Jakarta Stories

Jakarta is a city with a split personality. It is a mixture of ultra-modern commercial facades and kerb-side watch band sellers standing on cracked pavement. Luxury shopping centres selling world standard luxury consumer goods and street dwellers living in tents. German luxury cars and buzzing mopeds. I'm not a street photographer by any means but when I was in Jakarta for a few days recently I was inspired by its eclectic and energetic nature. I felt compelled to have a wander around with my camera seeing if I could spot some interesting scenes that might convey a storey.

Jakarta's architecture is interesting and varied with all the fringe architecture and urban decay that goes with any large city. Graffiti is present of course as is the ultra-modern facades of modern buildings. The striking thing about Jakarta is the side-by-side patchwork nature of it, the kaleidoscopic mixture of new and old, growth and decay. The planned architecture and the spontaneous ramshackle buildings and street vendors mingle together to create an interesting whole.


Street vendors are everywhere. The stores range from ramshackle permanent structures through to tiny hand-drawn carts. Street food is a constant with the ubiquitous satay chicken grilling fragrantly over charcoal grills seemingly everywhere. The entrepreneurial nature of the Indonesian people (no doubt a necessity due to a sparse social safety net) is visible everywhere. The stores often have a bewildering mixture of unidentifiable (to my foreign eyes) local goods and westernised items like soft-drinks and snacks. The small vendors will often be selling only one type of product and it is hard to see how they could actually support themselves off such a meagre trade. 


The green jacketed scooter delivery riders of Jakarta are everywhere. The service uses the Go-Jek phone app and has become an incredibly important part of Jakarta's booming economy. The riders deliver anything they can fit on their bikes, including passengers and food. The service is helping consumers shop without having to go into battle with Jakarta's gladiator style traffic ethos and epic traffic jams. It also helps businesses get their products to people that they otherwise wouldn't have had access to.

In a city where the traffic is SO clogged and chaotic the sheer number of scooters is a blessing. If scooters were swapped for cars traffic would come to a complete stand-still. Scooters are in fact the vehicle of choice for many 'working' class people and is the family runabout (you can get 2 or 3 children onto a scooter remarkably), shopping cart and work transport. The traffic moves so slowly there is virtually no market for performance or sports style cars and racing style motorbikes. The well-off buy luxury Toyota vans or German sedans and hire a driver to do the elbow work at the wheel.


In an rapidly growing economy with a large population and cheap labour there is still a huge variety of manual or menial jobs to be had for those that can afford to pay for it. Roadworks and construction is happening everywhere, seemingly at all hours of the day and night. Tools of the trade range from high-tech road building machinery to the humble straw broom and each are applied with industrious effort. Jakarta as a city and Indonesia as a country is growing rapidly and it is doing it on the backs of its hardworking ‘everyman’.