Jalan Jaksa Under Threat

Mar 28th, 2008, in Society, 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. timdog says:

    I have to agree with Ross: the demise of Jaksa would be a sad thing. Despite the fact that the street certainly has a slightly unsavoury edge at times and in places, despite the fact that it’s long-term regular foreigners might not be the most charming of individuals, and despite the standard snobbish mockery it recieves from some, as far as I am concerned it does, as Ross says, have character. Jaksa is a little slice of raffish bohemia, and also a little slice of affordability in terms of food, beer and accomodation (I’ve no idea about the cost or value of the other – ahem – services available in the vicinity) in the very heart of the city.
    Long may it endure…

  2. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Ok – Ross – I hereby challenge you to an Insult Duel.

    3 – rounds of 300 words.

    Full contact — judged by reader votes or comments.

    Show some cojones and sober up.

  3. Rob says:


    The proverbial man of mystery. You are obviously not someone who was sent to these fine shores by an employer if your first 24 days or so of existence were spent in Jalan Jaksa. If you were sent by your company then they must have been pretty hard up for a buck if they were only willing to foot a bill of IDR 45K a night…

    This is probably where Fred Floggle’s (Ross, are you Fred Floggle in disguise?) stereotyoing of English language teachers would start because the real “white albinos” (as Achmad is fond of calling us) who are posted here are not ‘cheap’ enough to do Jaksa or any other less than savoury places (as alluded to by Timdog) unless we are liberal leaning, ESOL waving, perverted English language teachers here for the sex…So, Ross, did you start off in this part of the world as an English language teacher?

    Just because Jaksa has some character does not automatically mean it cannot be subject to a little development here and there. Those that get squeezed out would go somewhere else which has always been the Indonesian way some one is always doing some squeezing and some one is always getting squeezed.

    Nah, my thoughts would be different if there was an identifable historical site on Jalan Jaksa that needed preservation and protection from those mean nasty developers. But that needs to be more than where one weary traveler laid down his head late at night and early the next morning woke to find himself no longer a virgin in and of Indonesia and unfortuantely no free coffee.

    It is interesting that you still swing by at least once a month and have 3 or 4 afternoon beers…I am going to have to start going back there myself in the early afternoon each day and amuse myself with the “spot the Ross” game! Or I could just stay in the office and work. So, mate, what do you do that allows you an afternoon off at least once a month to go sink 3 or 4 bintangs and formaldehyde your stomach lining from the inside out?

    There is nothing ‘Year of Living Dangerously” about Jaksa and whoever said this is having some kind of cinematic based delusional split with reality! The lack of the movie images is true even if you get into all the little back alleys or gangs…

    What must be remembered is that Jaksa is subject to constant change; it is always evolving. Places, whether they be bars or pubs of boarding houses or brothels, come and go on Jaksa. There are some constants but that does not mean that they are not anti-change or anti-development. For most of us we keep going back not for the cheap beer or food but we keep going back because it is like going down to the local after a long week at work on a Friday arvo; it’s comfortable, it’s safe, and the people are friendly, and they are the things that I hope never change about Jaksa.

    You’ve talked to an expat who has seen a plan! Have you talked to any of the locals? Perhaps some of these unfortunate locals who are about to be squeezed out by these nasty large capitalist investors might be able to provide some insights of their own.

    For Timdog…

    “(I’ve no idea about the cost or value of the other – ahem – services available in the vicinity)”

    Next time you are in the area why don’t you ask? I am sure someone would tell you! Besides, Just asking does not mean you are paying, does it? Then you could tell the rest of us what an “ahem” will set you back! Timdog knowledge is power and consequently knowledge will set you free!


  4. timdog says:

    Rob, I could never – shudder – ask such a question… despite my penchant for raffish bohemia I am, at heart, a traditional gentleman with a sense of decorum and valour. To enquire on the financial costs of such unspeakable matters would mean sullying my upright soul in conversation with one of those wretched, morally debased individuals – shudder, shudder! – and such actions would neccesitate prompt and brisk ablutions to cleanse myself of the accumulated filth. Last time I stayed on Jaksa the available washing facilities involved a dribbling showerhead in a grimy bathroom – hardly sufficient for the purpose you will doubtless concede. 😉 😉 😉

  5. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    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.

  6. Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    LOL @ Rob

    You cornered Ross in a dead end alley with the gate shut behind you. Am interested to read his response on the motive of a non-invited penniless English teacher and why he was lured to our land.

  7. Ross says:

    You guys – I said I’d be back next month, but here’s a handful of quick replies to points made.

    A duel? Interesting idea-will examine it once I’m finished the rigours of being back at work. Judgement based on readers’ votes? Bit of a loser for yours truly, given the predominant anti-right population of this site, but that’s no hardship.

    As to how one manages an afternoon drink once a week, the secret is to utilise either Saturday or Sunday!

    What else -oh, yeah, ‘penniless?’ No just ‘canny,’ as my Scots ancestors would say.
    Only a bego would stay in the Hilton if budget options were available.

    ‘Uninvited?’ Well, I was brave enough to fancy a total change of life-style etc., but not so daft as to arrive without prospects of work. It simply transpired that my prospective boss was too lazy, cheap or stupid to have anyone meet me at the airport or help me find lodgings for my initial days. Surely I deserve credit for my initiative in locating Jaksa?

    I have indeed taught English, plus media studies, psychology, writing and other subjects, from basic to university levels.

    But the post was to rally concern for Jaksa. I’m flattered at the interest in my own antecedents but I’m no man of mystery. Lots of people know me, bules and locals. Buy one of my books and you can learn much about me.
    But reverting to insults, please do NOT suggest I am that Floghorn character.
    Now I AM going to get some work done, so be patient for a week or so.

  8. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Duel offer expires Monday, Ross.

  9. Ross says:

    Right, but there must be rules of engagement- no obscenity, for a start and words of three or more syllables must be admissible. I admit those two proposed restrictions will disadvantage you, Achmad, so let’s spend the rest of this week laying out any other ground rules so as to give you some equivalent boost.
    I need to do some work in the real world Monday through Wednesday, so please heed my (now-thrice) repeated injunction to wait for further input.

  10. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Conditions, sound fine — obscenities — swear words, sexual references to female relatives, no f-bomb, etc.

    But I think unfounded accusations of bestiality are fair (chickens, sheep, goats), but no pedophelia, except in the case of under-age bar girls.

    Use any words you’d like to, but I’ll make fun of words like, “mendacious” or “perspicacious,” if there’s no good reason to use them.

    Don’t need any boost. Just set out – in the next week – anything to make you comfortable. But it is an insult duel I’m proposing and the purpose is to offend the other person or at least make them look foolish.

    It might be worth getting a panel of judges in an Indonesian Idol – type way to assess — or we could do popular vote — or just let people make their own comments.

    Could be fun to invite, say, Jakartass, Unspun, and perhaps an Indonesian Blogger, to judge the insult-a-thon.

    Happy to discuss,



  11. janma says:

    once a month to go sink 3 or 4 bintangs and formaldehyde your stomach lining from the inside out?

    That is such an urban legend!

    And Achmad ….. I hate that word Londo! It’s worse than bule! It should only apply to Dutch Imperialists and their ilk!

  12. Rob says:

    Urban Legend…sounds like a good title for a movie about the comings and goings on this fine street!

  13. Achmad Sudarsono says:


    Ok. But Londo just means “belanda” it’s not racial. Let’s not get into a tortured discussion about semantics, but “bule” is racial. If someone is a Bule, other people are Cina, Pribumi, Si Hitam, or even worse, Nigger, Gook, – not so nice, right ? How ’bout drop the race-loaded terms ?

  14. Rob says:

    Achmad…just the opportunity you needed to slot in some “race-loaded” terms of your own, right?

    Gotta say that Cina and Pribumi would generally be translated as Chinese and Indigenous both terms are descriptive and the “race-loaded” element with these terms would depend on the context in which they are used, wouldn’t they?

    Whereas, and in contrast, the other terms which you use specifically incorporate the derogatory no matter what the context, right?

    By the way, at least one of these terms suggest that you are an Indonesian with a passion for reading or one that watches a lot of World War II and Vietnam era war movies! Or simply, your pen name and photo not only keep you anonymous but also disguise the fact that you are not Indonesian 🙂 (not that it matters one iota either way)!

    Have a nice day!

  15. Achmad Sudarsono says:


    Descriptive to you – race loaded to people here. Yes, it depends on the context, which is Indonesia. Other terms, “nigga” used by rap groups like “Niggaz With Attitude N.W.A.” and other rap groups as an empowering – not derogatory term. Don’t think “gook” has been so reclaimed.

    Main point is that races only exist in relation to one another. So when you start calling people “Bule” – it begs the question. But if you’re into it, then more power to you. I personally don’t want to be called an “inlander.”

  16. Rob says:

    inlander as the translation for pribumi?

  17. Rob says:

    Cina and pribumi even in Indonesia still depend on the context and that context is not just simply “Indonesia”. An example is where a politician or some other person might play the race card to exploit racial tensions. Hence the creation of a negative context where the words are used in a manner to evoke a particular response…but it is nice, sweet really, how you speak for the whole on this matter 🙂

    The reclaiming of derogatory terms as a means of empowerment is a much larger debate than the two or three sentences here, as not all people see the reclamation of these words as necessarily empowering. But then based on your argumentation, I and any of my fair-skinned or albino friends, must be allowed to reclaim the word ‘bule’ and use it to describe ourselves under the guise of empowering ourselves! More importantly though is that if I do this and reclaim the word and empower myself through its use then you and any other person who does not like it just has to lump it, right? Hence, “the more power to you” argument, right? 🙂

    Yet, when it is all said and done this thread is supposed to be about Jaksa, right?

    Enjoy your week…looking forward to the insult slug fest with Ross!

  18. Lairedion says:

    Ouch, inlander. That’s been a long time I heard that one…

  19. rima says:

    since when has ‘bule’ changed into a derogatory term? as far as i know, ever since i was a child, the term bule is used to describe someone with light skin, be it a caucasian, an albino or a eurasian like myself. It could also be used to describe someone’s light-colored hair.

    “lihat, ada orang bule tuh!” means, “look, there’s a caucasian!” something I hear all the time children say in Indonesia (villages or jakarta)
    “teman saya rambutnya bule, bagus deh” means, “my friend has light-colored hair, very nice” as opposed to the common black hair Indonesians. I hear this all the time when people commented my or my brother’s hair.

    I am an Indonesian, born and bred in Indonesia, and I was not aware that this word has turned ugly until I was scolded by a guy in the expat forum, to which my reply was the same.

    To the expats here here, I don’t think you should worry too much when people call you ‘bule’, most Indonesians do not over think the use of this word, I still don’t think it’s derogatory at all. You can ask your maids, vendor sellers or people in villages, if you don’t believe me, they will tell you the same. Maybe some educated Indonesian intellectuals think so and would like to stop the use of this word to avoid being called ‘pribumi’ or natives/inlander.

    As for myself, I don’t mind if people call me pribumi, I am one.

  20. Ross says:

    Okay, Achmad, if you feel obliged to get into dogs and cats, terserah. I reserve the right to ignore anything that hits that nadir. I had a feeling it would not be Cambridge Union standard.

    I suggest that the ‘jury’ be those who subscribe to Indonesia Matters, not outside blog-masters. IM is the source of the interaction, so it’s only fair. The bulk of them may be ideologically disinclined to favour me, but most people have sufficient integrity to judge a contest on its merits.
    Having once been in a similar slanging match which dragged on interminably,(that means ‘for quite a long time’- not the literal meaning , but in common parlance) I concur with the idea of three posts each, maximum four days apart,300 words per post. After that, there should be a self-denying ordinance on both our parts to let others enjoy venting their feelings. I will observe a moratorium for two weeks ( I also happen to be busy) and once the jurors have had their say, one of us will acknowledge the majority’s verdict -which is not to say that either of us is likely to change his ways.
    As challenger, it is your duty to fire first. Saturday might suit, but you are of course at liberty to suggest alternatives to any or all of the above suggestions.

  21. timdog says:

    Rima – I don’t particularly like the term bule, but I think, generally, it would be petulant and pointless to rail against it – in fact, I use the word myself.
    But the problem that many people have with it is that it gets used as a generic term for all fair-skinned foreigners. Many people would argue that any label based entirely upon physical appearance, and disregarding the nationality, linguistic, cultural and religious identity of the individual in question is inherently racist.

    You said:

    I don’t think you should worry too much when people call you ‘bule’, most Indonesians do not over think the use of this word, I still don’t think it’s derogatory at all

    Just because most Indonesians using the word have no racist intent in doing so doesn’t mean that the word doesn’t have offensive potential.

    Not so long ago I had gently to explain to my 90-year-old grandmother – a kind, far-from-senile, relatively liberal lady – that the word “nigger” was deeply offensive and not to be used under any circumstances. “But I don’t have a problem with black people,” she protested; “that’s just what we called them when I was little.” She grew up in a small village in Britain in the 1920s. In Britain and America at that time many people who were not actively racist in any way beyond the general ignorance of the time would have used the word…

    I hesitate to say this for fear of sounding condescending, but it might not be too far out of line to argue that modern non-metropolitan Indonesia might be at a similar stage in terms of its experience of multiculturalism to 1920s Britain… At that time many British people might have made exactly the same statement you have made above, but replacing the word “bule” with the word “nigger”…

    As I said, I’m not particularly offended by the word, but I just wanted to explain why so many people do take offence…

    Incidentaly, this particular bule doesn’t really like the term pribumi – probably for the entirely misguided and wrong-headed reasons of a self-aware bleeding-heart liberal: every time I hear it I get a flicker of remembrance of antipathy to NON-pribumis (specifically anti-Chinese sentiment) – though of course I know full well that that thought is in the minds of virtually no pribumi who so describes themself 😉

    Hey godammit, what the hell are we going to do if they bulldoze Jalan Jaksa???!?!

  22. Lairedion says:

    Really looking forward to this duel

    Ross, Achmad,

    – How should we judge your insults? Ratings from 1 to 10?
    – When does the duel ends? After a week?
    – What’s the reward for the winner?
    – Any suggestions?

  23. David says:

    The duel- it deserves its own thread, let me know when you two are ready….

    Jaksa – Carl Parkes linked to this post about Jaksa and his response was “Big Deal”

    The neighborhood will probably continue to support guesthouses and attract the limited number of international backpackers, who will then do their beer and banana pancake shopping at the new [shopping] complex.


  24. rima says:

    You said:

    Many people would argue that any label based entirely upon physical appearance, and disregarding the nationality, linguistic, cultural and religious identity of the individual in question is inherently racist.

    So is it now considered rude to say “black” people or “white” people. I am a bit confused.
    Where I live, it’s considered normal to address an african as “noir”.

    I’m just a little surprised at how the term ‘bule’ is now considered as rude. And to think, I used to be so happy as a young girl when people come up to my mom and say, “aduh, lucunya anak ibu, keliatannya bule sekali ya? cantik deh” (wow, your daughter is so cute. She looks mixed, very pretty)
    This is just my point of view, btw. But if caucasian expats in Indonesia do not like this term then we should refrain from using it. I was merely explaining the fact that for an Indonesian, the word has no negative meaning. It’s simply something used to describe the appearance of someone.

    Our two cultures are very different, that’s obvious. Western people are very “politically correct” while Indonesians don’t usually think about this sorts of things. (like putting religion in your ktp, or vacancy ads for secretary or even a telemarketer with specific requirements such as beauty, height, weight)

    thanks for the explanation though, I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

  25. rima says:

    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.

  26. Lairedion says:

    Just because most Indonesians using the word have no racist intent in doing so doesn’t mean that the word doesn’t have offensive potential.

    C’mon timdog, you can’t be serious on this. The term bule has been used for decades. My own grandmother called my uncle bule because of his light skin compared to the others. Sometimes I call my co-workers bule or polar bear but they return the favor by calling me “pinda” (peanut) or chili pepper and they all fancy the home-made sambal of my wife. 😉

    I agree with Mbak Rima. Sometimes Westerners tend to be overly political correct.

  27. timdog says:

    Absolutely, Lairedion; as I said, I personally don’t find it particularly offensive, I use it myself – to describe myself, and I think that those bule who do grumble about it ought to find something more pressing to complain about…

    I just wanted to explain to Rima in dispassionate terms why some people do find it offensive…

    Re. what the prize for Ross and Achmad’s slanging match should be…
    The LOSER should be forced to reveal his true identity. In the case of a draw BOTH will have to do so. My prediction is that they will BOTH turn out to be BULE English teachers of the very worst kind, who have unknowingly drunk together on Jl Jaksa every weekend for many years… 😉

  28. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Hi Ross,

    – The moratorium, waiting period, and refraining is fine.
    – No references to animals – if you like – is also fine.
    – Alter egos — if any exist — I think should remain that way.


    I can see the confusion.

    I don’t think Indonesians mean Bulein a rude way, the same way they don’t mean to be rude to someone when they say, “oooh- you’re fat now !”.

    The problem is the actual definition of Bule, which, correct me if I’m wrong, is albino. A lot of thinking Westerners are aware of the screwed-up things their countries have in the past done to other countries and people in the name of race. So they try to avoid race-loaded terms.

    The point is whilst, Buleisn’t negative, it sets up a precedent of referring to people by their skin-colour. Other racial terms aren’t so nice. Pribumiis ok, it just means of the earth.

    But yes, this post was supposed to be abt Jl. Jaksa.

  29. Marisa says:


    Achmad Sudarsono used to be funny. Now he sounds serious and so tense.

    What’s with the change of attitude?

  30. Farah says:

    ..i think i agree with Rima.. short of.

    Sorry its little bit out of context here, while were talking about Jalan Jaksa.

    Everytime i said bule i never want to insult. I think most of indonesian are think the same.
    Bule for me means white guys. Wether they are Australian, American, or from any country. As long as they white skin, i’ll call them bule. Its not being racist, we dont know wether your american, anglo saxon.. or what ever.. we made it general as we visualize you had the white skin colors (or pale).
    Hey, i know the expat term while i was in university. And its kind of new. And not all indonesian people learn english fast to say expat or other terms that you considered polite.
    And yes, bule i think much better than londo… it does have the colonialism term on it.
    I don’t know if you, white guys are offended with that.. whiteskin ? bule? londo ? what should we call then ? what is appropriate for you ?

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