Day or night, life is ‘biasa saja’


To understand why the haze has not hit home in Jakarta, look up at the clear blue sky.

Reporter’s Noteboook

FOOD vendors push their carts along the busy city roads, and street performers are out in force day and night.

In this city of 10 million, there is always a crowd on the streets, alongside the three- wheeled scooters, cars, lorries and buses which go past kampungs of immigrant peasants and Western-style highrise towers.

Everything is biasa saja in Jakarta, and that means life is going on normally.

The haze or asap – as it is known in the Indonesian capital – has meant little to most people.

While other parts of Indonesia and countries elsewhere in South-east Asia have been affected by the haze for weeks, Jakarta residents have seen clear, blue skies.

This is most evident at various city landmarks. Glodok, Jakarta’s Chinatown and flourishing commercial centre, is a hive of activity with offices, restaurants, modern shopping malls, street peddlers and the pasar malam.

Tucking into nasi goreng at Jalan Pancoran, well known for its traditional Indonesian and Chinese food, taxi driver Otong Baladewa, 47, asked: “What haze? Look, the sky is blue and the sun is shining so bright.

“I do not know why the government is making a big fuss about asap . We are not affected.”

The sentiment is the same elsewhere in Jakarta. Crowds still flock to Ancol’s Dunia Fantasia or Fantasy Land, which is a huge landscaped recreation park with hotels, nightclubs, sidewalk cafes, galleries and a swimming complex.

Car dealer Yuli Mardi, 28, visits Ancol every weekend with his wife. “The weather is good and we normally go for a stroll down Ancol beach,” he said.

In the Kebayoran Lama market in South Jakarta, thousands of immigrant peasants peddle everything from salted fish to bed linen, and street musicians play guitars and other instruments.

Fruit-seller Wowo Tohari, 24, said: “Biasa saja . The crowds are still very big during the day.”

The situation is no different at night and elsewhere.

The bars and cafes in the Kemang area are packed with trendy Indonesians and expatriates having drinks or just having dinner with friends after work.

For Dr Rauf Arumshah, 50, Kemang and its numerous sidewalk cafes are synonymous with the best of nightlife in Indonesia.

The dentist said: “I come here more than three times a week with my friends to relax.

“The haze? It is not a burning issue for us. I get to see the day and night here and my social life is not affected at all.”

Stockbroker Maya Ang, 27, said that despite the onset of thin haze in capital since last week, many Indonesians were still unaware of the problem, given the high level of pollution.

She said: “Our air quality is already bad with so much carbon monoxide from car fumes.

“So even if there is haze out there, people will not pay too much attention unless it gets very bad and people fall ill.”

But fishermen here have a different story to tell.

At the old port of Sunda Kelapa in North Jakarta, sailing ships – the Makassar schooners called pinisi – are docked in rows instead of being out at sea.

The fish market is not its usual bustling hive of activity, with locals bringing in less than their normal daily catch.

Fisherman Suprapto, 38, said that the haze had hit them badly.

He said: “The government has issued warnings for us to be careful out there because of poor visibility. And it is bad once we are out at sea.

“Unfortunately, not many in the city feel for the problems we are facing because they are not affected directly.”

To Miss Emmy Hafild, who heads the Indonesian Forum for Environment, the ignorance of many in Jakarta helps to explain why the Indonesian government has been slow to react to the haze, which has spread out from the country to plague its neighbours.

She said: “Maybe it is a blessing that the haze is coming to Jakarta now. It will be a good wake-up call.

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