Indonesia Expat

Coping in the Big Durian

Jakarta isn’t a city for everyone. Many of the problems aren’t unique to large cities in emerging economies: poor sanitation systems, pollution, and rampant poverty. And other issues like its notorious traffic jams rank among the worst in the world – not a Top 10 list you want to be part of.

However, those who endure have often found irresistible reasons to stay, including business opportunities, an under-acclaimed nightlife, or romantic involvement. But no matter how much you want to stay, an expat will need to find a way to escape to be able to do so.

Heavy rain at rush hour can turn a grinding commute into an all-night agony of automobile incarceration. An unreliable supply chain will sometimes leave the entire city devoid of luxury items like ice, soda water, or decent broccoli.

Moments like these can sometimes drive even the most patient, tolerant of souls to screaming with exasperation. To unwind from the accumulated frustration of these moments, you have to find your own ways to escape and reset your power-meter like a magic mushroom in Mario Bros.

For some, solace is found on the lush fairways of Jakarta’s many high-end golf courses. Others brave the horrors of Soekarno-Hatta airport to dart off for weekend getaways and enjoy the less tarnished islands of the archipelago.

For the better part of a decade, my relief came in the form of a droopy-eyed, cuddly Basset Hound named Jewel.

We welcomed Jewel into our home as fully-grown, sadly missing the moments of what are arguably the cutest puppies on the planet, but even as an adult adoptee, she quickly became flesh and blood.

My daughters were young toddlers when Jewel came into our lives, and they tested Jewel’s tolerance immediately. No matter how much the girls were scolded, they couldn’t stop themselves from squeezing, pinching, and pulling the loose, flappy bits of fur and skin and tugging on her long, dangling ears. And no matter how much the girls doled out, Jewel would lap up the attention – never once nipping at them or running off for safe haven.

And as much a treasured playmate as she became for my girls, I think I was the most reliant upon her companionship. She was an unfailing friend and pick-me-up.

It didn’t matter how grumpy a bad day at the office left me or how exhausted the sometimes 20+ hour trek from the highlands of Papua to home made me, Jewel put a smile on my face every time she greeted me, with a her classic heart-soothing howl while eagerly wagging her tail and mustering what always appeared to me to be the best approximation of a smile that those sagging jowls could manage.

I couldn’t count the nights we spent together on the porch with honky tonk tunes accompanied by the happy sounds of her crunching away on the leftover bones from the day’s BBQ.

She was the best drinking buddy ever. She never complained, no matter how many times I played Dwight Yoakam or about the nights when my stories wobbled in circles when I had topped up my whiskey glass a bit too generously.

But sadly those countless nights did add up. Age began to take its toll on her. Her health started to deteriorate. And on a dreary Wednesday night in May, Jewel bid farewell to this world, leaving our family in tears that evening but with a heart full of memories to keep with us forever.

It wasn’t just memories she left us with. Her gentle, patient soul imparted lessons too.

One of my favourite lessons came our first week with Jewel. When I took her for a walk, she would lag behind trying to capture an extra sniff of each tree and pole. A National Geographic commentator once likened a Basset Hound walking through an urban environment to an acid trip of sensory overload – with their heightened sense of smell honed through generations of breeding. But when the tug became extra heavy, I looked back to find she had flopped noiselessly to her belly with her legs splayed out. Apparently my walks were longer than she was used to, and she had had enough.

No need to kick up a fuss, but just calmly stake out your position and hold your ground (pun intended). After much begging and prodding, I eventually relented and scooped her up to carry her home. It’s tempting to overreact to situations we don’t like, but calm firmness prevails far more often.

Also naps. And sausages. Jewel taught me you can never have enough of either of these. Those are critical life lessons.

And while I swallow back the tears to type this now, still mourning the loss of our dear friend, I have to say I would not trade my memories of Jewel for anything in the world. So, my advice for anyone with space in their house and their heart, please take a look at Jakarta Animal Aid Network and consider giving a home to a sheltered pet. It’s the best medicine I have ever found to contend with the rough days in the Big Durian.

For information on how to adopt a pet in Jakarta, visit


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