Thank You, Jakarta, For Making Us Feel At Home!

The author, a well-travelled woman, speaks of the first year of her stay in Jakarta with her family, a city very different yet so similar to the cities in India.

The author, a well-travelled woman, speaks of the first year of her stay in Jakarta with her family, a city very different yet so similar to the cities in India.

Mid-July was our (the children & I) first anniversary of moving to this city called The Big Durian. While we still are unable to take/tackle the flavour of the fruit, Jakarta, the city named after it, has found favour with us.

The mass exodus of folks going off to their native place for Ramadan, the decorum during a ‘macet’ (traffic jam), the Friday’s dress of Batik, the gleeful love of street food, the clean prayer rooms provided in most public buildings, the community spirit in its ever smiling citizenry and solidarity of its residents, characterize this 490 years old city.

Where else will you see energizing community Zumba classes on Friday mornings, in open common areas of office buildings, with many of the ladies in Hijab and men in batik?

The traffic where we live is terrible but drivers rarely honk or cut lanes. Gojeks (two-wheeler taxis) epitomize this city- inclusive, warm, equalizing, trusting and trustworthy. Imagine a woman getting on to an unknown man’s bike in India or vice versa (Yes there are lady Gojek drivers too)!


Image credit – Arthi Anand Navaneeth

The first few weeks in Jakarta we would be alarmed (pun intended) by the pre-dawn adzan (call to prayer) consisting of a mixture of male and female voices of the muadzins (announcer) in a wide range of pitches and melody. Now, it often goes unheard and unheeded as I slumber on for just a few more minutes.

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In the early days, I recall how my younger one had asked “…if we drink susu ( Indonesian for milk, Indian for piss) do we do dhudhu ( Indian child speak for milk) in the loo? …” From that point, we have arrived at a time where I announce “…the susu man has come” during our recent trip to Bengaluru.

Nature has been very generous to this country and it is visible in the green cover, the beaches, the parks. It also has more than a fair share of volcanoes and earthquakes. It rains throughout the year.

Despite the plentiful availability of natural products in the country, it pains us to see the excessive use of plastic (multiple layers of packing) and the lack of garbage segregation in Jakarta.

I am the only expat in my office and that ensures that I get my daily dose of local culture and language. It also helps me make friends beyond the expat Indians (a gang, which has helped us settle in- from sourcing veggies/ snacks we like to guiding us on shopping and sightseeing)

The average Jakartan hardly speaks English but the grip of English music over the populace is extraordinary. I hear my colleagues belt out English songs without a single mistake, even if they have difficulty conversing in English.

People of Jakarta seem to take a keen interest in crafts, museums, sport, shopping, yoga, nail art and of course, Bollywood. And to top it off there is a huge selfie culture.

You get to see Indian artists on a regular basis. I have enjoyed Qureshi (Percussion) and Manu (Film Music), and even missed some good ghazal and Carnatic shows. After the US, UK, and Singapore, I think a lot of Indian celebs visit here.

The children’s school has offered us all, multi cultural exposure & friends (even if only casual) and the library is the best one could have asked for. It has also let me keep in touch with story telling, in a limited way.

Due to my ignorance of Bahasa, I miss conducting story sessions for the locals but I gather so many everyday stories from the warm folks here, especially their tryst with Bollywood.

We have a driver who we can barely communicate with. While it is frustrating (only rarely), it is also a blessing- no chatter on long journeys when you want to shut eye. And we have a maid who is so interested in Indian cooking that she decided to take down recipes from my mother, on her trip here, and now cooks them for me.

I have come a small way from constantly converting IDR to INR, each time I have to buy anything. I do it still, but it does not make me cringe!

In this one year, we have explored the typical tourist circuit of Thousand islands, Kawa Putih, Bogor, Yogyakarta, Bali, and Surabaya. But my proud moment is when locals at the office come to ask me about places to visit in Jakarta.

We had both sets of parents visit us and my soul sister also managed a shorter stop here.

While we eat out fairly frequently here, the choice is limited for vegetarians. We are now fans of the coffee ‘roti’, Vietnamese cuisine and white coffee. Our go to fare is Italian or Mexican, though Navaneeth has acquired a taste for Gado Gado and Nasi Goreng.

Not many walk here (high heels get stuck) and as I trudge back the two kilometers from office, I find the footpaths make me feel alone in a crowd. A little space to be by myself, without feeling lonely.

Thank you, Jakarta for making us feel at home!

Published here earlier.

Header image source: By yohanes budiyanto ( [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons, for representational purposes only.

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