Sunday In Jakarta


It is Sunday morning in Jakarta. Bright sunlight floods into our apartment from the huge windows on two sides of the living room and although it’s still early the temperature is already 30 degrees, and it promises to be 34 later. I open up the glass doors that lead onto our tiny balcony and breath in the not so fresh air from outside, before going back in to make coffee.

By 8am the builders have already started their work on the site opposite our apartment. They have been working on this construction now for nearly 4 months. Day by day the fruits of their hard labours materialize as the structure which they are building, slowly starts to rise up, storey by storey from it’s foundations. I watch them in the furious heat of the day as they sweat and toil, under the baking equatorial sun. There are no safety measures in place should they fall, no nets, harnesses or screens lest they slip. Open mouthed I watch as they stand near the edge of the platform and haul up heavy steel girders and concrete slabs with rope pulleys from the ground 200ft below.

What strikes me as different about this particular scene, aside from the desperate lack of any Health and Safety measures, is the absolute dedication of these workers. If this was the UK, you can bet your bottom dollar that there would be a tea break, fag break, dinner break at any given opportunity. But here, no, they continue to work relentlessly and tirelessly throughout the day, only stopping if there is a sudden downpour of rain.

Although we have what is described here in Indonesia as Elastic time, meaning that it’s extremely difficult and exceedingly frustrating at times to actually get anybody to commit to an actual time to start something; once the job, or project does eventually get going, Indonesians are a workforce par excellence. They are consummate in their workmanship, their craftsmanship and skills are second to none and they see the job through to the end with dedication and good humour.

This photo is another view from the apartment. The smokey haze is from the bonfires that are lit everyday to burn rubbish and household waste.

Disclaimer: When I refer to UK builders, I am talking about the builders that I have employed over the years. Some of the jobs have been for major renovation projects on old properties; others have been smaller things such as fitting a new kitchen/bathroom.

This is not a slight against all UK builders, just the 80% that I have employed who have made life hell, done a crappy  job, shit workmanship, over charged us, then pissed off without finishing the job. The remaining 20% were great, wonderful in fact.

17 Comments

  1. How wonderful and frightening! I noticed, too, no occupational health and safety regulations. Dangerous work, someone’s gotta do it. Great post!

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    1. Thanks Martha

      It’s pretty scary watching these guys, day in, day out. This happens all over Jakarta. It totally freaks me out! They are busy on a program of painting the outside of the block where we live and the painters go up and down the building on a sort of makeshift cradle which is nothing short of hopeless as there is nothing for them to hold onto for balance as the bars only go up to just above their knees. It’s like some sort of extreme sport….I hate to watch!

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

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    1. Indonesians are great. They really value education, and they work extremely hard. I know that comparisons are odious but I cannot help but compare work ethics here with what I’ve left behind in the UK.

      The safety issues or rather lack of, are scary. It does freak me out at times when I witness some of the things that happen here. Life is precious and I hate to think how many fatal accidents occur because nothing has been put into place to protect people in the workplace.

      Thanks for your comment Amberr! 😉

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  2. I absolutely disagree. OK, Jakarta is not Indonesia, like Paris is not France. And for big projects here they import workers from Java (mostly under Korean or Taiwanese supervision), but here you can SEE the quality of the product. It’s never really finished and ruined after a year. Everywhere the minimum of 3 are doing the work of 1 in the west, they are VERY slow (I would be too with that payment.), appear when they wish, mostly have very little skills (Humour is not needed.) and the wrong or no tools (You watched the lack of health and security measures.). I am talking about builders and workers that I have employed and watched over more than 11 years and if you would try to build your own house you would experience too that there are only less than 20%. The situation on Bali probably is different.

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    1. Thanks always for your thoughts and comments Tom. You have many years of living in Indonesia, I have merely months! I value your opinions as they give readers a different perspective.

      I am writing about what I have experienced and witnessed so far, and to date, I am very impressed. If in the future if we are lucky enough to build a home/studio, which is something that we would like to do who knows, it may well end up the same old story!

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  3. Just looking at your photos of these workers made my stomach give a little lurch. I’m not big on heights! I managed a general contractor office for quite a few years in the US, and I have to say that US construction workers and UK constructor workers seem to have an unfortunate amount in common. I think some of that has to do with the lack of structure (hah!) in the field itself. Although, I had to clock in and account for my time and work within budgets and a timeline, the subcontractors were not always cooperative! Some of that, I’m sure, had to do with not wanting to take orders from a female, but not all of it!

    Love the post and the pics! Thanks, Lottie!

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    1. Yes, I’m absolutely rubbish with heights. Even going out onto the balcony to take these photos had me breaking out into a muck sweat and then watching the men working so close to the edge has my heart thumping every time I see it. I wrote a post ‘White knuckle Ride’ a while back which pretty well sums up my paranoia!

      You are some lady managing an all male workforce. Good for you! Great respect. I bet it had it’s moments 😉

      Thanks for your comments, great to hear from you!

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    1. Tom, if my google translate has done the right job, I am very sad about what you write.

      You seem tired of Indonesia to me, and somewhat bitter and angry.

      I am not so wet about the ears as you think. I think you think I’m just an ignorant bule who is still in the honeymoon phase of her stay here. I am ignorant about many things, and am still learning but this is part of the experience, my experience. I am well aware of what you speak of, but does it cause me to become disillusioned? No, it does not because in my heart I already instinctively knew these things. Maybe it helps that I have Indonesian blood in me.

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      1. You are having the condo-view, I’m in the mud – since a long time. Perhaps you should watch a little bit longer before you judge. If we write “Indonesia” and “Indonesians”, we are wrong anyway because these terms are having a complexity which is far beyond any blog-post. Your blog and mine together are producing the picture and I enjoy your blog anyway.

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  4. Hey!! I am only giving back a bit of what you have given me!
    and I enjoy your blog too.
    I do live in an apartment because that’s our Uni accomodation, but thankfully it’s not in an expat area. I’d much prefer to live in the mud, remember Tom, I was a farmer once too!

    Thanks always for your comments.

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    1. Are you sure? Perhaps I better stay away from commenting, because I don’t want to ruin anything.
      Google-translations are as fine as woodblock-prints. Using that, people find out that I’m a slave-holder, womanizer, racist, Judas – but I don’t bite. It’s a pitty that the language-problem is an obstacle in our communication, but perhaps you once will visit North Sulawesi?

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  5. I would love to visit North Sulawesi and you can be sure that I shall look you up when I am there. We can thrash out our differences over coffee at your kitchen table and I shall milk your goats for you and muck out a few sheds whilst I’m there.

    I totally agree about google translations, and I wish that I didn’t have to rely on it at times as I think that a lot is quite literally lost in the translation. Yes, wood block is a very good analogy.

    I happen to think we have a nice little argument going. It’s good that you stand to correct me at times, it makes it a lot more balanced. I have many, many faults, and wearing Rose tinted Spectacles is one of them!

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  6. Learning how to milk my goats would be wonderful! And my wife knows where to buy smuggled wine although I probably would prefer goat-milk.

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    1. This sounds like a winning combo! Contraband wine and goats milk, a sort of fancy new Sulawesi cocktail perhaps?

      Yes, I’ll have your goats producing a gallon of milk each a day. Money back guarantee Tom, you just need to learn the technique….You’ll be making cheese next, and I can help you with that too!

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