Jalan Jaksa Under Threat

Mar 28th, 2008, in IM Posts, Opinion, Travel, by

Ross fears that Jalan Jaksa in Jakarta is going to suffer re-development.

Jalan Jaksa at Risk?

Last month I had a chat with an expat on Jalan Jaksa who told me he'd seen plans to develop the famous little street, including a huge hypermarket on its corner with Jalan Wahid Hasyim.

I should state at this point that the talk occurred during my once-a-week afternoon visit, when - contrary to wishful thinking among hostiles - I have three or four beers and head for home before nightfall. So it was a clear-headed chat, not one of those rambling discourses that ensue as the night rolls towards chucking-out time.

Jalan Jaksa
Jalan Jaksa.

Has anyone else heard of this proposed development?

It would change the character of Jaksa, which is one of the few places in town where non-rich bules can enjoy a beer at a reasonable price. A Carrefour-type emporium would have a knock-on effect, bring in glossy catering outlets and quite possibly squeeze the little cafes out of business. Even now, there is a quite posh hotel under construction at the far end. Doesn't Jakarta have enough such plush institutions- let's leave Jaksa for the back-packing kids to save their pennies at.

I have to admit a certain fondness for the street. On my first night in Jakarta, quite a number of years ago, I was dropped there by a taxi-driver to whom I'd managed to communicate my need for cheap accommodation. As I was about to enter the Hotel Jhody, - a snip at Rp 40,000 per night - a small man rushed up and warned me not to waste my money.

"My place very good, only Rp 20,000, free coffee in the morning!"

Too weary from a twenty-hour plus flight to argue, I accepted this gracious offer, and ultimately found myself in a room with a grotty mattress on the floor, a broken window and a fan whose power was waning even as I switched it on. I also of course had to figure out how to use a kamar mandi (Indonesian bathroom). Not a great start, nor did the free coffee materialise the next day!

However, I followed my nose and discovered the Hotel Tator, not five-star (Rp 45,000 per night) but clean, and a real bed, and honest, helpful staff. Although too timid to venture far, Jaksa became my home for just over three weeks, till I got more permanent accommodation.

During those twenty four days, I didn't have a TV in my room, but hardly needed it. The pavements beyond the Tator, and the establishments which crowded along them, afforded me not only visual entertainment but also useful insights into what lay in store for a "new kid on the block".

Thus, while aware that time does not stand still, with new joints opening up and others undergoing regular re-incarnations in new guises, I'd be sad to see Jalan Jaksa transformed into a glitzy, upmarket shopping centre.

It has been said, by back-packers passing through, that the milieu there evokes images of Mel Gibson's movie, "The Year of Living Dangerously". I'm not sure if that is an accurate impression, for I was elsewhere in 1965, but Jaksa IS different. Can an "atmospheric preservation order" be enacted as one of SBY's lasting legacies?

148 Comments on “Jalan Jaksa Under Threat”

  1. avatar Oigal says:

    Interesting the post has diverted into BULE street..

    Oh well, I agree with most here there are bigger things to get stressed about but the differences in perception are interesting. I don’t think anyone gets annoyed when the young kid from the kampung uses the term but why is it the more educated people seem to be annoyed if after they refer to me as “Bule” I then refer to them as chocolates or Indons? After all its only a colour.. or short for Indonesian..

    …ok..ok..I know..you don’t have to bother..the above is just to make a point.

  2. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:


    Don’t think anyone’s getting offended. It’s just a matter of thinking about what words mean, and what language means, something Indonesians didn’t do alot of for 32 years. (Alot of people who did ended up in ditches in ’65-66).

    But sorry – you said it – Bulemeans white skin, therefore by definitionit’s a racist term. Whether or not racism’s good, bad, or whatever is another issue entirely.

    Perhaps you don’t mind being called Si Coklat or if you were in a predominantly Anglo-Saxon culture, being lumped together with Indians, Fijiians, Papuans, Moroccans, African-Americans and called “Brownies” ?

    Now there are bigger issues in the world, but we’re really talking about what words and language means.

    No problem, ‘kan, Si Coklat ?

  3. avatar Janma says:

    I know we are trying to keep on topic, but it seems we aren’t, so here goes…..
    Rima said,

    one more thing that i forgot to write her, the term ‘londo’ is actually a bit harsh. it’s not very polite. my mom is half dutch, the mixed people of her generation did not feel comfortable when people use this word to describe them. the connotation of ‘londo’ is similar to that of ‘kumpeni’ which refers to dutch imperialist, those who invaded and tortured indonesians.

    I agree, to me the word Londo is worse in some ways than bule because it denotes a colonial past and lumps us in with the imperialists and to be frank that has been over for a few decades now, and I am NOT dutch! I don’t particularly like the word bule either, how would it be if I went around calling Indonesians ‘brown boy’ or ‘chocolate chick’?
    As for Indonesians not perceiving the word to be offensive…. that’s no surprise…. for all their reputation of being ‘polite’ I don’t think INdonesians are very polite….. they stare, they ask personal questions and they teach their children to stare at anyone who is different….. sometimes I feel like I’m in a zoo. YOu’d think after 20 years I’d get used to it… but I hate it…. mostly I pretend I can’t speak indonesian just so I won’t have to go through the barrage of questions….. “dari mana, udah berapa lama, udah punya suami, suami orang mana? udah punya rumah sendiri? Villa ya? Anaknya berapa? Koq yang itu coklat yang itu putih!? and so on and so on…. drives me mad!
    Do indonesians ask random indonesian women these questions before they even know your name? Or is it just something they reserve for ‘bule’s’?!

    Now, about Jalan Jaksa…. couldn’t give a toss…. the place is a dump.
    About the duel……. that’s cool…… can I be your 2nd Ross? If it gets too intense, I can chop your head off for you.

  4. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:


    Pretending to be insane might be fun.

  5. avatar Farah says:

    @ achmad
    I wont mind called brownies, cause its a fact, and made me sound exotic. And it doesn’t always means negative. So if i were brown (i am actually more yellow), and the other person is white then they were white. Its not i made certain words with bad meaning.
    Like Rima said.. i also called local, indonesian people that had lighter skin with also not black hair as bule too.
    I think its the same like american calls their citizen as afro-american. Cause they were africa breed but born in USA. Its not all about color.
    I think people call bule to a white person cause mostly they don’t know them. But if they know their name they wont call that person bule again.
    Cause that what i do, i say that bule, this bule… but after know the name i would call them with their name. But once again, i don’t mean to offend anyone that had the different skin or race or anything, just because the unknown. I believe other people do think this way too. If they know that bule name e.g John or Jane they wont call them as “hi bule !” they would say “hi Jane/John”

    Jalan Jaksa.. i’ve never been there 🙁 , heard alot.. but.. its too bad cause its already part of Jakarta for so long ! but if its for good… i mean i don’t live in Jakarta don’t know what Jakarta people want. But its just too bad.. its where the culture mixed.. that small part of Jakarta like the chinatown of the westerns (errrhhh could i say so ??).

  6. avatar rima says:

    my last post, still OOT and i agree that there are bigger issues, but was just replying to Achmad (if I’m not mistaken) who first mentioned how negative ‘bule’ is in the first place.

    @Achmad: like I said before, for Indonesians (reading your posts I assume you are not one) the word bule means fair/light skinned, caucasian. so it is normally used to describe caucasians, albino or eurasians.

    @oigal: I agree, it seems that people are bothered when the educated Indonesians use this term. when kampung boy uses it, nobody minds. that’s just double standard, which is funny because both educated and kampung boy have the same intention when using this word, which is nothing sort of derogatory at all. it’s like how malaysians/bruneians use the word ‘orang putih’ (white people) for caucasians. not derogatory, just a matter of factly and that has been forever their term for caucasians.
    I don’t mind the word indon, it’s the same case as bule. that is the word they (the malaysians and bruneians) use to describe orang/produk/makanan indonesia. it’s the orang indonesia themselves that’s fussing about it and taking it out of context.

    @Janma: don’t be surprised. that is our culture. people who barely know me asks me things like, “aduh, sudah kawin 5 tahun kok belum punya anak. kapan dong?” as if it’s any of their business. that’s just how indonesians are, our version and standard of politeness differs quite greatly than it is of the west. and we do it not only to ‘bules’ but also to indonesians.

    now, about jalan jaksa. what else is new? they tore down most old buildings, even historic and pretty ones, and replace them with ugly modern buildings, so it’s about time they do the same to jalan jaksa. it’s a shame though, i used to drive by it once in a while just to see how different it is from the rest of the city. but i have to admit, i have never once stepped out and enjoy a drink or whatever in any of the establishments there.

    jakarta will be a city of 1000 malls pretty soon, and that will be our tagline for the visit jakarta campaign. i went back to jakarta after 5 years in 2006 and was really like an orang kampung. in 5 short years, jakarta has really changed, and sadly, the change was that of new malls and night clubs. ooh, and more banjir!
    sedih jadinya.

  7. avatar Ross says:

    Why, thank you Janma, how kind of you to offer! But I don’t think we need to have seconds, or even dessert.
    As to a prize, could I suggest –
    First Prize- a night out with Achmad and me.
    Second Prize – two nights out with Achmad and me. Etc.

    Okay Achmad, if you wish to retain your secret identity, up to you, though perhaps somebody will catching you changing in a telephone booth. Most of those interested already know mine, so it matters not to me. And feel free to introduce animals into the debate. I have a cat which evidently feels safe enough to watch dangdut telly from my lap.

    Patung- Yes, if you wish to start a special thread, no worries…..if Achmad is agreeable, let him pull the trigger on Saturday, then I have till Tuesday to respond, etc., assuming I am still standing – which takes me back to Timdog’s suggestion that A and I are unknowingly drinking buddies.
    Unlikely, but the ‘very worst kind’ of expats are usually the ’embassy crowd,’ not English teachers.
    Having met the swish sorts at the odd reception, I find them very cliquey, with some nice exceptions.
    The Jaksa squad encompasses very nice folks and utter ratbags, with all types in between. None, or almost none, of them are stuck-ups, and they mix very easily with Indonesians. Often they are married to locals. And nobody takes exception to being called a ‘bule.’

  8. avatar Oigal says:

    because both educated and kampung boy have the same intention when using this word, which is nothing sort of derogatory at all.

    I would venture to disagree, the kampung lad is just doing what he has heard ohters do, the educated (not all but a lot) is doing that very subtle put down, compete with the wet smile.

    As I said tho, I enjoy the term, as when used in my presence in that manner gives me the perfect excuse to start referring to Om Chocolate over there…and the higher their supposed status they are, the more off side they get..

  9. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    @ Ross — have to think about it. 🙂

    @ Farah, Rima: for the third time.: Bule is racial. I’m saying that in just a descriptive sense. I’m not making a judgement about racial terms. Whether or not you think being racist is negative depends on your values.

    Finally, I am a proud Indonesian poet, pencak silat master, ukuele player and dangdut singer !

    Merdeka !

  10. avatar Farah says:

    @ Achmad
    Thanks for the ur 3rd reminder.
    Everybody had their own opinion and reasons. Tak kenal maka tak sayang, thats what people say, for me bule is bule and as long as i don’t know them i’ll call them bule for any guys or girls with white skin, fair or pale skin wether they were indonesian, arabic, western, etc.
    My bosses are Canadian, Australian, American, also from UK and they don’t mind sometimes called bule, ’cause they are bule as they called us locals, and thats not hurt us either, cause thats what we are. Bule worker and local worker, my bule boss and my local boss 🙂 thats as example.

    Racist is more than words its also follow by actions. Thats what i think. But i bet you already know about this.

    Its just the way you see it i think, and I do agree with you in that.

  11. avatar rima says:

    @ahmad: yes, thanks for the 3rd reminder. us locals are a bit daft sometimes when it comes to anything written in english. but i now get the point.

    @farah, funny you should say that. locals, that’s one word expats use to describe us.

    my ex and several expat friends use to tell tales to each other, while i listen, and I quote ‘those incompetent locals’

    it seems, some expats in indonesia use that innocent term ‘locals’ in a derogatory manner. i am now confused of what to call people and what to feel when someone calls me a or b or c :p

  12. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    @ Rima — that’s really “below the belt” as they say in the West. “Us locals are a bit daft,” now you’re implying some sort of racist motive on my part. (Even though I am a pencak silat instructor from Purbolinggo).

    @ Farah, same thing, “those incompetent locals.”

    Both of you are now resorting to innuendo and name-calling (something I normally do), to avoid the main topic.

    It’s something George Orwell, Ayu Utami and Goenawan Mohammad have written about: the power of words and names.

    Names, words, language have a power of their own.

    So, yes, a 4th reminder:

    Bule refers to race.

    Therefore it’s racist.

    Now it might be benign racism in this case, but it’s still race. One of you said you didn’t mind being referred to as a “brownie,” but I can’t guarantee the average African-American graduate student in the U.S.A. or Arab in the U.K. would be as keen.

    Alot of Indonesians don’t mean anything nasty when they say “bule”. But then again neither did Tom Sawyer mean anything bad when he talked about his “nigger” friend Jim.

    Try saying Nigger in New York.

  13. avatar Rob says:

    Sounds like Timdog has some inside information on the true identities of Achmad and Ross…

    Care to share?

  14. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:


    As mentioned, I am a pencak silat instructor, poet, ukuele player and dangdut singer from Purbolinggo.

  15. avatar rima says:

    no ahmad, you are not indonesian. you have managed to try to appear like one, but in some of your posts, your lame attempts to use indonesian terms are laughable and clearly shows you are not one of us. sorry.

  16. avatar rima says:

    ah, and it was me, not farah who said:

    my ex and several expat friends use to tell tales to each other, while i listen, and I quote ‘those incompetent locals’

    and that sentence above should be followed by:

    that term was used a lot in several variations, incompetent locals, stupid local men, local ayams etc.
    it wasn’t pretty but that is what i remembered from my experience.

  17. avatar Rob says:


    I get the pencak silat instructor, poet, ukuele player and dangdut singer from Purbolinggo thing but why is it that people still do not believe this to be your true identity?

    As I have said it does not really matter to me what your true identity is but that said it would be fun to know if you really were a pencak silat instructor, poet, ukuele player and dangdut singer from Purbolinggo!


  18. avatar Murphy says:

    Achmad said:

    As mentioned, I am a pencak silat instructor, poet, ukuele player and dangdut singer from Purbolinggo.

    It’s your lucky day. Google said that there is a real village called Purbolinggo in Lampung, Sumatra.

    Otherwise I’d swear you’ve just blown your cover. No real pribumi will mix-up Purbalingga with Probolinggo.

  19. avatar ausdag says:

    Rima et al,

    Here’s what I thing of the term Bule plus the comments which follow. Went to Jaksa for the first time in my two-year stint in Jakarta. Granted, it was a Sunday morning, but I was really wondering what there was to it.



  20. avatar rima says:

    Hi David,

    Ok, I must admit, I automatically linked the word ‘racist’ with offensive. Now I agree, just because it is not offensive, it doesn’t mean it’s not racist.

    But why did I respond to this word in the first place?
    Because Mr. Ahmad Sudarsono, the pencak silat instructor/poet/ukulele player from Purbolinggo said:
    Hi Rob,

    Just saying thats’ what Bule means “” and that it’s quite an ugly word. There are other, better terms, like “Londo” or Orang Barat.

    (which is a common point of view of a non-Indonesian. Indonesians in general would think ‘Londo’ is harsh, and ‘bule’ harmless)

    So all this discussion and debate about ‘bule’ is because of that. (also in unspun’s blog, in which i wrote similar reply before i did here)

    So David, thanks for the very informative post in your blog about this.


  21. avatar timdog says:

    Ausdag, that’s an extremely well-written and well-argued piece, and I agree with most of what you say, though as I mentioned above, I personally don’t get offended by the use of the word. I wonder if my attitude towards the word may have something to do with post-colonial guilt… perhaps, at some subconciouss level I feel that us bule have no right to complain about being labelled with a fairly inocuous word…

    Murphy, dammit, I thought he’d made that mistake too, and that he meant Probolinggo (coming from that allegedly mystical and sexually potent place would fit well with the image he constructs for himself), but apparently Purbolinggo exists… but wait a cotton-pickin’ minute! I’m sure Achmad has claimed to be Javanese in the past, no? and Purbolinggo is in Sumatra… perhaps you have got him after all…

    Rob, my inside information on the true identities of our dualists is down to the fact that I am in fact, despite posing here as a bule, a remarkably gifted peramal from the village of Tajjan in Sumenep Regency, Madura… by a process of drinking a large quantity of very special jamu and peering into the arsehole of a prize-winning racing bull I am able to see into the soul of any poster on any internet forum in the world… honestly.

  22. avatar Lairedion says:

    Murphy said:

    Otherwise I’d swear you’ve just blown your cover.

    I think he did. Achmad has said many times he’s from Java island while Purbolinggo sounds like a Javanese transmigrant village in Lampung.

    There’s only one escape. Purbalingga, Banyumas perhaps is pronounced as Purbolinggo in Javanese but we need a true Javanese to sort that out.

  23. avatar Silverlines says:

    I personally think an offense is not defined by whether someone means to offend another person by saying or doing something, it’s more in the eyes of the addressee to define whether (s)he feels offended or not.

    I cannot define if other people should or should not feel offended by what I say. When they feel offended, then it means I have offended them one way or the other.

    And I thought we were talking of Jalan Jaksa’s future development?

  24. avatar Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    I hereby confirm that Achmad Sudarsono is a pure Mojopahitan, a pencak silat instructor, poet, ukuele player and dangdut singer from Purbolinggo. Bules are jealous of any Brown man who speak and write better than themselves. Let us all proud Javanese barrack for our brother Achmad.


  25. avatar treespotter says:

    The usual suspect with the proverbial time triggered subject.

    First, BULE isn’t a racial term. Consider that one of the most famous drinking spot for expats in Jakarta is called Bule Gila and also a local best seller under the same name and a TV program. Some people would want to take offence, that’s your own thing, but the word itself is obviously acceptable to a very large group of the expat community. It’s not the most polite term, but to put it in the ‘racist’ category is an exaggeration.

    the insult contest is silly, tho i’m tempted.

    Ross is an academic who allegedly went to school. Presumably that lead him to Jalan Jaksa. He commented on Pramoedya without ever reading any of his work, so i won’t be surprised that he talk of A Year of Living Dangerously without ever seeing one.

    I’d say that’s pathological to the academic community, they often blubber with no clue as to what exactly they were talking about. Often, they didn’t even go to the academy in question, but well, yes, it’s pathological of the species.

    where’s the new thread?

  26. avatar Rob says:


    I have to respectfully disagree on the racial connotations of the word…the fact that there is a bar, a book, and a TV show is not an argument for the word not being racist.

    Nevertheless, the bule, racism, offensiveness, and whatever else related to this needs to be in a separate thread!

    There also needs to be a new thread for the impending insult fest that is supposedly going to be triggered by Achmad on Saturday!

    This was originally about the redevelopment of Jalan Jaksa and whether anyone rally gives the proverbial “rat’s arse”…It sort of reminds me of the Kevin Costner movie ‘Field of Dreams’, the idea of that if you build it they will come! No matter what happens on or to Jaksa, if it includes budget accomodation and cheap eats then backpackers will continue to show up there. If the street changes into some kind of yuppie wonderland with an upmarket mall, expensive hotel, starbucks, and top-end restaurants, then the likelihood of backpackers remaining regulars on the street diminishes somewhat.

    But if that were the case that Jalan Jaksa went up market, then I am confident that cheap accomodation and eats would spring up somewhere else in this samll town we call Jakarta. Then I can go find them, write a review, and then sell it to the highest travel guide bidder 🙂

    Business opportunities are everywhere in Jakarta!

  27. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    @ All,

    I’m from both Purbalingga and Purbolinggo: born in one, emigrated to the other – for a while.

    @ Murphy: really good to see you’ve got the time to look this sort of sh*t up on goole.

    @ Treespotter: what’s the definition of Bule? If it refers to white-skinned people it’s race-based, therefore racist.

    Whether or not it’s bad to be racist is another thing.

    Walt Disney had cartoons about jolly-jigaboos, there was a soap ad called, “nigger-boy soap suds,” and then there’s the story of “Little Black Sambo.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Black_Sambo). A really charming story.

    (I love your logic, by the way, most people are ignorant of the language, therefore it’s acceptable).

    You seem to think racial = racism = bad. I never said that.

    @ All Friends: I am a pribumi, Javanese, Mojopahitan, from Purbalingga and Purbolinggo.

    Stop trying to turn back the tide of independence !

  28. avatar Ross says:

    Achmad’s nationality is beside the point. As must be obvious to all, I only use it to goad him, since he seems sensitive about it.
    More obnoxious by far is this oddfellow Tree whatsit, who lies extravagantly about me. As I sit typing this (not on my ‘rusty typewriter,’ Achmad) I can almost reach across to my bookcase and grasp a collection of short stories by the said Red Pram. How else would I have described his works as dull had I not read some of them?
    As for ‘school,’ I reckon my university would compare well to his, if he ever got to one. Perhaps he slithered through one of those English plastic polytechnics that John Major waved a wand over and – lo, they were suddenly universities.
    Really, toadies like Tree, who publish attacks on people in their bloggies without even the grace to let us know we are being defamed, are surely an embarrassment to many honest left-libbers here.
    Pity I only have that cat – were it a dog, I’d take it for a walk alongside the Tree-Thing.

  29. avatar Rob says:


    You said you were not a man of mystery and that I could go out and buy your books…Had a squiz in Kinokuniya the other day and did not see any of your books…what are the titles and can I find them in Jakarta? Any of them about Jaksa?


  30. avatar treespotter says:

    Rob, and Achmad the linguistic history aside, i have not yet come across any single trustworthy reference that could positively identify the word BULE to refer specifically and exclusively to skin colour (I will be happy to learn more, do share your sources here).

    In current days jakarta, i very often find the word being used casually and very frequently to refer to everything that is foreign (BULE KOREA, BULE NIGERIA, etc.).

    The context that the word RACISM is being used in this thread – largely among these colourful bunch of supposedly educated people – refers to the ugliest possible definition, which is a systematic discrimination against certain minority group based on the colour of their skin and this is what i strongly object to.

    Had this been a linguistic discussion, the word is probably acceptable, but the tone in this thread strongly imply that the usage of the word is somehow culturally reflective of racism tendencies in the culture and this, i disagree. Perhaps we should start a discussion of Indonesian generally is a racist culture – i’ll pick this one up when i get around to it.

    as for you Ross, perhaps you care to point where exactly i extravagantly lied, since i consider misrepresentation of facts to be a rather serious thing, and i do my best effort to make sure that i do not indulge myself in such hulahoos. I consider propagation of lies and truth twisting deplorable in the lowest degree of intellectuality, and those, are precisely the things that i think you’re conducting in the name of your good academic credentials. Amusing, perhaps, but not the least bit interesting.

    i have chosen to name you in person, since such an educated person such as yourself, presumably would have a better argument than John Major’s wand.

    Precisely such an esteemed character such as yourself, with your very own self proclaimed credentials and high pride of your moral character, i was expecting you the least to resort to name calling and animal naming. Of course, i take no offence with such articulation since one might be more comfortable with one style than the other. as i said earlier, i don’t usually one to go with rules.

    I offer my sincerest apologies that i do not announce that i named you on my blog. Rest assured, the next time i publish your name on my blog, i will announce it in a timely manner for all the world to know. And that time is coming. Soon.

    perhaps you would give me an email address so i could send you future notification?

    and uh, which short stories exactly are you referring to as dull? just curious. books usually have titles. (you’re not allowed to use google to cheat, so please, name the translators/publishers). I want to get a copy 🙂

    i don’t read nearly enough of this late old man.

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