How safe are you? How safe do you feel? Sometimes these are different questions. And then there’s “adrenalitics”: how safe do you wanna be?
As a general benchmark, I think Jakarta is much safer than San Francisco and New York City. This comes from statistics and reports, and people who’ve lived in these cities, including me. These stats show that, in terms of murder rates, Indonesia is almost the same as Singapore or Japan and much, much safer than countries like South Africa or Colombia.
I note that there may be more guns in Jakarta than previously, which is bad. But having lived in dangerous places, I insist that Jakarta streets are much safer than Central Park or even Disneyland.
First very few guns.
Second Java is non-confrontation land. It’s not OK to show emotion here, or slam doors — let alone hit people. Let alone shoot people. And this makes a big difference in terms of how safe you are feel.
Third violence around here is often the organized, sanctioned and methodical type (notwithstanding the indigenous origins of the notion of running amok ). Essentially this means that hurting a foreigner could take a lot more “red tape” than a popping local. It will much harder to organize and very bad for you if it backfires.
Fourth while the default setting under the “Strangers” tab, here like most places, is “capture and enslave, ” the Dutch, Javanese, Chinesand the other tasty peoples in these richly-spiced islands long ago discovered optimized, non- or merely semi-confrontational settings for longer life and better performance. Such as: ask questions first, shoot later. Just think of all the popular foreign investment schemes — from marrying a foreigner to expatriate taxation — that require keeping the hapless foreigner alive and well for extended periods.
Fifth people in Jakarta like foreigners. Very much. The list of nationalities that Jakartans know about and feel a connection to is long and sometimes surprising, since it includes ignorant people, people who stand them up again and again, people who lose football matches, even favor former colonizers.
And finally, in a true one-on-one situation (which are rare — bad dude will normally come back with his crew to finish you off tomorrow), the Westerner is going to be be bigger. This helps.
Thus, in Jakarta you’ll find people will take money from you constantly; but always with big smiles — yours and theirs. If you want to see threats and physicality, you’ll have to engineer it yourself. And that’s it. Your chances of being bombed or terrorized aren’t nearly as good as those of falling into a hole in the sidewalk — which claimed the life of famous filmmaker Lorne Blair in Bali and has recently messed up the life of a friend of mine in Jakarta.
Should you have the misfortune of engaging in DIY threats or other violence in Jakarta — which you shouldn’t — the enormously tolerant Jakartans who you have (perhaps unwittingly, certainly unnecessarily) offended will almost surely write it/you off as just “another crazy bule or foreigner.” (But don’t go back to that place for a while, just in case.) As regards your politics, religious beliefs, diet and private behavior, without much exaggeration Jakartans could really care less. People don’t drink here, remember. The fight club thing is almost certainly alive and well on other islands — maybe try Bali.
So is adrenalin hard to come by in Jakarta? I think not. In Jamaica, Guatemala, El Salvador and the Philippines I’ve found myself falsely imprisoned, cursed at a lot, stoned a little, and otherwise scared incontinent for various reasons, some rather convincing. All without really trying. Those are places I like and miss. But I do not miss the explosive drunkenness, dark scowls, and frightened bystanders telling me to run. I especially don’t miss the curses. That kind of stuff — for me — distracts from big foreign city street adventures.