Or, The Thrill of Being in a Developing Country

Each time I go home, I have to reacquaint myself to Jakarta because it’s always a different city that I come home to. My 3+ years absence makes this process much more noticeable, since a lot has happened during that period of time.

Take the area around my house. Entirely new buildings have emerged, replacing the older structures, which were not so old in the first place. I could hardly recognize the street a block away from my house, which are now filled with restaurants, a health center, and a car showroom, all newly built.

Certain areas of the city are emerging business districts. New high rises are in construction whose lights glow at night and are quite enchanting. These complexes look less cluttered to me (and believe me Jakarta is a cluttered city), so I find these urban changes exciting.

I like being in a place that’s dynamic, where you can’t stay and operate the same way for years at a time. Jakarta is a place that forces its occupants to be versatile, adaptable, and creative, though not always in a good way. Some things are definitely worse, like traffic. Just yesterday, it took me 1.5 hours to get to a place that’s supposed to be reachable in 20 or 30 minutes max a few years back. Some people adapt to that by breaking the law, i.e., lots of motorcyclists ignore red lights. Some people develop patience.

But basically, the fascinating thing about being in a developing country is to actually experience the development daily. It is visible and its effects influence the way you operate each day. Someone said to me the other day, “We cannot see Jakarta 2012 anymore. When you see the city, you have to see Jakarta 2020 or 2030.” Being an optimist that I am, I think Jakarta 2020 will be a fascinating place, cleaner, healthier, and more organized. And the road to get there, the problem solving that will be required and the lessons learned, will be even more fascinating than the end result.