03 May Corona Times in the City: Part IV, Jakarta – How the Virus is Affecting People and Places
These are strange times for cities worldwide. Streets that are normally bustling are empty, parks are taped off, people are worried. Our workplace — Asia’s historic neighbourhoods — are no longer the vibrant living spaces they used to be, but a muted décor of an injured society. How do we at iDiscover experience the silent city? Are we still able to go outside? How do urban communities in Southeast Asia deal with the ‘new normal’ of social distancing? How does it affect our mood? How do we perceive the change of place? We talk to iDiscover contributors in different countries to find out more about what their life, and city, is like these days. iDiscover app writer and photographer Angie Basuki tells her COVID story from Jakarta, Indonesia.
What does Jakarta look like these days?
Jakarta is infamous for its intense traffic, but these days, its streets look like they did back in the 1990s. There are far fewer vehicles on the road since mid-March when the government began enforcing Large-Scale Social Restriction to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Barely seeing anyone around in the city’s main streets made me wonder if people have left Jakarta. However, the shimmering city lights at night show us that the city is not dead: life has simply moved inside.
Bundaran HI, Jl. MH Thamrin is usually one of the busiest streets in Jakarta; these days, it’s empty (photo: Rifan Oktavianus)
How are people coping?
People are carrying on in different ways here. Many of us are adapting to new routines, such as working or studying from home, making video calls and setting up online meetings. However, essential and healthcare workers are obliged to continue their daily activities outside their homes. At the same time, many small to medium-sized businesses are closing temporary or even for good, leaving many people out of work. Some businesses are trying to survive by moving their services and products online where possible. The coronavirus is also creating new business opportunities: people have started selling stylish cloth face masks, hand sanitisers and disinfectants, more frozen and instant food. And, as we are a bunch of coffee addicts over here, tons of coffee shops are now selling 1-litre bottles of coffee!
Menteng in the afternoon, seasonal hawkers start selling snacks upon breaking the fast (photo: Rifan Oktavianus)
How are Jakartans helping each other through the coronavirus?
As a metropolitan city, Jakarta is home to millions of migrants from villages in Indonesia. The migrants who are affected by unemployment are forced to stay within the city’s confines to avoid transmission, even though they cannot afford to live here. But the government, companies and organisations, as well as communities and individuals, have started initiatives to help those in need. People are donating anything from lunch boxes and groceries to free online classes.
Life has not changed that much everywhere. People in kampongs (villages) go about with their daily routine as usual: elderly people still have afternoon chats in the alleys, and youngsters go outside to play card games in the evening. Especially now, during Ramadan, warungs (traditional shops) are open, selling snacks upon breaking the fast just like they would any other year.
Life goes on like normal in a kampong in Senen; people are not wearing masks or social distancing (photo: Rifan Oktavianus)
Can people still go places?
Few people are still going out, and if they do it is mostly because of work; tourist and recreation activities are banned, and schools and religious buildings are closed. We are allowed to be in public spaces and use public transportation, but we have to keep a physical distance. We are encouraged to drive our own vehicle rather than using public transport.
How are you doing?
Like many others, I am coping as best as I can. I am staying at home and I am trying to remain productive and positive. Once or twice a week, I go out for an urgent meeting or to buy groceries. I found a new pleasure in taking a solitary afternoon walk in my neighbourhood every day. It helps me to think clearly. I am thinking of the times, both good and bad, we all just roamed the city’s nooks and crannies as we pleased. I cannot wait for things to get better; I would like to be able to shake hands with people and smile at others without a mask on.
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