Experience in Jakarta


Posted on June 17, 2013 by kimandromy

“It’s the worst place in Indonesia – and Indonesia is an amazing place. It’s the biggest, most expensive, most polluted, most corrupt, most Westernised and most crowded city in Indonesia”. That’s how Terry Collins describes his first impression of Jakarta in the book ‘CultureShock! Jakarta”.  A lot of people have asked us about our experience with the city and its inhabitants, so here it is!

We have been here for quite a few months now and there’s a lot you can say about Jakarta, but it definitely ain’t boring. There’s always something going on and there’s people everywhere. We will never forget our first impression: one big chaos and this would not be an easy city to find your way. However, with the months passing by, you learn that this way of living actually works for the people here. There are many things that caught us by surprise during our first few weeks (and sometimes still do), but most of it has become as normal to us as it is to an Indonesian person.

Jakarta doesn’t have a centre like other capital cities and it might come across as a maze of never-ending streets. Driving through Jakarta is sightseeing by itself: the high skyscrapers are build next to the ‘kampung’ and the rich live across the street of the very poor. We, as two Dutch girls, were definitely not used to this. And it’s busy, really busy. There are traffic jams all day, every day. In Jakarta, traffic is the talk of the day. The way the Dutch always talk about the weather, Jakartans always talk about the traffic. Even though traffic mainly occurs during rush hours, only the slightest thing can create a traffic jam instantly. We, and probably all newcomers, were bewildered by the chaos on the roads and it’s probably the one thing we’ll never learn to appreciate about this city. Unfortunately, there’s simply nothing you can do but to sit back, relax and wait until you reach your destination.


You need some patience in Indonesia, not only in traffic. We’ve found out the hard way that you won’t get anything done if you want your results NOW! It simply doesn’t work that way. For the Western impatient person this can be very challenging. If you have an appointment with the technician at 11 a.m., chances are high that he will show up the moment you want to leave for your next appointment at 1 p.m. We’ve learned that it’s better not to plan anything else for the day, just to be on the safe side.

We are being stared at every day and at first we felt really uncomfortable by this. In Indonesia, a white person is a ‘bule’ and it’s impossible to go somewhere unnoticed. It took us some time to get used to this and it can get annoying from time to time. Yet, after a few months we’ve simply accepted it as a compliment. Often, people call us (and any other white person) ‘Mister’, even though we’re pretty sure we look like girls. It’s most probably the only thing they know in English, especially in the more rural areas.

Indonesian people are very friendly and always ready to help. They are known not to be very straightforward on their thoughts, but it seems perfectly normal to ask personal questions. Kim once got the question if she shaved her private zone and Romy was greeted by her project group with the comment: “You look a bit chubby”. In The Netherlands, you’d be rude asking a question or making a comment like that, but here it’s not considered impolite at all. Very refreshing let’s say! Also, pushing your way into the elevator before others have stepped out is perfectly normal and holding the door open for the pe400px-Jakarta_Skyline_Part_2rson behind you is not necessary. Even bumping into people on the street doesn’t seem to bother anyone. We got used to these daily things pretty quickly, although it still sometimes takes us by surprise when a door gets shut in our face. Yet then again: the many cultural differences is exactly why we came here!

Jakarta is simply a world on its own: there’s nothing like it. Taking it from a Western point of view, we couldn’t agree more with Terry’s observation on living in Jakarta: “Part of you will hate it and part of you will love it. And part of you will hate yourself for loving it”. Some might say it’s an ugly city, and it’s for sure not the most beautiful place on earth, but Jakarta definitely has its own charm. Our exchange period will soon come to an end. We’re enjoying every last moment of our stay here and at the same time we’re counting down the days until our departure.

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