A Jakarta Jungle

After delaying my actual move to Jakarta by spending a week in the fabulously hilly West Javanese town of Bandung with a fellow RPCV who lives in a great breezy spot, I have finally made my move to Jakarta. Thus far, it’s everything I thought it was going to be – a hot, crowded, intriguing labyrinth of diversity, skyscrapers, and slums. My previous stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer in East Java painted a picture of Indonesia that looks not much at all like life in Jakarta. The poverty divide, like in most large cities, is much bigger here in Jakarta than it ever could be in my East Javanese Peace Corps Village. The haves have a lot, from their penthouse-like apartment views, luxury vehicles, and trendy bars while the have-nots have just as little as the poor everywhere, but their lean-to residences appears much more starkly when juxtaposed against a city skyline with BMWs and well air-conditioned malls in the forefront or background than it ever could in the more modest areas of Java. Also, traffic and pollution are unfortunate distinguishing features of the city. Luckily, I mostly walk and take a city train, a kind of above ground subway that chugs through the streets. The train seems to contribute to the gridlock, but I don’t mind when I’m the one riding through the traffic and not the one stuck in it.

I appreciate some movement and physical activity in my weekly schedule and I decided right away that Jakarta’s concrete jungle and heat would not be conducive to my normal weekly jogs. I found a remedy when wandering through a mall after my first day of work in the heart of the city.

Jakarta, along with much of Southeast Asia, is home to a mall culture. Malls serve as a sort of epicenter for socializing, relaxing, and entertainment for many Jakartans. Visit a mall on a Friday or Saturday evening and you will see people fabulously dressed, perusing stores, dining, and patronizing mall theaters. I seem to be serially underdressed when walking through skyscraper malls in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian cities.

My physical activity remedy appeared when I recently ran across, of all things, a gym on the fourth floor of an I-don’t-know-how-many-stories-high mall a block away from my work building. On a whim, I ended up signing up as a two-month member. I have never been a member of a private gym in the U.S., only ever patronizing university or residential gyms. I enjoy working out but my experience in the Peace Corps taught me the value of a good homegrown workout and as a graduate student in the States, I don’t mind sweating it out with buffed-up undergrads at the school’s gym.

That being said, I found the ‘sale’ of this gym membership in Jakarta to be quite the show. I sat down with what could be none other than a gym sales associate as she took me through the gym’s offerings and gave me a tour. It was by far the most posh gym I had ever seen. After hearing about its bells and whistles, the sugary sweet sales associate allowed me to barter the price of the gym membership down to what I thought was reasonable. I’m not sure if membership price is negotiable in private U.S. gyms, but I wasn’t surprised to be able to sign a two-month contract for a fraction of the starting price in Jakarta. Unless one can see a price tag slapped on something, bartering is fair game in Indonesia and that proved to be the case for this private gym membership as well.

With my membership in hand, I was introduced to one of the personal trainers, Mas Rusdi, who specialized in TRX, one of my favorite gym toys. The next day, I joined Rusdi for a complete TRX butt-whooping session. I was impressed with Rusdi’s knowledge of fitness, evidence that Indonesia’s elite gym rats have embraced modern fitness models. The culture at this gym is one of complete encouragement. I see people of all shapes and sizes working with smiling personal trainers and group fitness instructors. By day two, I was greeted by my first name at the front desk and from other PTs I met there on my first visit.

And the ladies locker room. I can only try to express how immaculate the ladies locker room is. With shower water pressure of the stuff dreams are made of and salon-worthy hair dryers, I will likely end up bathing and getting ready in the ladies locker room more than in my own apartment. With access to fitness nerds, a Pilates room, and an overall stellar fitness culture, I have found a little oasis in Jakarta’s urban jungle.

Very tall building, very posh mall with my fitness oasis inside.

Very tall building, very posh mall with my fitness oasis inside.

Front desk of the gym within a mall.

Front desk of the gym within a mall.


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