Lessons From Your Country

Five Lessons I Have Learned From Living in Indonesia

April 20, 2016


I have lived in Bekasi, Indonesia for two years now. This is my second international teaching position and hopefully not my last.  Indonesia is a Southeast Asian country made up of thousands of islands, with many different languages. It’s known for its vast and rich natural beaches, volcanoes and jungles with elephants, tigers and Komodo Dragons. The country is so vastly different that it ranges from a vibrant sprawling capital of Jakarta to an ancient World Heritage Site of Borobudur Temple and to places very small and remote that only a few people live there.  There are many things to see, places to visit, and culture to explore. This is just my perspective from living in Bekasi (small town just southeast of Jakarta) and should not reflect an entire nation.

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Street view of traffic from my taxi.

Lesson 1: TRAFFIC

According to the research Java, Indonesia is the most densely populated area in the world. Most of those people live within the capital of Jakarta, and most of these citizens, in this crowded city own a car.  Making Jakarta one of the worst cities in the world for traffic. Now, I researched this before I came, but until you live it you really don’t know what that means. It can take three hours to get to a location that is 30 miles away.  When you do want to go somewhere take a friend to talk with or take a book to read. I have spent relatively more time getting somewhere in a taxi then at my destination.  It’s also ‘hit or miss’, so you never know when there is “macet”.

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A real view from a mall.

Lesson 2: MALLS

Do you love to shop? Well then you will love Jakarta. There is no shortage of malls. I cannot count the number of malls there are between Jakarta and Bekasi. I have been in 13 different malls myself. Want to exercise? Go to the mall. Want to go to the grocery store? Go to the mall. Want to get a massage?  Go to the mall. Want to get a mani/pedi? Go to the mall. Want a nice meal in a nice restaurant? Go to the mall. Want to go see a movie? Go to the mall. You name it and a mall somewhere in Jakarta will have it.

Lesson 3: TRAVEL

If you don’t like malls; you can go sight-seeing. Within Jakarta you can visit historical places and outside of the Java Island there are great places to visit.  Travel costs can vary depending on where you go or where you want to stay. I have paid a lot for my vacations inside Indonesia, but the experience was worth the expense! I have seen: elephants, orangutans, birds of all kinds, tropical fish, and Komodo dragons in their natural habitat. There are gorgeous waterfalls, great beaches, peaceful mountains, and wild jungles. I have tried to explore Bali, Flores, Sumatra, Lombok, the Giles and Kalimantan. If wildlife is not your thing, it is very easy to travel to other countries. I have been able to see Thailand and visit Singapore. My friends have traveled to Australia and Hong Kong with ease.

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View of the beach from Gili Air

Lesson 4: BAHASA

Learn the language! I teach in an English-speaking school so, I never mastered the language. I have found myself in many frustrating and confusing situations because I do not speak the language. There are some places that speak English and you can pay for guides that speak English. However, in the local community of Bekasi there is a very limited number of people who speak English. I was very ill and hospitalized in Bekasi and not being able to communicate with the nursing staff made that experience even more difficult. Avoid the frustrations of getting food orders wrong and learn Bahasa Indonesian.

Lesson 5: DON’T FEED THE STRAYS

I live in a suburban area that is surrounded by rows and rows of houses. There is no shortage of stray cats. I have a soft spot for animals and feed them often. I currently have a momma cat and two kittens. If you cannot guess by now I am an animal lover. So, the coolest thing for me is the stray momma monkey with baby that hangs out on my porch. I do not know where she come from, she just showed up one day. She is not friendly and likes to show her teeth if I get too close.

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Monkey that visits my house

These are just a few things that I have learned while I have lived here. There are lots of other things I have learned like how to eat street food, getting food delivery, finding an Ojek and how to use the toilets, but that would make this article even longer. I have described my lessons in a general way and kept out personal feeling because these experiences are my own. I cannot say how you will feel if you choose to make Jakarta your home. I have had my ups and downs and will walk away with this two-year experience as a permanent part of me. I have a friend that loves Jakarta and wants to live here forever. On the other hand; I had a friend that could not make life work for him here and he left. The locals have strong family values and are generally friendly people, which is a positive to me. There is also the negative side or rather the reality of the situation. Jakarta has a high poverty rate and the pollution is abundant. In the end, I can say that Jakarta has made an impression on me that will last a lifetime.

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This article was submitted by guest author Wendy Christen Davis who currently works at Sekolah Victory Plus school in Jakarta, Indonesia.