When I booked my tickets to Jakarta, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had only heard bad things from other travellers, so my expectations weren’t high, but at the same time, I couldn’t stop wondering how a city of Jakarta’s size could be that bad. I mean, there’s a reason why 9,3 million people live there. Sure, those who are born into poverty don’t have a choice, but what about the others? They stay there for a reason and I wanted to figure out that reason.

I had heard that the city isn’t very touristy, which is definitely a good thing, but it can also be challenging, especially if you don’t speak Bahasa Indonesian (which I don’t). It was only with help from Swedish Jonte, who I met on the plane to Jakarta, that I got from the airport, on the right bus to my hostel in North Jakarta. When we got to the arrivals hall, I was startled by the hundreds of people that were there, almost blocking the way out. I guess they were all waiting for their relatives, but it was very overwhelming, especially since I’m caucasian, so I was an obvious object for stares.

The drive to the hostel went smoothly, although I wondered how traffic accidents are avoided there. There are so so so many motorbikes EVERYWHERE, overtaking from the left, then the right, then two on each side – and beeping all the time while doing it. It was pure madness. Although I did appreciate that most of them stopped to let pedestrians cross, when the traffic light was red for them, unlike what I experienced in Beijing.

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I only have Phuket in Thailand to compare Jakarta to, and I must say that everything was much worse in Jakarta. The stares, the yells, the smelly food stalls, the slums, the litter, the dirty rivers, the crazy traffic, the uneven pavements, the missing pavements… All of it was very daunting at times. I could’ve easily lived without every other man shouting “hello miss”, waiting for me to turn my head and answer them, only to be disappointed when I ignored them and went on to the next shouter. I tried responding to one, but that ended in him talking Bahasa Indonesian to me, and when he realized I couldn’t understand him, he tried to call others over. In the end, I just left, it was too much.

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Street kitties on uneven pavements
Street kitties on uneven pavements

There were a few good moments on the streets though, for example when three little girls waved at me and full of enthusiasm asked me to take a picture of them and then went on to giving me high fives! But later on, when a police man also wanted a picture with me, I was first scared (you never know, haha), but it was innocent. Unfortunately, I haven’t got that photo, as his friend took it with his phone.

While men are definitely the worst to stare, children and women also do it, but in a more innocent way. I noticed that the Indonesian women always wait for me to smile first, and when I do, they light up as though they haven’t been smiled at for years.

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Happy girls on the street

But to be fair, it’s not all busy roads and dirt in Jakarta. The National Monument and the area surrounding it was a breath of fresh air – literally -, and a place that I can really recommend visiting, if you want to get away from all the noise and hassle. Although there were still people coming up to me wanting to take pictures and the occasional “hey miss”, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as on the streets and I actually got a few moments to myself there.

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There are not really any sights worth mentioning in Jakarta and the city is definitely not tourist friendly, but visiting Jakarta will give you an authentic insight into the everyday lives of urban Indonesians. Although it’s not a lifestyle that I would want, it’s easy to see that they are content with their lives – and why they are content. Jakarta is their home and they are a part of its culture. For me, it was tough to experience, but for them, it’s everyday life. While the slummy areas definitely don’t look like healthy places to live, I didn’t see anything but happy people there. And that’s natural, people tend to always make the best out of every situation, and in their situation, they have never known anything else. And thankfully, if they do want to escape the madness, there is a beautiful and free green area in the very center of the city.

I wouldn’t recommend going to Jakarta alone as a woman, not because it’s unsafe, because I did feel safe at all times, but because it’s extremely uncomfortable and unfortunately, the locals don’t realize that. But if you can deal with it, go for it! For me it was a nice visit, but I won’t be coming back anytime soon.

2 thoughts on “A Major Culture Shock in Jakarta”

  1. Mel, you are the bravest girl I know, city didn’t look friendly, indeed. Hope you are well and in safe. I guess that was an experience. Take care! Don’t forget we are with you.

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