How to love Jakarta?

National Archives Building (Gedung Arsip Nasional). (photo: IO/Simran)

OI – Someone once asked me “Why do you hate Jakarta?” This got me thinking. In fact, I had slowly adapted to life in Indonesia’s capital city after spending time in Singapore for my education. Having lived in a city as modern as Singapore, it is not easy to adapt to life in Jakarta. The ease of transportation and the freedom to walk everywhere there is different from how things are here. Thus, as the saying goes “The grass is greener on the other side” we tend to simply feel there is nothing to appreciate in Jakarta. So, how did I slowly start loving Jakarta, the city, my home? There are many ways to start adoring this city; for me, it was by joining the Indonesian Heritage Society (IHS). This non-profit organization opened my eyes in various ways about Jakarta and Indonesia as a whole.

They have innumerable activities and events to expand your knowledge and horizon about discovering wonderful Indonesia. I started with the arts study group and slowly moved on to joining all their activities including guiding at our Museum Nasional (Museum Gajah). Many of our members start with explorers but that came later for me. After joining explorers, I started to see how lovely Jakarta is. Sometimes, it takes an expat (a non-local) to show us the gems of our own city. Their views and perspectives can open your mind as to how fascinating this city can be.

I shall share some aspects of Jakarta that have helped me see it differently. Hopefully, this will benefit you as a local or expat or even tourist to enjoy our city.

When thinking about Indonesia in general, what comes to mind instantly are “the people.” Our locals are genuinely warm and kind. Their gentle smile will uplift your spirits as you come across many smiling faces in Jakarta. No matter where you are, and whatever situation you are in, they are always willing to help. This is our asset as the people make a country.

Culture and Diversity
Our island, being the central part of the world’s largest archipelago, is diversely spread with various religions, traditions and beliefs. There is a syncretism in both that also makes us unique. The assimilation of the beliefs into rituals and ceremonies forms a balance which matches perfectly our motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” (Unity in Diversity). These cultural influences can be seen in our religion, beliefs, food, architecture and even history. In Jakarta, some ethnicities and places can still be explored to learn a little more about the various ethnic groups that have chosen to remain here. Places like Kampung Betawi (Setu Babakan) to get to know the Betawi people, Glodok to familiarize yourself with the Chinese community or to have a feel of the locals you can explore places like Jatinegara gem market, Cikini area or Rawa Belong flower market.

Recently, it came to my attention that we have more or less 60 museums in Jakarta. The ones that are normally highlighted – to name a few – are Museum Nasional (Museum Gajah), Museums in Kota Tua (Old Town), Museum Prasasti, Galeri Nasional, Gedung Arsip, Museum Tekstil. But, it would be interesting if we could see all the other museums as well. This would of course mean we have something fun to do with our families apart from visiting malls in Jakarta. Not all our museums are well preserved but the information and knowledge they preserve is what matters. It reminds us of the history and what our national heroes sacrificed to build this nation. It also highlights our treasures and artefacts as well as bringing us closer to understanding the ethnicities in our archipelago.

In recent years, our city has started having art bazaars and exhibitions consecutively. This gives us exposure to see our local artists/artisans and get acquainted with our arts scene. We have a huge pool of local talent when it comes to creativity and arts. Events like ArtJog, Jakarta/Jogja Biennale, Inacrafts, and Ubud Writers festival are some main yearly events that continuously inspire locals and attract tourists from all over the world. It is amusing to see how our local artists develop their artistic talent through these events. We also have many art galleries in Jakarta that share artworks from past maestros and current aspiring talents. The galleries are well set up and allow us to enjoy beautiful artworks in a cozy atmosphere. To name a few: Galeri Nasional, Art1, Museum Macan, Edwin Gallery, Ciputra Artpreneur, Hadiprana Art Gallery.

Opportunities and Activities
There are countless opportunities to keep oneself busy in Jakarta. For locals, to own a startup is not tough and pretty reasonable too, depending on ambition. Yes, there is significant competition but many other options are also available to grow. Many non-profit organizations and projects need volunteers and they provide many benefits to mix and interact with people coming from various backgrounds. Apart from other expat organizations, organizations like IHS where you learn more about the cultural heritage of Indonesia, or projects like Ffrash, XS Project, Pan Van der Steur Orphanage are doing a lot to help local society.

Lately, the trend in online facilities has increased in Jakarta with apps like Gojek, Grab and Uber. Being able to have all these conveniences at our fingertips allows us to juggle our daily routines more smoothly without having to worry about traffic. Online shops like Tokopedia, Qlapa, Happyfresh or even Sayurbox helps many of us to shop quickly when in need. This is a blessing for us to be able to have the comforts of getting things done thus, gives us one less reason to complain about traffic.

Explore Nature
Lastly, if you need to step out of city life, there are places that are easily accessible within 2 – 2 1/2 hours of reach by car to enjoy lush greenery and nature. Of course, the travel time depends on when you choose to go, it is advisable to go on weekdays and start early in the morning. Some nice places would be Bogor botanical gardens, Bogor Mekarsari fruit garden, Sentul hiking, or if you would like to travel further up to Puncak you can hike to the Gunung Mas Tea Plantations.

If we choose to keep complaining about the traffic, the weather, the pollution it can be endless in finding all the reasons to hate Jakarta. However, if we try to see how Jakarta can be loved and start appreciating the hidden treasures of this city we may even find it better than Singapore or other countries. When travelling to any country or city the first thing that draws us to it is the history or culture. Being able to smell the past of a city gives us room to explore it even further and understand it too. As a local, I can now confidently say I love Jakarta as much as I love Indonesia. This city and country has a lot to offer and is definitely a place that will make anyone keep coming back to it for more. (Simran I. Nanwani)