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.

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