culture shock · daily life · observations · The Big Durian

Things about Jakarta that piqued my interests since coming back home

Today is day 13 since Sean and I landed at the Big Durian. For me it had been a bit more than six years since I could proclaim myself as a temporary non-Jakarta citizen, and for Sean it had been a bit less than two years since his first visit to this bustling metropolitan city. Some things remained the same, but more often than so I found things that were different, stuff that didn’t exist last time I went home. I won’t categorize any of them as the good, the bad and the ugly, so treat this post as my mere observations.

  1. Macet! Traffic is (and will always be?) around. However, a new rule has been applied to Thamrin-Sudirman area, where I work, in which access to the road is limited during rush hours based on your license plate number. If your plate number is even, then you can only pass the area on dates that are even, and vice versa if your plate number is odd. This rule does not apply to motorbikes, taxis and other public transportation. Personally, I can’t tell if this system is effective yet, since I’ve only started working for three days, but most of the taxi and Uber drivers I’ve talked to think it helped with the massive flow of vehicles.
macet.jpgTraffic in Jakarta can be scary, especially with the amount of motorbikes freestyling as if everyone has a thousand lives. Source:
  1. Things are still cheap. On my first day at work, my lunch cost me Rp 12.000 (around 90 cents) and it was one of the most delicious meal I’ve ever had. The day before, Sean and I went to the mall and saw a bunch of hip restaurants that charge you Rp 50.000 (approx. $4) per dish. My point is, as a middle class citizen in Jakarta you do have the option to live modestly or lavishly.
nasi-ramesNasi rames – rice served with multiple side dishes of your choice. Source:
  1. The streets are cleaner. Well done, Pak Ahok! I know a lot of people do not like his controversial and harsh leadership style, but you can actually see the difference between Jakarta now and then. I rarely see any trash on the street, and there are also less street vendors. It doesn’t necessarily mean I can walk freely on the sidewalks, as motorbikes tend to occupy any empty space to pass. Being a pedestrian in Jakarta = being alert at all times.
  1. Online services are available! Uber, Grab, Go-jek, Tokopedia, online banking. You name it. Everything can be paid online even though the mechanism is still not as straightforward as I’d like. Typically payment is done through a top-up system, where you go to a minimart and purchase store credits linked to your account. Most of the vendors let you pay with credit card, but due to our notoriety for credit card frauds, I often can’t use my Capital One card because it’s linked to a US bank and address. The solution? Use my local bank card, which requires a small device that gives you additional pin number to complete my online transaction. This relatively newly introduced system is not perfect yet, each online service has its own pros and cons, which I will discuss in a separate post later. I’m still exploring them so I’ll need some time to be able to make a fair comparison!
gojekGo-food is a food delivery service powered by Go-jek, the first motorbike taxi app in Indonesia. You’ll see the green jacket pretty much everywhere. Source:
  1. Minimarts are booming. In 2012, 7-11 tried to reenter Jakarta’s market after its previous failure in the 90s. They introduced a whole new concept of minimart by providing seats and tables, microwaved food options, and self-serve coffee stations. In all of the sudden, minimarts have become the new, cool hangout places. Soon enough other minimart franchises such as Indomart and Alfamart, which have been around way longer than 7-11 has, started copying this concept. Feeling trapped in your small kamar kos (boarding room)? Let’s go to Indomart! For less than a dollar, you get cool refreshing iced tea, AC and free wi-fi! Minimarts are pretty much everywhere that Sean even joked, if you need to buy anything, just walk straight towards any direction and you’ll soon find an Indomart.
Waralaba Seven Eleven
  1. Some cities in the US are actually warmer than Jakarta! I could still walk from home to the nearby Pasar Baru without feeling like I’m about to die of heatstroke. In contrast, put me on the street of Austin, San Antonio or Miami for five minutes and I’m going to cut a bitch from heat rage.
  1. There are more options than ever when it comes to consumer goods. Take bottled tea for an example. When I left in 2010, we probably had 2-3 brand options (to my knowledge). Go to the minimart or supermarket now and you’ll find countless brands of iced tea with attractive packaging and flavors. We’re talking about local products here; include the imported stuff and your options are endless. I can’t tell which one is my favorite anymore because there are so many of them! Life was simpler when I was in elementary school as I could just say I wanted teh botol and I would get exactly what I expected – it was the only brand of ready-to-drink tea available!
  1. Alkohol itu mahal, bro! Alcoholic drinks are pricey here. I knew it, I just didn’t know it was THAT pricey. A bottle of wine could knock you back Rp 400.000 ($30), and we are not even talking about good wine here. The more affordable beers (yet still pricey by Indonesian living standard) are available at supermarkets, just don’t expect anything fancy. Forget about IPA, adios hazelnut brown porter! Only certain restaurants serve alcohol, and you have to reach deep into your pocket for that sweet sweet ice cold beer. Having been trained as a professional drinker in grad school, I definitely miss microbreweries and the ability to knock back a tequila shot just because it’s Wednesday. My name is Mesa Tan and I have been sober for two weeks.

I am sure as my days go by there will be more things that surprise me about Jakarta, no matter how small or big. In the end, this city has a lot to offer. You just need to know where to look.


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