Monday, May 19, 2003

The Joy of Jakarta

What is it about Jakarta that I like? The streets are dirty, the canals stink and the traffic horrendous. Why do feel a surge of happiness everytime I land at the Soekarno-Hatta airport and get into a Silverbird taxi?

It is easy to list out all the negatives about Jakarta. Many are afraid to even step foot here, thinking that it is a dangerous place with frequent riots and pipe bombs exploding everywhere. It is definitely a polluted city and the general standard of hygiene is poor. There are also a lot of beggars and aggressive street vendors loitering the streets, making the new visitors here feel unsafe.

Surprising there are also some positives which are often overlooked by the casual visitor. The taxi service here is much better than those found in many cities in Asia, especially if you go for the Bluebird or Silverbird cabs. One can always find taxis anywhere in the city and they will generally use the meter (unless it is one those predatory cabs waiting outside on those discotheques late at night). The fares are the cheapest in the region too; you can hire a cab for the whole night out in town and the Silverbird limousine driver will wait for you dilligently outside your favourite night spot. Even with the meter running the whole night, it probably will not cost you more than 200,000 rupiahs (which is about 20 over USD).

For those who drive, finding parking spaces is a lot easier here too; mainly because there are always the ubiquitous attendants who really earn their 2000 rupiah tips by guiding you through the traffic chaos and help you tuck your car into the tightest of parking spots.

Some might not agree with me, but I think in general public toilets here are cleaner than those you can find in KL! I am talking about toilets in malls, theatres and restaurants. This is because there are enough workers to constantly clean and maintain these essential places. In Malaysia, public toilets are an after-thought: they are maintained almost reluctantly by half-hearted and weary-looking workers. Labour here is cheap and are available in abundance. As such, the service you'll receive in any commercial establishment are generally better because there are always more than enough workers and everyone specializes in doing a few specific tasks.

Jakarta is also very expat-friendly with many amenities that caters specifically for the foreigner. How is that different from other cities in the region, one may ask? The difference is that in cities such as KL or Singapore, there is a huge local middle-class population, hence the so-called up-market amenities are not so "exclusive" in a sense because they cater to a wider public who can afford such amenities but not necesarily demand the same refined standards of the upper classes. Here in Jakarta, upmarket generally means the snobbishly exclusive upper middle-class and above.

But are these the reasons that make me like Jakarta? Definitely not. It is actually the people, the culture and the history that fascinates me endlessly. But this will require another blog entry for me to elaborate.

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