Jakarta, the city equivalent of Robert Downey Jr?
JAKARTA IMMEDIATELY AFTER the post-fasting month Idul Fitri holiday is like the rekindling of an old relationship. For one charmed week, the skies clear, the roads empty, you remember when things were good years ago, and you wish it could stay like it forever. Where today spontaneity has been killed and getting from point A to B requires planning and calculation that even Google still can’t quite figure out, it returns, at least for the one week before everyone else is back in town.
With families with children still on holiday and the majority of the workforce back in their hometowns celebrating, you see not only the past, but the potential of what Jakarta could become: liveable, breathable, a functioning city one can enjoy living in. The sky turns blue once again, and sometimes at night you can even see stars.
In the middle of the week, I was able to message a friend, sending a universal call of distress of “I need a drink!” of 30-something young professionals, and within a few hours there we were, in the same place, doing something that was unplanned, an after work catch-up by two people working in different corners of the golden triangle, an impossibility at other times of the year.
Things have certainly changed in this soon to be megapolitan. The Jakarta I arrived in was a young city on the verge of a growth spurt, where it remained for so many years that people were concerned that the spurt was not happening after all. I felt for the city a little bit then, because my own tiny growth spurt occurred when I was in fifth grade for about a month, then it sort of stopped, and no matter how many chiropractic sessions my father sent me to my spine could only stretch so far; everyone had to accept that many future 12 year olds would surpass me in height in no time. Fortunately, it looks like that was not the case for the city.
Today, Jakarta to me is a pimply teenager mess trailing at the edge of adulthood. This awkward stage where everything is disproportionate and things could either go incredibly right or incredibly wrong is painful for everyone, but it is something the city needs to go through to be liveable again. Neighborhood roads have turned into massive construction sites, and gigantic pillars have spurted out of the ground overnight to support the neverending stretches of overpasses. You feel the rush to beat the premonition of standstill traffic that is to occur in a year or two.
I would say 99.9 percent of Jakarta’s population has a love-hate relationship with the city. An acquaintance once said that for him it can be compared to an abusive couple’s relationship, in which he is constantly tortured but always comes back for more. I like to think that it is more than that for me, because, despite of all of its shortcomings, Jakarta is a city of possibilities, a mini land of opportunity that breeds creativity and innovation, where overnight success stories can still happen and underdogs can come out on top. I still dream of being one of those with a success story and it is why I am still here.
Seeing how things are going right now, it looks obvious that the city may not grow up to be a Brad Pitt, perfectly chiselled with Ken doll proportions, with spotless sparkling white teeth and smoldering good looks. There has been too much grit and grime for that sort of unattainable perfection. There is hope, though, that it can be a future Robert Downey Jr, a little rough around the edges with some very publically broadcasted downfalls.
People were unsure the actor could get out of his rut, but he managed to stage a comeback with a bang as a dark and handsome hero, battle scars and all, with sequels and prequels and five-year mega blockbuster movie deals. I shall spontaneously drink to your comeback, Jakarta!