Jakarta malls: the cities within cities where the poor are invisible

Waleed Aly recently toured the Grand Indonesia Shopping CentreÑan enormous Jakarta mall owned by the billionaire Hartono brothers. While the streets are dangerous places with child beggars and bag snatchers, the malls have become the main public meeting place where the newly affluent flaunt wealthÑwith private security guards and kitchens you can use to cook your groceries. IÕm a little bit disorientated. A moment ago I thought I was in China. ÊThen I thought I was under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. ÊThen there was a fashion district from God knows where.Ê I think IÕve wound up somewhere in a coffee shop in a place called the Grand Indonesia Shopping Centre, or Grandi, as the locals call it. Malls are incredibly important places in Jakarta, and Melany Tedja, who is an environmental financial consultant, knows a lot about them, because, as she says, half her life is spent hanging out in malls. ÊSo when she says the first thing to do is take off your shoes, switching from high heels to flats, youÕd better take her advice.Ê And I did.Ê IÕm definitely wearing flats. ÔThis mall is way too big,Õ she says. ÔItÕs insanely big. ItÕs basically a gym. People are going like, “Oh, in Melbourne we walk everywhere,” right? Here we take taxi, we take motor-taxi. We never walk. But, there is a but: we walk a lot in the mall. So thatÕs why we have like better cardiovascular health. And I think thatÕs because of the mall.Õ But this is about so much more than shopping and the appropriate footwear. The mall holds a central place in the society and social life of Jakarta. In terms of the lighting, there is a statistic that has been mentioned by the Ministry of Energy, that one of the biggest malls in Jakarta uses the same electricity as a relatively big city in Java. Melany Tedja ÔI think in Melbourne for example you have lots of public parks,Õ Melany says. ÔBut in Indonesia it’s not [the case]. So after work youÕre like “LetÕs meet up.” “Where? Which mall?” What are the other options, you know?ÕÊ Malls have become the public meeting places of choice for three main reasons. Firstly, theyÕre air conditioned, or at least not as humid as outside. ÊBut then it gets interesting.Ê For the middle classes, malls are contained areas full of shoppers on the same class rung. While Indonesia has a big (and growing) middle class, itÕs still not uncommon to see children begging on the street. ÔYouÕre going to see child labour and itÕs pretty hard to see, so you have a lot of guilt complex,Õ Melany tells me. ÔThis is an isolated area where everyoneÕs basically middle class just like you are. So you can wear clothes without feeling guilty. You can look nice and buy expensive food.Õ The third issue is security. Jakarta is quite an unsafe city, Melany tells me.Ê Local law enforcement is Ôpretty poorÕ.Ê ÔPeople have very little faith in the police,Õ she says. ÔSo being on the street you literally have to hold on to your bags all the time… It becomes a place where you can’t walk around freely like the street in Melbourne. It is pretty sad.Õ The way she describes them, JakartaÕs malls sound like isolated, sterile cities within a city. And indeed, the malls are at odds with the rest of the city in telling ways. Jakarta is one of the very few cities in the world to boast two Louis Vuitton stores less than 100 metres apart.Ê But who shops there when the average wage is only AUD 200 a month? ÔI think here we have a lot of oligarchy,Õ explains Melany. ÔLike with Occupy Wall Street one percent controls all of the world. And in Asia itÕs more like families. ThereÕs lots of families in Asia that own [a] political party, media company, energy company, food and beverages company as well as the biggest tobacco company.Õ Listen to Waleed Aly’s personal tour of Jakarta’s grandest shopping mall. More This [series episode segment] has image, And itÕs these powerful families that are setting up these malls. Grandi is owned by the Hartono brothersÑMichael and RobertÑwho also own the Djarum cigarette brand and control Bank Central Asia, IndonesiaÕs biggest private bank. Together Forbes estimate the brothers are worth around USD 16.7bn as of March 2013. She says the brothers are also running concerts as well, and are bringing Katy Perry on tour.Ê ÔSo itÕs really hard to hate them,Õ she says. The mall, then, is an institution that provides social spaces for people and plays a really important social function on the one hand, but then on the other hand symbolises everything that is problematic about society in Jakarta. And regardless of what you think of them, the traffic in this city makes it so hard to get home that residents have few other options but to use the malls. ÔIf you go home at around 6 oÕclock itÕs going to take you two and a half hours to three hours to get back at home,Õ says Melany. ÔBut if you go home at like nine oÕclock or ten oÕclock at night itÕs going to take you like one hour or half an hour.ÕÊ After work people come and mill about in the food hall kitchensÑa fusion of restaurant and supermarket. You can do your grocery shopping and then pay extra for the kitchen to cook some of it for you for dinner. Malls also tend to stratify in terms of the clientele they attractÑthere are hipster malls and malls just for ethnic Chinese, Melany says. These interior metropolises live up to their reputation in terms of energy usage as well. Melany says one mall the size of Grandi uses the same electricity as two cities in another part of Java. Bear in mind also that only 74% of Indonesia is considered ‘electrified’ and even that number is probably inflated because of the way those statistics are calculated.Ê There is a glaring social injustice in these numbers, which is possibly why some malls have started to embrace Ôgoing greenÕ. However, a recent experience consulting for one of Indonesia’s regional malls that wanted to ‘go green’ showed Melany there is a long way to go.ÊÔBecause IÕm an environmental consultant I was asking: Òwhat do you mean with go green?Ó And they were like: Òoh, weÕre putting some plants in hereÓ. I have two problems with that. Having more plants does not mean you “go green”.Ê But thereÕs a bigger problem.’ ‘They are fake plants.Õ Find out more at RN Drive.