Is Jakarta one of the worst third world hellholes?
"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: