Whenever I visit other big south-east Asian cities, I always seem to end up in Chinatown. Bangkok, Yangon, Kuala Lumpur, and now Jakarta. It’s not just the food. These districts always seem to have lots going on, an energy and character of their own.
In Glodok, Jakarta’s Chinatown, there are a number of traditional herbalist shops, selling specially prepared packages of dried or powdered herbs, designed to cure all manner of ailments, to those who don’t trust or can’t afford conventional medicine.
What to say about Jakarta? It’s a vast, sprawling, congested mess of a place. A megacity of more than 30 million people with no obvious centre, it’s more than a little overwhelming for the first time visitor. It’s a difficult city to love, especially at first sight, but in between the multi-lane highways and behind the concrete blocks, there are pockets of humanity, regular neighbourhoods where regular people go about their everyday lives. There were moments when I felt like I was in my element – there’s nothing like wandering around a new place with a camera and a 35mm lens. But in between these moments were long periods spent sitting in traffic, or simply looking for a place to cross those multi-lane highways.
I think you’d need a lot of time and patience to really get to know this city. I just spent a couple of days there at the start of a month long trip through Java and Bali. In that short time, I barely scratched the surface of Jakarta. I can’t offer a comprehensive overview of the city with my photographs, but I can share a few portraits, some small fragments of Jakartan life. It’s my way of trying to show the city’s human face.
More from Jakarta, and elsewhere in Indonesia, coming soon.