Friday, March 26, 2010


Any expat who lives in Jakarta for long enough will inevitably ask themselves "Why am I living here?" without really having a justifiable answer. Jakarta is an extremely polluted, overcrowded, noisy, smelly, gridlocked hell hole. It is nearly impossible to walk down most streets due to non-existent sidewalks and pollution. The sky is almost constantly filled with smog. Traffic can turn a 10 minute drive into a 2 hour excursion. The concept of being outdoors is mostly a concept despite the endless summer weather. Garbage fires are a daily sight. Noise pollution makes it nearly impossible to find peace and quiet. There isn't much to do besides drink beer, walk around a mall or eat. There is constant harassment when walking "hello mister" "taxi mister?" "buy something mister". Heavy rain causes floods and obscene traffic jams. Getting out of town is so exhausting that many don't even bother. These factors lead me to wonder: Why would anybody of sound body and mind choose to live in this urban nightmare?

The answer is simple: Jakarta is extremely addictive! I've lived here for years and often have my "Jakarta days" when I can't take it any more and just want to scream. Many other days, I find myself mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the city. Even though most of the city looks the same, there are endless wonders to behold.

I often have 45 minute taxi rides that are extremely entertaining thanks to the odd sights and near traffic accidents one can observe. No matter how many times I see a bus with 50 young boys standing on the top pounding a drum in adoration of their favourite football club, I get excited. Seeing the odd way people make money such as dressing in drag or having a monkey ride a bicycle still get my attention every time.

Motorbike trips are even more exciting. Just the other day, I saw a man carrying what looked like a marmot tied to a string on the side of his bike. Often, you can go places on a motorbike that cars can't go which allow you to see what I like to call the real Jakarta. Small shacks with barefoot children playing in the streets, old men enjoying a cheap coffee and a cigarette, impromptu streetside markets selling items that range from bras to avocados. Sometimes, I take the long way to a destination just for a little excitement or to find out where that road leads to.

These factors lead me to believe that Jakarta is as addictive as a city can be. Even getting lost can be exciting. When friends visit each other, one of the first topics of conversation is often the voyage to the meeting place. Whether it be about the traffic, getting lost or a strange sight, it is always interesting to see or hear. Years ago, I thought that this weird fascination would wear off with time. It hasn't worn off yet and I doubt it ever will. The next time you find yourself asking "why the hell do I live here?", try to imagine yourself back in the town you are from and what the consistent dullness and predictability of daily life is like. It just may make you appreciate this uninhabitable hell hole a little more.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lead by Example

For the last few days, my house has reeked of smoke since somebody nearby has been burning leaves and trash. A little know fact about trash is that it disappears if you burn it, kind of like the poop spray does in that movie 'Envy' ( ). After a day or 2, I got really annoyed with the constant stench of burnt plastic fumes filling my house. I went for a bike ride to see where the fire was coming from. It turns out that the garbage fire was being stoked by the pillars of the community: the local Mosque. I can understand when a poor man burns his garbage because he doesn't know any better or doesn't have the money to pay to get it removed but I surely would think that the pillars of the community would know better. Knowing when I'm beaten, I didn't say a word. I went home, lit some incense and pretended that burning plastic fumes were good for you. Today's blog is short and sweet but there's really nothing more to say except thank's for the nagchampa incense, Mr. PG.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Smoke 'em If You Got 'em

Jakarta is probably 20 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to smoking bylaws. That makes this city a smoker's paradise. Smoking is allowed virtually everywhere. A smoker in Jakarta is a free man/woman. Suddenly, the walls have been torn down, you can smoke at a bar or club without having to go outside. Smoking in restaurants is pretty much always an option. Some have very small non-smoking areas right next to the smoking area. It is often socially acceptable to smoke inside people's houses and cars. It is not uncommon to see a father driving his car with the window cracked slightly while his 2 children sit in the back. The downside to this is that it makes one smoke much more than they normally would.

The complete social acceptance is only one side of the coin. The other is the cost of cigarettes. A pack (depending on the brand) generally goes for close to $1 USD. They are so cheap that I don't care if I lose a pack or if friends bum smokes (or fags) from me all night long. People often share the packs of cigarettes littering a table at a bar as it is often difficult to remember which one belongs to you. This is a far cry to my back home smoking days when you would guard your smokes with your life. These factors are great for a while until you realize that you've been smoking and occupying smoke filled rooms for years on end.

The whole "smoking is bad for you" phenomenon hasn't really caught on yet in Indonesia. Young children may tell you that it's bad but the adult population doesn't really buy it. They don't think that it's good for you but they may believe that it's bad for you the same way that Coca-Cola is.
Smoking is what men do in this country. Indonesian cigarettes are often a mixture of tobacco and cloves. They have a sweet smell and crackle when smoked. One company called Gudang Garam proudly advertises itself as a MAN'S cigarette. They have these over the top television commercials where people are skydiving in Patagonia or white water rafting. Whenever they complete their physically demanding activity, they sit down and light a Gudang Garam. Another brand of cigarettes called Dji Sam Soe was invented as a cure for bronchitis. They are extremely large, dense, heavy cigarettes. It takes a REAL man to finish just one.

For years, I thought that this whole smoking culture was very liberating. The only places I've seen where not smoking is actually enforced are schools and fast food restaurants (probably because they are from America). There are smoking bylaws in many places but they are not enforced. Hospitals only allow smoking in certain areas. Many other public places will have a "designated smoking area" that is out in the open. This means that the smoke can travel all around a room but you can only smoke in one corner of said room. Now, I've decided that it's time to quit. The liberty of smoking has now become very repressive. It is almost impossible to go anywhere where people aren't smoking. If you go out to a bar or club, your clothes will smell like smoke for days. I never realized how smoky it can be in some places until I wasn't smoking in them.

I haven't done that well with the quitting so far but this time I have a long term plan to stick with it. I'm sure you've heard that one before. The short term quitting is not that difficult. The long term becomes difficult when you walk into a room and half of the people in there are smoking. I have friends who have quit numerous time and usually fall back into it slowly. I predict that smoking in public places in Jakarta will not happen much before the year 2020 and that it will take another 2 years to actually get people to stop. In the meantime, I'll try to endure this one time paradise that has turned into my personal hell.