Indonesia Expat
Lifestyle Outreach

My Life and Times in Jakarta: Homecoming is not What It Seems


I’m not going to lie. I miss my expat lifestyle in Indonesia.

On particularly lucid nights when the child is asleep and we’re crumpled on the sofa watching yet another marathon of some new and fascinating Netflix doco-series, my husband and I joke often about our “fake-rich life” in Jakarta.

The nannies, the housekeepers, the luxury apartment complex living, the lavish dinner parties and weekend trips to some resort in Southeast Asia that’s something other than Bali. No significant budget because the Rupiah was always on its way down against a stronger Western currency.

That was the life.

Yes, there was the occasional food shortage. Remember the carrot crisis of 2016, where there were literally no carrots on grocery store shelves for about two months, which also coincided with a time the only vegetable my toddler would eat mixed in with her nasi goreng telur was a carrot? I do.

It was an especially trying time in my life.

There was also the horrendous traffic. One Sunday, we left our apartment building via taxi to travel 800 metres to a hotel to meet our good friends for one of those all-you-can-eat, strike that, all-you-can-drink, brunches at the Mulia Senayan only to be stuck for a good 45 minutes on Jalan Asia-Afrika.

If I hadn’t been wearing my stiletto heels that day and it wasn’t 35 degrees with chest-level clouds of scooter smog, I would have high-tailed it on foot to the destination. The free-flow bubbles upon arrival at our favourite table helped ease any traffic-induced angst. An hour later, what traffic? I’d see only a clear road ahead with delicious non-halal snacks and a never-ending glass of prosecco. Thank goodness the door to our private room was shut.

There were the ghastly prices expats had to pay compared to locals. I think they were, when adjusted to our own country’s goods, just slightly higher than normal?

Nothing was cheap, but everything was affordable.


Coming home seemed like a great adventure. We bought a new house, got ourselves sorted in a new routine and neighbourhood. We enrolled our kid in public school,

which is an entirely different scene from JIS – as a parent, I’m probably experiencing culture shock from the change in schools more than my child. What do you mean there’s no program for the preschoolers and why does it always look like someone took my child and rolled the kid around in dirt each day?

The endless loads of laundry have impacted our weekends. With two above-average middle-class incomes, we’re mostly at work during the week but we do end up taking care of the occasional load midweek. I just don’t understand where all this laundry comes from and why we spend our two free days getting through it. And, the husband is back to grumbling-whilst-ironing. Some things never change.

Dust and grime cover the window sills and floors, our bathrooms don’t gleam, the kitchen has old oil splatters on the counters. Something kind of smells–is that cat puke in the corner?

And yet…

I do enjoy working now, and using my brain to calculate something other than currency fluctuations and speaking really bad Indonesian. Work is keeping me on my toes, but it’s also allowing me the freedom away from the trailing spouse role, which was quite limiting. My job as a human resources manager for Indonesian domestic staff was neither challenging nor engaging.

The outdoors is magnificent. A real sidewalk. A park with lush grass to sit on and an outdoor playground that won’t give children tetanus. Seasons. Wow, did I miss a winter in my city! Riding a bike without fear of getting a flat or being run over by scooters and cars.

Food. Delicious, flavoursome, wholesome ingredients. A simple salad that doesn’t have to be washed three times in bottled water. Meat that’s labelled clearly and appropriately. Prebiotic chicken? How about organic, natural, free-range hens that have international stamps of approval? Asparagus that isn’t US$10 for five old stalks.

Drinking from the tap. It’s a real luxury most people don’t understand until they’ve lived in a developing country. My hair has stopped falling out in strands.

Public transportation that gets you somewhere on time. Consistent and reliable, it’s the preferred mode of transport even when there’s a car sitting in our garage.

Rivers that run clear, skies that are so blue it almost makes your eyes water as if you’re staring at the sun. Little children walking down the street to our home, laughing and riding bicycles to the local park. Nice neighbours who poke their heads in and say hello every once in a while.

Leaving the front door open occasionally to let the breeze in or have the kid eat a snack on the porch watching the world go by.

I miss the glamorous lifestyle in Jakarta, but it’s the little things that make me so happy to be home.

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