Jakarta in Top Ten Worst Cities

Apr 24th, 2009, in IM Posts, Opinion, by

Is Jakarta one of the worst third world hellholes?

I Belong To JAKARTA!

"I belong to Glasgow' was, and probably still is, a song much-loved in that gritty city by the Clyde. Certainly at the time it was written, Glasgow was not at all lovely, a mess of slums, poverty, gang-warfare and every other form of industrial blight. Yet its denizens adored their home-town, and similarly most people who live in Jakarta cherish a fondness for the place despite all the warts on its sunny countenance.

Thus we were unimpressed to hear that an ORC Worldwide and Business Week survey, "The Hardest Hardship Posts", had ranked our adopted city as the "second-worst city in the world" as a place for expats to live and work, excluding North America and Europe, and cities that are in war zones or are very isolated.


Shopping for underpants in Jakarta

The compilers of the report used factors like 'pollution, disease, political violence, availability of goods and services' to measure cities' desirability. Of Jakarta they said:

No. 2 Jakarta, Indonesia

Overall Grade: Very High Risk Location
Major Problems: Pollution, Disease & Sanitation, Medical Facilities, Political Violence & Repression, Political & Social Environment, Crime

Indonesia may be holding up better than many other developing countries during the global recession, but that doesn't make life in Jakarta much easier for expatriates moving there. Despite problems common to many Third World cities—risk of disease, poor sanitation, and excessive pollution—the Indonesian capital "can be an enticing location," according to ORC. However, Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country and has suffered several high-profile attacks by Islamic terrorists targeting foreigners. "The threat of violence, from Islamic extremists in particular, is a serious drawback to living here," says ORC.

Happily, the Jakarta Post sought views from some local expats on the matter, who acknowledged that traffic and bureaucracy were disadvantages but otherwise Jakarta was okay.

Right on! I had to laugh that Businessweek's researchers reckoned only Lagos was worse, and it amazed me that Riyadh slithered in ahead of the Big Durian. Who on earth would want to live in Riyadh? Betcha can't get a decent gado-gado, and while Saudi ladies may be really cute, it's gotta be a 'maybe' because they all wear Darth Vadar gear....but as for the serious criticisms lodged against this addictive city.

Violence? It's very possibly safer to walk around Jakarta late at night than to stroll through certain districts in Glasgow, Liverpool or Manchester in the UK after dark. It's indubitably safer than parts of London or Los Angeles or Toronto. (I hear from recent arrivals that even Calgary is dodgy these days!)

Political violence does of course erupt but it is rare enough and these days does not, as in Thailand or some East European states, bring down governments. And it is seldom aimed at expats.

Disease - again, there's too much of it about, but we expats, unlike our local neighbours, are usually covered by some kind of insurance. True, a lot of hospitals are tricky, but again it's a short hop to Singapore, which has the best facilities in the world.

Pollution - it's a shame about the city's rivers, but tough, each country has its priorities and if we nag them, perhaps they'll clean up the rivers. But there's too much Eurocentric puritanism involved in much of the 'pollution' moaning -the latest grizzling jihad pledged by Fuzzy Bow-Wow's (Fauzi Bowo) minions against smoking in public is an example. The tiny smoking stalls at the airport have recently been removed, a childish act of spite.

To me, Jakarta' hitherto tolerant view of smoking was a happy contrast to Sydney's health fascists ...anyway.

If I'm sitting out in my garden soaking up the sun, I don't invariably feel a need to fret about how much invisible smog I'm getting.

And availability of goods and services? Well, I had a young Canadian lady colleague who used to turn up her nose at good kopi jawa in the warteg at the corner and swan off to Starbucks, paying literally 10 times as much for a cup. If you're a fuss-pot, you'll only be happy in Heaven, and I've heard it said that Anker isn't available there!

Too many expats are stuck-ups, who won't even try the excellent foods on sale here at incredibly cheap prices. If you need a job done in the home and you're not into DIY, you can get some local guy to do it for a pittance (to us, not him) and you appreciate that all the more if you cast your mind back to what plumbers, roofers and other tradesmen charge back home.
Of course you can access fancy stuff if you really must, in Ranch Market, Senayan City etc., but then you pay for it bigtime - fair enough.

The same day I read the JP article, I had a conductor on a metro-mini give me back Rp.500 as I'd over-paid him inadvertently, forgetting about the fare revision. So maybe this post is a salute to that honest man. So many of the Jakarta anecdotes we swap at the bars are negative, human nature, true, but let's not forget the obverse side of the coin.

The "top" ten worst cities in the world for expats:

  1. Lagos, Nigeria
  2. Jakarta, Indonesia
  3. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  4. Almaty, Kazakhstan
  5. Mumbai, India
  6. New Delhi, India
  7. Nairobi, Kenya
  8. Bogota, Colombia
  9. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  10. Chennai, India

118 Comments on “Jakarta in Top Ten Worst Cities”

  1. avatar David says:

    I guess this is another case, like Berlian mentioned here, of people sitting in offices looking at books, reports, and statistics, and making wrong assumptions. How Jakarta could be put on almost the same level as Lagos in er, um, Africa (Addio…) is beyond me too.

    Too many expats are stuck-ups

    There is much of the problem, people who are just not prepared to adjust themselves to where they are but want it like they expect…

  2. avatar Odinius says:

    This is such bull****.

    Indonesia had four terrorist attacks in 4 years, the last of which took place 4 years ago. How many have there been in India, Philippines, Thailand, etc. over the same period of time? Total double standard.

    The whole thing has the ring of: “Ooh, there’s Muslims there! Ooh scaaaary!”

  3. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    Jakarta, the second worst city in the world? Oh ferfuxake what a load of cobblers! Worse than Baghdad? Kinshasha? Port Au Prince? Kabul? Jaures? Newark? Catch a grip!

    This town has problems but the second worst city in the world? Codswallop.

    Who are these namby-pambies who took part in the survey? I’ll guarantee you one thing, I’ll bet my life it wasn’t the actual working expats who came to this conclusion, no, it was their wives, no doubt about it. The list of problems that makes Jakarta so bad has whiney suburban white women bitching with each other during their Pilates lessons written all over it.

  4. avatar Odinius says:

    Kudos on the Newark reference! There are several US cities that are far more dangerous than Jakarta. Detroit, Baltimore, Gary, etc.

  5. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    Sorry but this is such twaddle I had to come back to it again.

    Terrorist attacks? The last one was in 2004, since then 55 people were blown to smithereens in the main transport network of central London, while plots are unhatched almost monthly to wipe out shoppers, airline passengers, commuters and nightclubbers in London and other major British cities. As Ross points out you couldn’t walk the streets of most British cities after 10pm at the weekends with any degree of safety. As any old Jalan Falatehan hand can tell you the streets of Jakarta are perfectly safe for expats.

    Risk of disease? The most dangerously infected places in Britain are their hospitals where upwards of 30,000 patients die annually in their filthy wards. I’ve used many hospital and medical facilities in Jakarta and have never found fault with any of them, not just the top range places like Medistra or MMC either, even the second tier hospitals I’ve used (Tebet, Abdi Wulyho) are superb, they are clean, you could eat your food off the floors and the nursing staff are attentive and efficient.

    Political violence and repression? That’s the beautiful Land of Smiles ruled out for another decade or so then I suppose and how come Cairo doesn’t feature on the list?

    Provision of goods and services? This is a joke right, seriously, they can’t mean that can they? The city where men stand at the side of the road to help you get your car parked and out again, where you can’t enter a hotel or airport without half a dozen people rushing to assist you with your bags (try Heathrow airport some time if you think there’s a lack of service in Jakarta), where no decent expat home doesn’t have at least three domestic staff, where you just toss the keys of your car to the valet bloke when you want to go to the mall and another fellow will happily carry your shopping out to the car for you when you’ve finished, where men walk the street at every hour of the day and night offering freshly cooked food, bread, knife sharpening, milk, shoe repairs, where every morning another list of local tradesmen able to fix your fridge, aircon, tv, computers etc is posted in your letter box, where taxis passing you on the street automatically slow down to offer you a ride, are we talking about the same Jakarta?

    Pollution, yes the canals are dirty and there’s a bit of a haze in the sky (right now I am looking out of my window at a pristine, bright, beautiful, blue sky and I live slap dab in the centre of Jakarta) and the ol’ Metro Minis chuck out some stonking exhaust fumes but Christ Jesus if that’s your biggest problem maybe you should just stay at your Mum’s home wrapped up in your nice comfort blanket.

    Traffic? It’s a real pain sometimes, just as it is in many, many other cities around the world from Bangkok to Mexico City from London to Manhattan.

  6. avatar David says:

    Worse than Baghdad? Kinshasha? Port Au Prince? Kabul? Jaures? Newark? Catch a grip!

    Some of those places didn’t meet the criteria for the list – in First World or in warzones, but still.

    There are several US cities that are far more dangerous than Jakarta. Detroit, Baltimore, Gary, etc.

    Also those places can be cheaper to buy houses in than Jakarta, I think it was late last year the average house price in Detroit fell to under $20,000!!!! I’d think of moving there if it weren’t such a hellhole….

  7. avatar Patrick says:

    Jakarta is one of the most interesting cities in the world. In fact I would rate it above Singapore any day of the week. Jakarta ha it’s faults but it more than makes them up with style and character and it’s has a hustle and bustle feel to it that reminds of New York City years ago. OK Jakarta has awful traffic and smog and floods during the rainy season but where else can you see so many beautiful smiling faces? The food is great and mainly inexpensive. The hotels are good bargains and even 5 star. The night clubs are numerous and fun. The public transportation is mainly workable and taxis are a cheap compared to other world cities. Jakarta lacks enough parks but its mall are numerous, varied and quite interesting destination in themselves. I LOVE JAKARTA

  8. avatar timdog says:

    Ross – congratulations on creating a post that for once, I agree with entirely (you started to slip into your old ways at “health facists, but hey, I’ll grant you that ;-) )…

    This is, as everyone else says, utter silliness, and can entirely be explained by the prevelence amongst the kind of “ex-pats” questioned for the survey of “suburban white women bitching during their pilates lesons” as magnificently cited by BB…

    I’m sure I alreay told on here somewhere the story of my cousin who works in security for ex-pat oil workers in places like Nigeria who told me about people he knew who lived in Jakarta. They lived in some gated compound, Mister went from compound to office each day in a tinted window vehicle with a security guard, Mrs didn’t go out (“nobody does – you can’t”) but that was Ok (“because there’s quite a community of them, and they have good facilities, a gym, a pool and so on…”). These are the people questioned for these lists.

    Needless to say, I got a little upset when my cousin told me this (especially at the “nobody goes out – you can’t” bit) and told him about how I lived in Indonesia.
    It was now my cousin’s (he has never been to Indonesia, and merely thinks of it in his professional outlook as another generic “third world”, “threatening” place in which to come up with “systems” and “contingencies” to protect “ex-pats”) turn to get angry. He actually called me an “idiot” and said I “had no idea how dangerous my lifestyle was” (i.e. living in a normal house on a normal street, going about on a motorbike without a gun-toting security guard, wandering about right left and centre all over the place, alone and unguarded)…

    These are the people who come up with these idiotic lists.

    Hey, Mr Patung, where do you reckon Surabaya ranks on the list?

  9. avatar Kinch says:

    Agree with the general level of outrage expressed above. It’s a shit hole, but it’s a fun and exciting and interesting shit hole.

    *Much* more fun than Macau, where I’m now stuck for the next year or two.

  10. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    As regards the contrasts between expat life in west Africa and Jakarta I draw your attention to this post from the Blok M website a few months ago where an American former resident of Jakarta laments the lack of freedom and fun that he used to have in Jakarta compared with his life in his new posting,

    Saturday night? Get to go to an expat farewell party where limbo competition is the evening’s highlight, watching overweight bule wives try and slide their bulging guts and varicosed hams under the bamboo rod all the while hoping the gates don’t get barged in by a gang of AK-47 wielding thugs in a pick up truck intent on raping the fat bule cows (that would be interesting to see) and removing anything remotely smacking of having any possible value. Sunday? Back to the Good Rev’s House of the Lord to listen to some fire and brimstone twaddle whilst I stare at a young mum breast feeding her sprog wishing I were in Melawai chewing cud on Yeni’s right mammery (remember, for good liuck, always go right then left, unless its Whitsunday, then reverse order is required).

    Sunday evening I think of what could have been were I in Jakarta: Friday night BBQ at Stairway to Heaven, Saturday tee time at Cengkareng watching my cute caddy wash my balls, possibly followed by rub ‘n tug. Saturday night down on the blok checking out the new crop of SYT’s. Sunday a little trip down Melawai Lane and up to the 5+1 hoping Yeni and her right bmammery are available (if not, there’s Ella, Rini, Ratna, Monique, Ellin, Eva…..). Sunday night? Compare notes with the lads over at Sportsman’s whilst chating up the hired help. During the work week? Fending off the torrent of text messages asking me things like: ‘Do I really have to go straight home after work? Why can’t I stop by for little chat about the world economic meltdown and, oh yes,a quick round of horizontal jumping jacks.’

    I think perhaps we can see why expat wives aren’t so fond of ol’ Jakarta town.

    In fairness to this survey we should examine the context of “expat”; an expat is someone who is sent by his company or government overseas on a usually fixed term contract and often with their families in tow. Timdog’s friend is probably correct in his risk assessment of such people, after all you do need to have tight security around oil executives, diplomats and senior bank managers, although I’ve seen plenty of Aussie and US blokes working for embassies and other high risk targets hanging around My Bar at 2am, to reckon that they didn’t always listen to their advisers. I recently read Nick Leeson’s account of how he bust Baring’s Bank in Singapore and was surprised to discover that he first worked in Jakarta and he too had been warned about all the dreadful dangers lurking here but he admits that very quickly he learned to love the place and was soon hanging out in the bars and pool rooms like the best of them.

    Most of the posters here, including me aren’t actually expats, most of us washed up here on our own, found our own jobs and accommodation and continue to live as long term residents or indeed as in my own case an “immigrant”. I can not in all honesty describe myself as an “expat”. I came here on holiday, hung around for a bit, met my local wife, had kids here and now live in an ordinary Jakarta suburb among ordinary Indonesian people, I have no ties with my home country other than family and I’m perfectly happy to remain here as long as I am permitted to.

    I dare say I’m not alone in this situation so in truth we aren’t expats and I suppose we really can’t comment on what it is that makes those strange “expat” people hate Jakarta so.

  11. avatar diego says:

    Most of the posters here, including me aren’t actually expats, most of us washed up here on our own, found our own jobs and accommodation and continue to live as long term residents or indeed as in my own case an “immigrant”.

    Well, some members of my “oh so great and noble” high-caste balinese family have a word for you: left-over bules. (otherwise you would have been somewhere else — preasummably better). :D

  12. avatar Kinch says:

    Not to worry, they’ll be giving themselves airs under 20′ of volcanic ash one of these days :D

    A lot to be said for being washed up – preferably in a country where the natives are generally washed. Helps too, if the cuisine doesn’t suck (sorry Flippers, that means you).

  13. avatar David says:

    Wasn’t this the same relative Diego that blamed your parents for your lack of ardour in the girl department, and said the Hare Krishna nut in your family was over-compensating for his wife being a devout Muslim…

    Hey, Mr Patung, where do you reckon Surabaya ranks on the list?

    There are 50 on the list, but I don’t think it’s there….today I went on one of my long, fairly aimless motorbike rides, there’s always some area I haven’t been through, and yes no problems there, like BB said a lot of us here are not the same type of expat as that list is made for…..when I first arrived here the people employing me did think to pick me up at the airport, but then dumped me at this very small but brand new hotel, I swear I was given the tiniest room in the place because the employer was paying….it had a tv but it was all greek to me and the room was so damn small that I couldn’t stand sitting in there so that night I walked out of the hotel, looked left, looked right, can’t remember which way I picked but just walked and walked, did that for the first few nights, I now realise I wasn’t in the best part of town (Jl. Arjuno/a) near Kedungdoro and Dolly (thank Christ I didn’t end up there on my first night),,…. it’s just a complete world away from your regular expat experience a la the Business Week crowd.

    BB, thanks for that BlokM website interlude as well, that world is also far out of my experience… :)

  14. avatar diego says:

    Wasn’t this the same relative Diego that blamed your parents for your lack of ardour in the girl department, and said the Hare Krishna nut in your family was over-compensating for his wife being a devout Muslim…

    Yes :D

    How I’m relieved being far away from overly-judgmental them.

  15. avatar timdog says:

    Patung – my first day I walked from Delta Plaza all the way to Tanjung Perak – yes, seriously – trying to follow the river… Horrible security risk, my cousin would no doubt tell me, but I rather enjoyed it…

  16. avatar Odinius says:

    Patung said:

    Also those places can be cheaper to buy houses in than Jakarta, I think it was late last year the average house price in Detroit fell to under $20,000!!!! I’d think of moving there if it weren’t such a hellhole….

    Bit of a tangent, but I was in Detroit last year for a wedding. The reception was at this fantastic restored 1940s jazz club called Cliff Bell’s. Right across the street was this certainly-once-amazing 20-story art deco apartment building. But it was totally gutted. Not only that, someone had graffitied “EBOLA” all over it.

    …and of course, there was a “for sale” sign on it.

    If Jakarta is third world, Detroit is fourth world.

  17. avatar David says:

    Timdog, that is some walk, wow….there was a taxi driver once who warned me about going anywhere up that end of town, I mean the north, the people there (I think he meant Madurese) would slit my throat for the shirt on my back…

    Odinius, staying on that tangent, I bookmarked this a few months ago – http://www.detroitblog.org/?p=405, http://www.detroitblog.org/ in general is a good read, documenting the decay, and some of the attempts to restore ‘order’ or whatever it should be called…Jakarta’s got all that to look forward to some day, maybe…

  18. avatar Odinius says:

    Patung: that’s a great blog on Detroit! I have to admit, despite its palpable hellishness, it’s one of my favorite cities. There is so much interesting stuff going on under the surface, especially musically. But it’s also horribly depressing.

    Have you spent much time there?

    On the Jakarta parallel…I’m not sure if I’d worry about Jakarta ending up like that: it’s the capital of a huge country and has more than just one major industry sustaining it. But perhaps Washington, DC is an ominous example? One glittering quarter, two squalid ones (yes there are only three quarters in DC!).

    That would fit my overall view of Indonesia and the US being fundamentally similar societies…

  19. avatar David says:

    Ok we’re back, 8, no can’t count, almost 12, hours down…. nah never been to Detroit, there are 100’s of often obscure sites in my feed reader, that’s one, I like stuff about cities, and I like the way they do the articles, almost one picture for every paragraph, the way it should be on the web

  20. avatar Rambutan says:

    Political Violence & Repression

    The researchers obviously didn’t read the latest Freedom House report. Indonesia is listed as as ‘free’ country, the only one in South East Asia.

  21. avatar Kinch says:

    Brain-exploding question for liberals: ‘What do Detroit, Balitmore, DC have that Jakarta does not have?’

    Works for me… except for the occasional ‘amok year’ when the Jkt natives go, well, native.

  22. avatar Chris says:

    Has anybody asked (the many) Nigerians (who live in Jakarta) what they think of the relative merits of their new home compared to their home town?

  23. avatar Abdul Khalid al Jumhuri says:

    I believe ORC is the work of the recanting Jews/ CIA/ Mossad trying to get a clear conscience. Putting Jakarta to be the second worst city for Expatriate would (hopefully) thwart the influx of Expatriates to Jakarta. As to whether the end result is positive or negative, we need to simply check the inflow figures of Expatriates (pressuming a same degree of accuracy or the lack thereof) from Imigrasi, RT/ RW or the like.

    My gut feeling is that there are more Nigerians in Jakarta than there are Indonesians in Lagos.

  24. avatar Kinch says:

    Righteous Dude: I tried, but seems they don’t speak Bhs Sjambok :)

    There’s a lot in the Pratunam garment district of Bangkok, too. Same old story – textile import/export as a baseline/cover business and of course drugs are the main game.

  25. avatar Q says:

    I can imagine Nairobi being a much worse city than Jakarta, it’s quite unsafe there. Lagos, however, according to my Nigerian friend, is a pretty nice city (but of course he’s biased, like most of you are here).

    I suppose it’s fair for you to say that Jakarta is not that bad, but when compared to other cities there … which ones would you say is worse? I don’t think any of the Indian cities are worse.

    I also thought Riyadh is a very nice city, miles ahead of Jakarta. Of course, it’s the last place you want to be if you want to have fun.

  26. avatar Odinius says:

    Kinch said:

    Brain-exploding question for liberals: ‘What do Detroit, Balitmore, DC have that Jakarta does not have?’

    Ooh…I know the answer…lots and lots of guns!

    But seriously, maybe a comparison with Manila is more illustrative for why this report is so stupid.

    Pollution:

    Jakarta has a little bit more, but bad in both cities

    Traffic:

    Jakarta has a little bit more, but bad in both cities

    Crime:

    Way, way more violent crime in Manila than Jakarta, including ransom kidnappings

    Terrorism:

    More frequent in Manila than Jakarta

    Add to that the fact that Manila has the worst food in any major SEA city and you’ve got a baffling decision to rate Jakarta as worse than Manila.

  27. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    I suppose it’s fair for you to say that Jakarta is not that bad, but when compared to other cities there … which ones would you say is worse?

    I would have thought Nairobi and Bogota would be much worse and where is Islamabad or Karachi or Caracas or Havana or Medellin or Dacca or Harare or, as I mentioned above, Port Au Prince or Juares (not sure if Kinshasha is in a war zone but I dare say you could stick a pin in a map of Africa and come up with a hundred worse cities than Jakarta).

    As regards walking in Surabaya, it was always a rule of thumb for me when visiting a new city to open up the map and go for a nice evening walk to get a feel for the place, hopefully ending up at some pleasant local bistro. So my first evening in Surabaya I walked out from the Hyatt Regency and turned right (first mistake) and went for a “stroll”, one sprained ankle and a case of heat stroke later I had arrived at the crocodile and shark monument just about able to drink a warm can of Pocari Sweat from a wartel before taking a taxi back to the hotel. It was then I discovered that Indonesian cities aren’t like Florence or Tallin.

    It took me a whole night in ‘Desperados’ to recover.

  28. avatar Q says:

    I would have thought Nairobi and Bogota would be much worse and where is Islamabad or Karachi or Caracas or Havana or Medellin or Dacca or Harare or, as I mentioned above, Port Au Prince or Juares (not sure if Kinshasha is in a war zone but I dare say you could stick a pin in a map of Africa and come up with a hundred worse cities than Jakarta).

    Exactly! A lot of cities seem to have been culled for the purpose of this survey, so I don’t think all the Jakarta-lovers should get up in arms about it. Compared to the other 9 cities on that list,

    I don’t think Bogota is worse than Jakarta. Colombia as a whole is a place you don’t want to go to, but Bogota is apparently a very nice city these days.

    And in comparing Detroit to Jakarta, isn’t it all relative? In Jakarta, expats are millionaires (if only in Rupiah), equaling millionaires (in Dollars) in Detroit. The people losing their homes or having to settle in the lousy city proper are the disadvantaged families equaling those who live in Jakarta slums. The US millionaires happily live in their suburban mansions.

  29. avatar Kinch says:

    Odinius: Lots of guns was not quite the answer we were looking for.

    I would agree that just about any city in Africa is worse than Jakarta. As regards India, my experience is limited, but after a side trip to Bangalore in 2002, I was ready to kiss the ground at CGK on my return to Old Jungly. Luckily I did not actually go so far as to actually kiss the ground, but it felt good to be back.

    Agree that Filipino food is an oxymoron.

    Folks who dump on Jakarta (and even more so in the case of Bangkok) simply haven’t yet seen *really* nasty places.

  30. avatar sputjam says:

    Malaysian just love indonesia. You name it. jakarta, Medan, pontianak (no direct flights yet) but eight hour drive from kuching.
    They go with their spouse. They end up in spa and golf courses. For the businessmen, karaoke. For the ladies, shopping.
    Then after all that, they go antique hunting and as always, nasi padang and sup bontot. javanese food is considerd too sweet.

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