every hour of the day. You see, in this city, there’s always something going on – always something slightly shocking to see. Every day brings a “what-the-expletive?” moment.
© Culture Shock-Jakarta pub. Marshall Cavendish 2007. Reprinted with permission.
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