Anniversary of the Big Durian

44 comments
Asia, Indonesia
South Jakarta, Viewed from My Office

South Jakarta, Viewed from My Office

“I don’t want to work in Jakarta. Living there seems very stressful.”

Those were the words I said to my friends back when we were still in college in Bandung, a big city with temperate climate surrounded by mountains and hills in West Java. At that time my experience with Jakarta was merely short stays at relatives’ houses and visits to the city’s tourist sites, all resulted in an image of a sprawling megacity with gridlock traffic, sweltering humidity and hectic work pace.

However years later in August 2008, after an unlikely twist of events, I found myself moving to Jakarta, nicknamed the Big Durian after the fruit’s notorious smell, loved by locals but detested by foreigners.

One morning on my way to my old office by an old city bus – an ex-Japanese city bus exported to Indonesia – I noticed people’s grim faces. It didn’t take long for me to find out the reason: Jakarta’s 10 million population doubled during daylight as commuters from nearby cities flocked the capital to work, yet the city had no proper public transport system and many chose to drive their own cars, thus the perennial traffic congestion.

“In Jakarta people spend too much time on the roads.” A statement I have not only heard once or twice, but so many times from those commuters. In fact up to this day, many people spend more than four hours everyday commuting between the city and their homes. “Tua di jalan,” – getting old on the road – some say.

Nevertheless, people keep coming to Jakarta and its population growth remains in an upward trend from time to time. Its position as not only Indonesia’s capital but also the country’s economic hub guarantees a constant influx of money both from domestic and foreign investment which in turn keeps the demand of workforce from all levels high.

This year, however, Jakarta sees its first MRT line construction underway, which in future will go through the city’s main business district. It is one of many projects created to make the city more vibrant, competitive and most importantly, liveable. In its 487 years of existence, marked by the establishment of Jayakarta by Fatahillah in June 1527 after taking over the city from the Portuguese, Jakarta remains a magnet for people from all across the country who seek better opportunities.

But every year, during Jakarta’s anniversary celebration, Betawi culture – the culture of indigenous Betawi people which makes up almost 30% of the city’s inhabitants – takes center stage, a rare moment where they don’t feel like second-class residents, but the host of the celebration instead. Festival Palang Pintu in Kemang, South Jakarta, is one of the occasions where Betawi cultures, from traditional cuisines to dances, are best showcased.

Jakarta is an old city with multitude of challenges it has to deal with to keep its edge. An old city which soon enough will turn half a millennium years old. A city I call home for the time being. Happy birthday!

Ondel-Ondel, Jakarta's Giant Puppet

Ondel-Ondel  (Jakarta’s Giant Puppet) at Festival Palang Pintu

A Kerak Telor Street Vendor

A Kerak Telor (One of Betawi Traditional Delicacies) Street Vendor

Adorable Children Ready to Perform

Adorable Children Ready to Perform

Waiting for the Main Show

Waiting for the Main Show

Muslim Women in Colorful Garments

Betawi Muslim Women in Colorful Garments

Men in Betawi Costume

Men in Betawi Costume

Happiness Abound in Jakarta's Birthday

Happiness Abound on Jakarta’s Anniversary

Posted by

Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

44 thoughts on “Anniversary of the Big Durian”

    • It’s wonderful and slightly chaotic, just like the city itself. 🙂 Being in the middle of such celebration made me think that living in Jakarta is not that bad after all.

      Like

  1. What a wonderful set of photos, Bama! Jakarta does have its redemptive qualities, and I do love the raw energy and sense of optimism in its streets. Plus the fact that it is Indonesia’s melting pot. I just hope we don’t get stuck in traffic tomorrow when I arrive…

    Like

    • Thank you, James. I remember when you said that despite the chaotic traffic things seemed to work. Fingers crossed tomorrow is one of those days when the traffic is not that awful. 🙂

      Like

  2. Ahh, public transportation can make such a huge difference in quality of life! I currently live in Nashville and this city could use improvements too. It’s great that positive steps are being taken in Jakarta right now.

    Nice, bright photos! The shot of the girls is really fun.

    Like

    • Public transportation can dramatically increase the quality of life of the residents of a city, indeed. I can imagine people spending more time with their families and beloved ones after work, instead of getting stuck for hours in the traffic. I heard that in the US Portland, OR, is one of the best cities when it comes to public transport. Maybe Nashville will catch up soon. 🙂 Thanks and yes, those girls were a bit shy but also eager to show some dance routines in front of camera, thus making them interesting to watch.

      Like

      • Funny you should mention Portland because that’s one of the cities I am considering relocating to! The next place I move must have good public transport. I got really stressed out when I was forced to commute by car. It’s true, people have so much more time to spend time with others and it is also much better for the environment when they can use public transportation. And even if the ride is long, at least you can do something else like read, which you can’t while driving! There is a proposed rapid transit bus line here in Nashville, but actually the project is quite controversial, unfortunately.

        Haha aw, well they have great expressions in the photo. You caught a good moment!

        Like

      • That’s so true. There was a time when I drove my car back home and got stuck in the traffic jam for more than two hours. I started listening to the radio, then singing, then snacking, until I got extremely bored. I could have used my time for something else more useful and productive. Hopefully you’ll find yourself moving to Portland sooner than later then! 🙂

        Like

  3. It’s very nice to see some more intimate scenes of Jakarta, Bama – especially featuring the dress of the region’s indigenous people. It’s amazing, and wonderful, that cities like Jakarta – (with 10 million people, nearly half of the entire population of desolate Australia) still have wide expanses of green open spaces, and the will to maintain local culture. Love that phrase, “growing old on the road” – how completely apt. 🙂

    Like

    • That festival is one of those moments where Jakarta is filled with outburst of colors, and when Jakartans are reminded that the city they live in has layers of cultures and social fabric waiting to be explored. It’s indeed nice that Jakarta still has patches of greenery and I do hope that despite the constant demand for new buildings the city will keep a healthy ratio of buildings and parks. We do grow old on the road here. 🙂

      Like

  4. I love this post! Your photos are so lively! It’s nice to see this city from different angles. I’m looking forward to read more of your posts…

    Like

    • Merci Lauriane! To be honest Jakarta is not the prettiest city of all. But it’s like an onion, the more you open its layers, the more interesting it becomes. 🙂

      Like

  5. Well said Bama, and great colourfull pictures of the ladies – especially the little ones….

    Like

  6. Packing my Suitcase says:

    How interesting! I didnt know half of it… I imagined Jakarta totally different, and really to see with my own eyes 🙂 great post and happy birthday to Jakarta!

    Like

    • It was such an interesting festival, indeed. I wish the city has more of such colorful events throughout the year to enjoy. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  7. Renee says:

    I love the color in all of your photos! Maybe Jakarta isn’t all green, but you sure do have a beautiful view from your office. Four hours on the road each day is brutal, so the public transportation will be a welcome relief for many. I do hope the city is able to keep as many green spots as possible as it works to make things more livable for those to live and work there. Nature can do wonders for the soul.

    Like

    • Thank you for your kind words, Renee. That first photo was taken on one of those rare days when the skies were blue and I could see the mountains behind. However most of the day it’s hazy here, although not quite at the level of what Beijing and Delhi have. I agree with you about what nature can do. It’s essential for us yet more and more green space is sacrificed in big cities in the name of development, although that mindset is slowly changing as people are becoming more aware of its benefits.

      Like

  8. I’m glad to see the rich traditions continue – your photos make us want to attend this vibrant and exciting festival!
    Your observations about changing attitudes and willingness to be flexible and adaptable are important for all of us to remember! An open mind opens many doors.

    Like

    • Me too, Marilyn. It’s very encouraging to see how Betawi people preserve their culture despite the rapid development and change in the city they call home. Humans are known to adapt really well in any situation. One of the best examples of this is the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong which housed more than 33,000 residents in a plot of only 2.6 hectares. Thanks Marilyn, I hope one day you’ll see the festival yourself! 🙂

      Like

  9. A lovely birthday tribute to your city Bama. We share many a common trait, including ‘the getting old on the road’ bit! I hope to come and experience all of this in person sometime soon. Happy birthday to Jakarta! And have a great time you two 🙂

    Like

    • I guess Indian and Indonesian big cities share many common traits – something I would love to experience myself one day when I go to India. Thanks Madhu! Around this time James should be already at the airport, ready to board his flight to Jakarta. Tomorrow morning we’ll be leaving for Flores, an eastern Indonesian island with the length roughly half of Java.

      Like

  10. Wow! Wish I had been in jakarta for that!! I sooo agree about the traffic… friends of mine get up at 4:30 to get to work.

    Like

    • Try to come in June the next time you visit Jakarta, that’s when the city is enlivened up by Betawi cultural celebration. I know quite a lot of people who leave their homes at 4 in the morning and get back home at 10 pm. So inhumane I must say. Many stay with the jobs they currently have, but some decided to quit their jobs and find a new one which is closer to home.

      Like

  11. Halim Santoso says:

    Lived in Jakarta means “Tua di jalan”, agree with that…
    Itu juga satu alasan saya enggan tinggal di sana seperti pemikiran awalmu, Bama.
    Salut ama dirimu bisa bertahan di sana sampai sekarang hehehe…

    Like

    • Hi Halim. Iya, kadang heran juga bisa bertahan selama ini di Jakarta. It’s been almost 6 years now. 🙂

      Like

  12. Saya selalu ketakutan kalau harus stay di Jkt. Belum2 udah ngga betah baca2 beritanya. Sampai sekarang masih sih, tapi…kadang kalau ketemuan di sana sama teman2, atau orang2 yg baru saya kenal, semua baik2 aja tuh. Org Jkt ngga sejahat yg saya kira 😀 *maap atas pengakuan kampungan ini ya 😛 *

    Like

    • Hehe, saya juga dulu mikir Jakarta itu kotanya sangat gak manusiawi (which is masih benar sampai sekarang untuk beberapa hal), orang-orangnya aneh (beda sama orang daerah), dan hal-hal negatif lainnya. Tapi setelah hampir 6 tahun hidup di Jakarta lama-lama terbiasa juga sih. Malah cukup menikmati menjadi bagian dari kota ini (mudah-mudahan bagian yang memberi dampak positif). 🙂

      Like

  13. Ari Vanuaranu says:

    I share your sentiment, as I also spent my college years in Bandung. I am from a small town, so everything about Jakarta is just too much for me. But as an Indonesian, I also wish the best for our capital city.

    Like

    • Indeed. No matter how much we hate Jakarta’s perennial gridlock traffic and pollution, it’s a city we all love and take pride in.

      Like

  14. Lovely photos, Bama.
    Well yes, that’s Jakarta.
    The more people hate it, the more people will love it too.

    Like

    • Many thanks, Wien. Actually now I kind of like Jakarta more than the first time I came here six years ago. Did I just say six? Wow, I didn’t realize I have been living in this city for that long. 🙂

      Like

      • The pleasure’s been all mine. Well you aren’t alone, I’ve lived here for almost ten years, haha.. And apparently, I think I have to agree with your statement that I kind of like Jakarta more than the first time I came here 🙂

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s