Category Archives: Letter From Jakarta

Letter Jakarta – July 27, 2011

Mission Impossible With Jakarta’s Mallbrats I’d been toying for weeks with the idea of buying an iPad2. I kept going back and forth about it in my mind – at $800, it was hard to justify, especially considering that they don’t really do anything particularly useful. But they do look cool. Light and sleek. You can carry them round in those tiny folders, as thin as a notepad. “Yes,” I eventually decided, “I must have one!” I foolishly thought it would be as simple as turning up to the mall, shelling out the cash and walking away with a device that ... [ Read More ]

Letter Jakarta – June 29, 2011

Pull Up to My Bumper, Baby: A Lesson For Bali From The Big City As you in Bali drink your organic coffee by the rice paddies or munch on fresh fruit salads on the beach, I sit in a cab with my morning toast, writing this to you. I have learned to live half my day in a cab, stuck in Jakarta’s notorious traffic. It’s an image that should worry you in Bali. I was down your way not long ago and I noticed you are starting to resemble the capital – bumper to bumper traffic all through the south, ... [ Read More ]

Letter Jakarta – June 01, 2011

Jakarta by Moonlight Jakarta’s electricity woes has the government begging everyone for help. Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo asked residents to switch off their lights for an hour on Friday a la Earth Hour. At least this time he asked nicely. Usually, rolling blackouts occur wherever, whenever. Well, it’s not really that random. The state electricity board, PLN, knows exactly where and when the lights will go out, it’s just that they don’t tell anyone else. Boy, would a snitch at PLN come in handy. Blackouts have cropped up at some very inopportune times, and a little planning would go a ... [ Read More ]

Letter Jakarta – April 06, 2011

Land of the Lazy Flat-Bottomed Journalists Anyone who’s ever read this column knows that I’m a big fat whiner. Actually, I’m a very small skinny whiner, but my size does not reflect the magnitude of my whininess. So for argument’s sake, let’s just say I’m a big fat whiner. I constantly complain about Jakarta – the traffic, bad waiters, lack of systems and the fact that everything has too much sugar in it. If I were an optimist, I would say the traffic has taught me patience, the lack of systems has taught me to loosen up, the sugar has ... [ Read More ]

Letter Jakarta – March 09, 2011

I like kids. I do. But I was not feeling such a maternal instinct two Saturdays ago when a bunch of kampung kids stood on the roof next door and watched me swim laps. They kept their eyes on me the whole time, moving their little heads from left to right, like spectators watching a tennis match in slow motion. They stood there under the guise of kite-flying, but the kite never flew, they just dangled to ground from the kids’ hands. They had been visiting the rooftop all week, watching one bule after another go through the same routine. ... [ Read More ]

Letter Jakarta – February 09, 2011

A Night of Soccer, Sashimi and Song My weekends in Jakarta have become sadly predictable. Friday night – after-work drinks at Face Bar. Saturday morning – recover from after-work drinks with dim sum. Saturday night – dinner up the road and beers at the pub. Sunday night – regret spending all my money and swear that next week things will be different. After the usual drinking session last Friday, I wanted Saturday night to be low-key. So my housemates and I decided to do something different and go for a late dinner at the Ramen 38 noodle bar in Blok M. ... [ Read More ]

Letter Jakarta – January 12, 2011

I was happy this Christmas to be lying on the beach in Bali, far from the noise, pollution and stress of Jakarta. I had planned to spend some of my holiday reflecting on the year gone by and the one to come, but of course, I ended up sleeping, drinking and eating instead. So that task was left until the cab ride to the airport. I had failed miserably in the past to stick to new year’s resolutions. My mind turned to a list written in a Moleskine, sitting somewhere at the bottom of my closet – New Year’s Resolutions 2007: ... [ Read More ]

Letter Jakarta – December 15, 2010

When Termites Attack I was never an easy kid to deal with. As soon as I could speak, I would make constant demands for sweets and expensive toys, and when I didn’t get what I wanted, I would throw quite the high-pitched tantrum. To my unreasonable requests, my father would respond with a firm “no”, adding some story about how when he was a kid in India he had nothing, making kites out of plastic bags and playing some poor-man’s version of cricket, which involved a stick, a rock and five friends. My eyes would roll, especially when he would ... [ Read More ]

Letter Jakarta – November 17, 2010

I am probably the only foreigner who ever quit smoking in this country. Most come here and pick up the habit, for understandable reasons. In Jakarta, everyone is a smoker, either actively or passively. Adopting an “if you can’t beat ’em, might as well join ’em” attitude seems to almost make sense. It has been two years since I kicked the habit, and while I try not to be one of those self-righteous ex-smokers who preaches to puffers, I do occasionally direct a look of disgust toward the toothless smoking passenger next to me on the bus, the ojek rider ... [ Read More ]

Letter Jakarta – October 20, 2010

That Old Spirit of Rock ’n’ Roll On a sunny Saturday I ventured out of the two kilometer radius of my Jakarta bubble and headed all the way up north to Ancol harbor. I used to despise Ancol, mostly because I think that bodies of water that look like beaches that are too polluted to swim in are just a tease. But there was something in the air at Ancol on this October afternoon. Families were enjoying the sand, parents were throwing their naked children in the water, despite the gunk, and the reverberations of guitars and drums reminded me ... [ Read More ]