Wednesday, 15 May 2013 4:51 PM

Split Personality

BPJS Info-Jakarta is many things, not least a tug of war. The issue goes beyond making a living in the city. Those who are fond of the Big Durian want to stay close to its heart, through thick and thin. But those who hate it will spare no love. Just ask Jaya Salim, a restaurateur who returned to Jakarta after spending 19 years in the United States.

“I can’t stand the traffic. I can’t stand the people. There’s no common sense toward each other in public. And there are no outdoor activities. It’s all about malls, malls and malls,” he complains. After only two years in the capital, he moved to Bali, where he now runs a restaurant in the Tuban area. Traffic is indeed a major component determining the hate factor. According to data from the Indonesia Transportation Society, each day 5.4 million commuters flow into Jakarta from the suburbs of Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi, adding to the 10 million or so already there, resulting in chaotic streets.

Put that on the list of campaign issues for gubernatorial hopefuls, which already include the problems of public transportation, environmental hazards, jobs and health care. Street Smart In further evidence that it really is a thin line between love and hate when it comes to Jakarta, current residents who formerly lived abroad say it takes a smart approach to be able to survive here. “I appreciate Jakarta more when I’m overseas. What I really miss most are the food, family and friends,” says Edmund Daniel, a TV presenter who calls Sydney his second home.

“I have to travel a lot to really miss Jakarta.” Flora Harto, a fashion designer, agrees. For her, coping with the city means escaping from it regularly: “At least once a year I take at least three days or a week of vacation somewhere else away from Jakarta.” But Tito Imanda, a graduate of New York University who now heads the School of Media and Communications at Binus University, has enough love to overcome the hate.

As much as he enjoyed living in the Big Apple, he says life here is more interesting. “I like the chaos, the friends, the family and the challenges,” he says. “Problems in New York City are not as hard as our challenges here.” Indeed, challenges abound here in ways and at levels incomparable to other megacities. Nevertheless, some people say they are proud to have ways to overcome the problems, even though it is not always easy.

Suffice to say, this urban jungle requires survival of the fittest. One of the survivors is Dewi Suciati, marketing and communications manager at the British Council. As one of the million of road warriors entering Jakarta each day from the suburbs (Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi), she would not call her commute easy, but she has found ways to work around it. To arrive at work on time, she and her husband, who works at the British Embassy, must leave their home in North Bekasi by no later than 5:30 a.m..

The two take turns driving, with Dewi almost always multitasking in the car, whether sipping tea or applying makeup. “I usually get off at the embassy and then hail a cab to go to work,” she says. She uses any remaining time to run last-minute errands. “Sometimes I stop by at the Indonesia Stock Exchange building to get a sandwich. Sometimes I fix my hair.” The couple elects not to join the afternoon crawl back into Bekasi.

Instead, they spend their evenings at a nearby mall, watching movies, dining or simply hanging out. Other days, the two kill time by getting a massage. “We had planned on getting an apartment in Tebet, but the price was just outrageous,” she says. “Besides, Bekasi has all I need, and it’s close to my parents. If we can cheat the traffic, commuting isn’t that bad.” Those who refuse to adopt odd commuting hours find it wiser to stay where the action is. One of them is Febriko Anggara, a journalist with KompasTV. “It’s more comfortable to live at home, but it makes more sense to be close to work,” he says.

Once suffering through a two-hour commute (each way) from his home in Bogor, Febriko gave up and moved into a kost (boarding house) in the Kuningan area of South Jakarta. The best part about his living arrangements now, he says, is the flexibility. “Staying [in the city] gives me more time to do things,” he says. In keeping with the changing urban nature of this global city, survival skills vary from displaying outward toughness to maintaining Zen-like calm. If there’s anything permanent about this city, that would be its perpetual changes.

Even the language changes every now and then, leading to the creation of online or even print dictionaries. All proof of how it is never easy to be gaul (hip) in this town. Alive and Kicking Studies show that despite its multitude of problems, the city dubbed as “Indonesia’s overweight capital” by Lonely Planet remains vibrant and dynamic. According to a survey by the Brookings Institution, in 2011 Jakarta was the world’s 17th fastest-growing city, trumping Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Bangkok and Singapore.

The Washington-based think tank also noted positive changes in income and employment rates. Nevertheless, reality in the Big Durian involves a smorgasbord of urban problems, on display the minute one leaves the house Still, for Tito Imanda, there’s no going back. Jakarta, with all of its shortcomings, is his home. “New York City is nice but I want to live there when I’m retired. Jakarta is the place to conquer.”

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