Orang Jakarta…

ist1_5683027-night-cityscapeJakarta, 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.

picture-11About 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.

ist1_871980-back-to-schoolThen 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.

ist1_2848297-power-ladyBecause 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!

ist1_5721341-illegalThere 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.







  1. My company has the first Indonesian/local MD in Asia Pacific, good for us. And when my oz boss arrived I had quite big argument about work ethic here, of course he was not amused with me but then we managed to have better work ethic for all of us and the team because we were able to communicate it thorough. And he even helped me to find contact person in Canberra for me and recommended me to that person.

    Good thing I spoke up my mind that time. Glad I’m not yes mam yes sir kind of person :)

  2. How right you are Nit,

    As a girl who grew up in Surabaya and later moved to Jakarta I noticed how big the differences between the two cities although Surabaya is also a so-called “metropolis city” *rolls eyes*. What I noticed the most was the way the youngsters interact with each other and what their definition of a “good time” is.

    Perhaps it’s solely me who grew up within a “tame” circle of friends (tame as in non-wild, of course *chuckles*) or perhaps because I couldn’t compare what’s happening in Surabaya 10 years ago to what’s happening in Jakarta recently but I was reminded of it whenever I returned to Surabaya and still find my university mates, childhood friends still the same, still have the same lifestyle just like when I left the city almost 10 years ago :)

    the writers last blog post..Hidden nationalism?

  3. oddly enough, yesterday I came into contact with two completely different forms of the same prejudice.
    Neither impressed me.
    I’ll be willing to bet that if the whole world were one gigantic city?
    There would still be folks from three streets up saying that us folks from three streets down were less than they….
    and, as it turns out (and this is the part i hate) there are folks here at three streets down who feel the folks from three streets over (East, West, whatever) are less because they are from three streets over.

    It’s enough to make me pull my hjair from my head.
    OK, no.
    I’m 58 and still have a full head of hair. So, I am better than those who are younger and have less hair.
    Of course, they have better clothing, so they are better than me.

    Of course, they spent all their money on clothing, so they are less than the guy with a really nice car….

    Blah Blah Blah….

    I would rather that people just be friends, and if judging is neccessary, how about on what the person actually does?
    I love that poor people help others so quickly.
    (how do I know that? I am poor)

    (but, I DO have a good head of hair)

    bonemans last blog post..Just in case some folks think there is NOT a race war going on….

  4. In 2005, I was working as an English teacher at a language institution in Thamrin. I became acquainted with this girl called Tari, who came from Jogjakarta looking for work. I myself was a fresh overseas grad at that time, so we felt like we were in the same boat. Why?

    On her way to Jakarta, Tari thought she would be this ‘udik’ person because her perception about Jakarta was that it was a modern, metropolitan city full of educated, high-class people. So she was mighty surprised to find out that the people in Jakarta were in fact rude and had no manners. She even said that where she came from, people were much more civilised. If a girl walked around on the streets of Malioboro, rest assured she would not get howled or received catcalls from total strangers, but this had become the norm in any streets of Jakarta.

    My experience were more or less the same. Still shocked of the fact that I was overseas for 6 years and not knowing that this was the culture that I had to get used to. Going to work, I had to catch public transportation, and it was the time when I realised that I’d met some of the rudest people in Jakarta – they’d trample you, take your seats and push you aside. I, being the polite person who often opened doors for people, had stopped doing so after knowing that when I did that, people didn’t even give as much as a nod or a ‘thank you’.

    When I went to Semarang last year, I even managed to have a bitter joke with my fiance because on our way driving back, we sort of got lost on the exact whereabouts, but then after seeing so many rude drivers driving a B-plate numbered car, we were rest assured that we were getting closer to Jakarta.

    Yes, only Jakartans could be that rude. Funny, considering most of the people who are Jakartans actually came from other cities. I knew they didn’t used to be like that. Perhaps once upon a time, they were the same civilised people that my friend Tari was accustomed to. So what changed them?

    therrys last blog post..Weltschmerz

  5. I used to travel once a month to Surabaya for business. I don’t feel superior because I think Surabayans are just the same with me. They have kinda exotic dialect, but they are smart, tough negotiator, modern, and…just the same with Jakartans. I have travelled to Sumatra and Kalimantan, and I don’t feel superior as well.

    My current employer’s CEO is a local, but a replacement (Scots) has just been announced. My regional boss is an Indonesian, with Padang blood in his veins. Fortunately we have a culture that encourage the locals to speak up their mind. Our former CEO (a bule) was sacked because of this.

    boys last blog post..Windows Live Writer

  6. I once lived in Jakarta for job hunting and didn’t like it one bit, the traffic and the people are a bit selfish.
    I lived in Surabaya for 12 years and grown to love the city, the people are more friendly and talkative. Why the jakartans thinks they were superior is beyond my understanding, being rude and uncaring is cosmopolitans ? well you can count me out

    mares last blog post..nothing special

  7. in malaysia, whilst a lot of people from other states does not look at those in the kuala lumpur (the capital city) with superiority and praise, i would have to say that this foreigner mentality still ingrained in the minds of malaysians as well. a lot of highrise companies in kuala lumpur have expats as their CEOs. my old company where i did my summer internship was not excluded as well. good post, enjoy reading it. i have always wanted to have a glimpse of the life in my neighbouring country indonesia. what better way than to read their blogs.. 😛

    nurins last blog post..Mad Hats and Delicious Lil’ Green Thing

  8. I used to live in Jakarta, for two years. More than enough for me to taste the metropolis! What I first noticed was the rudeness of the people, just like Therry said. Jakartans are not afraid to shove and push to get their way. My jaw dropped at a colleague telling his mother on the phone “goblok”.. something totally unthinkable for me to do. I’m not afraid to argue to my bosses or to anyone, but this kind of disrespect was alien to me.

    The traffic, the crime, the pollution, the harsh life – within these two years I experienced a lot: being admitted to a hospital for thypoid four months after living in Jakarta (first time ever in my life to be in a hospital as a patient!), my car was on fire (rats ate the wires), office got bombed, soemone died in front of me (cardiac arrest while in the ocean surface), the house next door caught fire, forcing me to move my stuff out and at the same time precenting the kampung people to loot my things, endless demonstrations.. stuff I have never encountered back home and when I was overseas. I was very, very glad when I moved to Bali. I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the pace of living in the big city anyway. No wonder there’s a saying “kejamnya ibu kota lebih dari ibu tiri” :)

    Now that I’ve been in Bali for four years, it IS easyfor me to spot Jakartans walking around here :) it’s the high-heels on the beach, branded fashion, dependency on latest gadgets, loud voice with that thick Jakarta accent, the proud strut, the aura of consumerism and material things (as opposed to balance in life or spirituality). Don’t get me wrong, a lot of my friends from Jakarta are not like that, so I’m not stereotyping everyone here – but if you see a person showing all of those signs at once, you can be 99% sure that the person is from Jakarta. I’ve learned that here I can still smile even if I have nothing, but these people can only smile if they have everything.

    The good thing I learned from living in Jakarta, is that now I can say NO without feeling guilty…

  9. Ecky & boy: you’re one in a million. I remember I went to a ‘beauty contest’ when we were choosing the best designer for this particular project. There was a deadlock. Came in my gorgeous CEO (yeah you know him) and everybody started to listen to whatever he said. Despite he was just repeating what I and my other boss said. Hmmpphh….

    thewriter: Most of my friends in Surabaya – as I spent college years there – have become successful and famous. However they still ask me silly questions about what Jakartans think about their design/photographs/price/trends etc. It’s a shame, they’re so talented, many of them have been going around the world to join the expo with the government, yet they still think they’re not as sophisticated as those with Jakartan accents.

    @boneman: spot on. There’s always such case everywhere. People here look up to those in London (well, maybe not those in Scotland, lol), and even that now I know you could have just “London” accent and you could have posh/public school (for those who are not familiar, public school in UK is private school. Yes, confusing!) accent which puts you in different caste. We can’t help it, we are still judged by superficial features.

    @therry, mare: nah, people in big cities DO tend to be rude. I couldn’t stand London because everybody is so rude and snotty! So it’s not just Jakarta, believe me! I once got off the tube in London and was reading the sign that tells me which way to go, and I didn’t realise my suitcase was in the middle of the lane, until some (cute) guy yelled that I shouldn’t stop in the middle of walkway. I was just reading before turning off, for God’s sake, and it’s not like I stood there for 5 minutes, I was actually about to drag my suitcase away, but apparently his precious time was consumed by my stupidity.

    @nurin: Would be interesting to know more about people in KL too. So far what I’ve heard is… well, not a good thing. Again this is about rudeness, friends who’d lived in Ottawa for almost 10 years have just moved to KL and were surprised by taxi driver who yelled at them when they’re asking for a better route.

    @Mia: really?? oh gosh, I hope none of my friends will get caught strutting down the beach wearing high heels! You should write about this ‘orang Jakarta in Bali’ thing. I’m very curious!

  10. ha ha ha, i hope the jakartans in my office read this. Thanks Nit…………………………

  11. Lets talk to some of those other people, like the people who came from the kampongs to work as maids or construction sites. Blue collars. After living in Jakarta, they became a different individual, too. They are exposed to technology (handphone types, my friend’s maid even has a facebook account!). They interact with other Jakartans and forced to adapt some attitudes, which if they don’t, they will be easily overruled. My maid is a classic example. The way she thinks is so different from her other friends in the kampung. The way she dress is different. Does she get into trouble with her ‘new her’? Sometimes. The thing is, everybody is forced to survive in Jakarta and the way to survive is sometimes cruel, ruthless. You have to be fast, furious, efficient. Time is money, you really feel it here. Whilst in smaller cities, people are more tolerating, slower, because they don’t have to deal with traffic, for example.

    Do I like Jakarta? Maybe I’m the few that say yes, I can cope with Jakarta. I call Jakarta my home. Although I have to pull myself down to earth from time to time by traveling to places (I dive and I often visit remote areas, where I can see ‘the real people’) or talk to people from different levels, like my maid, taxi drivers etc, or just chat with people behind where I live: the little clusters of the Betawi people. Or be active helping those unfortunate because of the flood. Jakarta has lots and lots of dimensions and choices of what you want to be.

    Jakarta is polluted, badly planned, traffic jams everywhere and ruthless. But people come to Jakarta. Every year, the population grows. Because it gives hopes and dreams. Because the money IS in Jakarta and the big cities. It is back to us what kind of a person we want to be. But you just can’t help it. Jakarta does change people, like other cities.

    I remember what my friend said: you are made of what you read, where you have been to and who you hang out with.

    parvitas last blog post..So many Calegs, so little choices…part one

  12. Parvita: What do you mean the new ‘her’? Does she adapt an attitude that thinks now she’s better than them? Because that’s basically the problem my friends back in Surabaya face with people who claim as ‘orang Jakarta’, where they think those without Jakartan accent is not worthy to be a part of globalization, for example.

  13. wow… your balinese friend has an awesome skill, she could ‘spot’ a jakartan. as a former jakartan, i know that this is not always considered as a good thing. because like you said nit, your friend nonie was just wearing something laid back, no bling-bling or something outrages.
    can’t be anything she had said, because your balinese friend did not talk to nonie, right?
    is it in our body language?

    Dinys last blog post..Age Denial?

  14. You know, I used to hate living in Indonesia a lot during my childhood before I actually realised that my true hatred is actually directed at….Jakarta.

    Indonesia is a beautiful and lovely country, it truly is. It’s just that I would never ever advise any foreign tourists to ever come visit its capital city, which is regularly inundated with annual flood and traffic jams. Living in Jakarta does not actually worth living at all (unless you wanna look at better job offers), because for a good standard of living and a better appreciation of the country, one would be advised to live in other large cities such as Denpasar or Medan or Manado…

  15. Prejudice is everywhere…we are either the perpetrators of it or the victims of it (or perhaps both at any given time).

    Jakarta is what it is, a city of unlimited possibilities and extremes.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience having lived here for many years. I am pretty sure that I have not seen it all in terms of the possibilities and extremes. I am always ready to be amazed, stunned, shocked or all three.

    Just as a matter of interest a “Jakartaan” is “Orang Betawi”, right?

    Robs last blog post..Home Is Where The Heart Is…

  16. @Toshi: I thought you still do live in Jakarta? I guess I’m more like Rob, I’m prepared to be in awe, shock, or even disgust. I think living in Aberdeen makes me realise how rich and diverse living in Jakarta is. Even flood can be “fun” as having to see people carrying python snake on the street…

    @Rob: no, I’m referring to those who live and work in Jakarta, not original Jakartan (or Orang Betawi) people. Those who go back to their villages during Ied, those who have 2 IDs, those who talk with Jakartan accent but actually are from… Tegal, for example :)

  17. I see jakarta is one of beautiful cities, Well Rob Prejudice is everywhere but we love or motherland, Forget it, watch beautiful jakarta, it has all things like other great cities

  18. kutuloncat says:

    AGREE!!! We are AS GOOD AS ANYBODY in this planet.
    The ‘Ndoroism’ mentality is still up in the air everywhere you go
    and to make it even worse we just don’t know when and how that will dissapear.

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