Fun Without Alcohol; Jakarta Style

Today when I left my house and walked out onto the street I heard the sound of someone singing out of tune in a microphone…no it wasn’t the mosque, it was Karaoke Kelinging (sorry about spelling).  I don’t know much about this phenomenon but it involves a VW kombi van, a small stage, very loud music and lots of cameras emerging on a semi-vacant space in Jakarta for Trans TV. In the action I recognized our regular ojek drivers, jalan kaki stallers, neighbours and passersby who have to stop and look, maybe edge closer, and more than likely dance and sing along with abandon.   As I was innocently taking bad photos from a safe distance, people standing around me were urging me to get closer and smiling at me, so I foolishly and hesitantly stumbled towards the stage.  Before I knew it, I was pulled up on stage, handed a microphone and serenaded by an old man (a karaoke volunteer) and being told to dance and sing-a-long.

I know that many Indonesians believe bules to be extroverted and willing to dance and sing on demand, but what they don’t know, is this kind of behavior generally involves alcohol consumption, as do many acts of bravery in the west.  Every celebration from birthdays to weddings, funerals to christenings, involves a glass of alcohol.  Or two.  Or ten.  It’s normal.  And it allows us to let go of inhibitions and let loose.  I would have rocked that stage if I had have consumed a beer or two.

So with no alcohol in my system I was forced to only sweat, go extremely red and wait for the humiliation to end.  My knees couldn’t even bounce along to the beat;  I was frozen.  I looked out at the crowd and saw that they were smiling and laughing at me, the extremely loud comperes were making a mockery of the volunteer trying to speak English to me, and yelling at me to sing-along to an Indonesian song I didn’t know the words of (if only it was Nidji, I could have done it), and they were handing me fake flowers and a rusty saw which I didn’t know what to do with, and then at last they were done with me and I ran, like I have never run before to a safe distance and jumped into the first angkot (little red bus) on my street to a safe place where I could finish shaking and wipe the sweat off my brow.

As I sat on the angkot I thought about the many times in my life in Indonesia while hanging out with my totally sober Indonesian friends, many of whom have never touched a drink in their life, that I wish I could order just a glass of bintang to get through this social event, then I wonder, why is it so that in order to socialize comfortably, Australians need alcohol or some other kind of drug, in order to have fun.  Something has gone wrong with our culture.  When I looked at the ojek men and people crowding around the stage singing at the top of their lungs, dancing and laughing until their sides hurt, I was jealous of the ability of Indonesians to let go without the need of alcohol, to take up space and laugh at themselves, to be secure in who they are.  I told myself, that’s it, I have to grow up and learn from Indonesians what it means to be brave and secure and as the tshirts slogans say in Australia, ‘dance like nobody’s watching’, and if I stumbled past Karaoke Kelining again, I would be brave and show them my best disco moves.  After lunch with a friend, I jumped back on the bus to take me home, got off on the side of the road and to my excitement, Trans TV was still there.  It was time to be brave and sober.  I walked to the edge of the crowd and my sister’s biggest fan, Mr Jocko of the Aqua shop had the biggest smile on his face and started laughing and pointing at me and calling to his wife and he said “I saw you dancing on stage, mantap” and I felt my face go red again and I ran home.  No lessons learned.

11 Responses to “Fun Without Alcohol; Jakarta Style”

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  1. Bima says:

    Oh geez, I wish I was there to see it. Not to poke fun at you, of course. Seriously. Simply because I’ve never seen a bule–and a woman at that, taking a stage on a podium of Karaoke Keliling (yep, that’s the words, by the way. And it’s roughly spelled, “kaa-raa-o-ke ke-lee-leeng”).

    Are you sure you didn’t show up on TV that day, Treen? That must’ve been quite a ruckus.

    And about the alcohol and/or drugs to take a stand, I hardly believe it. Is it really that bad? Even on an enclosed party where you know everybody, such as weddings or birthdays?

    Not saying that I’ve ever been honored to sing on any stage (the most I’ve ever done is at karaoke bars with friends where nobody’s particularly keen on listen to me singing but what the heck because that’s not even the point), but…. oh well, I suppose every society have its own quirks.

    Hangin’ there, Treen. Keep the spirits up to see, feel and experience more!

    Jangan kapok, ya.


    • welovejakarta says:

      Hey Bima – well some friends would disagree with me about the alcohol thing, but it is definitely a central part of many people’s lives in the west, it starts young and keeps on going. At every wedding I have been to in Australia, there has been a lot of champagne involved. At every wedding I have been to in Jakarta, there has been enough food to sink the titanic. No alcohol in sight.

      I am glad you were not there to witness my moves! It was pretty scarey and I hope that no one I know in Jakarta will see it either. My fingers are crossed 🙂 Have a great day and thanks for your comment again 🙂

  2. lady says:

    seriously i love this article..
    im indonesian.. im not alcoholic but most of my indonesian friends, they are alcoholic and partyholic 🙂 thats okay for me..
    actually jakarta’s life style is not quite different with australian life’s style.. nightclubs, bars, drugs, sexygirls, sexydancers, karaoke, prostitute etc..
    most of indonesian modern people love to copy australian/western life’s style..
    lets see, how many indonesian girls want to have bule boyfriend.. and proud of being bule’s girlfriend.. thats kinda stupidity.. ok i dont want to be called hypocrite, i love bule too n make friends with them.. but seriously you are really different bule.. and im so proud of you..
    most of bule.. they look down upon indonesian girls.. but yeah, some good, some bad.. depend of bule..
    and you are a good bule.. really you are !!! once again im so proud of you and the way you are thinking about “Fun without alcohol”
    thanks for making positive blog about jakarta 🙂


    • welovejakarta says:

      Thanks so much for your response. I do agree that many people are getting into the party lifestyle in Jakarta, and that Jakarta has something for everyone – the good and the bad things. And it is also true that many people want to do the western things, but I also think that most people in Jakarta still see their family and their religion as the main part of their lives, but I could be wrong. My boyfriend’s family are very traditional and there is no alcohol there – my friends from work stay away from alcohol and partying, and enjoy their lives without all of that stuff – and are mostly waiting to be married to their Indonesian boyfriends – and I feel that these are the people that really know who they are and what is important. They don’t need to go to parties to feel like they are really alive. The risk of wanting to be a bule, like many of your friends and others in Jakarta, is that they don’t know that to be a bule doesn’t mean being rich and happy – a lot of the time it means being confused about what life is for and being in debt for houses and too much shopping to give meaning to life.

      I know that I generalise too much but I when I see my Indonesian friends – I am envious of them because they are sure about who they are and are solid in their identities and what they do and don’t like.

      I think sometimes that the girls who marry bules will be disappointed a lot – because mostly bules are pretty boring, especially once they leave Indonesia. I even feel sorry for my boyfriend sometimes as I watch him trying to eat bule food in this house that we share away from his family and community life – it must be difficult for him sometimes.

      There are certainly stereotypes for bules and Indonesians – I have always loved Indonesian women – and for the women who are looking to find a bule husband, I feel a little sad for them, I also understand that this is a totally unequal world where somehow someone has decided that Indonesians deserve to earn less money than bules – this is crap, right? And for some people, marrying a bule is a way out of endless financial struggle, which is really unfair….but an option at least. and it’s a chance for all of the overweight, jelek bules to find a wife! ugh!

      Sorry I am writing too much and probably not making sense (even to myself).

      Thanks for reading our blog! It gives me inspiration to write more. Do you have any ideas for things to write about? Anything you love about Jakarta? Places? People? Things that annoy you?

      I hope you will write again soon 🙂

  3. lady says:

    im so glad to see your response
    (jelek bules to find a wife) 😀 lol , thats funny

    ahhhh there are so many things i would love to share and tell you.. but i dont feel good to share it here..

    im indonesian, not from jakarta but i live my whole life in jakarta,
    i love jakarta because jakarta gives me so many experiences with so many kind of people, i met overseas, BULE, freak people, good people, white people also black people
    i met many kind of native jakartas , we called them BETAWI. As im indonesian, im from Jawa, i keep my self stay away from alcohol, club, drug n all of those stuffs.. thats what i hate from jakartas modern people,, most of them getting into western style,, alcohol and club i used to be with those stuffs but that just went about 2 months (friends impact)
    whoever we are , wherever we are, we decide to be what we are..
    whoever our friend and how good/bad people around, we decide to be what we are..
    now i dont talk too much to anyone.. i stay away from people cause i have bad experience with my new friends in this city.. thats why i better to be alone cause i know, my grip isnt strong enough.. but im monitoring and keep making points in my mind about this cruel city.. well i said i stay away from people but i do stil talk with them , however they are stil my friends but im trying hard to minimize go out with them..
    i still keep my religion, my culture n yeahhhh for sure my family.. im in jakarta not looking for money, but this is one of my choice to live my life by my self.. i can go back home if i want.. but i wont..
    your so lucky that when you were in jakarta, you live around good people.. because that is your choice to b like that way.. (what a pitty some of indonesian dont think the same way, they think opposite, they want to be like a BULE, they think that bule is cool, bule is cantik, ganteng, free etc)
    jakarta people, some good some bad.. but most of them are good.. how bad they are, there are only 2 things they wont forget… they respect their RELIGION n CULTURE..

    keep in touch <3

  4. lady says:

    have you ever hear about jalan jaksa? that is a place for bule backpacker ;D

    • welovejakarta says:

      I have heard of it, and I have been there, but I don’t really like it! I don’t know if anyone really does!!

  5. Bima says:


    Another one of those.
    I'm setting my Garfield eyes. Can't help it.

  6. Drink alcohol is a culture in meny societies. In my country (Pays Basque), we start wen we are so young. But, whithout alcohol the life is beautiful.
    Salam hangat dari Barcelona

  7. Bima says:

    IMHO, too much of anything is unhealthy. Especially when it becomes habits or part of a culture. Eventually it falls to each individual’s awareness and choices. But yes, I suppose seeing and experiencing the opposing cultural lifestyles do bear the most effective eye-opener.

    Not saying any particular culture is greater than the other, though. None at all. It’s just a matter of perspective. I believe more in “SiKonTolPanJang”, or everything depends on Situasi (situation), Kondisi (condition), Toleransi (tolerance), Pandangan (insight/wisdom), and Jangkauan (reach).