8 minutes reading time Indonesia
The sound of calling for suhoor from the nearby mosque can be heard through the thin walls of my house and it woke me up.
It’s 3.30 am. And it’s the holy month of Ramadan for Moslem people all over the world. I could hear my next-door neighbor in their bathroom, washing clean for their morning prayer and preparing their pre-dawn meal before fasting for the rest of the day.
This time my alarm phone rang, so I hit it off after a few minutes of ringing. One of my oldest cats, a beautiful domestic cat with white fur and a plump tummy, Paris, scratching on my door leading the crowd. She started with a faint and polite tone. Somehow I could see her sitting in front of my door, teaching the other two young ones I rescued last year. They imitated her and whispered like they’re just breathing loud, I don’t know if I should feel worried or happy about these two being voiceless. Maybe something about living hard on the street when they were babies.
So I got up, opened the door to see the cutest smiles of my babies. They just know how to make my day. As I poured their meals into their plates, I took a shower, made tea, and waited for it to cool down. It was time for some morning exercises for my cats, so I let them out to play in the park nearby.
It was raining heavily last night, so it was quite a chilly morning. The weather app’s showing there should be plenty of sun today. “Hopefully the city’s not flooded from last night’s rain” as I sipped my tea.
The day is gonna be jam-packed as I’d be spending most of my time outside, so I prepped my favorite Jakartan breakfast, ketoprak, which consists of a handful bite-sized of rice-cakes and fried tofu, topped by glass noodles, some veggies like steamed bean sprouts and raw cucumber, poured with a generous amount of spicy peanut sauce, sweet soy sauce, and lots of chips. It’s just so good and nutritious.
Having traveled to many countries in Asia and Europe, I can say it’s very easy being a vegan in Indonesia. There is an abundance of vegetables, fruits, and local recipes that are plant-based. And they come in cheap as there are plenty of traditional and modern grocery markets around. But that’s not all, if you’re not in the mood to go out especially in this pandemic, you can just message your order to a local grocery distributor with their old motorcycles, early in the morning, big smiles on their face, delivering your order and local farmers produce the next day with a small extra fee. Very typical of Indonesian small businesses, always serving and street-smart.
After finishing my breakfast, I checked my work emails and submitted my work for payment to the client a day early. It’s 7.30 am now in my place, middle of the night back in Europe where my client resides. So I should hear from him again by mid-time or evening today.
Today is a weekday, and I took the day off to do my monthly volunteering project with the local animal lovers group. It’s the usual monthly tasks, street-feeding the animals, taking care of the sick, trying to get as many females to be neutered to the vet, and educating animal owners who mistreat their pets. Stray and mistreated animals are an issue of the city, especially during the pandemic where many animal owners lose their job and throw away their pets to the street.
By the way, it would take an hour commute from my house by commuter line train into the city, so I should arrive early for the group meeting at 9.30.
The train was quite empty at this time of the hour, but I could imagine how crowded it was for the 6 am – 7 am rides. I was one of the early morning commuters for seven years when I was still working full-time at tech companies in Jakarta. Still, it was a breeze than getting stuck in the traffic for hours during rush hour.
Another reason why I prefer trains is that I get to enjoy the view from the slow electric train rides into the city, from stopping at quiet small stations in rural areas with rice fields to slowly changing scenery into dense city’s housing to arriving at its last station right in the heart of Jakarta.
A bustling, big, and crowded station packed by locals, small shop owners trying to carry their heavy-load cheap garments to be sold back in their villages, office workers to get to their meeting on time in the other parts of the city, or mothers hand in hand with their children on a daily grocery shopping run.
It’s such a scene that describes the Jakartans best. Chaotic, competitive, irregular, yet there’s a sense of melancholy in the air. Everyone has their own stories, everyone has come a long way from all over the country to get here, trying to make it big in the city. Some make it, most fail. But everyone’s surviving and keeps on smiling however hard life treats them.
As I walked my way to the exit and headed to the busway station to my next destination, The Big Durian’s city view laid proudly in front of me. It’s the very definition of concrete jungles where dreams are made of. A city I love and hate at the same time, the megapolitan, most populous city in Asia where 28 million people of all walks of life call it home.
Jakarta has gone through major revamps for the last 5 years as the local government revealed an ambitious goal to make Jakarta the New York of Asia, a dynamic financial district that can attract world-class companies to set their base in Jakarta. This is not a complete reach, considering Indonesia is one of the most populous countries in the world as well as the lowest production costs in Asia, rapidly growing middle-class, and home to the most active internet users in the world. In essence, it’s a thriving and lucrative market for every business to invest in.
The city also provides for all. Whether you’re a digital and budget nomad, or luxury traveler, or entrepreneur, Jakarta offers anything you can imagine of.
From ordering French pastries to African cuisines, everything’s available at a local food delivery app.
Dirt cheap knock-off stuff imported from China to high-end brands is available in Jakarta’s hundreds of shopping malls spread out throughout the city. It’s a shopping haven for travelers from neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore due to Jakarta’s strategic location.
Budget $10 night hostels to over the top 7 stars hotels serving the Arabian Sultans to world leaders are scattered across the city. And its wide variety of transportations such as MRT (high-speed inner-city metro train), local bus, affordable taxis, and ride-sharing apps make it extra convenient for everyone to navigate the city like a local.
Jakarta’s nightlife also caters to everyone. From quiet and speakeasy bars to casual sports bars, to themed bars, high-end rooftop bars to fancy nightclubs. There’s always a never-ending way for everyone to release their stress and get a little fun.
Working wise, as a freelancer, I found it easy to work in the city. I could just go visit numerous coworking spaces available in many office buildings in Central Jakarta, or buy a cup of latte at a coffee shop that provides high-speed internet, or walk a bit to the National Library where I can make full use of its free internet and books to be read and learned from.
If there’s one thing that I can change about Jakarta, is that I would plant more trees, hideaway gardens, and flower stalls around the city. Like London, Barcelona, or Paris. Nature would bring life and balance to Jakarta’s cold and chaotic personality. More trees would also help reduce the city’s pollution level…
And I certainly would install artists, musicians and creatives stalls. Maybe people will stop for a minute from the constant work-related things going on in their heads and start to listen and just appreciate. Get inspired and refreshed. Dream and do something big for more people. Put an end to political power struggle on display daily we’re all fed up about it. It might change people’s perceptions about money. That there’s more to life.
Imagining shaping and coloring and building the Jakarta I dreamed of in my head lifted my mood. One day, things will surely change for the better.
For now, I have arrived at my destination. Today I’m on a simple mission, to serve the vulnerable. Wish me luck!
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