Rebecca Dunham
Rebecca Dunham for Avanava

Rebecca Dunham

May 21, 2021

A Girl Guide to Jakarta

My first impression of Jakarta was that if India, Cuba and China had a baby, this would be it. It's a developing country with an incredibly vibrant culture, dirty but painted brightly, jammed with cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, people and malls, but everyone seems to be happy and friendly. It has incredible sunsets, delicious food and the nicest locals I've ever encountered. Here is my guideline to living and modelling in The Big Durian: Jakarta.

In Jakarta you should wear a bra to the shop. It sounds like a no-brainer but sometimes we women have a lot on our minds and though this may come as a surprise to some men, our breasts are usually last on the list. Such a weighty oversight can provoke public shaming in a Muslim city like Jakarta. I went to the small grocery shop in my building wearing an oversized t-shirt and ripped shorts. As I was leaving the store a young Muslim girl yelled at me "Allah!" pointing at my legs and shaking her index finger at me. Feeling embarrassed and exposed, I slunk out of the shop. Lesson learned.

Also, wear closed toed shoes. Because it's dirty - really dirty - unless you are in a rich area and even then the streets are quite dusty and lined with garbage. Not that you can walk anywhere here. Sidewalks are as rare as cats with straight tails.

Indonesians love Backstreet Boys, and I totally get it. The crew used to have a special place in my heart too, when I was ten. The radio never fails to play a Backstreet Boys song daily. Even the coolest Indonesians have one of Nick's power ballads on their iPods, resulting in shuffles that flow seamlessly from good music like David Bowie, to "Cause I Want it That Way." It's a mystery.

The traffic here is a whole new level of gridlock hell. Get an iPod, books and water bottle because you will be stuck in traffic for hours. Oh, and pee before you get in the car because having to pee in traffic that isn't moving helps you understand why truckers pee in Pepsi bottles. Which is something you should never have to understand.

My first night in Jakarta I walked to the mall across the street from my apartment to buy groceries. Everything is in malls here, and the front doors have metal detectors, security guards, bag scanners and bomb checks on all vehicles. Random checks are performed and security is everywhere. At first this was totally unnerving for me, but I learned that night (thank you Google) that the bomb checks are due to recent terrorist attacks in Indonesia. Aerosmith cancelled its tour here recently due to security issues (devastating, ha!). But as a foreigner living here I've not once felt unsafe and Indonesians are nothing but friendly and incredibly lovely people.

I'm on fire. Well my mouth is. When they say spicy they mean it and it's hot. I love spicy food and Indonesian food is seriously delicious! Gado gado is Indonesian salad that I would highly recommend. A lot of the food is oil and carb-heavy and not model friendly, but they have a lot of salads, soups and fresh fruit to make a model happy! Go nuts, because they love peanut sauce too!

Local fruit does it better. When I first arrived I was trying a new fruit daily. The pineapple here is the most delicious thing I've ever eaten and soursop is divine. Also, local bananas make you hate whomever brought bananas to North America, because in comparison to the bananas here they taste like cardboard. But make sure to wash your fruit and veggies; three of my flatmates had stomach infections and it wasn't pretty.

Jakarta is a small market. Gossip travels faster than the speed of light. Be professional, polite, easy to work with and friendly and you should have no problems. One girl said the wrong thing to a famous hair stylist and she didn't work for a month afterwards. But I have faith in Canadian models to be our lovely selves and clients will continue to love us. At the least they will appreciate our perfect English.

Love is in the air! I've never met so many models that came to a city for work and stayed on for love. Many girls come here, meet locals and make plans to stay forever. So if you are looking for love you might just find it here.

Need some downtime? It's the perfect place. Unlike Europe and most of Asia, Jakarta has yet to introduce model parties and tables at the club, so the constant allure of free drinks isn't present. Of course a girl or boy can always find the party but it's not as easy here. Plus Bali, Lombok, and countless other beautiful places are just short flights away.

Indonesians favour models who look more like them. They prefer models with dark hair and eyes, but light skin. Blondes can work well, and a redhead like me is doing great too, but for tvc and commercial jobs darker is better. Most models don't come to Indonesia for a big paycheque - it's more for pictures and the experience.

Of course there is always more to know and to say but this is my quirky and hopefully informative basic guideline to living and modelling here in Jakarta. If you do decide to come, have a roadside coconut for me and make sure you see Bali!



Rebecca Dunham
Rebecca Dunham for Avanava
Rebecca Dunham
Rebecca Dunham for Avanava

Rebecca is with 21mm, in Jakarta.


Blogs We Follow

Cailin Hill (The Model Burnbook)

Natalia Zurowski & Jasmine Chorley Foster (The Business Model)

Madison Schill & Addison Gill's (Mind Over Model)

Ania Boniecka (A n i a . B)