24-hour convenience stores: The new hangout

During daylight: People sit at tables in front of one of Jakarta’s 7-Eleven convenience stores. JP/Nurhayati
During daylight: People sit at tables in front of one of Jakarta’s 7-Eleven convenience stores. JP/Nurhayati

One of the rare wonders of nature Jakartans can still observe in their beloved city is the swarms of moths fluttering around lights after a rainy evening.

But Jakarta is also home to a human version of this, as urbanites have taken a fancy to hanging out in front of bright neon-lit 24-hour convenience stores and cafes, like moths to light.

The area around Sarinah mall in Thamrin, Central Jakarta, with its many coffee joints and fast food places, is one that comes to mind when people want to meet up without having to worry about being kicked out of establishments late at night.

Kemang, South Jakarta, with its clubs and restaurants and East Jakarta’s Tebet with its indie clothing stores and small restaurants are other options for late night rendezvous.

But aside from 24-hour restaurants, there are now new hangouts proliferating around the city: 24-hour 7-Eleven convenience stores.

The biggest global chain in the world from Japan, which entered Indonesia in 2009, has been expanding in full force with 21 stores in Jakarta alone as of now.

And sure enough, Jakartans are lapping up the store’s slurpees (7-Eleven’s signature frozen carbonated drink) and do-it-yourself hotdogs.

Parking attendants are busy directing a constant flow of cars coming and going from the 7-Eleven corner in Menteng, Central Jakarta, until wee hours of the morning, almost every weekend. Small traffic jams form under the saturated yellow hue of the streetlight. 7-Eleven customers can be seen drinking, smoking and playing cards at the tables provided.

So what is the appeal of hanging out in a convenience store? 7-Eleven regular Andi Annas, a 25-year-old account executive at a magazine, said he had been to almost every 7-Eleven store in Jakarta.

“The atmosphere is different. The concept is similar to Circle K’s, but the products sold are different. There is a self-service snacks counter… They sell slurpees, Coca Cola — they also offer a variety of coffee and hot chocolate. I enjoy that,” he said.

“The place has tables and chairs so people can hang out. It’s nice to chat with friends, and hang out in the center of town. The products [sold] are affordable and we can make up our own food and drinks,” he said over the phone.

Some of the places also have power outlets so customers can charge their mobile phones, laptops and use Wi-Fi for free, he added.

Annas said his long working hours made it impossible for him to see his friends during the day, so 24-hour 7-Elevens had become his favorite meeting spot.

“We never plan our get-togethers. We usually arrange them at the last minute, by SMS, or on Twitter, Facebook or BBM [BlackBerry messenger],” he said. “Once 20 of us met at 7-Eleven.”

Annas never liked 24-hour restaurants, so before discovering 7-Eleven, he would hang out in the parks like Menteng or Suropati.

“I don’t like having to have to buy something to sit in a restaurant. And I feel uneasy if I stay there too long,” he said.

His favorite 7-Eleven branch is the one next to the BCA tower at Grand Indonesia shopping mall.

There, he can indulge in his favorite past time: people watching. And there is always something interesting to observe at this branch, which seems to attract a wide variety of people, he went on.

“ABG [Anak Baru Gede: youngster] come from the afternoon until night time; A bit later, office workers will drop by after work; later into the night, young adults will come,” he said.

Annas said he saw different cliques claiming spaces in 7-Eleven.

“Once I was there. It was around 8:30 at night. [The visitors] were so diverse. There were straight couples inside. There were junior high school kids and high school kids outside, who wanted to look like grownups. Next to them sat gay men and lesbians.”

According to Annas, people think of 7-Eleven as a hip spot.

Urban expert Johannes Frederik Warouw from the University of Indonesia said the emergence of 24-hour hangout places like 7-Eleven could be likened to “cozy corners”.

“This tends to happen in metropolitan cities with large spaces, in cities that have many development areas, with several business districts,” he said.

Business owners look at setting up these cozy corners in high-density strategic areas. “They chose places that are both residential and business-oriented,” he explained.

These places are also usually located in two-way roads. “If it’s in a one way street, it will only live for half a day.”

Business owners, Johannes went on, have been cunning at reading the public’s need for public spaces. The 24-hour convenience store is a public space provided by commercial entities, he went on.

Indonesia has had minimarkets for a while, long before 7-Elevens began popping up everywhere.

Some of these local minimarkets are also open 24 hours, such as Alfamart, which has 4,700 stores in Indonesia, and more than half in Jakarta. Indomaret had 4,626 stores as of September 2010 with almost 500 outlets in Jakarta.

Let’s not forget Circle K, Starmart, Yomart and AMPM’s 24-hour convenience stores.

However, using convenience-store spaces as a hangouts did not really take off until 7-Eleven and its dedicated tables and chairs.

It seemed this trend is likely to catch on in other Javanese cities as publicly listed Modern Internasional has increased the capital for its subsidiary Modern Putra Indonesia, the franchise holder to develop the 7-Eleven chain in Java.

Modern Putra Indonesia spokesperson Neneng Sri Mulyati declined to comment on the matter because she was on leave.

Johannes highlighted that the difference between 7-Eleven and other traditional 24-hour establishments was the former was selling more than products and services. “It’s selling an identity as well,” he said.

The convenience store has grasped city dwellers’ need to create an image and socialize. “There’s a shift from [selling] utility to selling pride,” he said.

“People go there to socialize but also to see and be seen.”

Annas thinks hanging out at 24-hour convenience stores may end up just being a fad. The 7-Eleven hype has become a victim of its own success, he went on. “The place is now crowded and there are traffic jams around the area.”

Johannes believes the trend is likely to stay if owners can continue to create a demand for these types of places.

But not all Jakartans have succumbed to potter the night away at 7-Eleven stores. For Mono Manata, convenience stores are “ABG clubs”.

“I don’t find it nice to hang out in a convenient store. The tables and chairs are not that comfortable either,” said Mono.

He does however, need a 24-hour place to hang out. He prefers Oh lala at the Djakarta Theater, opposite Sarinah Mall. The coffee shop was a symbolic part in his and his wife’s relationship when the two were still dating.

“We both worked crazy hours so the only time we could catch up was at night, after work,” he said. The two would talk until morning at Oh la la.

“I think places like that get more crowded around 3 or 4 a.m, when people look for something to eat after clubbing,” he said.

For Mono, a good hangout has to have good couches.

“I think it’s a necessity for people living and working in a big city,” he said. He hopes more cozy coffee shops will open 24 hours.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Lifestyle | Mon, January 31 2011

Urban play: Jakarta is a big playground

Jakarate taken from http://www.irwanahmett.com

In the eyes of a quirky artistic couple, the chaos and randomness of Jakarta is a huge playground waiting to be explored. And guess what? They are asking the people of Jakarta to come and play with them.

Duo visual communication artists Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina have created a game called “Urban Play”. To play it, they create art in the form of installation, photography, performance and video using the city’s rich elements. The city space becomes their muse, their instrument, and their exhibition ground, all at the same time.

It is a mixture of urban and multimedia art serving as subtle but effective criticism of urban life in Jakarta, based on their experience and observation of the city’s minutiae.

From this game/art project, the two have created five artworks so far. Their first one, titled Color Blindness Test, was a result of “playing” in one of Jakarta’s traditional wet markets. It is a picture of the word “play”, arranged in the fashion of the Ishihara color test using four rattan tray filled with chilies, melinjo fruit, limes and tomatoes.

The innovative and creative spirit of Urban Play is bound to remind us of traditional D-I-Y toy-making – such as creating a toy-car using Pomelo skin – from the days before consumerism dulled our “Macgyver spirit”. Urban Play, however, is modern in every sense, starting from the setting: the urban city space; the documentation tools: still-camera and video camera, and the art gallery: the Internet.

The artworks can be seen at dgi-indonesia.com in the online exhibition section. There, one can see their Play*2: Public Furniture installation, a little cave-like seating area, arranged from long wood blocks at a material shop on the side of the street at Jl. Pasar Minggu. In Play*3: Dancing Umbrellas, a short video shows how street vendors created an aesthetic arrangement of umbrellas.

Play*4: Monorail Slalom is a satire on the wasted columns of the defunct monorail project, while Play*5: Jakarate, uses humor to criticize vandalism of public property.

Irwan and Tita make a conscious decision to exhibit their work on the Internet, instead of in a formal art gallery, to underline the people of Jakarta’s growing use of the Internet and limited mobility as a result of traffic jams, Irwan said.

“It’s possible to see an intersection between the concept of Jakarta and the online *world*. First of all, our mobility is limited as a result of traffic jams. And second of all, the web enables information to spread to a wider audience than through a conventional exhibition,” he said.

“It’s how viral communication happens in the online world, accommodated by the conventional world,” he said recently in a Jakarta caf*.

The two artists at first just wanted to create art by responding to the space in the city. For an example, they wanted to create a new type of font inspired by Jakarta’s bus, the metromini. In the end, they realized the city space was not a vacuum and that Jakartans were a dominant part of the city, which made it essential for them to interact with people occupying the space to create their art.

“We cannot just pick random stuff and make it into art. We have to involve people and interact with them,” he said.

The challenge, they say, was to create something using only improvisation, innovation, creativity and negotiation. This, Irwan said, could result in visual art or art as a “scale” concept.

The Dancing Umbrella project was an example of a “scale” concept, he said. It showed that street vendors – usually viewed by city officials as a menace to order – were willing to cooperate and able to organize their space into an aesthetic arrangement, using negotiation skills.

“The negotiation process is the interesting part. And that process is what’s missing in Jakarta. We found vendors are more artistic than the average artists,” he said.

Tita said the response from people asked to participate in their project went far beyond their expectations.

“It was a gamble for us. We were initially pessimistic *about people taking the time to participate in our project*. But people ended up being so kind, they took the trouble to help us,” she said.

“We had to present our concept to people who had no idea about *urban* art in two to three minutes. They could then choose to participate,” Irwan said.

In Dancing Umbrellas, they had to negotiate with local Pasar Minggu market thugs. When they were shooting the vendors moving the umbrellas around, the thugs ordered them to stop.

“But, they really just wanted us to tell them what we were doing. Once they found out, they let us continue,” Irwan said.

From their playing around Jakarta, they said they found a little blessing in each game/project. For their Public Furniture installation, present at the material shop Fajar at Jl. Raya Pasar Minggu from May 7 to 11, they obtained free Wi-Fi connections at the site from the restaurant across the street.

For the Monorail Slalom, they encountered dozens of people doing their Sunday morning jog from Senayan and asked them to run slalom style at the abandoned monorail project.

Irwan and Tita said they would present nine artworks by the end of this month. The next project Irwan said would be about how people living in Jakarta were in a perpetual state of denial.

“People are in denial that they’re living in Jakarta. They know that Jakarta is in the tropics, but rather fixing the design *of buildings*, they install lots of air conditioning units,” he said.

“Floods are a frequent occurrence in Jakarta; people raise their houses as a result. The streets have a 3-in-1 rule, people then use 3-in-1 jockeys,” he said. “I’m just saying, don’t deny that you are living in Jakarta,” he said.

Whether this project will work out as planned still remains to be seen. They make changes to their project as they go along, they say; such as the Jakarta Monorail Slalom, which they first wanted to do with a car, but decided to do it with passers-by instead.

Iwang said he wanted to stimulate people to see Jakarta in more detail through Urban Play. “Jakarta is rich with detail. A society cannot be called a great society if they neglect detail. If people are used to what’s going on and never complain, they won’t realize something wrong is going on *in the city*,” he said.

“I see Jakarta with enthusiastic eyes. I came to Jakarta with a dream, if Jakarta could not grow with me, the dream couldn’t be achieved,” he said, adding that he was originally from Ciamis.

Tita meanwhile said that she wanted to ask people to “pay more attention to Jakarta”.

“Jakarta has given us so many things, but have we ever stopped to think what we have given to Jakarta? If Jakarta was a person, he/she would feel like the most used person,” Irwan said.

Irwan said they wanted to bring Urban Play to other cities in Indonesia and other countries, to watch the different characters of cities coming out.

The couple, who owns the communication visual company Ahmett Salina, funded the art project themselves.

“It’s a game for me. A golf trip costs millions, so does an outdoor trip. I spend money for this as a game for myself. This is an outlet for me,” Irwan said.

It is also a therapy for Jakarta to feel more intimate, he said. “If this game can reflect a bigger picture, then it’s good,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Mon, May 31 2010

In search of a good night’s sleep

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

Sleepy hollow: A scene at night outside Pondok Indah Mall in South Jakarta. The Pondok Indah neighborhood is a haven for expatriates in search of comfortable houses. JP/P.J. Leo

Four workers died while cleaning sewer, employer negligence suspected

Agung Supriadi was a calm curly-haired 21-year-old man, whom women of his neighborhood loved. On Dec. 22, he left for work in the morning to clean a sewer in Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta.

He did not make it home alive.

Agung died with three of his friends, Ridwan, Alif and Andi — all in their twenties — reportedly from asphyxiation while removing garbage from the Kalibaru tunnel, after being pushed by a strong current and running out of oxygen. The workers had been hired by East Jakarta Public Works Agency.

“Agung was a strong swimmer,” Agung’s oldest sister, 29-year-old Aci Sutarsih, said. “But, maybe there was too much garbage,” she said.

In her modest home, a square room with big wooden windows in Cipinang Besar, East Jakarta, Aci said recently she was shocked on hearing the news of her brother’s death.

Aci, who lost her parents nine years ago, raised Agung and her sisters on her own. Having no money, Aci and her siblings did not continue their education past elementary school.

Agung used to do odd jobs such as cleaning service or helping people move, Aci said. He would also sometimes busk with Ridwan, Alif and Andi.

“They were close friends,” Aci said, adding that Agung and the others were “sehidup-semati” (friends in life and death).

Agung had worked for the Public Works Agency as a daily worker for around one year, Aci said. He would receive Rp 35,000 per day.

“Sometimes he helped out by giving me some money,” she said. But mostly he used his wages for his own needs, which included taking his girlfriend out.

“I heard from his friends that they talked about getting married,” she said.

Police suspected the deaths of the four men was a result of negligence. Jatinegara Police detectives found that none of the workers had been given safety clothing or equipment before entering the sewers.

One eyewitness said they only had a flashlight, and on the day of their deaths it had been raining, causing the water levels to rise up to their waists.

“We suspect they died as they ran out of oxygen and were trapped in the water,” Jatinegara Police chief detective First. Insp. Supardjiono told reporters a day after the incident.

The police have questioned several witnesses, but have not named any suspects.

Jakarta Public Works Agency chief Budi Widiantoro said safety equipment had been prepared for the task.

“The incident occurred because of a sudden increase in water levels,” he said.

Workers were recruited for public works projects according to necessity, Budi said.

“The recruitment of workers is based on occasional needs, and is usually on a short-term basis… we do not give them year-long contracts, so they are not paid any occupational insurance on top of their daily wage,” he said.

A lot of people work without social or health insurance. Firefighters for example, who work in very dangerous conditions, are among the many who work for the public good without insurance.

Aci said she had received a total of Rp 10 million from the city administration following the death of her brother.

“I want to use the rest of the money to beautify Agung’s grave,” she said, adding that she was not sure how much was left.

“I used it for the burial and it was like rain when you spend money on those times,” she said.

Jakarta Manpower and Transmigration Agency chief Deded Sukandar, whose office oversees the implementation of work safety in companies, said in the case of Agung and his friends the employers had done enough.

“They gave money to the families,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Jakarta | Thu, January 07 2010