Living in Jakarta

Jan 6th, 2008, in Society, by

Jakartass' guide to living in Jakarta for foreigners.

A friend of this site, Jakartass, whose blog ranks very highly on the Top 100 list, has done the latest re-write of the guide book "Culture Shock! Jakarta: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette", just the thing for both foreigners wishing to know something of what life in Jakarta is like, and how to manage things once they have arrived, and for already arrived expats lost in confusion.


Culture Shock! Jakarta At Your Door.

Freebie

I received a free copy of the book from the publishers in Singapore (thanks! Marshall Cavendish (and Jakartass)) and feel bound to write a proper review, although as I don't really know Jakarta from my elbow, having only been there at most ten times, for no more than a few days at a time, I might not be very qualified for the job.

The airport, Jalan Jaksa, Gambir station, Sarinah, those are about the only places I wouldn't feel completely lost in in Jakarta, but in reality much of "Jakarta: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette" will feel familiar to those living outside Jakarta, or in any major city of Indonesia, and this makes the book all the more useful and valuable as a reference.

Popular

As of writing the book is flying off the virtual shelves of Amazon.com, ranked at #2 in travel books and maps about Jakarta and #32 in the Culture Shock! series as a whole, which is pretty good going considering Jakarta is not the most popular destination in the world.

Dry

There is a lot of dry humour in the book, tons of it in fact, and this makes the thing much more enjoyable:

On privacy:

Contrary to popular expatriate belief, words for "privacy" do exist in Indonesian.

On Jakarta police:

The extreme tightness of Jakarta policemen's trousers has been the subject of much speculation among the city's populace. What goes on in there? Are they wearing protective underwear? Have they all been routinely "pulled back and tucked in"? The debate rages.

Police are known to set up "routine" road blocks and to stop those cars whose drivers have probably broken some traffic regulation on that road sign hidden by an overgrown tree.

Observations

Some of the more interesting observations about Indonesian life and society.

Indonesians don't look where they are going:

....a lot of Indonesians seem not to look where they are walking. People are consequently forever bumping into one another, crossing streets without apparent care, and blocking stairs and escalators.

In social situations Indonesians are most concerned that nobody gets upset or offended:

Indonesians go to scrupulous lengths to maintain the harmony. If one person is offended, everyone is offended....people say what they think the other person wants to hear...

Indonesians practise what they call basi-basi, or rather "nothing talk", in which they strive their hardest not to offend by speaking about absolutely nothing.....no direct reference is made to another person. ...Very often in Indonesia no one is really sure who is talking to who and what indeed they mean, if anything at all.

Complaint

The author, or authors - because it's sometimes difficult to work out which parts have been revised by Jakartass and which have been more or less left alone - clearly regards environmental issues to be of great importance when discussing almost any detail of the life of Jakarta and Indonesia as a whole. I don't, and sometimes felt the emphasis on "green" issues to be overdone.

One example. The story of the fall of Suharto is begun by talk of "eco-disasters", with the raging forest fires in Borneo in 1997 being pointed at as the first stage of the crisis period which in the end saw General Suharto step down.

Indonesia had become a demon of all things anti-environmental.

Well maybe, but this is of little importance in the story of Suharto's overthrow.

Nitpick

This paragraph had me chuckling a bit:

[In the kampung] even a girl's first lampu merah (menstrual period) is celebrated by the preparation and giving out to neighbours of nasi kuning (yellow rice)....

Lampu merah means "red (traffic) light" and as far as I know is not used to refer to a girl's (first?) period. Merah (red) can mean "bloody" and is sometimes colloquially used to talk about menstruation but surely not combined with lampu (light)?

Buy It

That really was a nitpick though and overwhelmingly this is a well written, well-researched, and very useful guide to living in Jakarta, and Indonesia as a whole. I strongly recommend you to get yourself a copy.


26 Comments on “Living in Jakarta”

  1. avatar Ally says:

    “people say what they think the other person wants to hear”¦”

    My physics teacher ever said: “treat a person as the way he/she wants to be treated”
    And I think the same, but it means a lot of social and psychological study needed then…

  2. The Javanese saw catastrophe as a cosmic sign that not all was right with ruler and the nation. Perhaps in that sense the forest fires were the first signs of trouble…

  3. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Ally,

    Bules tend to have a barbaric mentality and don’t understand the subtleties of Javanese civilization.

  4. avatar Fred Floggle says:

    Indeed we are the Barbarians at the Gates.

    Now satpam, get off your ass and open it, and wash the Benz before you go back to sleep.

  5. avatar Rambutan says:

    Indonesians practise what they call basi-basi, or rather “nothing talk”, in which they strive their hardest not to offend by speaking about absolutely nothing”¦..no direct reference is made to another person. “¦Very often in Indonesia no one is really sure who is talking to who and what indeed they mean, if anything at all.

    This is such a tired cliche. As if Westerners wouldn’t talk endlessly about the weather or gossip about the latest Britney Spears scandal. This is by no means unique to Indonesians. It is just done in the cultural context and maybe difficult to understand and decipher for Westerners.

  6. avatar perseus says:

    Bules tend to have a barbaric mentality and don’t understand the subtleties of Javanese civilization.

    Indeed we are the Barbarians at the Gates.

    Now satpam, get off your ass and open it, and wash the Benz before you go back to sleep.

    ROTFL…. 🙂

  7. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    p.s. Perseus, there’s more to investment than Tattslotto.

  8. avatar perseus says:

    p.s. Perseus, there’s more to investment than Tattslotto.

    Most of my dosh is in Australian Equites and Global Resource Stocks my friend. No Tattslotto, only BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto etc etc… Lotto is for losers…

  9. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Well more the fool you. If you invest overseas from here you don’t get taxed. But it’s true, the Australian companies much more stable than their filthy Indonesian counterparts. Bakrie Resources, one of the stars of the sector, is a den of thieves.
    But why are you putting most of your dosh into a resource sector. Not worried about volatility ? You’ve probably got a house, so three asset classes is a fair amount of diversification.

  10. avatar Jakartass says:

    Thanks for the review, Patung.

    Please note that your nitpicking refers to stuff I left in from my mate Del’s original manuscript, including the ‘green’ reference to Suharto’s downfall. Mind you, I also think you’re wrong to suggest that only two foreigners are likely to come to Jakarta. Have you got both their names?

    That said, please ask Perseus and AS to get back on topic, which is, of course, the further glorification of yours truly.

    BTW. Who or what are Britney Spears?

  11. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Friend,

    Jakartass,

    You are a rare thing: A Bule of wisdom and insight. If I wasn’t already Indonesian, I’d buy your book and read it for insights into Nusantara. Perhaps you’d like to do PR consulting for the Mojopahit Empire when it ascends again.

    I thank you Friend.

  12. avatar Derek says:

    Great review – shame some of the comments afterwards turn so quickly into an “us vs them”, “bule vs pribumi” state of affairs. Shame that. (The book is pretty mean about some of the awful “bule” types you get in Jakarta – if that’s any consolation.) All the best. Happy New Year.

  13. avatar perseus says:

    Achmad says:

    But why are you putting most of your dosh into a resource sector. Not worried about volatility ? You’ve probably got a house, so three asset classes is a fair amount of diversification.

    I have high risk tolerance and most of my dosh is in a broad fund covering Australian Equities rather than Global Resources. I am punting on the Indians taking over from the Chinese post the Beijing Games – when I suspect the Chinese might have a little post-Olympic hangover. That is if they get over losing the cricket. The recent pressers from Rio and BHP lead me to believe the resources boom is more of a paradigm shift than a boom. We have two new Europes on the scene (China / India) in terms of demand for resources.

    You show a disturbing (indeed suspicous) amount of financial nous for a ukelele player…

    I was quite impressed with the performance of the Jakarta bourse in 2007. About 50% growth was it not?

    Not so impressed that I rushed out to buy Indo stocks mind you – just interested and looking impressed…

  14. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Perseus,

    Hard to say on India versus China. There are alot of Chinese who want their MTV and their fridge, and their air conditioner and even just a new rice cooker. All such activities need energy, which, unfortunately for the environment, but good for you, will be mostly coal-fired. Even if the Chinese do have a hangover and just manage to feed themselves, (highly likely), that’s still 2-3 % economic growth, which’ll keep BHP healthy. That’s not even starting on metals, palm oil, and…(ominous music) uranium.

    On the new Indonesia Stock Exchange (Jak & Surabaya merged last year), yes, impressive. Sort of. It’s still a hornet’s nest of insider trading (see latest PGN scandal), and all this dumb money just keeps flowing in. But Indonesia’s hitched to the India and especially China wagon as well.

    But we’re supposed to be yanking Jakartass’s chain…

  15. avatar perseus says:

    That said, please ask Perseus and AS to get back on topic, which is, of course, the further glorification of yours truly.

    I should like to state categorically and for the record as one of the legendary 2 bule prepared to move to Jakarta tomorrow that Culture Shock is a literary masterpiece to be compared most favorably with lesser works such as War and Peace, Tender is the Night and Hamlet and an indispensible guide to how not to offend the locals – who it must be said are pretty easy to offend – especially my good mate Achmad – who I suspect is really a bule taking the piss out the pribumi by pretending to be a pribumi.

    What exactly is a pribumi anyway? I guess if I actually read the book I would know, right? Is is on sale in Australia??

    Is that enough glorification Jakartass or do want it once more with sincerity (as the bishop said to the actress…)

  16. avatar Jakartass says:

    Ah, Perseus.

    Flattery will get you….

  17. avatar Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    Friend,

    … especially my good mate Achmad – who I suspect is really a bule taking the piss out the pribumi by pretending to be a pribumi.

    I can bet my last dollar he is as Javanese as our nasi liwet and gudeg with his indepth knowledge of our culture. Bules just can’t stand it if a well-travelled and well-learned Brown man speak and write better than themselves. Gone were the days of colonialism.

  18. avatar perseus says:

    Bules just can’t stand it if a well-travelled and well-learned Brown man speak and write better than themselves.

    Well my project manager who tells me what to do everyday is brown – Indonesian / Chinese and writes better than I do, talks better than I do, and does way nicer diagrams than I do etc etc and I have no problem with that. Nor with the fact that she is female and younger than me. (I do write better software than she does… Guess that is why I have a job.)

    What I do have a problem with is bigots and racists. I don’t care what colour they are. Being brown does not give you a license to be a racist bigot. Sorry and all that.

  19. avatar perseus says:

    Ah, Perseus.

    Flattery will get you”¦.

    A complimentary review copy??? 🙂

  20. avatar Janma says:

    I’ve heard a womans period called lampu merah before…. it’s a play on the merah obviously for the blood and the lampu merah, meaning stop, meaning men (in the high moral environment of Indonesia, read this as ‘husband’) have to leave you alone for a few days…

  21. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Dear Friend,

    Yes, I am as Javanese as Nyai Loro Kidul, Queen of the South Seas, and Bong Supit, the famous circumcisionist in Yogyakarta.

  22. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    P.S. Friend,

    On the question of Lampu Merah, let’s just say that isn’t not just Biblical Jews who like to “Cross the Red Sea…”

    Va Va Voom !

  23. avatar David says:

    Mind you, I also think you’re wrong to suggest that only two foreigners are likely to come to Jakarta. Have you got both their names?

    You’ve lost me there, where did I suggest that?

    I’ve heard a womans period called lampu merah before”¦. it’s a play on the merah obviously for the blood and the lampu merah, meaning stop, meaning men (in the high moral environment of Indonesia, read this as ‘husband’) have to leave you alone for a few days”¦

    You may well be right and if so I stand corrected, makes sense the way you explain it, although it would then be odd to use it for a young girl’s first one but well never mind. I had thought he’d just got it mixed up with lagi merah.

  24. avatar Jakartass says:

    Hi Patung.

    In your first paragraph you mention that the book is just “the thing for both foreigners wishing to know something of what life in Jakarta is like, and how to manage things once they have arrived.

    That as many as two people may want to come having read the book is just the sort of good news we wanted to hear. It makes the months of detailed research down Jl. Jaksa worthwhile.

    In another review, the book is described as a “page turner”, so it should be fairly obvious that we were aiming at the ‘book at bedtime’ market.

    And lampu merah is a quote from our respective wives, who hail from opposite ends of the country.

    J

  25. avatar David says:

    Ah yes, there it is.

  26. avatar Jakartass says:

    Having drifted back to this page from a trolling site, other visitors here may like to know that I’ve put together a 2nd rewrite. It was published in Singapore in August and should clear customs here sometime soon.

    It’s already been reviewed, somewhat cursorily I thought, in the Globe. But the closer said it all: BUY IT!

    You’ll probably spot it in a Periplus store in a departure lounge of a provincial airport; the only place I saw a copy (yes, just one) of the 2007 edition was in the domestic lounge in Bali. And that copy, which I’d signed, was bought by my English son as he passed through two days later!

    Ho hum.

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