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by Jennie S. Bev

I was born in the middle of Central Jakarta at RSIA YPK and raised in the surrounding area. By birth, I was a big city kid. By choice, I am a small town woman. 

A good friend who is a scholar at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, said a similar thing recently that she, too, is actually a small town woman.

She said, “Maybe you and I are the village kind of souls. We function best in serenity and calmness, and we value life over money and earthly possession. We are the odd ones out, according to the people of Jakarta.”

Jakarta is hectic, chaotic and never sleeps. Above all, living there is expensive despite the low quality of life. A high quality of life in a city comes with clean air, green with lush trees and public parks, minimal noise, closed sewage system, drinkable water, appreciation for beauty and art, sidewalks accessible to people with disabilities, clear roads with no visible pot holes nor large open holes, good waste management, clean roads, no visible trash and minimal people loitering on sidewalks, parking lots or in front of houses idling doing nothing. 

Above all, a good quality of city life comes with strong laws in public places, including strong penalties for graffiti, littering and loitering. Singapore and Tokyo are good examples. In Singapore, carrying durian “the stinky fruit” at closed public places, like inside the MRTs, is forbidden. How conscientious. Such a simple law teaches people to respect others, for not everyone can stand the aroma.

And if people think Jakarta is too big a city to manage, such ignorance shall eventually give birth to more chaos and more social problems. The recent floods in January are a proof of bad city management resulting in deaths and economic casualties. Those deaths could have been prevented and I’m deeply saddened by the incidents.

I recall when an Indonesian journalist interviewed me at home in Northern California. She said, “Your neighborhood is so clean, tidy and no one sitting around in front of the houses. It must be an upscale neighborhood.” I answered, “No, it’s a middle-class community. Not million-dollar houses. No one is sitting around on the sidewalks because everyone is busy working, studying and entertaining themselves indoors, except whenever they are at the parks.”

While some Indonesian readers might get offended when I compare with the USA, I mean well. Think with an open mind: What makes Jakarta dirty, noisy and overcrowded, other than population explosion? A simple comparison with Kuala Lumpur, for example, reveals that Jakarta wins in terms of trashing places. KLIA and Rapid KL trains, for instance, are clean and international tourists happily ride them to go places. It is rare to find international tourists on public transportation in Jakarta.

Don’t we want our guests to feel comfortable and safe? After all, we don’t and can’t live alone. Jakarta is a part of Indonesia and Indonesia is a part of the global constellation. A clean, clear and safe capital city is a reflection of the country’s overall well-being, if it is a valid indication.

Observing how people lining up, or “queuing”, in Jakarta is also interesting. You’d need to stand so close to the person in front of you or someone would get in between and claim his or her spot. Even in the ladies restroom, waiting in line requires more than just standing, it requires standing up for the right to enter or someone would barge into the booth despite it is your turn.

Loving a place requires ownership and it translates to not trashing it with junk, excessive noises and respecting each other with courtesy. 

My friend in Melbourne further added, “The fact that food and accommodation are already double the price than those in Kuala Lumpur shows that it has become a very expensive place to live. The more money one has, the more quality of life one can get.  The love for money is a norm, not an exception there. Life and relationships become scarcity. In Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, social proof, reciprocity and scarcity are three of the six powers of influence. It is no surprise that people who live there put money as number one, above relationships and love for people.”

Living in a big city doesn’t need to be rude, dirty, insensitive and despiteful. Inner high quality of life must be preserved and maintained, for it is key to creating a high quality external life.[]

The Jakarta Post, March 16, 2013

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