Breathing through Jakarta: From Everyday Challenges to Eternal Peace

SimpleJoy
4 min readJun 21, 2023

This post is warmly penned in celebration of Jakarta’s 496th birthday, honoring the city’s vibrant pulse and resilient spirit.

Jakarta, Istora Mandiri MRT Station, Azka Rayhansyah on Unsplash

Just as I marvel at the energy and vibrancy that bubble through the busy streets of Jakarta, I’ve also got to take a minute to think about the challenges this bustling city grapples with. When it comes to living in a city that’s bursting at the seams with people and buildings, the storyline can sometimes twist from the exhilarating to the sobering.

I’ve picked up a new morning habit. Before I swing open my doors and windows each morning, I find myself reaching for my phone to check the air quality index (AQI). Over the past few weeks, pollution levels in Jakarta have been climbing alarmingly.

The first act of Jakarta’s urban opera starts with a struggle for breath—literally. Much like other bustling metropolises, Jakarta wrestles with environmental issues. At 10:14 a.m. Jakarta time on June 14, 2023, Swiss air quality technology company IQ Air dubbed Jakarta the most polluted city globally. The city’s air quality index was a staggering 157.

Jakarta’s skyscrapers and air pollution, source: the Jakarta Post/Wendra Ajistyatama

Pollution is the undisputed diva here, strutting around the city with traffic congestion as its faithful sidekick. The duet they perform is far from melodious, resulting in a grayish curtain of smog that often hangs over the city, leaving us gasping for that elusive breath of fresh air.

The next act features a familiar foe: transportation. Despite Jakarta’s dynamism, commuting can often feel like a grueling boxing match, with traffic as an unpredictable opponent. According to April 2023 data, Jakarta’s traffic jam index climbed from 46th to 29th in the world, with an average traffic congestion level of 53%.

Now, hold your breath (I’m getting used to that, aren’t I?). As we dive into Jakarta’s most pressing challenge: limited land. Jakarta is akin to the popular kid in school—everyone wants to be in their circle. But with popularity comes the crowd, and with the crowd comes the need for space. So, who gets the biggest slice? Naturally, those who can afford it do, while the less fortunate must make do with crumbs.

But the urban opera doesn’t end there. The final act, perhaps the most thought-provoking of all, concerns our last resting place. A looming cemetery land crisis casts a shadow over Jakarta. The DKI Jakarta Provincial Government manages 82 public cemeteries, or TPUs. Sadly, 68 of these are almost completely filled, leaving us with the only viable option: an overlapping burial model.

Tanah Kusir Cemetary, South Jakarta, source: Kompas

Sure, we could consider alternative burial methods, but we can’t ignore the weighty religious and cultural contexts that accompany them. Cremation, green burials, vertical cemeteries—all sound fascinating and progressive, yet the road to their implementation is anything but straightforward.

For the privileged, they have the luxury of booking their final ‘resort’ in plush cemeteries in surrounding cities, while most Jakartans are left pondering whether they’ll find a decent spot to rest when the final curtain falls.

At cemeteries like San Diego Hills Memorial Park and Al Azhar Memorial Garden in Karawang, about 65 kilometers from Jakarta, land prices can skyrocket. These tranquil places offer peace for both the deceased and their families left behind—no more fees and dues.

San Diego Hills Memorial Park

Meanwhile, ordinary Jakartans can find themselves dealing with some truly extraordinary problems. Take, for instance, a recent video that went viral on social media. It depicted a public cemetery in East Jakarta pulling double duty as a livestock barn.

The lady behind the camera captured the bizarre reality, her voice echoing the public sentiment, “Hi guys, wouldn’t it break your heart if your parents’ graves were being used for drying clothes, or even worse, as cages?” Given the outcry, it didn’t take long for the Jakarta Parks and City Forest Office to step in and try to control the situation.

A public cemetery in East Jakarta doubling as a livestock barn

While the wealthy are comfortably plotting their final act, reserving luxurious burials in plush cemeteries, ordinary Jakartans are engaged in the grand theater of daily life. Their ‘drama’ involves keeping their lungs filled with clean air, dodging bouts of traffic, and navigating through rainy seasons without their boots becoming waterlogged. And let’s not forget the most peculiar ‘plot twist: ensuring their loved ones’ resting places don’t moonlight as livestock barns!

But isn’t that the vibrant rhythm of life in Jakarta? They are so engrossed in these daily scripts that they often have little time left to ponder their final act. And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

Focusing on these everyday struggles might just extend their time under the city lights, granting them a few more encores before the curtain call. Here’s to taking it one breath at a time, hoping that the rhythm of today’s challenges can choreograph a better tomorrow.

This might just be the perfect sequence for those living in Jakarta—the ones who bring life to this bustling city every single day.

As we wind down this journey through Jakarta’s daily hustle and final rest, let’s pause to wish our resilient city a heartfelt Happy 496th Birthday. Here’s to many more years of dynamic growth and shared stories

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SimpleJoy

Mother & aid practitioner 🌏 | Exploring cultural bridges 🌐, aid industry insights 🔍, and cherishing life's simple pleasures 🌸