First Impressions of Jakarta

By Carrie Crozier

Expats in Jakarta come from all over the world and I’m sure everyone has some hilarious stories or first impressions of when they arrived in Jakarta. We moved here a little over a year ago, after living 5 years in Wisconsin, USA – a place I can’t imagine being any more opposite to Jakarta! What surprises me the most now is how quickly these “crazy” things that make you gawk at first start to seem perfectly normal.

We recently had visitors come to stay with us and seeing the city through their eyes, plus hearing their shocked gasps, was a real eye-opener as to just how acclimatized we’ve become to this crazy, but wonderful, city. What stood out the most to them? Read on and see if they match your first impressions!

The first thing that stood out to them is something that seasoned expats still grumble about but are no longer shocked by – the traffic! While we all may gripe now and then about the time it takes to get from A to B, seasoned expats are pretty impassive about what Jakarta traffic actually looks like.

Our guests, on the other hand, were utterly shocked by the flow of traffic. Driving in the car with them was hilarious – every few seconds they gasped and clutched the sides of the car, feeling positive we were about to be hit by one, or many, of the scooters. Or they were filled with concern that the scooters were about to hit each other. Or they experienced total amazement at just how many people can fit on one scooter! I had warned that they would see entire families, including children, riding together on one scooter, but I think it’s one of these things you need to see for yourself to believe. Especially when the drivers are often also texting, smoking, or both,
at the same time!

They marveled at how hundreds of scooters seamlessly weaved amongst the many cars on the road, were amazed by the sheer number of scooters, and couldn’t understand how the flow kept moving, despite the lack of any obvious traffic rules. Each time we turned into a smaller side road, they worriedly discussed whether we could fit. They were shocked into silence when we
passed another vehicle in that same lane.

Once the “traffic shock” had calmed down, they then started to notice and comment on the abundance of power lines and wires everywhere. I do remember using those lines that drop right down to the road as teachable moments for my kids back when we first arrived (i.e. never touch this!!!) but now we all walk by with barely a glance.

Another novelty for them was all of the small, portable stalls on the sides of the roads. These small family-owned businesses are called ‘warungs’ and are an important part of daily life for locals in Indonesia. They sell everything from small pet fish in bags, fresh bread, takeaway food, shoes, and even cleaning supplies or toys. We even saw one with tiny birds dyed bright colours!

Just as they thought they were getting used to Jakarta’s visual delights, we drove past a small construction site. Cries of, “is that scaffolding made out of bamboo?” and “do those workers have bare feet?” rang out. I was incredibly interested to learn that bamboo is often used in tropical countries as scaffolding – it is an inexpensive resource, flexible and incredibly strong, and, shockingly to this Canadian, is used as an alternative to steel.

Coming from a country where steel-toed boots and hard-hats are an industry requirement, it is a little scary to note that this is not the case in most construction sites in Indonesia. In fact – hot tip from someone who almost had a hammer drop on their head whilst on a neighbourhood stroll – caution should always be used when walking by a construction site! We now always make sure to move as far away as possible, just in case.

Cats, roosters, lizards … and more cats! Spending even a day in most parts of Jakarta, you will see many cats lounging on the streets, in homes, and even in businesses. Right beside them you also see families of roosters, hens, and chicks, happily sharing the space and food offered by the locals. Add into the mix the little cicak (house lizards/ geckos) that you see quite literally everywhere, and you have a mini-zoo happening! The urban wildlife is a novelty that we find absolutely charming, and so did our guests.

These first impressions are part of the Jakarta visual stew that we can all likely recognize from our time here. But under this chaotic, seemingly-disorganized, crazy blur, another key element all our guests have commented on, and we agree wholeheartedly with, is how friendly Indonesians are.

Indonesians are incredibly welcoming and friendly to visitors, including extended visitors like the expat community. They are almost always relaxed and happy and have an admirable ability to stay calm. In a world where many countries value fast-paced environments and crushing levels of productivity, slipping into Indonesian time is a vibe we can all aspire to.

Local Indonesian people are a huge part of why it feels so comfortable to live in Jakarta, and as our visitors packed up to leave, I felt incredibly lucky to be able to call Jakarta home.


A Canadian wife and mother who loves to travel and try new everything: food, experiences,
books – I’ll try anything once! Our Canadian family has been living as expats for over 10 years
but this new Indonesian experience is our first with our American-born children.

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