I went on a business trip last week to Jakarta, aka ‘the Big Durian’. It’s my second visit. On the surface it’s not the nicest place - the heat, the traffic, the pollution etc – but it has a certain fascination. It is ‘a city we learn to love but never to like … a giant living laboratory’.
This time, I went on the ‘real Jakarta tour’, run by Ronny and Anneke Poluan, which visits tourist spots such as Old Batavia, but spends longer in some of Jakarta’s many slum areas. Money raised from the tours goes directly towards community projects and to the Yasayan Interkultur Foundation.
It was fascinating and obviously rather shocking. But the people we met could not have been friendlier and more welcoming. I learned more from this tour than I could have from any kind of ‘official’ tour. It was the unvarnished truth.
The tour is heavily criticized by the authorities who say that it ‘shames’ the city by showing visitors some of its poorest areas. The opposite is true. You come away with a strong sense of the pride and resourcefulness of many of Jakarta’s poorest.
What is much more shaming is what local government is doing about the city’s infrastructure. Running right past the Old Town is a stinking cess pit of a river. Many buildings look in a worse condition than those in Old Havana. And the roads and pollution are appalling and life-threatening.
Indonesia’s growth rate currently is around 6%.
All of which was a reminder of the need to get the right perspective: the truth is down there on the ground among the people you speak to.
What comes down from on high is something else. Perhaps similar to what ends up in Jakarta’s rivers.
Governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, recently said he wanted to change the image of the city:
“We have to build the right brand for Jakarta that makes this city distinctive. To date, foreign people still hold perception that Jakarta is congested and flooded ... We have to gather ideas from the grassroots level.”Governor Widodo would get a lot of grassroots ideas from the real Jakarta tour. I would go back for that.