17 November 2010

Trip to Indonesia, Part 8: Economic Classes of Jakarta

One of the strangest things about Jakarta is the contrast between the wealthy and the average person. From what I can tell, there are really four classes of people here: the ultra-poor, the average, the upper-middle class, and the upper class. The ultra-poor live in the slums, barely eeking by by collecting rain water to drink and selling recycled trash.

Collecting rainwater in the slums.

The next group, the average, is the vast majority of the population. They live in the millions and millions of ramshackle houses that line the streets and alleyways of the city. They travel mostly by bus and motorcycle to get around the city. They fill every imaginable job here, as anywhere else. They are also the backbone of the service industry, acting as drivers, maids, cooks, restaurant personnel, etc. Perhaps because there is such are large workforce of low-wage workers, prices for food and services here are incredibly cheap. You can eat a good meal complete with multiple courses for less than three dollars or take a 30-minute taxi ride for two dollars. Even if you pull out all the stops at a really nice restaurant, you can eat for under $10.

The upper class are a small, but visible, part of the population, living in mansions on the same roads as the poor.

A mansion in Jakarta.

For a long time while in Jakarta, I thought those three groups were the entire population. Then we went to the mall and discovered the invisible middle class. The huge malls are packed with tons of well-dressed, affluent people shopping in stores that would not seem out of place in a high-end mall in an American city. Our hosts explained that the middle class seems invisible here because they are shuttled between their homes, their jobs, and the malls, and don't venture out much beyond that. The malls are hubs of social activity here, filled with bands playing live music, dozens and dozens of nice restaurants, TV shows being filmed, and trendy boutiques selling designer fashions.

A television show being filmed in a mall.

One wing of many in a four story mall in Jakarta.

A four-piece jazz band playing in the atrium of a mall.

The DC Comics store in the mall.

The cosmopolitan scene outside the mall.

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