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 timdog says:

    BB:

    turned right (first mistake)

    How true, on so many levels 😉

    I like walking aimlessly in big filthy cities; I seem somehow impervious to heatstroke. Bangkok and Delhi are perhaps my two favourite Asian cities for walking in – I have walked many miles in both (which I guess makes me a very odd person)… I also always try to find the highest vantage point in a new city shortly after arrival.
    For a newcomer in Surabaya, rather than going for a walk, I would probably suggest getting yourself to the roof of TP – best overview of the city going…

    Interesting point of order – until very recently (what with “security” and all that) I imagine most ex-pat wives would have ranked Islamabad as way more preferable to Jakarta. It’s a planned (soulless) city built on a grid of well-ordered, tree-lined avenues where the traffic flows in an orderly fashion, and you can get from mall to hotel to top-end restaurant to ambasadorial cocktail party with the greatest of ease. Just a shame about the suicide bombings these days…

    Hey everyone – what’s the worst city you’ve ever been to? Anywhere in the world, and why?

  2. avatar Odinius says:

    Kinch said:

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

    Not sure what other answer you (plural) would be thinking of, as guns are the obvious answer 😉

  3. avatar David says:

    Is this where we want to go? Oh well as long as we’re all civil about it. 😉

    Timdog and BB, now that I think about it I think I turned right as well…..

    Hey everyone – what’s the worst city you’ve ever been to? Anywhere in the world, and why?

    I’m far from well-travelled, very far from Mr Tim, and I’d like to say “Dunedin” although I’ve never even been there, just have a mental picture of it due to someone saying something once…..probably need to define the terms of it a bit, otherwise people are going to start saying Gary, or Bradford, or Dandenong (is that a city?), or…. Dunedin.

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

    There’s a whole other topic, I’m sure timdog has got loads of saucy, degenerate tales to tell of that place. :)

    Gee Ross must be having a nice time in Sydney, health fascists aside…..

  4. avatar Odinius says:

    Worst city? I guess that depends on what the criteria are.

    Place I’d least like to live in, but do like to visit: Detroit.
    Place that’s most frustrating, because it’s a much worse version of cities I actually like: Manila
    Place at the absolute bottom of my must-see list: Basically any city in Pakistan…or possibly Bradford. Unemployed neo-nazis and Islamist militants…sounds “wonderful,” doesn’t it.

  5. avatar David says:

    Q says:

    Exactly! A lot of cities seem to have been culled for the purpose of this survey….

    Yes, boy this took some finding….

    Very High Risk

    1. Lagos, Nigeria
    2. Jakarta, Indonesia
    3. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
    4. Almaty, Kazakhstan

    High Risk
    5. Mumbai, India
    6. New Delhi, India
    7. Nairobi, Kenya
    8. Bogota, Colombia
    9. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
    10. Chennai, India
    11. Hanoi, Vietnam
    12. Guangzhou, China
    13. Tianjin, China
    14. Suzhou, China
    15. Qingdao, China
    16. Shenzhen, China
    17. Bangalore, India

    Medium Risk
    18. Cairo, Egypt
    19. Kiev, Ukraine
    20. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

    Business Week site is unusable, that’s as far as I can see the list.

  6. avatar Odinius says:

    That list is absolutely ridiculous. Hanoi at #11?! Risk of what, exactly? That’s probably the safest city I’ve ever spent time in. Laughable, really.

  7. avatar timdog says:

    Okay, a) worst major international city, and b) worst city in Indonesia

    a) I have an irrational dislike for Birmingham, but worst city I’ve ever been to would probably be somewhere or other in China (they really do have some pretty grim cities there)… Urumqi, that’ll do – all I remember is grim grey cold, grey towerblocks, grey, overcooked noodles, and the entire grey city trussed up with grey flyovers full of grey taxis – oh, and the in-house whore who incessantly called the phone in my hotel room while I was trying to sleep:
    brrrrng-brrrrrrng;
    Sleepy, ill-tempered: “Hello?”;
    Trying very hard: “iii-eeerrr-nii-naw-weerrr-neerrr-ierr?”;
    Furious : “Go away”! [click]……
    interim of several minutes while Chinese-English dictionary is located in some grim basement room full of dirty underwear and old suitcases…. brrrrng-brrrrng;
    Very Angry: “Hello???”;
    Tentative, uncertain quite how to say this word: “Massage?”
    I lay in bed listening through the thin walls to the same phonecall relaying its way from room to room all the way down the corridor – marks for persistance at least…

    b) worst city in Indonesia – Pekanbaru, but only because it was unconscionably hot, and I lost a hat that I was rather fond of at the bus station there…

    That list is, quite simply, preposterous. A friend of mine lived in Almaty for 18 months and liked it very much. The worst thing about living there, she said, was the endless Borat jokes from friends back in the UK…

    Saucy, degenerate tales? How dare you even suggest such a thing, mister…

  8. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    Santo Domingo and Cairo medium security risks compared to “very high risk” Jakarta? Ah well, now I know this survey is absolute poppycock, that clears it up beyond all doubt.

    The two cities that I hated the most, but which should be beautiful and enchanting places, are shitholes for exactly the same reason; Yangon and Havana.

  9. avatar Q says:

    Thanks for the more complete list, Patung.

    Berlian Biru, not sure about Santo Domingo at all, but its Wikipedia page looks good (they even have a metro) — it’s probably one of those ultra-high finance place like Bermuda.

    Cairo though … is pretty damn bad.

    I have not travelled much either, but I rate Jakarta pretty low (well, I’ve only been to ‘nicer’ cities). Although, I absolutely hate New York … compared to Jakarta: bad food, exorbitant prices, worse people who demand lots of tips.

  10. avatar oigal says:

    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”

    Laugh..too true I recently received a formal warning from our head office about “my lack of concern for my personal security” and they appointed a Senior Indonesian to ensure an expatriate to raise dedicated evaucation plans and advise me on personal security..who was promptly dismissed two weeks later (another dodgy ex TNI scam agent).

    Been living in the country for over a decade and feel safer in our little kampung than I would walking around some western cities (In fact, I like the self reliance bit, no calling the cops in this country). 99.9% of any threat is bluff and bull unlike some places overseas where you can really loose your head just walking down the street.

    Jakarta and Surabuya can be overwhelming for the newbie but usually cheap scams rather the overt violence. In fact, when violence occurs the expat that gets hurt is normally between two opposing groups of Indonesians.

    Oh and the expat compound dwellers..just make me laugh…I wonder if they ever visit Indonesia for a holiday?

  11. avatar ET says:

    Hey everyone – what’s the worst city you’ve ever been to? Anywhere in the world, and why?

    Phoenix, Arizona, at least at the time I was there some 15 years ago. A boring soulless grid of avenues lined with half-baked high-rise, mostly empty at night except for a few malls downtown and a couple of imitation redneck saloons. Certainly not what I expected and quite the opposite of Tucson and a couple of other places in the SW which at least guarded some genuine features of their Spanish, Native and Wild West legacy.

  12. avatar Ross says:

    Hate for you folks to think I was ignoring the comments, but I was on holiday and decided to give it a break. However, I’m pleased to see so much solidarity on the virtues (is that the right word) of Jakarta, to which I was happy to return.

    I think Q hit the nail on the head -other cities -even Riyadh – are no doubt very nice, but here is where we can have fun, and what is life without that!

  13. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    Am I right in stating that during the ’98 riots when large parts Jakarta went into societal collapse not a single westerner had so much as a hair on his head harmed?

    And I am surely not the only person here who can say that I have never once felt physically threatened at any time by any Indonesian in all the time I have been here?

  14. avatar oigal says:

    I am surely not the only person here who can say that I have never once felt physically threatened at any time by any Indonesian in all the time I have been here?

    Pretty much concur..and I have hardly tread the 5 star retreat life.. I am always suspicious when I hear of a particular westerner being targeted..based on my experience there will be a another side to the story.

  15. avatar Rob says:

    Agree with most of the above…I moved to Bangkok last year after 14 years in Jakarta, and although there’s nothing wrong with Bangkok…I’m still homesick for the shabby friendliness of Jakarta…the ranking is absolute crap

  16. avatar Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    Personally, I think the worst high risk country is Australia. Throwing of refugee children overboard, petrol bombing of refugee ship, Cronulla riot and a corrupted AFP.

  17. avatar Andy says:

    Another moronic comment for a bitter, jealous fool who for all his complaints still regularly visits our country..

    refugees threw the children overboard did they not..Didn’t see us climbing aboard and doing it so point one…shut the **** up!

    point two…there would be not many boats lining up to get into Australia if Indonesia was a half decent place to get into and live in. In any case it shows your government has failed miserably stopping them from entering our waters which you have an International obligation to do.

    point three…the Cronulla riot was a culmination of pent up anger at muslims migrating, taking the dole and other benefits and spitting in our faces. They deserved all they got that day however this was a schoolyard blue compared to the Jakarta riots of 1998 and the numerous incidents of pollies calling for Indos to ‘sweep’ foreigners.

    point four….mmmmmm I guess we should take our lead from an incorruptable police force like the Indonesians. Can’t stop laughing at this one.

    I’m tired of cutting and pasting the facts i’ve already backed up but compare Australia’s record to Indonesia’s on any matter and we come up trumps. And this is why the likes of AAB don’t like us, pure jealousy or inability to cut the mustard when dealing with our people. If i’m incorrect here AAB that’s fine but don’t come back to our country otherwise you might get a knuckle sandwich in a mall from your’s truly when you least expect it.

  18. avatar Odinius says:

    Andy: AAB set the bait on the fishing hook, and congratulations…you swam right into it :)

    As for:

    the Cronulla riot was a culmination of pent up anger at muslims migrating, taking the dole and other benefits and spitting in our faces. They deserved all they got that day however this was a schoolyard blue compared to the Jakarta riots of 1998 and the numerous incidents of pollies calling for Indos to ’sweep’ foreigners.

    Treading on some shaky ground there. Don’t believe there was even one Westerner “swept” by FPI or other such nasties. While the 1998 riots–and other events around that time in Indonesia–were horrible, don’t think you can really go off on that while rationalizing similar violence that occurs in your own backyard without venturing into glass houses, cast stones, and pots n’ kettles territory.

    Important to note that various nasties in Indonesia have made rationalizing arguments about the 1998 riots being “a culmination of pent up anger at Chinese exploitation and spitting in our faces” too.

  19. avatar Odinius says:

    Unless, of course, you’re also having a laugh and I just swam into it :)

  20. avatar ET says:

    BB said

    And I am surely not the only person here who can say that I have never once felt physically threatened at any time by any Indonesian in all the time I have been here?

    I wish I could say the same about being financially threatened.

  21. avatar Berlian Biru says:

    I wish I could say the same about being financially threatened.

    What, do you mean the small bribes? Come on, that’s just a tiny proportion of the tax you don’t pay.

  22. avatar Mike Oxblack says:

    Very High Risk

    1. Lagos, Nigeria
    2. Jakarta, Indonesia
    3. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
    4. Almaty, Kazakhstan

    I think that’s a trifle harsh on the Big Durian. And where’s Edinburgh on the list hmm??

  23. avatar Bismarck says:

    The survey is based on perception rather then a careful study. Its a flawed study. Using the term high risk, very high risk is there to frighten people.

    Jakarta has its problems, according to the study there is so called political risk (ie terrorism). The last terrorist attack was almost six years ago. But how often are expats or ordinary Indonesians victims of a terrorist attack. You are more likely to be shot dead in America then a victim of a 9/11 style attack in most places. I think day-to-day crime rape, murder, robbery should be used in conjunction with political risk. Jakarta scores very low in terms of violent crime compared to many Asian and Western cities. Indonesia’s homicide rate is one of the lowest in the world.

    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_mur_percap-crime-murders-per-capita
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_murder_rate

    One is 9 times more likely to be murdered in Thailand then in Indonesia, but everyone thinks of Thailand as being safe. Even Philippines is less murderous place then Thailand.

    Thailand is a dangerous place because of the gangs, drugs and availability of guns. But the perception is different from reality, because the Thais and their government are very good at PR. Indonesia has always had bad PR, it only gets headlines when bad things happen or is simply ignored.

  24. avatar Oigal says:

    AAB… Not even a good attempt at trolling, at least some some respect to the readers by putting some effort into it

  25. avatar oigal says:

    What, do you mean the small bribes? Come on, that’s just a tiny proportion of the tax you don’t pay.

    Excuse me!!

    Wanna compare income tax payments for Expats vs Nationals.(What is the complaince rate for personal income tax for nationals now..4.5%?. Multi National Corp Tax Compliance vs National Company.

    By the way can any tell us where to check the distribution and allocation of the $1200 training fee every Expat pays to ensure the furture training of Indonesians so the expat issue becomes moot…

    You could accuse expats of many things (in the generalisation way that we do) but tax avoidance puts you on pretty thin ice..(Of course..we could get into a fun discussion of what is an undesirable expat..Javanese Business (?) man in Bali or Sumatera perhaps.

    By

  26. avatar Mike Oxblack says:

    Yes, I think generally speaking if there’s a group of people in Indonesia who definitely is paying its taxes it would have to be non Indonesians.

  27. avatar ultratupai says:

    There are far worse cities than Jakarta. I am surprised that Johannesburg is not on the list. Rio has some very nasty spots and there are a growing number of cities in China which are lethal to their citizens. Jakarta is not perfect and has tons of probelms and maybe it qualifies for this list but perhaps not at #2. As for me I actually like Jakarta.

  28. avatar ET says:

    BB

    What, do you mean the small bribes? Come on, that’s just a tiny proportion of the tax you don’t pay.

    Small bribes????????

    Like the scams some airline representations play by trying to trick you into upgrading your return flight to business or even 1st class claiming that the flight in economy class has been booked out or that the validity of your ticket (confirmed, btw)
    has expired. Last time they even tried to have me pay twice the upsell to first class which had already been accorded and paid by my travel agent due to a mistake on his behalf. Of course their tricks don’t work out with me but suppose you are not a seasoned traveler and you are confronted with the possibility of being stuck with an expired visa. I guess they must have pulled it off a couple of times so they try it over and over again. And I possibly don’t have to draw a picture where the money from the upsell would go to.

    I’m not accusing the airline companies of scam policies but individuals in offices and behind counters. Institutionalized corruption, once they sit behind a desk and imagine they have the tiniest bit of power they will use and abuse it.
    Bangsat.

  29. avatar Abdul Khalid al Jumhuri says:

    Personally I like this report. If Jakarta is painted that bad, perhaps we will not be all that badly affected. It will thwart the coming of continuous-whining-but-staying guestworkers a.k.a expat-crybabies. We could then focus on those level-headed ones. Sorry, my expats good friends are of those latter type (including my business partners).

  30. avatar Ross says:

    Yes, I had a good break in Sydney and am pleased with the numerous tangents here.

    Worst city? Does Bekasi count as a city, for I loathe the place.

    No doubt the average resident is no better or worse than anywhere else, but the tukang ojeks and becaks at Pekayon are the coarsest, rudest, most racist ratbags I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across. Also copets -my misadventure on the day of the Marriot Bomb exemplifies their ghastly misanthropic rapacity.

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