Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Times, They Are A Changin'

There's a new outdoor cafe culture sweeping across Jakarta. It consists of a wide array of food, snacks and drinks mixed with the choice of sitting on an outdoor patio or in air conditioned comfort. They are open 24 hours a day and seem to be exponentially appearing across the Jakarta landscape. Maybe you've heard of it before, it's a little store known as 7/11.

When I first moved to Jakarta, there were no 7/11's. I recall transiting in Taipei on my way to Jakarta and being blown away by the amount of 7/11's they had there. They were practically on every street corner and were the everything in one store. Ditto when I visited Thailand years later. Eventually, they found their way to Jakarta and managed to improve on the original model.

The first 7/11's appeared a little over a year ago an weren't met with much fanfare. I simply noticed and thought "oh, 7/11, maybe I can get a slurpee one day" Then, I actually visited one. They had a widely expanded variety of food and beverages, including my favorite; beer. Hanging out at 7/11 gradually became the hip thing for Indonesian people to do on a Saturday night as it was not uncommon to see 50 motorbikes parked in front of some of them.

The whole idea sprouted from the Circle K chain of convenience stores. Many young people in South Jakarta who couldn't afford (or didn't like) to drink in bars or pubs would simply meet their friends at Circle K, buy a large bottle of beer and drink it on the curb outside. This became increasingly popular, especially in the Kemang area. 7/11 had the brilliant idea to take this one step further by adding patio tables with umbrellas,air conditioned upstairs lounges with free wi-fi and public toilets.

Nowadays, certain 7/11's seem to always have people in them from morning coffee patrons to the lunch crowd to the after work drink crowd to the late night one more for the road crowd. I have increasingly started to meet friends at 7/11 for an early evening beverage or 2 before hitting the town. There is also a pretty good chance that I will see someone I know having an after work drink if I stop in to buy something. This has totally changed the game as there aren't many outdoor places to sit in Jakarta that are affordable and have a nice atmosphere.

The newest installment of 7/11 is very close to my house and has left me with mixed feelings. The lot that it is located on previously had what is known as night warungs. This is basically a large area of long tables and chairs that are surrounded by different food stalls. Kind of like an outdoor food court with more authentic food. It was one of my favorite places to eat dinner thanks to the variety and atmosphere. This place was also very popular with the locals as it always seemed to be busy. One day, I drove down there to get some fried noodles and, to my shock and dismay, the stalls had been demolished. I could not wrap my head around why such a successful group of businesses would shut down.

A month later, I got my answer: a brand new shiny 7/11 with more patio tables than I've ever seen. The good thing is that I have a new local hangout to enjoy a beverage or 2 with my friends. The bad thing is that all of that tasty authentic Indonesian food I loved has been traded in for big bite hot dogs, slurpees and pre-packaged sandwiches. I really don't know how to feel about this. As Bob Dylan once said so long ago "The times, they are a changin"

I can either learn to adapt or be left behind. There is so much to ponder with a cold beer on a patio on a Wednesday afternoon.