My Jakarta: Drucella Benala Dyahati, Miss Scuba Finalist


Ecology graduate and Miss Scuba Indonesia finalist Drucella Benala Dyahati is an advocate for marine conservation. (Photo by Iwan Putuhena)

Indonesia has some of the best diving spots in the world — just ask Drucella Benala Dyahati, a Miss Scuba Indonesia finalist who received the Miss Photogenic award at the competition. Her background as a WWF activist and her major in ecology at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture paved the way for her to join Miss Scuba in promoting tourism and marine conservation.

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My Jakarta: Heiner von Luepke, Advocate for the Environment

In the smoggy streets of Jakarta, Heiner von Luepke is an advocate for the environment. The six-foot-tall expat from Germany begins with his own life choices, like riding a bike to work every day, but he’s also trying to clean up the country at large.

As a climate change adviser for the German NGO GIZ, von Luepke is working to curb global warming in Indonesia, which is in the top-five list of developing countries with the highest rates of greenhouse gas emissions. Here, he discusses his work with the Indonesian government, his passion for distance running and a few simple ways that everyone can live a more eco-friendly life.

What kind of projects are you working on in Indonesia? 

I work for GIZ, a company that’s partly owned by the German government. I’m currently focusing on the climate change negotiations between the Indonesian government and the German government, which is what brought me here originally.

Do you work with a particular Indonesian organization? 

I work closely with the National Development Planning Agency [Bappenas], which is my main counterpart. It’s responsible for developing the action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

Why did you decide to focus on climate change in Indonesia? 

Years ago, there was an NGO study financed by the World Bank and a report by the British government, and they showed how Indonesia has really high rate of gas emissions, just behind the US and China. So the topic came up at the 2007 Climate Change Conference in Bali.

Nobody was really expecting Indonesia to be mentioned like that in the reports. It was controversial because of the uncertainty. For example, palm oil plantations emit a lot of greenhouse gas, but it’s hard to know how much.

How do you measure greenhouse gas emissions?

You can estimate it, but it’s hard to measure exactly because Indonesia is so diverse with so many ecosystems, from Sumatra to Papua. But from my experience in East Kalimantan, I know deforestation led to a higher per capita emissions rate there than in the US or China.

What’s it like to work with Indonesians? 

I really appreciate what they do, though I can’t say that there is one type of Indonesian. Stereotypically, Germans are direct people, straight to the point. But working with Indonesians helps us get the job done and go places that otherwise would be closed.

Part of my job is bringing people together and finding a common interest.

In Jakarta, is traffic still the major cause of emissions? 

It’s obviously a significant cause of pollution here. The government has to regulate, maybe by restricting cars and motorcycles to 20 liters of fuel or to 100 kilometers of driving every week. It can also build greener office buildings, apartments and malls, even starting with lighting and window designs. Unless Jakarta reduces traffic, provides a good mass public transportation system and improves its waste management, it will never be a green city.

Do you enjoy living in Jakarta? 

Within moments of arriving in a city, I can usually tell whether I’ll like it. When I first came to Jakarta, I felt like I was able to find my niche immediately.

In the beginning, I lived in Kemang, then I moved to Menteng, Mega Kuningan and finally an apartment in Sudirman. I think what I need is a place where I can run in the early morning with humane temperatures and not much traffic, which I can do on [Jalan] Sudirman on Sundays. Four and a half years later, here I am.

So, you’re a runner ? 

Yes, I’m a runner, and it’s a challenge to be one in Jakarta. I usually run from my apartment to Gelora Bung Karno. I’ve joined several marathon competitions in the city over the years. When you run in the morning and you’re still sleepy, you have to be really careful and watch the road, especially crossing Casablanca. It’s quiet dangerous, seriously! [Laughs]

What steps do you take in your own life to be greener? 

To reduce my own carbon footprint, I use a bicycle. The only downside is getting sweaty before meetings [laughs]. I really like the idea of Bike to Work [bicycle community], people can enjoy the outdoors.

The biggest thing that I feel guilty about is a trip I took between Europe and Indonesia because the flight emissions are so high.

Where do you go to relax in this busy city? 

I play sports to keep my mind balanced. I also listen to punk music, so sometimes I watch live bands at a bar in Menteng, and I also enjoy eating out or getting drinks at Die Stube, a German pub and restaurant in Kemang.

Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?

Not just an environmentalist, but actually also a professional forester. I started working on climate change when there were still ongoing negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol, which aimed to fight global warming and deforestation.

A climate change forester isn’t a career that many people know about, but I take it as a challenge to be on the front lines, trying to find new solutions and implementing a climate program on behalf of the German government.

Heiner von Luepke was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Heiner von Luepke, Advocate for the Environment

For more on GIZ visit

My Jakarta: Oni, Manggarai Waterway Janitor

The next time you decide to litter, think about why floods happen. The rivers here are full of trash; trash people throw into the river or onto the street that drains into a river. Oni, an unsung hero in Jakarta, picks up more than a ton of trash from the Ciliwung River each year so that when the rains come, thousands of his fellow Jakartans won’t lose their homes.
Every day, like clockwork, from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, this father of two rows his bamboo raft up and down a kilometer of river at the Manggarai floodgate in Central Jakarta, making sure it doesn’t get clogged with all our trash.

Oni, how did you end up here next to the floodgate cleaning up the river?

I do this for cigarette money. I just pick up the plastic and put it in a sack and then sell it later. I collect four kilos of plastic daily.

Cigarette money? So you have another job?

Sure. I work for Leo Mandiri. They pay me to monitor this part of the river and make sure that if they need to open the canal they can do so and not have to worry about trash clogging the offshoot river I monitor. So I get a salary from them and then I collect all the plastic on the boat and sell it for cigarette money.

Where did you get your bamboo raft? Did you make it yourself?

Mandiri gave it to me. All the guys like me they pay to monitor and clean the river, have boats like this. We each get a one-kilometer stretch. The company also has a dorm we all live in over in Senen.

What did you do before you started working here?

I never had a job before this one. I’m lucky to have this job. I moved here from Semarang seven years ago. My wife’s from Banten and she lives with our kids up there. I get two days off every two weeks. So sometimes I go to Banten to see my family when I have some free time.

Let’s not beat around the bush, you have a pretty dirty job. What’s the dirtiest part of cleaning up the river?

The rats. They’re all over the place, especially when the water is shallow like it is now. But I work during the day so I don’t see them very often. They’ve never bitten me or anything. I just see them. But that’s bad enough.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever found while on your raft cleaning up?

Coolest? Once I found a wallet with two grams of gold in it. But that’s about as interesting as it gets. Every once in a while I find a Rp 1,000 or Rp 2,000 bill.

What’s it like when it rains here? Do things get crazy? Do you ever get scared?

It all depends. If it only rains for two hours or so then the river rises, like, 20 centimeters, which isn’t that big a deal. But every three to five years the water just gushes out.

What goes through your mind when you see people throw their trash into the river?

I’m not just cleaning the trash out of the river. I pick it out of the banks, out of the limbs of trees and off the street. I know that it is my job and if no one littered I wouldn’t have a job. But I have to be honest: I wish people would stop throwing their trash in the river.

You’d think that since you have your hands in a filthy river all day, you would be a little more enthusiastic about people putting trash in its place.

I hate it when I’ve just cleaned up a place along the river and then someone comes up and just throws their trash there again. I mean, come on … right after I just cleaned it up!

Your wife lives in Banten, and you live with a bunch of co-workers. Do you go home right after work or do you have a place you like to hang out ?

It depends. Sometimes I go back to the house, and sometimes I hang out around here.

If you could pursue a career other than the one you have, what would you like to do?

I can’t really dream too big. I mean, I already have a job and I feel pretty blessed for that. The reality of life is that no matter what, you have to keep pushing and make it through the day.

If you were governor for a day, what changes would you make in this city?

I would build a better river system and dredge out each individual river to keep them from flooding all the time.


Oni was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Oni, Manggarai Waterway Janitor


Picture by Iwan Putuhena

My Jakarta: Khusyi, Restaurateur

Restaurants and bars in Jakarta are like babies, a new one seems to pop up every day. It’s hard to have staying power in a city where customers are demanding new, innovative experiences from each and every place that slaps a neon sign in a window and turns on the open sign over the front door.

But what really works? Khusyi, who got his start in the food and beverage industry more than 10 years ago washing dishes, talks about his newest baby, Bureau, a gastro pub in Pondok Indah, what it’s like to work seven days a week, and why not everybody should open a restaurant.

What other businesses were you involved with before you opened Bureau?

I opened Birdcage on Jalan Wijaya in 2008. I also was involved with the opening and creating the concept for Bibliotheque at Sampoerna Strategic Square. I was the general manager back in 2009.

The restaurant business is cutthroat. Why not just sell something simple, like insurance or wicker chairs?

I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years. I studied hotels and hospitality in Switzerland. I focus on the operational, front and back of the house, while my partner who went to the same school as I did studied the management and accounting aspect. So we always have the passion to open up our own establishment.

You own a restaurant, but did you ever spend any time really making your bones?

I’ve been everything from a dishwasher to a waiter to a housekeeper. I’ve done almost everything there is to do in a restaurant or hotel. I started at the bottom. Like I said before, there are people who are passionate, and there are some who have money and just want to open up a restaurant.

I know in my mind when something is out of place, sometimes members of the staff just shake their heads and say, “How did we miss that?” I know if the table is not right or something is missing in the kitchen as soon as I walk in. It’s all about being passionate about what you do, that’s what gives you the ability to sense these things.

What do you think about the food and beverage business in Jakarta?

The F&B business in Jakarta is growing rapidly everywhere. The middle class is growing and people have money to spend on good food and lifestyle.

There are people who open up a restaurant and understand this business in and out, and others just want open up a restaurant because they have friends and money.

If you want to get into this business you have to be serious and know what you are doing, otherwise it’s a gamble — you open up for six months and nothing happens. You need to have the passion to open up a restaurant.

Do you think there will always be a market for new concept restaurants here in the city?

In this kind of business, there is always a market for everyone in Jakarta — it’s unbelievable. One day I was at Bibliotheque, it was packed, and then I went to another place it was packed as well. You realize that one place cannot accommodate all the people in Jakarta, so there is always a market.

What’s your favorite food?

I love my steak, because I guess it’s the way I cook it — to perfection. If its cooked medium well, it has to be medium well; the meat should still be juicy.

Do you come up with your own recipes?

For some of the food, I came up with my own recipes; the signature cocktails are from my experiments. Again, it all depends on the concept. With Bureau, for instance, I focus on international food, combining French and Spanish tapas, but the ingredients themselves are mostly French.

Do you follow a certain philosophy in this business?

I just want people to experience good food. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. I don’t want to cheat my customers. We serve the best quality at a decent price.

So, do you often cook for your girlfriend?

I usually just bring her to my restaurant [laughs]. I don’t have a day off, so I come here to make my own cocktails and food.

Do you prefer cooking in the back or running the restaurant up front?

I think both elements are important. People in the front are just as important as people in the back. When it gets busy, I can help out in the kitchen or in the front talking to customers.

What qualities do you expect from your employees?

In the back, we have excellent products and we expect that the people in the front know the details of the products and ingredients we intend to deliver to the customer.

I expect that when I go to a fine-dining establishment, the server should be able to explain to me what’s in the food. Sadly, in my experience at some of the more popular restaurants in the city, that’s not the case.

I try my best to train my staff, because I want them to know and understand how the product is made, what’s in it and be able to describe the taste.

Has there been any changes in the city since you’ve come back from college?

When I came back from Switzerland, five-star hotels were still ruling the fine-dining industry. Independent restaurants are booming now and we have more choice today compared to before.

What do you and don’t you like about Jakarta?

I don’t like it when it rains in Jakarta because it’s bad for business; reservations get canceled and people just stay in. However, the traffic in Pondok Indah can be beneficial because those who work in this area stay out after office hours and hang around to avoid traffic.


Khusyi was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Khusyi, Restaurateur


Picture by Iwan Putuhena

My Jakarta: Boki Ratu Nita Budhi Susanti, Legislator and Queen

Beautiful and smart, that is the first impression when you meet Boki Ratu Nita Budhi Susanti, which means ‘Her Majesty the Queen.’ There are still numerous traditional monarchies in Indonesia, but only a few have modernized and now participate in the political system. Boki is not only the queen of Ternate in North Maluku, she was also elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat. Today, she tells us what it’s like being a queen in politics, her current stands on issues and what Jakarta means to her.

Let’s start with the obvious. How did you become a queen?

Well, I am the wife of the 48th sultan of Ternate. I was originally from Java and was crowned sultana, or queen, of Ternate in 2000.

How do you cope with the cultural differences between Java and North Maluku?

I experienced culture shock when I first moved to Ternate because it was so different. However, thank God, I was able to adjust quickly and soon felt at home in North Maluku. I’m Javanese, and traditionally we are raised more gently and to be soft spoken. But I was brought up under two cultures, Javanese and European, because my grandfather had Dutch and French heritage. So this affected the way that I think.

There are many sultanates in Indonesia. Do they still have any power?

Many of the other kingdoms no longer have any real power primarily because they are not willing to change with the times. The only way to survive is to use politics to make your voice heard. Without that it’s difficult to maintain both a monarchy and democracy.

Has politics always been your passion?

At first, I was just a housewife, but then the sultan told me that I had the ability to be in politics. It was tough for me because I’m not originally from North Maluku, but the sultan believed in me. I wasn’t in favor at first, but then I asked him a question: Why us? Why do we have to be in politics? Shouldn’t a sultanate be neutral and act like an umbrella to protect its people? But the sultan said that our role was to maintain harmony, that we had to participate in politics so we could be part of the central government system. So I took it upon myself to become a part of it to influence our traditional values.

Being a queen is already an honor, so why lower yourself to become part of the government?

In politics, one plus one doesn’t equal two. I had to become part of it to play a role in the decision-making process. That way, I can try and make one plus one almost equal two.

How long have you been in politics?

First, I spent five years on the Regional Representatives Council [DPD] and then I became a member of the House of Representatives [DPR] two years ago.

Do you agree that the House needs a new Rp 1 trillion building?

I agree that we should build a new DPR/MPR building to improve the performance of the top state institutions. Imagine the elevator suddenly stopping while there are House members inside? How can we work if we have to constantly think about safety? The current building is not able to accommodate members anymore.

What changes have you made since you came to office?

I’m not going to talk about changes for the nation, but for my people I have made the palace more accessible, more transparent. The palace has to act like parents toward the people, we are not their masters. I have also built a mosque for the women, improved banking and the economy in Ternate, and I have I established a center to act as a base for all the women’s organizations in North Maluku.

What’s so great about Ternate?

When I’m in Ternate, I love being around my people. Another great thing about Ternate is the spices. They are the main commodity and made us famous hundreds of years ago. In fact, Columbus was originally looking for Ternate, one of the Spice Islands, when he found America. America wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for Ternate [laughs].

What’s so great about Jakarta?

I like being here because my voice can be heard, in contrast to when I’m sitting in the palace. In Jakarta, I can enjoy the music scene, jazz and blues. There’s also the malls, which are so convenient. Everything you need in one place.

You’re obviously very busy, so how do you manage your time?

No one’s perfect, but I try to manage it the best I can. I have to be able to know when it’s time to be the queen, mother, sister or friend. I really enjoy being with my children here in Jakarta. I teach them how to be independent; but I also play video games with my little one, pick dresses for my teenage daughter and do her makeup, and just enjoy being a mother.

What else do you like to do besides being a queen, mother and DPR member?

I like to have fun and relax too; just because I’m a queen doesn’t mean I have to be uptight. I pick up my kids from school, go shopping at the mall, I wear jeans and I hang out with college students. I enjoy designing my own clothes, I choreograph traditional dances and I also teach politics and communication. I’m quite an artistic person; I believe there’s art in everything you do.

What about the future?

In the near future, I’m planning to run for governor.

Boki was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Boki Ratu Nita Budhi Susanti, Legislator and Queen

Pictures by Iwan Putuhena & Yanti Junani

My Jakarta: Laura Muljadi, Model

It’s not easy being different in Jakarta. In the Netherlands, dark skin and exotic eyes can land you a modeling gig. But in Jakarta those same features, coupled with the fact that you’re 181 centimeters tall, warrant stares and whispers. But Laura Muljadi, 25, became a fixture at Fashion Week. Things weren’t easy for her — her mom made her shower with milk in hopes of lightening her skin. In college she weighed 82 kilograms. But instead of blaming people who put her down, she made things happen on her own. Now, when she’s not doing the catwalk, she tells kids at schools to be themselves. and stop caring about what other people think.

What does it feel like to be stared at all the time?

When I was younger my hair was really short and everybody thought I was a guy or a transvestite.

Even when I was in the Miss Indonesia pageant a blogger said I should join Miss Transvestite Indonesia.

When people stare I just smile back at them.

I’m ethnic Chinese, but you can’t tell. I stopped walking with my dad when I was 14 because I was so tall at that age people didn’t think I was his daughter.

You didn’t always think you would be a model, did you?

When I was growing up my dad only saw things as black or white. He always said: ‘There are only two types of girls in the world.

The pretty ones and the smart ones. You can’t be in the middle. If you’re in the middle you won’t survive.’

My dad always gave me books. I’ve always had books.

You have dark skin, which is normally not considered beautiful in Indonesia.

I grew up in the ethnic Chinese community. Even my cousins always thought I was different.

Once, when I was in elementary school, my teacher was talking about blood types and he said ‘Laura, it’s gonna be tough for her if she gets sick because she’s adopted and her parents might have different blood types.’

How was it even possible for him to say that in front of his students?

I was 9 years old. Of course I cried.

When I was younger, my parents would order pure milk and I would have to shower in it. They thought it would make my skin lighter.

But I always believed that things were going to happen for me.

You received a scholarship to go to school in the Netherlands. What did you study there?

I took up international communications management.

After school, I came back to Jakarta and got an office job related to my major, but modeling took over, and now things have gotten a bit carried away [laughs].

Any advice for young models ?

You need to be smart. Know what’s best for you.

You can buy all the whitening products here, but if you don’t have the confidence you’ll never be pretty.

You don’t need to be sharped- nose or anything. I go to schools and talk to kids and they say ‘You’re so lucky.’

But I tell them in this world only 5 percent of success is luck, 95 is hard work and motivation.

What do you tell the kids when you visit the schools?

I tell them ‘If you don’t want people to hate you, if you don’t like conflict, then don’t take risks.’ When I joined Miss Indonesia people were like ‘What were you thinking? They never pick people who look like you.’

I told them I’m not here to win, I’m here to pursue my dreams and to inspire people like me.

I don’t mean those who are dark-skinned, I mean different from the stereotype of what’s pretty.

When you were in college in the Netherlands you hosted a radio show that was broadcast in Indonesia.

It’s like Radio Indonesia. It’s a government-funded radio station with programs in nine languages. I did a show called ‘Voice of Women.’

The program started out as something completely different, aimed at college-age kids. Why the change?

I did my thesis on migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.

People here know all about the bad things that happen to migrant workers in Singapore and Malaysia, but they don’t focus on or broadcast the good things.

So you were talking about good things?

I found a balance. We broadcast the good and bad stories so the people from cities and villages knew what to expect.

Sure, a lot of bad things happen, but there are success stories that no one ever hears about, especially from Saudi Arabia.

I wanted to tell the listeners what they could expect to happen — both the good and bad.

Some people benefit from going abroad. But the media never broadcast those stories.

But does anyone really want to work as a maid abroad?

That’s the thing — some people go abroad and then come back and are celebrities in their villages.

Some people are even given an inheritance from their employers.

Especially in Taiwan, Indonesians are seen as caretakers and nurses, not maids.

Some get rich and just stay in Taiwan. But you never hear that.

People only want to hear how miserable other people are.

How did you get your big break?

When I was going to school in the Netherlands, I worked as a waitress at a cafe.

I weighed 82 kilograms at the time. A regular at the restaurant owned a modeling agency.

She said ‘If you lose all this weight in six months I can assure you’ll get a job.’

I went from 82 kilos to 49 kilos in six months.

Everything went in a blender. I didn’t chew anything for three months.

So what were you having for dinner, oatmeal?

I drank juice and blended vegetables. It was disgusting. I could never do it again. Then I tried to blend rice and meat, and the second month I even blended mie goreng.


Laura was talking to Iwan Putuhena & Zack Petersen

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Laura Muljadi, Model


Pictures Courtesy of  Laura Muljadi

My Jakarta: Doreen Biehle, Psychotherapist

With Jakarta back to its old self after the Idul Fitri holiday, the nightmarish traffic has returned in full force. But instead of ranting and raving as usual, we looked for someone to talk us down off the ledge. But if you’re expecting Doreen Biehle to start blabbing about the stress-related complaints of Jakartans it’s not going to happen. There’s a little thing called doctor-patient confidentiality, which means Biehle, who splits her time between work in Jakarta and relaxation in Bogor, isn’t about to tell you whether it’s the traffic or the hectic pace of the city that has everybody pulling their hair out.

How did you end up in Jakarta?

I’m from the US and have been working and living in Jakarta since 1992. I came here after marrying my husband, Widjanako.

I’m a widow now, after he died in 2003. I’ve done many things professionally in Indonesia, mostly with international public health projects, as well as providing private psychotherapy for expats and Indonesians.

Have you ever dealt with traumatic events in Indonesia?

I have over 20 years of work experience in the mental health field. Early on in my career in Indonesia I was recruited as a technical assistant for the counseling and mental health components of dealing with HIV/AIDS.

I have work experience with USAID, international NGOs and UN agencies. Recently I’ve been focusing on trauma work. I manage a capacity-building project for mental health professionals in Aceh, which started after the tsunami.

Is there a big demand for psychotherapists in Jakarta?

Yes. I mostly get referrals from embassies, international agencies and schools.

How does someone know which therapist is right for them?

It’s important to know something about the therapist’s experience and license to practice. If the therapist holds a professional license, you can contact the license board and inquire about their standing.

This is important since there can be fake professionals out there or professionals who have violated their code of conduct.

Can you talk a bit about confidentiality?

The confidentially principles are the same as with your doctor. The exception is if there is information that may affect the client’s or another person’s safety or welfare.

In these cases I must encourage the client to tell a family member or their doctor, or if they do not agree, to assist them in telling someone.

What is the most common problem among people in Jakarta who seek treatment?

There are myriad problems, similarly to any other urban setting. There are many mental health issues such as depression, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, addiction, relationship problems and behavioral problems with children.

There are many requests for counseling about sexual orientation and cross-cultural relationships.

What do you think is the No. 1 cause of stress in Jakarta?

Work, or lack thereof.

Do you spend more time giving advice or simply listening to people’s problems?

The role of the therapist is to listen and assist the client to heal their problem. There may be some practical advice I can give, but unlike a doctor, the therapist does not say, ‘Take this or do this and you will feel better.’

How do you listen to people’s problems day in and day out? It would drive me crazy.

Yes, there is a real art in listening and helping. It can bother you after a while, especially when you hear very horrible stories about the trauma people have endured.

That’s why a therapist needs to have ongoing mentoring, supervision and support in this profession.

For someone who can’t afford a psychiatrist, are there any other alternatives?

There are many therapists who provide pro bono work or have some arrangement with reduced fees. Public health facilities and some NGOs have psychologists with reduced fees. In Jakarta there are also help lines staffed by volunteers.

You split your time between Jakarta and Bogor. What do you like about Jakarta?

I love many things in Jakarta. I enjoy the arts, movies, fine dining, exercising at Plaza Senayan, but mostly I enjoy my home in Bogor where I mountain bike, run in Kebun Raya [Bogor’s city park], hike and socialize with neighbors.

Do you participate in any other organization or association?

I am active in church and in organizations related to my profession. I’m a founder of Yayasan Sejiwa, which tackles the problem of bullying.

Some friends and I run a mountain biking community in Bogor. You can rent a bike and ride around with us. Visit our site at

What is it that you find in Bogor that is not in Jakarta?

I work out of a small apartment in Jakarta. I don’t get to breathe clean air or have green space. This is why I have my sanctuary in Bogor. It is therapy for me.

What do you like the most about Jakarta?

I find the city to be quite vibrant and complete with all the modern amenities. The driving and rules of the road are quite unique. Yes, I’ve driven in Jakarta for nearly 18 years now.

Where can we find you on a Sunday morning? Saturday night?

In Bogor, mountain biking; having a laugh and drink with friends, looking for romance.


Doreen was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Doreen Biehle, Psychotherapist


Picture by Iwan Putuhena

for more information on Bogor mountain biking visit

My Jakarta: Haji, Lebaran Cirebon Train Veteran

Pak Haji never misses a chance to ride the rails. For the past 52 years, this loving grandfather has boarded a Jakarta train bound for Cirebon, in West Java, each and every Lebaran. It all started when he came to the big city at the age of 13. First he rode the train home alone. Then with his wife. Then with his wife and daughter.

Now the 65-year-old spice salesman makes the three-hour trip back home with his grand kids in tow. We met up with Haji on the platform of the Gambir train station in Central Jakarta.

While the trains rumbled past, Haji sat down with us and explained why he always takes the train, what he thinks about the bustling crowds and why he will never get his wallet stolen.

You said you’ve taken the train for the past 52 years? Why don’t you take the bus?

Well, I think the train and the station is improving, they have both got a lot more comfortable. I came to Jakarta when I was just 13, and I’ve been using the train to get home ever since.

You’re right, it looks like Gambir is a pretty nice place. Why are you headed home so early, the Lebaran rush hasn’t even started yet?

I didn’t have a choice. I bought my tickets the second day of the fasting month and all the tickets for the other days were already sold out. I didn’t want to get my ticket through a calo [ticket broker].

There’s hardly anyone here today, what’s it like when it gets really packed up here on the platform?

During Lebaran it gets crowded, but the rest of the year it’s not busy. I’m still healthy enough to get through the crowd without any problems.

There are around 30 cops on the platform; you’re probably not too concerned with pickpockets are you? No. I’ve never had a problem with that.

And I’ve been riding the train for 50 years. But then again, I don’t have much money for them to take [laughs].

What do you do here in Jakarta?

I have a store in a traditional market in China Town, by Gajah Mada Plaza. I sell spices that people use for cooking.

How long will you stay in Cirebon?

My family and I are going for 10 days. My grandchildren have to go back because they go to school here in Jakarta.

Who’s traveling with you this year to Cirebon?

It’s me, my wife, our granddaughter, my son-in-law and my two grandchildren.

What do you bring with you to snack on during the trip?  Do you pack any traditional treats?

Well, I’m fasting. But we bring along all kinds of traditional snacks for the kids. Mostly nasi goreng [fried rice]. Maybe some white rice and meat.

How can you keep fasting for an entire day while traveling  in such hot weather? It must be exhausting.

Yes but as long as I have the will, I can get through it easily enough, even though I only ate a little before sunrise.

Do you think Gambir is busier than 15 years ago? Busier?

I wouldn’t say that it’s busier, but there are more people riding the train. It will get busier as it gets closer to Lebaran, but we always try to leave Jakarta earlier.

Is it a hassle to travel with so many family members? As the grandfather you probably have to constantly pay attention to your grand kids.

Well, we just pay extra attention to our grandchildren, because they’re still small. But we have enough adults to take care of them and make sure they don’t stray.

Usually after Lebaran, people bring family members back to Jakarta to work. Are you going to bring anyone?

No, most of the people from the side of the family that lives in Cirebon already have jobs there, and everyone from my side of the family already works here in Jakarta.

How much does it cost for tickets to go back home? Is it more expensive to travel During Ramadan and Lebaran?

It has been getting more expensive every year. We decided to take the express train and this time it cost us Rp 85,000 ($9) for each person.

The rest of the year tickets to Cirebon are only Rp. 55,000.


Pak Haji was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Haji, Lebaran Cirebon Train Veteran


Pictures by Iwan Putuhena

My Jakarta: Patriana Sonia, Business Analyst

Patriana Sonia hides her addiction for adrenaline and all things extreme behind a bright smile and cool demeanor. Patriana, a Washington-based business analyst at Freddie Mac, left Jakarta four years ago. In between skydiving over the Grand Canyon or lapping a Nascar circuit in a race car she makes time to come back to Jakarta.  Patriana tells us what she thinks about the city’s housing market, reminisces over how inexpensive it used to be to go to the movies, and reveals how the move to the United States taught her to become more independent.

So you work for Freddie Mac, what exactly does that company do?

We lend money to the banks and they lend money to the customer. We focus on the residential mortgage market and help create opportunities for home ownership.

What is your position there?

I’m a business analyst. I do pricing for customers, mostly major banks like Bank of America, HSBC and Citibank.

Do you enjoy your job?

Pricing is fun. I do programming. I have to consider all aspects such as the inflation rate, market price and so on to analyze their ability to pay back.

How do you release the pressure from work?

I like extreme sports. Recently, I drove a Nascar circuit in a stock car and I was going more than 200 kilometers per hour. The gas pedal and the steering wheel are really heavy.

In Arizona, I went skydiving and got to see the Grand Canyon from the sky.

Then just last month, I was in Africa for the World Cup where I went bungee jumping. I’ll do anything at least once. Next, I want to fly a fighter jet.

Have you done anything extreme here in Jakarta?

Not yet, but I heard they have base jumping, where you jump off a building. I want to try that, but I bet it’s scarier than skydiving. I want to do all these things before I start having children [laughs].

What did you study in college?

I went to school in upstate New York, got my associate degree and then moved to Washington, DC, to attend George Washington University where I graduated with a degree in economics and religion.

Right now, I’m taking an MBA in finance, [management information systems] and software engineering, so I’m combining IT and finance.

That way I hope I can make my bank account fatter [laughs].

How’s the housing market in the United States right now?

Interest rates are still low, but at the same time it’s not easy for banks to lend money because there’s a restricted lending program. But overall the market is doing better than last year.

What do you think about the housing market in Jakarta?

With all the new development happening in the outskirts of Jakarta, housing is more affordable especially for the middle class.

Do you think the housing market in Jakarta will crash like it did in the States?

No. I think it will remain stable. Our biggest issue has always been a shortage of housing, lack of supply and high demand. We weren’t impacted by the global housing crisis because our economy is isolated.

So how long have you been away from Jakarta and how long are you going to be here?

I’ve been away for more than four years, and I’m only staying for a couple of weeks.

When did you move to the US?

When I was 16. I always wanted to move there. I traveled so much when I was younger and I saw New York as the land of opportunity [laughs].

I love the States because that’s where I learned how to be independent and make my own money. It’s different to living in Jakarta where you have a driver and maids. Living is easy at home.

How has Jakarta changed over the past four years?

More traffic than ever before, but I think the busway is not a bad idea. There have also been improvements in the government with the KPK and efforts to clean up the old system.

What do you think about the lifestyle in Jakarta?

The middle class is becoming more upscale. We have a lot of places to hang out at I think we are getting that taste for luxury.

I notice that people are speaking English everywhere and more international schools are opening, so there’s increasing evidence of globalization.

Where do you hang out when you’re back in town?

I’m out checking out new places, restaurants and malls. I spend time at Grand Indonesia, Plaza Indonesia, Social House, Immigrant and all those hip new places [laughs].

I realize that the prices are more expensive here when compared to the States where you can still find beer for a dollar during happy hour.

My favorite beers like Budweiser and Hoegaarden cost $10 in Jakarta.

When shopping here, do you convert prices to dollars in your head?

Yes, I have a tendency to think in dollars, so everything is either very cheap or more expensive. Since I’m only here for a month and I’m still earning dollars, it’s alright [laughs].

Not so long ago in Jakarta, Rp 50,000 [$5.50] could buy you a movie ticket and food, and you’d still have money left over, but not today.


Patriana was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Patriana Sonia, Business Analyst


Pictures Courtesy of Patriana Sonia Paago

My Jakarta: Susan Jenkins, Exotic Plant Vendor

For the past five years, Susan Jenkins hasn’t missed a chance to sell exotic plants at the annual Flora & Fauna Exhibition in Lapangan Banteng, Jakarta.
Jenkins, a retired marketing and public relations officer, helps her sister run the Citra Asri Nursery in East Java, where she also owns a textiles store called Tsamara.
We caught up with her on Monday, the last day of the exhibition. She dished the dirt on endangered species sold at the fair, how Jakarta has changed since the 1970s and why she loves watching her plants grow.

How long have you been taking part in this exhibition?

I started attending the fair and selling my plants in 2005. My nursery is actually in East Jakarta. It’s a great place to grow my stock.

What do you think about the endangered turtle species being sold at this exhibition?

They’re not just selling turtles. I also saw people selling a rare bird from Irian Jaya [now West Papua] and a big yellow python.

I guess people need money. You can make a lot of money by selling exotic species because there is a market for it.

Those animals can cause problems too. For example, the snake was out in the open. I think that’s very dangerous for kids.

I think they should only sell house pets instead, like cats, dogs and rabbits. On the positive side, the fauna section attracted a good crowd.

Will you attend the exhibition next year, even if people are still selling endangered species?

Well, it doesn’t effect me personally. I’ll still be here next year. But I think the event organizers should pay extra attention. They need to be more responsible.

Hopefully, they won’t have any more endangered or wild animals for sale. I just hope my booth isn’t as close to the animals as it was this year because I’m frightened by big snakes.

How many plants have you sold since the exhibition started?

Right now, I have probably brought in over 1,000 plants from my nursery already. I replenish my stock almost every day or whenever a certain plant species is sold out, like the Hot Lady [roses] that just ran out.

Could you tell us a bit more about the things you sell here?

Since it is, in reality, my sister’s business, she is the one who decides which plants we should sell here. Over there, the reddish-veined plant, is the Pride of Sumatra, or the Aglaonema.

Our most expensive plant is the Hot Lady, which has sold out. Also, we have a plant over there — the one that looks like a thinner aloe vera — called the Sansevieria. That plant is extremely good against pollution. It cleans the air.

How’s business this year?

We did much better last year than this year. Business has been a bit lax. In general, we don’t do nearly as well on weekdays as we do on weekends.

What did you do before you started selling plants?

This is only a side business that I help my sister run. My sister is often in the office, so I am more involved in the business than she is.

I used to work in an office. I was with the marketing and public relations department, but I retired. Now, I have a business making bed sheets, bed covers and other textile products. That’s my real business.

How long have you been in Jakarta? Are you from here?

No. I am originally from Palembang in [South] Sumatra. My family moved to Jakarta in 1971, so I’ve been here for about 40 years. And you know, I haven’t been back to Palembang since then. I mean, why should I, right?

All the members of my family are here already. My mother is 78 years old and she stays with me.

Wow, you’ve been here for 39 years! How has the city changed over the decades?

Oh my, it’s changed for the worse! There is all this traffic. And there are so many people, cars and even robbers and kidnappers!

Back in the 1970s, it was still safe for young girls and women to walk the streets alone. Also, you know, the economy is getting worse. The prices of goods are so much higher and there are so many more beggars.

Do you give money to beggars?

Well, it depends. I look at them first. You can judge whether these beggars will just use the money to buy cigarettes or alcohol.

If I think that they won’t waste the money, I always try to give them some, especially to the little kids. Sadly, nowadays, even the kids smoke.

Do you think gardening can be therapeutic?

Definitely. When I sell plants and run the nursery, I can truly feel the color of the plants. And I enjoy watching and helping them grow. I take good care of them and sustain them.

In a sense, the whole bit about helping them grow and taking care of them — that’s similar to raising kids, right?

Oh, of course not! Kids tend to be naughty but plants are never like that. It’s true that sometimes it doesn’t work out [with the plants]. But you know, plants can always be easily reproduced.

Also, I can sell the plants any time I want. In fact, the more plants I sell, the better. I can’t do that with kids [laughs].


Susan was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Susan Jenkins, Exotic Plant Vendor


Picture by Iwan Putuhena

My Jakarta: Angelina, Hairstylist

It takes skill and courage to give a woman a short haircut. Just ask Angelina, the owner and master hairstylist at D’Satine in Dharmawangsa Square, because short hair is her signature cut. Born and raised in South Jakarta, Angelina tells us why she is comfortable living in the suburbs, explains how her previous work experience helped pave the way for her to become a hairstylist and chats about her customers.

How long have you had the salon?

About two years. Before moving here we were at Pasaraya [in Blok M], but because it was undergoing lengthy renovation work, I decided to move.

How does your salon differ from your competitors?

We can fulfill the needs of our customers. By understanding their style, their line of work and so on, we can then suggest a style that will suit their character, their age. Basically we do hair consulting.

What’s your specialty or signature cut?

My clients would say that the short cut is my signature. I can cut any style, but people seem to think that I’m really good at styling and coloring short hair. I guess when I do a short cut I can be brave and take a risk, but the clients always seem happy with the end result. Look around you. You can see that all my friends in here right now have short hair [laughs].

You studied architecture in university and you used to be an architect?

Yeah, I studied at Tarumanegara University in Jakarta and worked as an architect and interior designer for four years. I did the interior design for a well-known advertising office in Jakarta and designed the office for Kompas Cyber Media.

Did you design this salon?

Yeah, I designed some of the furniture in here, and the rest of the interior I created together with friends.

Have you always been passionate about cutting hair?

Actually, no. In high school I was doing makeup and fashion for fun, but not cutting hair.

When my father passed away, my mom wanted to open a salon so that way the house would always be busy with people coming and going and she wouldn’t be sad all the time. Later, she asked me to take over. I asked her to give me a week to think about it, then I decided to go for it and went to hairstyling school.

So, you only discovered this talent recently?

Yeah, in 2002. My teacher said I had an aptitude for it. When I was studying, I knew the techniques but I didn’t have the feel. Then I became an assistant to a hairstyling teacher and grew more comfortable with it.

Do you think your background in architecture helps you to style hair?

As an architect, it’s important to understand three-dimensional forms. When I see a client’s head, I can already see the hairstyle as a three-dimensional image. Also, because I studied colors, that makes it easy when choosing hair colors.

What was the craziest cut you have ever done?

Every person is unique, but one girl asked me for an extremely short, asymmetric hairstyle, heavy on one side and a buzz cut on the other. So the style looked like a man on one side and a woman on the other, yin and yang style [laughs].

Do you have any celebrity clients?

Yeah, but I never think of them as celebrities. We treat them like normal clients. It’s just more comfortable that way.

Which part of Jakarta do you like the most?

It has to be South Jakarta because I’ve been living here all my life and it fits my lifestyle. The people are friendly and all my friends are here. I’m comfortable in this area and I can find everything here. I rarely venture into Central Jakarta.

What do you do in your spare time?

I go bowling, hang out at coffee shops, watch movies or rent DVDs. My hands are still sore after I went bowling recently.

What style would you say is in at the moment?

For women, it’s spiky and flat with no layering.

And what’s out of style?

I would say big hair, “rambut sasak,” like housewives who are stuck in the ’80s. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s just not our style.

What kind of clients do you have?

They are people who know what they want and they expect the “wow” factor. Our clients want to make people’s heads turn. They are people who have the courage to change their style, to reinvent themselves. Most of our clients get asked by others where they got their hair cut.

Who make better hairstylists: men or women?

As a woman, of course I’m going to say women are much better because I think that we pay more attention to detail and are better able to multitask [laughs].

How do you see this salon in five years? Are you going to franchise it?

Definitely not franchise, but I hope I can add a few more outlets — as long as my friends and I still can handle it on our own. That way we can still maintain the quality and fill a niche for a home salon feel.


Angelina was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Angelina, Hairstylist

Pictures by Iwan Putuhena


My Jakarta: Rizki Firdaus, Custom Bike Shop Owner

Pimping out rides is Rizki’s business. He’s been breaking down and building bicycles since he was old enough to reach the pedals and mastered the art of customization while studying in London.
Today, Rizki, whose shop is located in Panglima Polim, South Jakarta, shares his passion for bikes and asks why it costs as much to park one of his custom creations in the city as it does a Mercedes-Benz.

How did you come up with the name of your store, Velodome?

Basically, velo is French for bicycle and dome is shelter, so our store is a bicycle shelter.

How did you get into the bicycle business?

A while back, I broke up with my girlfriend. I felt this kind of freedom, like I’d just been released from jail. So I decided to get back into building bikes.

But I’ve actually been interested in breaking down and rebuilding bikes since I was in elementary school.

When did you start getting back into bikes again?

It was January 2007. I started all this in London, while I was attending college at London Metropolitan University. That’s when I started customizing bikes.

I got back here in December 2009. It was a perfect time because bikes are starting to make a comeback, especially around Jakarta.

Where do you get your bikes?

All of our stuff comes either from a consignment shop here in Jakarta or from people around the city, but the stuff we pick up at secondhand places actually comes from Thailand, Japan and other Southeast Asian countries.

And all of our parts and accessories come from Britain and other European countries, and we like to keep it that way.

What was the sickest custom bike you ever built?

The sickest bike I ever built was an all-black bike that we called the “stealth” bike. It had carbon wheels. I built it when I was in London for a friend in college. He wanted to bring it back to his home country, India.

But two weeks before he was about to go back, somebody stole it. The bike cost around $3,000 to build, but my friend wasn’t bitter about the whole thing. He just looked at me and said, “Hey, the reason it got stolen was because it was a really good bike.”

Do you have friends that you go biking with here in the city?

I go out with a bike community. We hang out every Wednesday and Sunday and ride around Jakarta from the south up to the center of the city. We go around taking pictures and eating around Menteng.

We just ride and have fun. The club is growing. Every week we have more and more members. Today we have around 50 or 60 riders.

Is riding a bike a way of life? What are you guys trying to tell the people of Jakarta?

Well, everyone knows about global warming, so that’s the big thing right now. We want to bring back the bike culture. It was slowly disappearing, but now it’s coming back. We try to raise awareness about the condition of the earth.

How is business then?

So far, business is really good. Most of our customers are from around Jakarta and Bandung.

What segment of the market are you aiming at?

All kinds of people, from people who are really into bikes and looking to purchase their sixth or seventh bike, to someone who works near their office and just wants to avoid traffic.

Or people who just want to lose weight. They all have different reasons to ride and buy a bike. But obviously — if they buy from me — they have style [laughs].

And you guys customize everything?

Everything. Everything from the color to the wheels, to the size and shape of the frame. We deliver a personal touch to your bike, something that fits your character.

Can you explain the process?

It’s kind of like getting a tattoo. You really have to give it some thought. You consult with us and tell us about yourself; what do you like and what you don’t like … kind of like a bonding session.

Then we build mock-up, and if you don’t like it we can redo everything. It’s very detail-oriented, and sometimes it ends up being a long process.

How much does it cost to customize a bike?

It starts at around Rp 8 million [$880] and there’s really no ceiling. There’s bike frames out there that cost $90,000 alone, so it depends on your buying power.

Do you ride a bike to work?

I live near Blok M and I ride a bike every day to the store at Panglima Polim. I try to ride my bike whenever I can.

Do you think there will be more or less people cycling in the next five years?

I’d like to see more people cycling and being comfortable about it. Not refusing to try biking just because it’s hot or because of the pollution. They have to act to make it better.

Where do you park your bike around the city?

Just like a car. I park it and tell the parking attendant to watch over it. I don’t have to lock it up with a chain or anything. Then on my way out, I pay the guy who watched over it Rp 2,000.


Rizki Firdaus was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Oni, Rizki Firdaus, Custom Bike Shop Owner


Picture by Iwan Putuhena