I entered a green-palleted convenience store and took a large plastic glass before filling it with frozen flavored beverage. The transparent glass had the word “Slurpee” written on it so practically I was encouraged to fill it with various types of soda-based slushed ice. The artistic side in me took control and blended 3 different colors of slushed ice into the glass. I didn’t really care how a mix of Coke, Mountain Dew, and Fanta tasted, but I believed the cup looked like a rainbow.
I paid a certain amount of money for my impromptu artwork and, like any proud Jakartan would, sat out front of 7-Eleven to stretch my legs and had a chat about nothing in particular with my partner.
It was an ordinary thing to do in Indonesia’s capital, but we were in Singapore and people who passed by gave us weird looks as if they had never seen people ‘nongkrong’ before. Of course, they never have. What kind of travesty is this? Are they going to rob the store? The suspicious look given at us suddenly made me felt like a Jakarta’s urban culture ambassador on duty.
A couple of months ago, ‘nongkrong,’ an Indonesian slang for ‘hanging out,’ made it to the New York Times after it’s mentioned in an article about how 7-Eleven conquered the national market. The Jakarta-based author, Sara Schonhardt, described nongkrong as the activity of “sitting, talking and generally doing nothing.” One would wonder whether the description would fit what our lawmakers do everyday, but 7-Eleven unarguably is banking on the need of our youth to hang out with their friends and do nothing.
How convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Lawson Station are treated as a proper place to meet friends and spend hours is quite baffling for some. In any other countries, convenience stores are pit stops where people buy what they need en route to their destinations, be it workplace or school. In Jakarta, quite contrary, convenient stores are the destinations.
I wasn’t surprised at all by the emergence of convenience stores-cum-cafe. Born and raised in this city, I can count with my fingers the number of times that I’ve been invited to a friend’s house to spend Saturday night playing board games, let alone any other night of the week. Out is the place to be, but where to go exactly? That constant need, if not pressure, to see and be seen is hardly accommodated in a city that lacks the public space for its youth who are ever so passionate about socializing and interacting with their peers.
Going to parks isn’t common among the urban teenagers, not that there are many city parks around. Old classic ‘warung’ hardly appeals as they serve no cappuccino or cafe latte, let alone free WiFi. Yet the luxury of sipping coffee in regular coffee shops doesn’t particularly fit everyone’s budget. To some, daily visit to the mall for a bite of Japanese or Western cuisine is out of the question.
It is in places like these convenience stores that the youth have found their heaven; their unlimited supply of cheese on their juicy hotdog or chicken katsu, and their daily cup of coffee to get by with.
Sometimes these places are even better than those up-scale restaurants or cafes. There is never a long waiting list to get in as the next store can be just around the corner. No last orders to cut off intense conversations because foods and beverages are available 24/7 for anyone to self-serve — visitors are more than welcomed to stay however long he or she wishes.
From middle-school teenagers to white-collared workers, everybody loves nongkrong. No wonder these neo-convenience stores are popping out everywhere like fungus in rainy season.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but apparently, most of these stores were. If only building churches and other religious building was this easy.