Here Thar Be Monsters!
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Tales Of A Misanthrope
I really hate big cities. I've listened for hours to people waxing on about the Big Apple, and London, and Paris, and Los Angeles, but having been to all of them and lived in some of them, they all suck.
I hate living piled up on top of other people. I hate only being able to see a sliver of sky through the concrete. I hate neighbors banging on my walls. I hate fighting for parking spaces.
In short, I'm a misanthrope.
Jakarta has little to nothing to recommend it. Compared to my home town of Houston, Jakarta has a third of the real estate with four times the people (Houston: 2,2 million on 628 sq miles; Jakarta: 10 million on 256 sq miles). The population density here is incredible by any standard I've known before. There is no need for mass surveillance here, since there is literally no place you can stand that doesn't have 20 people looking at you.
Neighborhoods here are crammed full of people. The average lot size is about what the average Houstonian has for a garage. Three of my four walls are shared with other houses. I'm lucky in that my house is a double-wide with three floors, so I actually have a little space inside. The average bedroom in Jakarta can accommodate a queen-sized bed and a side table, with just enough space left over to open the door part way.
A normal Jakarta neighborhood has one main street with dozens of gang, or alleyways running off of it in every direction. Most of the gang are just wide enough to allow a car through, so if you are lucky enough to have the space, you can park your car on your front porch. There are no yards, though some people turn their roofs into small gardens.
Most houses here have an area that acts a lot like a chimney. It runs from the kitchen to the roof and allows air to circulate. There is no such thing as central A/C, and heating is completely pointless. Those who have A/C use small units that only cool one room, usually the bedroom. Kitchens are tiny by Houston standards, barely big enough for one person, and the refrigerator is usually in the combination living/dining area.
Houston, being practically brand new by global standards, is laid out on a grid, with freeways running roughly north/south and east/west, and a series of ring roads to service outlying areas.
Jakarta, being over 2,000 years old, is laid out like a box of Christmas light strings with right angles only occurring by the wildest of accidents. There are no straight lines and you can't even come home by the same route you use to go to work. There are something like 40 million registered vehicles in Jakarta, with a population of only 10 million. If you want to know where they are all parked, just look at the roads on any given day. They are parked on the freeways and major arteries all over town.
According to this article, the average speed in 2013 was 16 kph. I'm here to tell you that if you ever get over 10 kph, then it's 3am on Sunday morning. By 3:04am, you're back in the traffic jam once again. I live just 13 km/7 miles from my office, and a really good day means only 1 hour travel time.
When my wife and I went to Houston over the Christmas holidays, we arrived about 4pm on a Wednesday. Driving home, my brother complained about the traffic. He was rather perplexed by our hysterical laughter. He was frustrated by not being able to break 65 kph/40 mph. I can't recall ever going that fast in Jakarta.
A lot of people ask me what I think of Indonesia. I have to be honest. I hate Jakarta, but I love the country. The city is hot, dirty, crowded, and has almost nothing interesting to do. There's no symphony or ballet. There's an occasional culture and arts festival, but the damn things are way over-priced and half the damn city shows up, so you spend most of your time dodging people. It's a special form of insanity to live here.
Why don't I get out? Well, easier said than done. Jakarta is where the work is, for the most part, which is why there are 12 million people in the city on any given business day. There are roughly 38,000 people per square mile here. That's more than double Mexico City! In fact, it's about equal to Mexico City, Tokyo and Beijing combined! (At least according to Wikipedia)
It's a real experience living here, especially for someone like me who grew up with nothing but space and who, for the most part, hates people - especially a lot of them in a small space.
No worries, though. That's why we have the mountain house. Once a month, or more, we bug out and get to where the air is fresh and there is space to walk in and a yard to garden in.
Oh sure, there are worse places. Karachi or Mumbai come to mind.
I shouldn't complain though. I make a decent living here and have a pretty good standard of living with a very low cost of living. Doesn't change my feelings about people, though. And mind you, I'm not talking about individuals. I love individuals. Individuals are great! I'm talking about herds, mobs, sardine cans full of people. Alone, people are great. In piles, people suck.
The funny thing about Jakarta is that almost no one here is from Jakarta. Pretty much the entire population of the city moved here for work, and if they had a choice, they move out just as fast.
There is, however, one time of year that Jakarta is really quite pleasant. At the end of Ramadhan, there is a one-week holiday called Lebaran, during which nearly the entire population of Jakarta goes home. During that week, you can actually go out and lie down on the freeway and get a decent sleep before a car comes along. It is truly amazing. You can get from one side of the city to the other in minutes, rather than hours. There are no lines anywhere. It is quiet and air quality improves several hundred percent.
The only problem with this holiday is that every single resident of Jakarta goes to the mountains and fills my refuge with screaming kids, traffic jams and karaoke at 7 o'clock in the morning.
I hate people.