I have been completely behind on the Day-to-Day’ series so am running a full week of guests posts from expats around the world.
Today’s guest post comes from Justine, an American expat who was working and living in Jakarta Indonesia.
I moved to Jakarta on a whim. After traveling around the world for 12 months, my boyfriend received a last-minute job offer from a university in Indonesia. We’d always wanted to live abroad, so we jumped at the opportunity. Three weeks later I was moving into an apartment in Jakarta.
I was completely unprepared. I had traveled briefly to the city while backpacking around Indonesia in 2014, but I honestly knew next to nothing about Jakarta.
It was a big change.
In my hometown of San Diego, California, I lived in a mellow little beach town. Jakarta was completely different. With over 10 million people in the metropolitan area Indonesia’s capital city is the largest city in Southeast Asia, something I didn’t know before I moved there. Another thing I would soon learn is that Jakarta is home to some of the world’s worst traffic. The phenomenon is fondly referred to by Jakartans as macet – a word I found myself using on a near daily basis while riding in the backseat of taxis and ojeks (moto-taxis). In California I used to complain about my 65-mile commute to Orange County, which took anywhere from one to two hours. But in Jakarta it could take that long to go a few kilometers.
During the first few months I learned to adjust to a bunch of little things that were a far cry from my life in California. Indonesia is a predominately Muslim country and in Jakarta headscarves and mosques are ubiquitous. Hearing the call to prayer reverberate around the city five times a day quickly became a part of my daily life. It’s a hauntingly beautiful sound that I fell in love with immediately.
I also formed an addiction to many of Indonesia’s street foods, namely bakwan which are deliciously greasy corn fritters.
My daily life and routine was completely different than my life in Southern California too.
It took a few months for me to land a job, but I finally found steady work as a regular contributor for one of the country’s English-speaking newspapers. I worked as a lifestyle and travel writer for the publication, which was such a fun job. Not only did I get to write about all the things I love – like travel and food – but I was able to meet people and do things I never would have otherwise.
Since I worked from home, I spent most of my days in my small apartment in Central Jakarta. I always started the day with a massive cup of coffee (I’m not a morning person!) around 8am, when my boyfriend left for work. I would set up shop at my kitchen table or my tiny sofa, alternating between the two throughout the day. I spent the majority of my time either writing articles, editing articles or editing photos. In my free time, I would tinker with my blog and compose blog posts.
A few times a week I would receive assignments to interview someone or cover an event somewhere in the city. I interviewed all sorts of people from Indonesian actresses to local fashion designers to up-and-coming restaurateurs. It was an amazing and unique way to get to know Jakarta and the people who live there.
I’m making it sound really glamorous, but it wasn’t always!
Whenever I did get assignments to interview someone in the city, I would have to arrange a cab or hail an ojek. One big difference from my life in California is that I didn’t own my own vehicle in Jakarta. Not only was the cost too expensive for my humble salary but I was petrified to attempt to drive there. Like I said, traffic is crazy in Jakarta. Crossing the street is no easy feat and it doesn’t help that they drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Depending on where in the city I had to go I would have to allot anywhere from one to three hours just to make the appointment – because the traffic is that bad! More often than not I would be sitting in the backseat of a taxi nervously checking the time while we stood idle in the gridlock, vendors tapping on the window hawking water bottles and fried snacks or strumming tiny guitars looking for a tip. Sitting in traffic became the bane of my existence in Jakarta.
I much preferred to take ojeks, which were both cheaper and faster than taxis. I loved the thrill of zipping around the city on the back of a motorbike, passing by beautiful mosques, street food stalls, luxurious villas and dilapidated Chinese shop houses. Hopping on some stranger’s motorbike is never something I would do back in California, but in Jakarta it became totally normal. While I loathed sitting in traffic, I loved discovering new parts of the city during those rides.
I would usually wrap up my workday around 5:30pm, when the sun began to set and the brutal tropical heat subsided. Most evenings, I would go out to the pool area of my apartment complex and go for a walk or jog. There aren’t many public spaces in Jakarta and there was no other area where I could exercise outdoors, so the pool area became my jogging track. Because I exercised around sunset the call to prayer would often coincide with my workout. Even though I heard the same sound day in and day out it was always surreal. Despite living in Jakarta for a full year, whenever I heard that sound it always hit me…I actually live in Jakarta!
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
New places are always calling my name...
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