I'm Tim Richardson, and I lived in Jakarta between June 1996 and May 1999). I am an Australia male; I was in my late twenties when I moved to Jakarta. These notes will give you an idea of what it was like to live there (in the expatriate's privileged position) back in those days. It was interesting because those three years started in the roaring era of the Tiger economies, and ended after economic catastrophe and the violent transition to democracy.

Things To Do


Films: At home & at the movies

The movies

Jakarta is bad news for the film fan.

There is a near-monopoly chain, Studio 21, showing Hollywood blockbusters at all the shopping malls. Other smaller cinemas exploit market niches, reminiscent of the small rat-like mammals who eked life scurrying beneath the feet of dinosaurs. I haven't been in any of these little cinemas, but I hear small and extremely rat-like creatures scurry among the audience. The rats and people watch Taiwanese sex flicks, by the looks of the tattered posters outside. Snakes seem to be a popular feature; maybe the rats enjoy horror.

The Studio 21s run each film for a few weeks. They have around 6 screens each, on average. You can look up what is on at here

It is almost impossible to see films that do not come from Hollywood. Embassies show some good films, but usually during office hours (argh). It is usual for the French embassy in a foreign city to fly the flag of French cinema, but to give you an idea of how dismal the film scene is in Jakarta, the British embassy also shows a lot of films. That's a bit harsh, but there are limits to how much Hugh Grant we can bear.
The hand of the censor is less heavy than the average airline. However, Pulp Fiction would never have made it, and the government didn't allow Schindler's List, for unforgivable reasons (too "friendly" towards Israel). Nearly all new releases are available uncensored from VCD /DVD pirates (including Schindler's List).

At Home

Jakartans laugh at VCRs; they are bemused that anyone could use such old technology (and there isn't enough worth taping on TV). .

VCDs and DVDs are commonly pirated. For a while it seemed that legitimate VCDs were getting the upper hand, but on my last trip (2002) the situation had got back to normal. Pirate CDs have no censorship, and they are cheap. Quality is hard to predict.You usually buy them, not rent them. The range of VCDs is not good, mainy because it doesn't go back very far in time, and you can hardly ever buy a title that Studio 21 won't show anyway. DVD? Some titles, but expensive ...

Cable/Satellite TV: The choice is quite good. You can use a satellite dish or cable, including digital provider. The government does not restrict ownership of satellite dishes, and the channels beam in with no problems. There is HBO, CNN, BBC, Star Movies, MTV, Channel V, Cinemax, TNT, etc.

Free-to-air TV: Movies are usually in English and sub-titled. Censorship is bad, but there are so many advertisements you will never finish a movie anyway. Lots of Indian movies. Some "premium" US shows, like Friends, X-Files, ER. Not much that is British or Australian. Mr Bean, the world's most famous mean, stupid and very funny loser, is very popular.


Indonesians read newspapers, but not much else. Censorship under the New Order regime is probably an important reason: it was very easy to end up in jail if you write anything, print anything, publicise anything or read anything that upset the ruling order. Thankfully this has changed with the political passing of Soeharto, but the legacy will perhaps last a generation.Until then, though, it is not a book culture.

However, there are now two good bookshops in Jakarta. One is in Kemang, and one is in Plaza Senaya. The prices are really high; between 150% and 200% of Amazon prices. However, you don't have much choice, because if you buy from Amazon you will almost have to have the books couriered since the mail service is so unreliable. Things tend to get lost, in time and space. I don't think the mail service has improved much, even in 2004 a shipment of books I sent to a friend in Jakarta never made it.

Indonesian Fiction ...

There is at least one magnificent Indonesian author, Pramoedya Anata Toer. He spent years as a political prisoner (communist sympathiser), and is a master story teller. I have read English translations of his major work, they are tremendous. This is the not the site to tell you about Indonesia arts and culture, though.

Internet Book Stores and Customs

I bought many books from Amazon.com. The cheap shipping mode takes 10 to 14 weeks ( a long time). The 'world mail' service worked reasonably well. I never had a problem with censorship at customs, but the mail service! The Indonesian mail service is a bane of your existence. Have things shipped to your company address: if you work for a multinational, there should be less theft. I would forget about having CDs sent by mail, even to an office address, but your mileage may vary.

Business Titles and other non-Fiction

You will find a largish range of mainstream American business titles and new-age self help books at Times bookstore, which has its two bigger stores at Plaza Indonesia (the best) and at Mal Pondok Indah.

Magazines like Time, the Economist, New Scientist, Scientific American are readily available at Times and at hotel shops. Same with PC magazines and sports mags.

It is surprisingly difficult to find books about Islam in English. You will need to do this elsewhere (the MPH bookstore or Borders, both in Singapore, are a great places for books, about Islam and in general).

Internet Service Providers in Jakarta (ISPs)

This section is now way out of date, I suspect.

I tried four Jakarta internet service providers. The best I found is cbn (http://www.cbn.net.id); they are quite fast by local standards. Other high profile providers that I have tried are RadNet and DNet, but both becamse annoyingly slow during the crisis. Every time an ISP increases their capacity life is good for a while, but after a month or so they must pick up some many subscribers frustrated at their previous ISP that it bogs down again.







Good ISP Home Pages

CBN: www.cbn.net.id

DNET: www.dnet.net.id

RadNet: www.rad.net.id

The fees ISPs charge are semi-regulated by the government, so the ISPs are struggling to afford the backbone connections they used to have. At the time I write this (Nov 1998) you will pay around 40,000  IDR minimum charge per month, and around 3000 IDR per hour. That's quite cheap. Local call costs are also cheap, but they are time charged. IBM Net charges in dollars; at $1.50 per hour, it is about six times more expensive than rupiah based ISPs.

What's Going on in Jakarta and Indonesia?

Local English Newspapers

The most independent and credible English newspaper is the daily Jakarta Post. There is another English daily, the Indonesian Observer, but it has a questionable background (see below). The Jakarta Post has one of the most interesting editorial pages I have ever seen, serious journalism, and excellent English. Its coverage of local issues is bold. Sports coverage is ok. Lots of soccer, cricket, rugby and North American sports. It has a strong team of journalists, and often breaks stories. Surprisingly, the quality of discussion pieces and analysis is often superior to that published by the good Australian newspapers, because instead of relying on journalists for expert analysis, the Jakarta Post uses experts. You get long, academic pieces. They may be experts in their field, but that of course doesn't make them good writers (after all, that's what journalists are good at).

The other English daily is the Indonesia Observer. I believe its publication was an effort to limit the influence of the Jakarta Post which is published by Gramedia, an independent publisher owned by a Catholic family (and publisher of the most important Indonesian newpaper, Kompass). Gramedia was seen as too anti-government and not friendly enough to some sections of poltical Islam. This is similar to the launch of Republika, aimed to reduce the influence of Kompass, another Gramedia newspaper, and the most presigious of all Indonesian papers. The Observer method of competition seems to be based on wooing the ex-pat readership away from the Jakarta Post rather than by competing in coverage of local news.

For world coverage, buy the International Herald Tribune, or the Economist.

Update in 2002: the Jakarta Post has seen off the Observer threat. Both newspapers are still published, but the influence and readership of the Post has not been much affected, as far as I can tell.







Indonesian Bargains

Tip: subscriptions to the Economist are cheap in Indonesia, and if you move the Economist changes your address anywhere else in the world at no charge, so I took out a 3 year subscription. 

Foreign Sources & things to read before you arrive

Apart from the obvious sources (the Economist, Far Eastern Economic Review, Asia Week):

Australian newspapers are for most Westerners an over-looked resource. Australia now regards Indonesia as its most important neighbour, and over the last few years coverage of Indonesian issues has increased dramatically. No other Western media provides the same extent of Indonesian coverage.

  • The Sydney Morning Herald runs good articles. You can expect three or so a week. I have read many good articles on Indonesian leadership issues. See www.smh.com.au

    See also the Age, from Melbourne: www.theage.com.au

  • The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a news site that has an excellent folder of Indonesian stories that is updated very often. It is great one-click source for the latest stories. ABC On-line: http://www.abc.net.au






News sites for Indonesia

Sydney Morning Herald

The Age

ABC on-line

The Economist

The Far Eastern Economic Review

Censorship of foreign publications? Hasn't been a problem since Soeharto left. I subscribed to the Economist (and I still do), and every issue arrived, although there used to be big delays when Soeharto Inc was covered. On these occasions I read the delayed edition on the web site, (www.economist.com). This is no longer a problem.

Most expatriates are well advised to read the book Indonesia: A Nation in Waiting. It was a notable event when you could finally buy it in Indonesia (August 1998), a welcome sign of the times. It gives a good history of the Indonesian Republic, major political groupings and enough background on the Soehartos to follow conversation. There is also a Lonely Planet guide to Jakarta which I found very helpful when I first came here. It may be a little out of date now; I hope a revised edition is forthcoming.


Professionals working in Jakarta will not need much Bahasa Indonesia for their work. You will need the basics to get around; you are much less likely to be ripped off by a taxi driver if you speak some Bahasa Indonesia. The level of English among middle class Indonesians is good.







Indonesia Languages

Here's something that might surprise: The vast majority of Indonesians speak a first language that is nothing like Bahasa Indonesia. Javanese, the biggest Indonesian language, is one of the world's major languages with at least 70 million speakers, is not even from the same language family.

To confuse this issue, many Jakartans do not speak Javanese as their first language; they speak a dialect of Bahasa Indonesia, but it ain't what you learned at school!

Bahasa Indoensia

Bahasa is a noun, it means 'language'. Sometimes expats refer to 'bahasa' when they mean 'Indonesian' but this must seem odd to Indonesians.

You pronounce words as they look, except that "c" is "ch", so the word "cinta" is pronounced "chinta". If you say a word with "f" and you are not understood, try saying it with "p" instead. You might have trouble with "r"s if you can't trill it; in this case, be very patient and make the "r" as pronounced as you can. Non-American speakers of English should remember that we often ignore the letter "r" when pronouncing words (eg "butter"). Always say it when speaking Bahasa Indonesia.

Bahasa Indonesia has served for perhaps more than 300 years as a lingua franca of the Indonesian and Malaysian islands, so many speakers get by with a small vocabulary and flexible grammar. This is good news if you want to have a go at learning it.

However, a dialect of Bahasa Indonesia is becoming the first language of people brought up in Jakarta. It has rapidly evolved into a complex, living language, and the Jakarta usage is a dialect not easy for the ear trained to schoolbook Bahasa Indonesia. However, everyone speaks standard Bahasa Indonesia, and will use if for formal occasions, speaking to foreigners and speaking with people who were not brought up in Jakarta.

Bahasa Indonesia is a fun language, particularly the Jakarta version. It specialises in powerful sentences with few words; in some cases, single words carry enormous meaning. If it was a computer language, we'd call it 5th generation. It is also very metaphoric and poetic: "back streets" are jalan tikus, the way of a mouse; the sun is mata hari, the eye of the day; speed bumps are "sleeping policemen". Indonesians are in my mind the world champions of abbreviating, relegating the previous world champions, Australians, to the silver medal. By the end of 1997, people were already talking about "Krismon" (Krisis Monetari). You will notice that the closer friends are, the shorter their names become (particularly among girls). Ultimately, you may hear people addressing each other by the first letter of their first name.

This page written by Tim Richardson.