Sometimes I wake and walk outside to a world that smells funny. I don’t think I’m the only one—probably 20 million other Jakartians could say the same. No one can really explain what it is, though. Maybe it’s ten million motorbikes’ exhaust trapped under tropical clouds sagging heavy under the weight of their water and grit, or maybe the smell of fresh-netted fish hanging thick in the humid dawn. Maybe the nearby power plant tosses in its own odor. Maybe it’s the concrete dust whipped in from the next-door highrise constructions , or maybe just the smell of the perpetual budding and rotting of plants strangling each other for a moment of life and space in some of the world’s most fecund soil.
But there’s a definite tang in the air.
It’s always the little things like that that an outsider notices. Back in Missouri, I barely catch the cows and the fertilizer and the pollen thick enough to choke a collie—all my international friends ask me what that smell is, and I have to think for a minute to figure out what they mean. It’s normal for a native.
Horror stories abound about Jakarta’s smog—children growing up coughing black sludge just like tiny British coal miners in days of yore. True? Possible, I suppose. Perhaps exaggerated, but I don’t doubt some serious consequences to living close to the traffic.
I’m personally thankful my employer put us up in a new development right on the coast—at least one side of us isn’t being actively polluted, and often as not, the breeze blows in from the sea, and I like to imagine that this, at least, is fresh and cleansing. It helps to think such things.
As far as the new development, we’re basically living in a resort—pools, gardens, new facilities, tons of foreigners milling around speaking a conglomeration of languages—but one that lacks a beach. Fair enough, I suppose, since that construction site I mentioned earlier will soon be home to the newest mall in the city of ridiculously large malls.
The tradeoff to resort life is the size of the apartments: tiny to middling. That’s fine, I guess, since it’s just the two of us and we have a 32nd story place with a view of the power plant (natural gas, as far as I can tell)—with the Java Sea and a fair chunk of old Batavia to boot. We can actually spot the MONAS when the air isn’t too hazy. But there are definite curiosities—water heaters are not standard equipment, only one outlet graces each room, and there’s no sink in our bathroom. But that last one isn’t such a big deal, I guess, since the kitchen and its sink is only two steps away.
Internet is pumped in through a tiny wi-fi module collecting 3G signals—fast enough for Skype and most standard surfing.
It’s cozy. For the first time in my life I can walk down to the pool and swim a few laps just for kicks. Or I can treat my wife to a sunset coconut on the pier. Or grab a bite to eat from a half dozen tiny cafes peopled by friendly locals eager to chat and sell plate after plate of fried fare on the cheap.
These are definite perks to waking up in a city smeared by alleged smog.
Did I mention there’s a free shuttle to—you guessed it—the nearest, hugest, newest malls?
One other strange thing, though, is that the sun drops to dark by six-thirty nightly. We from northern latitudes are accustomed to warm weather packaged with long evenings. No such luck at equatorial climes—it’s six-to-six light, which makes eight seem more like ten-thirty, and ten-thirty more like one AM. Sunrises are easy to see.
All in all, it’s a new home. It’s got its perks; it’s got its smudges; it’s still life. All in all, I’m hopeful. I’m optimistic. I think I’ll like it—especially if I ever find myself able to do more than parrot only the most basic words and phrases to the locals.