First-time visitors to the country may be confounded by the various calls from the pushcart vendors hawking their goods around the neighborhood.
The clinging of spoon on a glass bowl is the sign for the meatball seller. The knocking on wood is the fried noodle seller, and the nasal singing sound of “Sio-Maaaay” is the sign of the dumpling seller.
But those au naturel sounds are not the only ones heard in the city. Blood pressure may rise along with the passing of the Evil Knievel wannabes on motorbikes or the honking of cars queuing behind a public minivan that cheekily stops midtraffic to pick up a passenger. And, last but not least, is the Indonesian love affair with the loudspeaker.
One can hear loudspeakers being used in shopping malls, in weddings processions, in meetings of a dozen people and at places of worship.
“I have, in the past, read messages on the Internet from other people complaining about the noise from loudspeakers from mosques near their houses. I’d always been thankful that I didn’t have that problem,” Glenn McGrew, 43, who lives in Semarang, Central Java said over the phone.
His peace lasted only until last June, when a military compound near his residential complex started to construct a large mosque and broadcast the calls to prayer, Koran recitations, and even children’s Islamic classes.
“Now, I have that problem,” he said.
Glenn is one of many expatriates disturbed by the city’s generous use of loudspeakers.
Glenn, who lives with his family in Candi Sari, Semarang, said before the new mosque was built, the area where he lived had several mosques in the vicinity, whose calls to prayer did not create any discomfort to the ears.
The noise from the new mosque drowned out the sound of the other mosques, which eventually forced the latter to increase their volume too to make themselves heard by their congregation.
Once, the broadcast went from Friday all through the weekend and ended on Monday, Glenn said.
The noise has hampered his family’s rest time, Glenn said. He lives in his mother-in law’s two-story house and is starting to teach his five-year-old daughter to sleep by herself in a room on the second story of his family’s house. As his daughter still feels daunted by the idea of sleeping by herself, he tucks her into bed and stays until she falls asleep.
“Just a couple of minutes after that, the mosque put its loudspeakers on again. And she wakes up and gets upset,” he said.
Glen is now wavering between asking his mother-in-law to sell the house and move to a quieter place or to stay put. “I feel I don’t want to uproot myself”.
Eka Heru Djunaeni, associate director from Colliers International, a consultancy company that provides real estate services for expatriates, said that being free from noise pollution was one of the requirements clients asked for in their search for housing. Except for expatriates hailing from countries that are used to loudspeakers from places of worship, most of Colliers’ clients look for houses that are far away from loud places of worships.
“They are usually not used to loud noise,” Colliers International associate director Lenny van Es-Sinaga said.
In Jakarta, the area that is quite accommodating to that demand is Pondok Indah, South Jakarta, Heru said.
Other expatriates areas are in Kemang, Pejaten, Cilandak, and Cipete in South Jakarta. “There are many, many mosques there. For someone who really cannot tolerate amplified calls to prayer, we will refer them to Pondok Indah,” Heru said.
Noise is not the only factor in finding housing. Location and the house itself are also in the equation.
What then can one do when one has found the perfect house in the perfect location but it has problems of noise pollution?
Lenny said that a prospective leaser could request double glazing in the windows as a noise buffer, at an extra cost. Lenny said that usually a 5 percent increase in the rental fee would be requested by the landlord. Houses and apartments recommended by Colliers are in a price range of US$1,500 to $4,000 and higher.
Those privileged with the funds then could find that perfect house in a quiet neighborhood or install double glazing for their windows. But for the majority of people, they would have to stay put and endure the noise.
Residents mostly feel powerless and afraid to complain, Glenn said. Many of his neighbors feel the same annoyance over the loudspeakers; however a lot of them are reluctant to complain to the mosque caretakers. He asked his neighbors how they felt about the noise. Their response was one of opposition but they would rather not confront the issue.
Meeting up with the people from the mosque apparently does not help either, Glenn found. He reasoned that the noise violated Indonesian laws and the spirit of Pancasila, the Indonesian philosophical foundation. “They do not want to compromise,” he said.
Not all expatriates, however, are annoyed by the loudspeakers from places of worship. Chris Holm, who has lived in Jakarta for more than six years, said that he had adjusted to the noise and was more concerned with the traffic problems in Jakarta and the lack of open green spaces.
He said that he noticed how noisy Jakarta was when he went away. “I’m from New Zealand and it’s very quiet there. You notice it when you leave [Jakarta],” he said.
“What’s amazing about the city … You can seem to get away from the noise if you’re in the right place. You get used to the hum of the city and the noise becomes the background,” he said.
Bulantrisna Djelantik, an ear, nose and throat specialist with the Free from Noise Society said that loudspeakers should be used sparingly. In neighborhood areas, one should bear in mind the comfort of residents in the area.
“It is fine as long as it does not disrupt people’s lives,” she said.
The group found that noise pollution had become an increasing nuisance in urban areas. The issue of noise pollution was still on the periphery, with people being timid in raising any objections to it.
Noise levels in the city have led to people losing their hearing without them realizing, the group claims, saying that 10.7 percent of people who conduct activities in the streets of Jakarta have hearing problems.
The group, which was founded last weekend, is aiming for urban areas that appreciate the auditory sense better, with the motto: “Respect ears, God’s gift.”
“Ears are the first sense to develop in a fetus. With ears, a fetus unconsciously knows about the world outside itself,” the group’s chairman, cultural activist Slamet A. Sjukur, said. “When death is closing in, a dying person might lose his ability to see and speak. But the last communication he receives will come through his ears.”
Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Mon, February 01 2010