A week in the life of Jakarta, Indonesia
Jakarta is a city of 10 million inhabitants. To get there I flew from Los Angeles to Singapore and this one leg took 16 hours! In Jakarta the traffic was nuts. I arose at 5 am and left at 6 am, to beat it to the office. Our driver was full of smiles, even at 6 am. He wanted to learn better English, so he would put forth complex words like “Foreigner” and I would teach him how to pronounce them. He wanted to learn, and I liked that attitude.
In hot and muggy conditions, I spent a week on a consulting assignment, and it was an eye-opener. At the office we wrestled with how to produce methane gas from coalbeds in Borneo, and it was quite a challenge. When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me about the head-hunters of Borneo! In the office, the Indonesian staff were friendly, helpful, gracious, and eager to learn. And full of smiles.
Driving back to the hotel, our shiny new SUV was just one of many. There were no old cars… no clunkers at all. I figured the population must have suddenly elevated economically. And it is true that business is humming along in Indonesia. Lots of cranes silhouetted against the horizon, unlike in the USA. Lots of shiny new buildings.
How do they do it? However, a curious thing: no bicycles, no beggars, and no trash on the roadways….very different from India. But many, many scooters! They weave in and out between the cars, so close I had to shut my eyes on occasion. Thin and tiny helmeted gals with their leathers on going head to head with scooter guys and SUVs. But I saw no accidents, and no-one bumped our car while I was in it.
On the last day my driver took me to the mall. We drove past mansions like you see in California! I taught my driver how to pronounce “wealthy”. The mall inside looked like a mall in Kansas City, or any other large US town. Well-dressed women (it was mid-afternoon) sauntering around the same kind of shops: jewelry, clothing, handbags, and pedicures.
The main difference was that a majority of women wore head scarves to cover their hair. I stopped to buy an Auntie Annies pretzel, right next to an A&W, and an Outback Steakhouse around the corner! The pretzel cost me 15,000 rupiahs (about $1.50). There are many malls in Jakarta…..many people with many rupiahs.
I dropped into a store that sold Christian icons. The two young clerks barely spoke English, but I muddled through. Indonesia is 80 – 90% Muslim (largest Muslim country in the world at 240 million). So I asked the clerks if they were Christian. One clerk replied no, they were Catholic! I responded that they were indeed Christian, but I don’t think they understood.
Nevertheless, they were all smiles. Although only 5-10% of persons in Indonesia are Christian, I was told that Jakartans, all Jakartans, were generally very tolerant in all respects and not just religion. I want to be more tolerant, to be respectful of another’s opinion, even if it’s different from mine in the political debate that has deadlocked the US.
I started to smile more while I was in Jakarta. I had to, since they were all smiling at me. It connected with these gracious people and made me feel good. Made me wonder if God the father was smiling at me, and if so that should make me feel good, right? Maybe I need to smile back at God more.
I was told that the people, including the poor folks in Jakarta, were happier in general than people in developed western countries like the USA. How can that be? If you don’t have extra money to pay someone when your toilet backs up, how can you be more happy? If you have only a scooter to get around in, how can you keep laughing? If you can never go out to a restaurant to eat, or buy a Haagen-Das, how can you smile and be happy all the time? Would I be?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew chapter 6).
“If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew chapter 19).