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The Modern Folktales of Jakarta

Book Chronicles / Review

In this article:
Tiada Ojek di Paris

Written by Ernest Wiyanto, originally published in Personal Blog

Oct 12, 2015

The city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo, said Desmond Morris, a zoologist. This statement viewed cities with an emphasis on its people rather than its structures. However, which focus does it want to emphasise? The myriad variety of its people? Or the confines of city life, like a zoo, where people are caged from one another? In this book, subtitled “Urban Talk”, Seno Gumira Ajidarma offers sharp observations about Jakartans in 44 stories, which are collected from his published columns in newspapers. These stories are strange, yet familiar and intimate. We have heard these stories before. Jakarta Alienates “Ever since the 50s Jakarta has been a city that alienates people,” wrote the author. He went on arguing that city people aren’t bound by blood or culture, unlike their counterparts in the village. People come to Jakarta to fight, to work, to survive. These people often go on their own accord, alienating other people in the process. Jakartans Hate Real Jakartans Small talk with “small people” (cab drivers, housemaids, security officers, coolies, and so on) often carries you to the point of “Where do you originally come from?” To which I have always answered almost spontaneously. (Sukabumi.) This answer have never failed to make the conversation more pleasant than before and carry the conversation further and farther away from Jakarta—to the places where they are originated. For some unknown reasons, there is no original Jakarta people. Betawi people, on the other hand, do exist, albeit rarely. Most Jakarta people are consisted of people coming from many places outside Jakarta. This urbanisation is the direct cause of uneven distribution (money, power, development) in Indonesia. For instance, Jakarta enjoys electricity every day for a year but cities in North Sumatra have to endure power crisis that includes deliberate power cut for many hours in a week. There is also a reason why online shopping is a hit for people living “outside the island” (outside Java, minus Bali). No wonder we will find every kind of Indonesian people from outside Jakarta in Jakarta. And no wonder people will dislike you if you proclaim yourself the real Jakarta people. Jakarta Will Never Have “Ideal” Public Parks There is also a chapter regarding public parks in Jakarta. Public parks, that can be argued a product of European cities, are not a big hit here in Jakarta, for some reasons. If I may suggest just two: 1. The weather’s too hot 2. The pollution’s too dangerous. The author also observed an area in Jakarta with a luxurious apartment complex that offers a European style park with cupid statues and fountains. And because most luxurious apartment complexes are incarnations of slum areas, more often than not they are situated around shovels and huts. This one is no exception. Fences were erected to fend off people from the slums from enjoying the parks. But all the fences did was fending off the residents from entering the parks (permission from the building management needed). In the end there was only kids from the slums, who got in by jumping off the fence, playing water in the fountains under the afternoon heat. The irony. Tiada Ojek di Paris (No Ojek in Paris) (note: Ojek is a motorcycle cab that runs independently before the rise of Go-Jek) offers many more of these stories, which are written in a rant, that will always have a place in Jakarta’s urban talk. This book is a reflection in the form of social critic addressed to discerning Jakarta people about their relationship with their city. A love-hate relationship.

Read the full article here.

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