Jakarta We Love You: 8 Reasons This City Rules

Some people call Jakarta the Big Durian. Not everybody is a fan of that name, but for others it’s a perfect description for Indonesia’s capital. Like the durian, Jakarta can strike people as a stinky and offensive assault on the senses. But, just like the durian, there are some people who love this city for its unique, incomparable flavor. Count us among the latter group.

Look, it’s easy to hate on Jakarta.  Its flaws are so numerous and so obvious. Its awful traffic, pollution, poverty and general chaos can overwhelm even long time residents. Floods transforms large sections of the city into a soupy nightmare on a yearly basis and perpetual problems like poor infrastructure and inept bureaucracy can make daily life feel like an obstacle course of stress-inducing headaches.

Jakarta’s good points are not nearly as obvious. It takes effort and an open mind to appreciate what’s great about this city. Therefore, having a knowledgeable guide to point you in the right direction is invaluable. 

Part of our mission at Coconuts Jakarta is to be that guide and tell you about the things that make this city amazing. In spite of all of its problems, we love Jakarta and our proud to call it our home. We hope this humble website will help our fellow Jakartans learn more about everything interesting and awesome the Big Durian has to offer. 

(That’s not to say that we won’t criticize the many things about this city that need to be criticized, but it will always be done with the hope that, by pointing out what’s wrong, we can eventually make it better.)

So, without further ado, here are our top eight reasons for loving Jakarta.

1. Our legendary nightlife

Fable, one of the hottest clubs in Jakarta’s SCBD

After the sun sets and most of the day’s macet has melted away, Jakartans come out to play in a big way. The stress inherent in living in the chaotic capital city means people need to destress like its their job. 

Fortunately The Big Durian offers us a wide variety of bars, clubs and other late-night venues to do just that. We’ve got glamorous upmarket establishments that can compete with anything Singapore has to offer and we’ve got a wild underground party scene that could make a Bangkokian blush. With choices ranging from cheap and cheerful pubs to hipster hangouts to luxe nightclubs, (there’s an option to fit every personality and mood. 

One of the things that makes Jakarta’s nightlife so great is that its unpretentious compared to a lot of cities’. While a few of the big clubs are enforcing stricter dress codes these days, you rarely have to wait to enter even the liveliest establishments (occupancy and fire safety concerns be damned!) or worry about looking “cool” enough to make it past the front doors of even the hottest clubs – as long as you have enough money to blow on an overpriced cocktail, you’re generally golden. 

2. It’s a surprisingly safe city to live in

Jakarta has an unsavory reputation in other parts of the world (and even Indonesia) so people are usually surprised to hear that Indonesia’s capital city is actually safer, statistically speaking, than many in Asia, America and Europe.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council’s “2013 Crime and Safety Report: Jakarta”:

“Jakarta has a population of approximately 10,000,000 residents, including foreigners.  For 2012, there were reported 12,999 violent crimes: 132 murders; 85 rapes; 2,843 aggravated assaults; 8,526 burglaries; 1,630 thefts; and 7,340 vehicle thefts.  The general crime rates on a per capita basis must be taken into context as Indonesia’s crime rate is lower than similar crimes reported in many large, western hemisphere cities .

Just to compare, Bangkok’s homicide rate (per 100,000 per people) is 4, Amsterdam’s is 4.4 and New York City’s is 5.6 (based on data from 2009). According to OSAC’s statistics, Jakarta’s would be a 1.3, meaning you’re over four times more likely to get murdered in New York than Jakarta (and isn’t that a pleasant thought?).

This is not to say that Jakarta is a totally safe city, obviously. By far the biggest threat most average, law-abiding citizens will face is theft. But if you’re mindful of your bags and wallets, avoid taking shady taxis and generally use your common sense, you’ll rarely have a problem here.

3. Food, glorious food

It’s a cliche to say that “People in _____ city love to eat!” You can find great food and fanatical foodies in every city in the world. What makes Jakarta’s F&B scene standout is diversity, availability and price.

As a huge island nation, Indonesian culture has produced a wide variety of uniquely delicious dishes. Although our cuisine doesn’t usually get a lot of recognition outside of Asia, a rare exception  was a CNN reader poll of the 50 best foods in the world, with 3 of the top 20 coming from Indonesia (including nasi goreng at #2 and rendang at #1). And there’s no better place than Jakarta to sample the rich diversity of Indonesia’s awesome culinary traditions, with everything from Acehnese to Padangnese readily available all over the city.

You don’t have to go far to get a decent meal in Jakarta, with food stalls on every corner offering cheap, tasty meals (though of widely varying hygienic standards). You don’t even have to leave your house, as kaki limas roam the neighborhoods, calling out their culinary offerings, and fast food from KFC to McDonalds delivers to your doors.

Jakarta’s international food offerings aren’t too shabby either. Amazing Chinese and dim sum restaurants abound. A generation of Australian-educated Indo kids are bringing Melbourne’s cool cafe scene to the capital one hipster hangout at a time. And, most recently, international celebrity chefs and Michelin-starred culinary maestros are setting up shop here to take care of Jakarta’s increasingly discerning foodies. Even at those high end establishments, the price for a five star meal is usually a fraction of what you’d have to pay in Singapore or a Western city (well, at least if you don’t need to drink wine).

4. Our thriving music and art scenes

Balawan at Java Jazz Festival 2012

Balawan at Java Jazz Festival 2012

Our local music scene rocks. Back in 2007, Time Magazine declared that Jakarta has the Best Alternative-Music Scene in Asia, and it’s only gotten better since then. It’s easy to see great live music nearly any day of the week and hip new bands from all over the country are always coming to J-Town looking to make a name for themselves. 

Our city’s musical chops can also be seen at the Java Jazz Festival, one of the largest and most successful jazz festivals in the world’ We’re finally recovering the Lady Gaga debacle of 2012, with more A-class international acts like Metallica, Taylor Swift and One Direction making their way to our stages once again. When it comes to EDM, it seems like we can never have too many DJs here in Jakarta. A session at one of the Indonesian capital’s top-notch clubs is a requirement for some of the world’s top DJs and events like the Djakarta Warehouse Project keep bringing heavy-hitters such as Steve Aoki and David Guetta to our shores.

Although the city’s museums are still severely lacking, the Big Durian’s art scene is booming. An article in Art + Auction magazine from last year asked, “Is Jakarta the Next Art Market Capital?” It cites as evidence the increasing prominence of Indonesia’s contemporary artists on the global stage. More and more galleries are popping up to showcase this new generation of highly-sought after artists, so there’s never an excuse to say you can’t find any good art in this town.

5. The majesty of our malls

With 173 shopping centres within the capital, Jakarta has more malls than any city in the world. Should we be proud of that? Well, yeah, kinda!.

We hear those of you protesting this point, saying to yourselves, “Malls are one of the worst things about Jakarta! There are too many malls! People spend too much time in malls! They are crass temples to capitalism and consumerism etc etc.” 

We agree, to a degree. Jakarta’s mall-loving ways have probably gone too far and we’ll happily tell developers we don’t really need any more (as the above link indicates, it’s unlikely new mall developers will be getting the governor’s go-ahead anytime soon).

But c’mon, admit it – Jakarta’s malls can be damn impressive. They’re huge, comfortable, filled with stores where you can satisfy any shopaholic impulse, restaurants offering a cornucopia of cuisines and many of the best-value movie theatres in the region. 

People need to shop, eat and entertain themselves, and in a city as traffic-choked as Jakarta, its extremely convenient to be able to do all those things in one place. In some other cities, people are happy to traipse up and down shop-lined streets to get their consumerism fix, but few of those cities have to contend with Jakarta’s heat and humidity. Honestly, if you had to do all of your shopping outside, wouldn’t you wish for an all-encompassing air-conditioned alternative? Even Singapore, with all of its lovely green space, has approximately 1.4 malls per 100,000 residents compared to Jakarta’s rate of 1.7.

This is just to say we love our malls, in moderation. We hope that traditional markets can continue to up their game (check out what’s happening in Pasar Santa if you’re not sure what we mean) and more outside entertainment options will become available, but in the meantime we won’t feel guilty for our regular pilgrimages to Plaza Indonesia, PIM and Pacific Place. 

6. It’s easy to escape

Need a break from Jakarta? In less than two hours you could be here.

Even Jakarta haters have to appreciate how convenient it is that the Indonesian capital is within striking distance of all sorts of great holiday escape destinations. Bali is the obvious choice, with dozens of flights per day ready to whisk you away to one of the world’s premier island paradises. We’re also less just a hop, skip and a jump from Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, each blessed with numerous tourist friendly locales. 

But you don’t even need to buy an airplane ticket to get to some amazing locations that are far removed from Jakarta’s urban jungle. You can take a boat up to Pulau Seribu, the collection of tiny islands just off the coast of the capital, several of which have awesome resorts, beaches and diving spots to enjoy. If road trips are more your style, you can drive down to Bandung for fab food and shopping or Puncak for cool mountain breezes  If you’re willing to go further afield, Java’s got some great under the radar lovelies, like Cimaja and Tanjung Lesung, where you’ll find unspoiled beaches and great waves for surfing.

7. Jakartans are masters of social media

It’s a well known fact that Jakarta is, per capita, the world’s most active city on Twitter. That’s one of the main reasons the company with the little blue bird logo will soon be opening up an office in the Indonesian capital

Jakartans care to share so damn much, we have embraced not just Twitter but Facebook, Instagram, Path, Whatsapp, BBM and Line (but not you Google+, sorry, even we’re not that social media mad). Jakartans are consequently some of the most plugged in people on the planet and we’re always eager to hit share and let our friends and the world know what’s going on.

Of course all of this social media mania is a double-edged sword – with so many information streams to process, its easy to get overwhelmed and drown in a sea of news, status updates, gossip and memes. One of our goals at Coconuts Jakarta is to search through all that raw data and bring you only the most interesting, entertaining and essential news about our city. The crème de la Coconut crème, if you will. 

8. Jakarta is a city on the rise

Jakarta looks pretty cool (when shot from the right angle, at the right time, with exactly the right exposure settings)

One of the reasons we are so excited to be starting this website is because we believe that Jakarta is a in the midst of great changes, changes that will make it into one of world’s most important changes in the near future. But that’s not just our opinion. Earlier this year, Chicago-based consulting group A.T. Kearney Inc. released a report saying “Jakarta is the likeliest emerging city to gain a global role in the next 10 to 20 years.”

Among the reasons Jakarta was picked for the number one spot in the report is the city’s young, dynamic workforce that is attracting international businesses (over half of Indonesia’s population is under the age of 30).

The idea that Jakarta is a city on the rise is something that many Jakartans might have disagreed with a few years ago. But Joko Widodo’s winning the city’s governorship in 2012 infused many people with a new hope for Jakarta’s future. And even though Jokowi has moved on to become the country’s president, he leaves the city in the extremely capable hands of  Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a no-nonsense ballbuster of a politician who many are confident will be able to execute real change in the capital. 

Already we’re starting to see some of those changes in action, like construction on the long promised MRT system finally beginning as well as the revitalization of crumbling Kota Tua. It’s definitely an exciting time to be living in the Big Durian.

Let us know if you agree or disagree with any of our points in the comments below, and feel free to tell us why you love (or hate) living in Jakarta.

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