Jakarta Jottings

When visiting a foreign city, it’s customary to focus on the notable sights and experiences, the ones recommended by guidebooks, tourist brochures and tours. Yet to confine a visit to just those features can create a distorted impression that ignores the realities of life for many of the city’s residents.

Jakarta has extremes of wealth and poverty. Liveried doormen greet luxury cars that disgorge their owners and passengers at marble shopping malls where the world’s luxury brands are displayed in air conditioned comfort while a few kilometres away, scavenging for discarded plastic bottles can provide an income of sorts.



The photo was taken in Angke an old suburb near the sea. A walk in the neighbourhood is a reminder of the city’s Chinese community, with a stroll past Confucian temples, through the Muslim community by the mosque where the labryrinthine lanes are just wide enough to allow two people to walk abreast. An open door reveals a lounge-room, an open window is a tiny shop, a few steps away someone is washing their hair in the lane. The locals don’t seem to mind strangers wandering about. In fact, there are many smiles. Western concepts of space and privacy are distant.

In this poor part of Jakarta, there are no parks or open public spaces, just the train lines. The people in the picture who were sitting on or straddling the lines removed themselves in time from danger from being run over by the train emerging through the smoke.

Like many developing nations, Indonesia has a serious rubbish problem. Countless generations used natural wrapping and packaging in the form of banana leaves and bamboo that can be discarded anywhere to turn into compost to enrich the soil. Plastics have become a pervasive problem in a society that has no rubbish disposal system. Indonesia is grappling with introducing a fee for plastic bags, hopefully a positive move to eradicate this environmental scourge.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter J.