Jakarta, Indonesia

Living in Jakarta

Iyna Bort Caruso

Jakarta, Indonesia, is the largest city on the world’s most populous island in the world’s largest island country. Life here on the northwest coast of Java is frenetic and friendly, sprawling and exuberant.  Some 10 million, many hailing from the vast reaches of Indonesia, call Jakarta home.

Jakarta is the capital and a hub in every way. It is Indonesia’s main gateway with the country’s largest airport, an important seaport and a well-connected rail system. It is the center of political life and cultural life.  The stories of this colorful megalopolis are told in its scores of museums, ranging from puppetry and textiles to kites and stamps.

The architecture reflects a range of influences--Malay, Arabic, Chinese as well as Dutch that dates back to its golden age in the 17th century when the land was the Dutch East Indies. Hundreds of buildings are on the city’s cultural heritage list. Early on, homes evolved as a kind of Indo-Euro hybrid, European design adapted for the tropical climate with the addition of verandas, large windows and overhanging roof eaves. When Indonesia declared independence from the Dutch in 1945, the sense of nationalism worked its way into design. Buildings became symbolic structures and monuments were super-scaled.

The post-World War II era also saw American influence, ushering in a style known as jengki--from the word “Yankee.” It was a tropical variation of mid-century modernism with buildings marked by playful shapes and geometric forms.

Of the city’s five districts, Central Jakarta is the administrative core. Some say it has a European feel. Many of Jakarta’s most important museums, religious institutions and government buildings are here as well as one of the world’s largest squares, Lapangan Merdeka. South Jakarta is known for its upscale shopping and elite residences. Historic Menteng is considered one of the most prestigious neighborhoods of South Jakarta along with fashionable Kemang, an area especially popular with ex-pats.