Time Out Jakarta guide

City resident Unggul Hermanto explains why you’ll either love or hate the mall-centric capital Discuss this article

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Eight million people inhabit the capital of Indonesia, yet it’s rare to see as many as a hundred of them outdoors at the same time. Instead, armies of their cars create havoc on the city’s streets. Jakartans don’t like to use their feet – at least, not outside. They prefer to meander around the ubiquitous air-conditioned malls, hundreds of thousands of Jakartan consumers supporting the country’s economy. While the rest of the world reels from the recession, Jakarta has welcomed the opening of Harvey Nichols and Indonesia’s fifth Louis Vuitton boutique (the biggest in the country to date).

Yet the capital was deemed the second worst place in the world for expats to work by an ORC Worldwide survey. Admittedly, the traffic is terrible – and the city is often paralysed come rush hour – but the fact that people can’t get home straight after work means white-collar workers, most of whom live in the suburbs, have developed a post-work habit of shopping, eating and drinking while waiting for the traffic to subside.

Come the weekend, the malls are still full, providing an air-conditioned playground for all the family. At a glance, present-day Jakarta looks as though it’s made of concrete, steel and sin. It’s ugly and sexy in equal measure – certainly not a place for sightseeing. Historical museums are legion, but only a handful are visitor-friendly. And while any Jakartan can point you to two of the city’s major theme parks, none will ever be an international destination. Designer clubs and lounges complement their million-dollar decor with rows of Ferraris parked outside, while in the underground bars, punk, rock, electronica and many other scenes keep hipsters happy in the knowledge that they’re doing their part to deconstruct the mainstream.

Outside the glittery city centre, the middle-class Jakartans celebrate life differently. Family and community are key: martini brunches are replaced with a round of thick black coffees served in transparent glasses, and wine-tasting evenings are substituted with arisan (social gatherings involving money and lottery). Here, the closest they come to hedonism is going to a dance performance or a dangdut (traditional Indonesian music) concert. For many, city-centre life is as real as the life portrayed in sinetron (Indonesian soaps) that they religiously watch on TV.

Often referred to as The Big Durian, Jakarta carries a distinctive smell of kretek (clove cigarettes). For some, it’s pleasant; for others, it’s repulsive. When it comes to the capital of Indonesia, there’s no middle ground.

Getting There
Singapore Airlines flies direct from Dubai to Jakarta daily, with prices from Dhs2,200 (including taxes).
See www.singaporeair.com

Where to Stay
Sheraton Bandara (62 21 559 7777, www.starwoodhotels.com)

By Becky Lucas
Time Out Bahrain,

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