Jakarta, just like any other capital cities in the world, seems to offer prosperity, success, and fame. Its skyscrapers with glittering lights and gigantic billboards parading beautiful people are the symbol of dreams and hopes for many people. The city is glamorous, bright and bold; although it also can be unforgiving, deceptive, materialistic, and unoriginal. Despite so many unsuccessful stories about those who have left their idyllic hometowns just to find out how tremendously tough living in this city is, every year, thousands of people with bags of hopes storming into Jakarta, trying to steal the warmth of its limelight.
Probably just like any other capital cities in the world too, Jakarta becomes a yardstick. A success is not a success if we don’t conquer Jakarta, for it’s being a thousand times tougher but with (possibly) multiple rewards. Even if we don’t live in Jakarta, everything must be compared to it, from clothes, accents, entertainments, even lifestyle.
Those who do live and work in Jakarta are automatically classified as ‘orang Jakarta’, or Jakartans. Even though amongst 11 millions occupants, most of them come from the city’s nearby villages or even further. But let’s set aside the demographic issue, since as long as your “permanent” address is in Jakarta, although your ID card is from Bantul, for example, you are considered hip, trendy, and sophisticated.
About six months a go, I was sitting down with a Balinese friend in Anantara‘s rooftop bar, enjoying the warm orange sky, the sun that was falling down from the sky, and the soothing sound of waves from the beach 6 floors below us. I told my friend we were waiting for Nonie who’s still store-hopping in Seminyak. My friend, who had never seen Nonie before, guessed her based on her appearance so correctly I wondered how she knew her. She calmly said that she saw a girl walking on Seminyak area, and she guessed that the girl was Nonie.
I still couldn’t understand the logic. Certainly there were hundreds of people wandering around the shops, how she could tell that this particular one is Nonie? My friend said it was really easy to spot people from Jakarta.
I was intrigued, and asked her again what she meant, since our physical features like height, skin colour, and hair, are no difference from Balinese. But she just shook her head and said Jakartans are easy to spot. When Nonie turned up, I expected her to wear something outrageously glamorous, with full make-up or branded items stuck from head to toe. But of course she didn’t. She was dressed normally in tank top and shorts, sandals and sunglasses. Just like me. And my friend. No outrageous bling-bling, no entourage, no loud behaviour. So what gives?
We left the conversation there but that was the first time I became aware that there is a term of “orang Jakarta” that sounds or makes Jakartans separate from the rest of Indonesia. The term fascinates me, because it represents intangible qualities which people from other cities subconsciously think instantly when they mention it: fame, success, money, sophisticated, trendy, and posh.
Then I remember that back in high school, 2 hours by plane away from Jakarta, there was a commotion one day when a new student from Jakarta joined us. Everybody talked about him days before he arrived. From the car he was driving, the way he wore his uniform, his hairstyle, and of course, his mesmerizing accent. I remembered this because some of my friends were so excited about it, while I sat at the corner, couldn’t understand what the hoo-ha was about. I even questioned myself for not thinking this was worth to be excited about. When he actually arrived, everyone spotted the car as it had a Jakarta plate, and before long my friends kept repeating what he said or how he said it when he chatted with the cashier at the canteen with his Jakartan’s dialect. It didn’t matter that he was actually a local and had just spent several years in Jakarta. The label Jakartan was stuck on him and gave him a different credibility.
I don’t know, probably because I spent holidays every year in Jakarta, or probably because our family doesn’t have a particular accent, I never thought Jakarta is a magical place where everything is glittery and Jakartans are super people, let alone thinking that the accent was somewhat special! Even when I finally had to move to Jakarta for work and spent nearly a decade there, I never thought that the city is so special except it has more choices on shopping, food and entertainment. So to me personally there is no “orang Jakarta” or the term for me literally means those who come from Jakarta and it doesn’t carry other qualities.
Then on my holiday back in Indonesia recently, I had the opportunity to wander around a bit, and went to several cities in Indonesia. I just then realised and was more aware how people look up to the Jakartans, how they measure everything they have achieved with what those in Jakarta have.
I found myself talking to some friends in Surabaya who asked me endless questions about Jakartans, even though I have left the city – and Indonesia altogether – since 2007. Questions like whether Jakartans are more ready or more willing to spend money for art, did I think the buyers (property, art, clothing, you name it) in Jakarta and in Surabaya are different, how Jakartans treat their consultants/clients/vendors, et cetera, came up, and I had to dig deep trying to give my best answers. I even got simple questions about what kind of music young Jakartans like, or if it’s true we have to dress up if we go to shopping mall, or if it’s true the clothing trends comes several months later after it is spread in Jakarta, or what are the most trendy places in Jakarta nowadays, and what I think about Sutos (Surabaya Town Square), the young sister of Citos (Cilandak Town Square) Jakarta.
And this is where it becomes a bit sillier.
Because apparently, there are people from Jakarta who now work in the city like Surabaya, feel superior and think that everything from Jakarta is the ultimate achievement in humankind. I was told that some Jakartan advised her acquaintances to lose the heavy Javanese accent, so people would consider them more… cosmopolitan. That going out with families instead of friends to trendy restaurants is not cool. The list is endless.
When asked about this, I only could shake my head and kept saying that all weren’t essential and didn’t mean anything. I would never thought Jakartans would listen more to those who speak with Jakartan accent compares to those with Javanese accent. They’d probably find it amusing, but nevertheless equally important. I wouldn’t think going out with families to Loewy, for example, is considered un-cool. It will be uncomfortable if I take someone who doesn’t know how to use cutleries, but as long as my companies are fun, who cares whether they are my parents, cousins, or friends?
At first I thought whoever this person who claims herself as “orang Jakarta” definitely isn’t the same Jakartans I hung out with! Certainly she could comment on more essential matters like punctuality or work ethics, pace, and habits. But then it struck me that it’s not the questions which matter. These people who receive such critics from “Jakartans’ suffer from inferiority since they still hold the concept of everything-from-Jakarta-is-better-or-best, they didn’t realise how silly the critics are. And then it struck me again that those in Jakarta also suffer from the same inferiority complex towards those who graduate from overseas. Then the overseas graduates and the rest of Jakartans feel inadequate compares to expats, as those with blue eyes and blonde hair and strange accent are always right!
There are many reasons why most companies put expatriates as their CEOs in Jakarta, but one of them is because buyers or clients would believe more on what we sell if they know that the big boss is a foreigner. Correct me if I am wrong, as far as I know, only Unilever Indonesia has a local CEO, while even non-multi national companies put expats on their highest chairs. This is the same mentality as parading a well-known, difficult-to-pronounce, has-many-offices-around-the-world architecture firm as the designer of an apartment building or real estate complex, rather than using a local/Indonesian team who should know better about the area, materials, and regulations.
I told my friend about what I thought, she gasped and asked if I ever argued with my foreigner bosses. When I calmly said that these people are human being and even a CEO doesn’t know everything, makes mistakes, and of course there’s a good reason why the company hired us in the first place, she gave me a puzzled look, like she didn’t really believe that I had a nerve to actually do what I said. Or that I should do such thing at all.
This mentality, a heritage from 350 years colonisation, has been keeping us in our invisible box, unaware that we have so much potential assets we could rule the world! That the prisoners are ourselves. Regardless whether we’re Jakartans or not, we should set ourselves free.
Whether we master the accent or not.