At the turn of the century my youngest son went South-East. After a number of years he returned and lived with his wife some time in Holland before leaving again. I wasn’t surprised really, because in previous years he had hinted several times he was fascinated by his mother’s native country. Nevertheless I asked myself at the time of their departure: Jakarta? Why? How many artists paid honour to her? Who ever sang to her glory? Has Jakarta inspired songwriters to dedicate a musical tribute to her? Like New York, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris and other blessed cities have for instance? I don’t know but I doubt it.
But I do know a few grumpy critics gave her a bad review . The other day they ranked her as one of the cities you love to hate : sprawling city choked with traffic, pollution, poverty and tourist ‘draws’ largely revolving around random street adventures and an epidemic of malls. Which, I have to agree with Arie Budhiman of the Jakarta Tourism and Culture Agency, is not quite valid and fair . Yet not total nonsense either. I for one feel ill at ease in the ‘plastic’ horror of rampant malls and at the sight of a skyline consisting of arrogant cathedrals of capitalism.
Nor is it the place where you go to economize. The cost of living in a metropolis depends on what you can afford and what choices you make. But if you bring your European standards as contraband with you when settling in the Big Durian you will find life is about as expensive in the tropical capital as it is elsewhere. Comparable to any major capital in the world. Here I learned that you may need something between € 2500 – € 5000 a month to rent a three room apartment. Moreover it’s tough to manage without a car because the city is huge and public transport poor. Fortunately you can buy a modest vehicle for the family at a reasonable € 12000 or € 13000. And food is even better. Cheap, manifold, tasty and diverse.
Maybe that’s done the trick: food is a major issue in my son’s life actually. On top of that his wife apparently loves the city also. Perhaps because she got rooted while she was studying at Universitas Indonesia. And the two of them by the way managed to outsmart the realities of the above mentioned costs of living. So they got themselves tied to Jakarta in spite of details like pollution, malls and other crimes to humanity.
Yet their special luck doesn’t explain why millions of Indonesians and tens of thousands of foreigners are drawn to this hot and steamy melting pot.
I guess there are many reasons. One of them being the fact the metropolis is one of the main centres of the present revolutionary process of transforming and building the world’s imminent Asian future. A magnet of hidden opportunities. A promise of relaxing social control, anonymity and freedom. A laboratory of new ways and forms of art, culture and lifestyle. A breeding ground for liberal thought. And radicalism. Where everything is possible and you can live your dream. Or fail. But failure is abundant so there is no loosing face. Also, scattered over the huge area the city covers , there are oasis and moments of calm and beauty. Yes the city even has her poetic side.In that vein Mousharilla wrote there are times of the day that sometimes make one think Jakarta, hey.. you’re all kinds of awesome darling. Lazy and reluctant like the embrace of a lover too soon separated. Sweet and slow, trails of yellows and blue seeping through a dull grey sky. Buildings standing tall, like zombies unsure of what to do. And just when you think the quiet is too much, the silence is broken by the occasional motorcycle or the shout of a street vendor offering hot, steamy, delicious rice congee.
If I had Mousharilla’s talent I would have written similar lines after staying a month in Indonesia’s capital last year. The climate almost suffocated me, but the city charmed me. I got hooked even – and for a moment I thought I understood my son’s choice.
Jakarta may be a city you hate to love – but she is irresistible.