Monday, July 18, 2011


When people who have been in Jakarta for some time ask me how I like it, and I say I do, most of them give me an odd look and say, “Really?”

Yes, Jakarta is smelly. The heat and the humidity only make the open sewers that much more pungent and the smog obscures the sun and the stars most of the time. The traffic is godawful and the income gap is staggering. The politicians are corrupt and the cops are worse. Prostitution is rampant; the penalty for a father pimping out his eleven-year-old daughter is seven years, while drug traffickers face the death penalty. It’s a ridiculous, stinky, crowded, wild, weird city. 

As far as I’m concerned, all this adds up to one thing: I’ve come to the right place.

Because dammit, there are stories here. There are stories up the wazoo. Give me an urban cesspool like Jakarta any day over a lovely but sterile city like Singapore. It would be like getting Park Slope as your beat for Craft 1 in journalism school. It’s nice, but what are you supposed to DO with it?


Everyone smiles here – as one former Jakarta Globe copy editor put it, “They’ll smile while they’re mugging you.” And yet I don’t feel like I have to be as constantly on guard as I was in Nairobi. You have to be careful here, but you don’t have to surgically attach your belongings to your person to be reasonably certain of their safety.

A shithole Jakarta might be – locals refer to it as "The Big Durian" (durians are a stinky but tasty native fruit) with a combination of affection and exasperation – but as with any place that’s rough around the edges, the simple moments of beauty only stand out more. As I walk through my neighborhood at night, the muezzin at the Islamic school around the corner wails out the call to prayer while shopkeepers sweep the streets and young troubadours in Nirvana T-shirts play softly on their guitars on the side of the road. As I pass by, they smile.

So basically, yeah. Really. No better place. 




P.S. I should add that it doesn't hurt that Jakarta is just a short plane ride away from Bali. 

 143 = I love you. 

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