Stickman Readers' Submissions December 16th, 2015

Perceptions of Jakarta

After returning to Indonesia to work on a new project, the current readers' submissions series, “Back to Jakarta,” compelled me to think about the changes I have also noticed in Jakarta, and perhaps the rest of Indonesia.

One thing readers should be wary about is to compare Jakarta as really being a window of what Indonesia is, the country is too vast for that. It has over 17,000 islands, a flight from the top end of Sumatra to the other side of Indonesia, Papua, would take over 7 hours, depending on stopovers. It's a huge country, with a multicultural mix of very different cultures, and languages. Jakarta, is simply the so called modern image of this vast country.

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In the 1990s, there were few business and job opportunities outside Jakarta for expatriates, and most flights to the country went through the city, first. It became a thriving hub of expats, backpackers and visitors coming for business. Its nightlife was wild, western-orientated, whilst the government was secular and extremely flexible when it came to Jakarta becoming one of the craziest places for fun, without the chrome bars of Thailand. At that time, the Internet or even mobile phones, did not really exist for most people.

Roll on to the next century, our wired, smart phone world, and open skies policies has meant that Jakarta can be avoided by travelers, with budget airlines reaching even the remotest areas, without the need to transit internationally through Jakarta. And more importantly, the economy has spread out away from Jakarta, to the islands, and provinces, through decentralization, whilst the flexibility of some local governments towards nightlife has sometimes become less inviting.

Jakarta now is modeled on an Indonesian, and Asian perspective of a city. Gone are the tenements, replaced by shiny new shopping malls, and apartment blocks, as s urbanization makes the city spread, and become less centralized. Expats today live hours apart depending on the flow of traffic, and it can be quicker to fly to HCMC, than maneuver through this city on bad traffic days.

Now to the scene:

The expatriate community has internationalized, and given the fact it's easier to work in the provinces and islands across Indonesia, declined considerably in Jakarta. KTV, is more common than western style bars, and the center of Jakarta can be more expensive to live in than Bangkok, KL, HCMC, and Yangon. In some areas rents are on par or in excess of those in many European cities.

Indonesians are in the process of building a city around the Seattle look, with the dream of 1990s style Western prosperity, which has taken the smile away from many stressed Indonesians, who sometimes have to take an extra job, or max their credit cards to even to achieve part of this dream, especially if they work in central Jakarta, and have to commute two to three hours a day from the distant suburbs which has more affordable lookalike housing.

Many women are image-conscious in Jakarta. They believe they represent the ‘modern,’ image of the country. This means looking like the opposite of the average Indonesian, who is usually, dark, thin and nubile to the eyes of most Western men. Instead they imitate Western style clothes, have a fetish with European brands, dye their hair, wear different colored soft lenses, and use an abundance of skin whitening creams, with liberal doses of make-up to ‘hide’ their darkness.

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All this costs money, and takes time, especially if you have to survive in a city were average salaries barely cover living expenses, and commuting to and from work takes hours out of your day, so they look for a suitable provider, whether it's a husband or ‘boyfriend,’ to help maintain this modern image.

The problem is, there are more women than men in Indonesia, and in Jakarta, the ambitious, and the young flock to the city for better paid work, careers and a perceived ‘better life,’ which cannot always be found through work alone, so they have to be extremely competitive in love, and work.

So, there is an abundance of women looking for a partner (with the means to provide their idea of the modern Indonesian dream), or if that fades over time, by supplementing her income through an odd night or two in one of the city's hotels, with an agreed “taxi” payment in the morning.

Our friend in the recent submissions “Back in Jakarta,” claims he is ignored, and surrounded by more successful expatriates. This, I believe, is because of a misunderstanding of the scene itself or perhaps he doesn't fit into the stereotypical image of a well-healed western provider seen on local TV, and through the friends from the West, a ‘modern’ Indonesian girl adds on the social networking site, she frequents.

In Jakarta, for the modern, image-conscious woman, with the Esmeralda look, it's if you have the means to provide, and whether you are a big spender or not. Air Asia, like most budget airlines, pays budget salaries, so the chances are that ‘hot’ girl described in one of the submissions, probably was happy to see her older friend, because he helped supplement her shopping mall lifestyle, and perhaps was a potential candidate to become a future provider (husband). Ask any older Indonesian hands, or local guys, many women in Indonesia do have an agenda, and often it's long term.

Most men in Indonesia do marry, but in a competitive, image-conscious city like Jakarta, the well-heeled get first choice, and as Indonesian women sometimes judge Western men on the stereotypical behavior of what a settled, well-heeled, big spender with a future looks like, through what they see on the movies, on TV or the promises of a Facebook ‘friend’ from the West who simply wants a naked photo of them. If you don’t fit the image, or say the right things, you can be as ignored as the cleaner is in the bar/cafe.

There are other options to chasing or trying to get the attention of an Indonesian woman. Head to the provinces, where women are more Indonesian looking and down to earth, and would gladly befriend a foreigner, or meet a taxi girl in one of the clubs that cater for expatriates, without the excessive entrance fee, and drink prices.

Blok M is the place most expatriates hit after a night in the city. Many girls are usually single mothers, as the Indonesian fixation with marriage, often breaks down after a couple realize life becomes tough on a low income with a child. Like the modern Esmeraldas, they may expect something, and are either in the clubs as a business girl, or to find a foreigner to give them a better life, but often with the right “taxi” fee in the morning, they will gladly join you in one of the city's hotel rooms, even if sometimes you hear in the morning, “I have never done this before.”

All the Best:


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