Sunday, September 4, 2016

Jakarta: 1986 vs 2016

(Preface to my regular readers - I've written this for a very particular audience: expats in Jakarta)

In 1986, at the tender age of 16, I arrived at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta to begin a one year experience as an exchange student. During that year, I came to know the city fairly well, and by the time I left, I had 'gone native' to a certain extent. For 30 years, I've carried around these memories of my time there, and although I've had tons and tons of other experiences since then, I'll always look back fondly on my first overseas adventure, the people I came to know during that time, and the city that served as a backdrop to the whole thing.

30 years later, I'm living and working in Southeast Asia again, and have taken a vacation back to the island of Java and the city of Jakarta. First time I've visited since 1990. This may sound cliché, but so much has changed, while at the same time, so much has not.

Maybe by giving examples I can make things clearer

Four things that haven't changed in Jakarta in 30 years which I thought might have-

Bajaj (pronounced Bajai): These sturdy Indian-made three-wheeled taxis dominated the roads of Jakarta Selatan during the 80's. If ever you wanted to go anywhere, you grabbed a beat up, orange Bajaj. You could fit three adults in the back, fares were negotiated, and they were just narrow enough to get through some of the gaps in traffic that cars couldn't. I saw one Bajaj in my first day in Jakarta. Just one, and it was blue. Then I got to Jakarta Selatan and went to Blok M. Now that's Bajaj territory. They aren't as beat up as they were back then. They're blue now instead of orange, and they seem to all be licensed and
registered. I took one from Radio Dalam to Blok M, and seeing the driver work those Vespa-style gears, it brought back fond memories.

Metro Mini: Again, transport surprised me. Of course Jakarta still has buses, but it was cool seeing those same stenciled letters “Metro Mini” on the same red medium-sized buses. Like the bajaj, they're not as dented and beat up as they were back in the day, but they're probably pretty much the same on the inside.

Kaki Lima: One of my favorite parts about Jakarta in the 80's was the food vendors wandering the neighborhoods. If you were hungry, just listen for the sound of your preferred vendor as he patrolled the streets and you could have anything from baso, satay, and siomay to roti, ice cream and martabak.
You don't get this kind of food service in Bangkok or Yangon. Hanging out a friend's house the other night, we heard a “TAY!!” from the road out front. “Hey, Joko, would you like some satay?” Hell yes.

Blue Bird Taxis: They seem to have expanded in both market directions, but it's nice to see an honest company built on not ripping people off still thriving. In fact, I've noticed that the beat up, old, yelly “Presidents Taxis” are gone. Good riddance.

Four things in Jakarta that have completely changed or are new since 1986

Gojek & Grab: Again, I seem to be focusing on transport, but I find it fascinating that Jakarta has an app with which you call a motorcycle taxi on your smart phone. The motorcycle taxi is the best way for a single person to go short distances in several Asian cities, but they don't have this app in Bangkok. I think it's really neat.

Becaks: They were trying to get rid of the pedicabs in the capital back in the 80's, but with limited success. I remember a story about how the police confiscated thousands of the sturdy, 3-wheeled bicycle cabs from all over the city, dragged them out into the Java Sea and dumped them in hopes of their acting as the basis for an new artificial coral reef. Instead, local fisherman went out, dragged them up off the bottom of the sea and sold them back to the becak drivers. Now that I'm out of town, I see them here, but they seem to be finally gone from the city.

IndoMaret and AlfaMart: My God, they're everywhere. In my first video of this Java Journey series, I noted how I saw two IndoMarets on ly three doors away from one another. AlfaMart is similarly ubiquitous. Where did they all come from? What impact are they having on the struggling mom and pop warungs? Back in 86, the very first convenience store chain was just to appear: Circle K. They were wonderful as they were the only places in town where you could buy ice cold beer any time of the day or night. Now, neither IndoMaret nor AlfaMart, nor Cicle K or 7-11 for that matter, sell beer.

Hijabs: I can't recall the Indonesian word for the Moslem headdress that women wear, but I think it's Jaelbob... Anyways, back in 80's, few Jakarta women wore the Islamic garb when they went outside. They'd wear it to pray, but otherwise no. Maybe 1 in 10 women out in public wore the hijab. Now, it seems like the majority of women are wearing the headdress. Advertisements on TV feature ladies in the Islamic hijab. I don't know if it's a reflection of a change in culture or a change in fashion, but there's a lot less hair seen on the streets of Jakarta today.


  1. Thank you, for all the information you gave. Interesting. Blessings, Lynn

  2. You sure found a pretty girl to take picture of.

  3. Whoa... that last pic... va va voom!


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