Although I have been to Indonesia twice before (to Bali specifically), I had never been to Java, the most populated island in the world (145 million humans and counting). So I jumped at the chance to visit a friend living in Jakarta (the biggest city in Indonesia) to get a new perspective of this Muslim nation outside of the Bali/Hindu bubble I had previously experienced.
Jakarta is home to some ten million inhabitants and even more motorcycles. The public transportation system is undeveloped, which is both surprising and unsurprising for a large, developing Asian city. This means that there’s crazy traffic congestion and ‘slow chaos’ as my friend described it. Luckily taxis and Ubers are plentiful and cheap (but beware the dudes who zoom by stealing phones and handbags from unsuspecting tourists).
Jakarta is also a city of contrasts – extreme wealth juxtaposed with extreme poverty; slums next to high rises. The kind of place where white, expat privilege gets you far. Where there is still a colonial legacy (Dutch) and where someone with a middle-class income can have a cook, maid, driver and live in a beautiful, safe environment complete with swimming pool.
It’s an interesting time to visit the city before the western capitalist behemoth takes over completely and the little guys – the small, family-run traditional shops, markets and restaurants are washed away in a tsunami of giant malls and McDonald’s. But for now, one can still buy a bowl of chicken curry from the street for less than a dollar. And it will be interesting to see how the culture evolves – currently a very corrupt Muslim country, sex, alcohol, and drugs are plentiful for a local or expat with money. Ridiculous rules come and go (a woman applying to the military must undergo a ‘virginity test’). For a country with thousands of islands and languages, without a tenuous national identify, Jakarta itself is probably like a foreign country to those living in the often impoverished countryside. While I can’t speak about the boonies from my own limited experience, perhaps one unifying factor is the warmth and friendliness of Indonesia’s people. Below are a few photos from my visit to Jakarta, if you’d like to see.