Selamat Datang – two words that have greeted me wherever I’ve been here in Indonesia. It took me a while to get here though. After finishing my previous blog post in the lobby of my hotel in Cebu I then embarked on a rather laborious weather-delayed journey to Jakarta. Arriving at the airport in Cebu I was checked in as normal only to be told at the gate that there was a delay. This was followed by further announcements of delays and just when you think it couldn’t get any worse they decide to cancel the flight after hours of eager anticipation from those of us waiting (im)patiently. I was due to connect in Manila but, as I’ve mentioned quite a bit recently, the weather causes havoc in this area of the world and Manila airport was flooded. If they knew this why didn’t they just cancel the flight to begin with – Grrrr!! Anyway, after an impromptu stay in a tatty hotel near the airport in Cebu I eventually arrived the next day in Manila, only for my onward flight to Jakarta to be delayed for several hours – oh the stresses of a travelling data collector! As the plane was coming in to land at Manila’s airport it was evident that the city had indeed been inundated with rain. A post-apocalyptic ‘Waterworld’ panorama was the view over several areas of the city, with the occasional roof punctuating the flat waterscape. Scary stuff!
Due to the flight delays my time in Jakarta was short but, similar to my time in Manila, I spent my 24 hours there in a bubble of the ‘West’. The malls around Senayan have everything that leading world shopping destinations have and expat life in Indonesia’s capital can be quite different to that in other Indonesian cities. Jakarta is huge and has a large expat population as well as increasing numbers of upper and middle class locals. This has fuelled the demand for all things ‘international’. Even Ferraris and Lamborghinis have their place in Jakarta, although if you strayed in to many of the outer suburbs of the city I’m sure you would get a glimpse of another side which expats rarely get to experience.
Balikpapan is a different story. If a Ferrari were to drive down the main drag of Jalan Jenderal Sudirman then heads would turn and faces would gawp. It’s probably not a good idea though as the potholes would likely damage the exhaust systems. There are no three lane modern highways in Balikpapan like there are in Jakarta and the size of the city is very different. Not much has changed since my visit a year ago but one change which I have become aware of more and more is that I get stared at a lot less than my first visit to the country back in 2007. Back then I remember feeling quite alien as everyone seemed to find the sight of a white Englishman rather fascinating. A sign of the times perhaps that this happens less is simply that more and more foreigners are living and working in Indonesia now. I recall walking past a coffee shop in Surabaya six years ago and everybody sat at the tables, put down their cappuccinos and followed me with their eyes. Yesterday I walked past the same place (now a Starbucks, inevitably!) and no one batted an eyelid.
So why are there more foreign workers in the country now? Last year Indonesia was ranked the second fastest growing economy in the G20, behind China, and aspires to join the emerging BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China. A Goldman Sachs study has indicated that Indonesia will potentially move from 15th globally to 7th globally over the next 35 years in terms of GDP, overtaking the likes of Japan, Germany and the UK. This is in part due to the country’s expanding middle class which is massively increasing domestic consumption, combined with a growth in productivity and shrewd management of the nation’s abundant natural resources. These are perhaps ambitious predictions but the country is certainly moving forward and developing at a rapid rate. This is one of the reasons why ECA is expanding its location coverage in Indonesia and my visits to Medan and Denpasar in the next week will be firsts for ECA.
I’m currently in Surabaya though, Indonesia’s second city, and little has changed in the past year. The Tunjungan Plaza mall is still as huge as it ever was and the choice of goods available is certainly a lot more akin to that of Jakarta than Balikpapan. Indonesia is the most populated Muslim country in the world and, as such, alcohol is not as readily available as in other parts of the world. That said, the expat orientated Ranch Market now sells liquor, which it didn’t a year ago. So if you want your Bombay Sapphire gin or Johnnie Walker whiskey whilst in Suarabaya, you can. Mind you, at over 70 US dollars a bottle for each, you’d need deep pockets.
As I often do I’d like to finish on a complete tangent and pose the question: Between which two cities is the busiest passenger air route in the world?
The answer will probably surprise you as I hadn’t even heard of one of the places – and I thought I knew everywhere! Anyway to find the answer have a look at this website which also has many other fascinating visual stats about this world we live in – http://twistedsifter.com/2013/08/maps-that-will-help-you-make-sense-of-the-world
Til next time, Selamat tinggal.