Jakarta continues to surprise me. Commercial buildings, city apartments and gated communities of various types seem to be growing, all over the city. Unsettling is the clear sense of the gap between rich and poor widening. Post New Order Indonesia opens up a huge range of possibilities for anyone who has the money, for starters there’s absolutely no shortage of consumer goods, at a price.
Several days ago I visited Makro Kelapa Gading, a huge supermarket with stock stacked several metres high on vast shelves. It was teaming with shoppers. Electronic goods, stationery, office equipment, fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, groceries, groceries, clothing and hardware,
Jakartans have taken to this style of retailing with an appetite for a bargain and amazing energy as consumers. Prices are excellent, the check out system is fast and efficient employing the latest bar code scanning, a great aid to stock control and purchasing. Not till we were through the check-out was I reminded that we were still in Jakarta and that there’s a vast gap between the middle class who frequent shops like the Makro and the poor. Before we could leave another level of security snapped into place, every item on the bill was physically checked against the bill, even when it was just a 25kg sack of rice and two packets of bread rolls.
I’ve been staying in East Jakarta with friends, for the last five days. The house stay almost didn’t happen, my friend H was embarrased by the state of his house. Twice since 2007 his house has been flooded, waters reaching heights of 70cms inside. Sadly he’s between a river and an open sewer, so the waters were quite fetid and unpleasant. To make matters worse, his own toilet simply didn’t work, with the entire drainage system under water. He and his family used a neighbour’s place that had a second floor toilet, of course this meant his neighbour’s downstarirs toilet simply overflowed with fresh waste.
My stay was a little like being in something midway between a building project and a hardware store. Embarrased that his tukang (tradespeople) simply hadn’t been turning up my friend was careful to explain that this was all a matter of economics. Unless tukang lived locally, their travel costs and travel time were significant, yet the hourly rate for tradespeople was modest, so if there’s a job closer to home, they’ll go for it. He’s currently caught between a rock and a hard place.
The Cost of Living
The level of wages in Jakarta is lagging behind the cost of living.
The Indonesian Trade Union Confederation has embarked on a campaign to bring minimum wages into accord with living costs across the country .
Jakarta has set its minimum wage at Rp 1.118 million ($118) a month. This is a 4.5% increase but still below the 5.5% inflation rate expected in 2010.
Throughout the later part of 2009 there were signs of workers becoming increasingly unsettled about their prospects. In Semarang, thousands of workers stages street demonstrations in Semarang, the capital of Central Java, to higher wages.
Reality or Urban Myth
I guess this is all cold comfort for my friend who is struggling with the knowledge that flooding in Jakarta is widespread event. He felt that the last flood was avoidable. He claimed that a flood mitigation gate had been opened when it should have been kept closed because keeping it closed would have flooded a Toyota storage yard destroying many new cars, so it was opened and his neighbourhood innundated. I couldn’t establish the veracity of this claim and don’t know whether or not it’s an urban myth. Certainly the area where he lives is low lying, former sawah. On the positive side though there are some major flood mitigation projects, currently underway.
Even the area around Makro Kelapa Gading store floods. The following YouTube clip was shot on 1 February, 2008.
As a supplement to this post I’d like to draw attention to the excellent article Jakarta annual flooding in February 2010 written by Deden Rukmana Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at Savannah State University, Savannah GA 31404 USA