Sitting in the Bali domestic airport it can be easy to forget the reasons why I call Indonesia home, no doubt it’s needless to remind you of the challenges to make your way from North Bali, battling sand trucks, to Denpasar Domestic Terminal, not to mention the next round of beep, honk and screech to make it home to bustling Mega Kuningan. I’m not here to bore you with another round of traffic talk, however.
My move to Indonesia was one full of ignorance. I wasn’t the typical Aussie making my way to Bali for an annual beach and nightclub pilgrimage. Frankly speaking, my Indonesian experience was based on six months of Bahasa Indonesia in the first semester of high school – forgotten by second semester, the Schapelle Corby drug scandal and of course the tragic Bali bombings. Sad I know. It was actually a well-timed Indonesian tourism advertisement that swayed my list of pros and cons and converted me to make the move. Sometimes you have to follow the signs.
After only two years in the Big Durian, I’m proud to call Indonesia home. By now I hope my colleagues and friends wouldn’t pass me off as a typical Aussie tourist, sporting my best Bintang t-shirt, or expat for that matter. The reality of, what I like to call, sustainable life in Jakarta has to kick in at some point, well at least for most of us.
If you’re still reading then possibly you have experienced a similar passage to expat enlightenment. Laughing are we? Well, I probably wouldn’t go as far as to call myself enlightened, perhaps aware is better placed. After all, if it was easy everybody would be doing it, right? In any case, today I see this country and my new home from a very different perspective.
I’ll sight a recent trip to Brisbane (my hometown) to prompt my discussion for why it is I love this place. Before even setting foot in the country I was reminded of how much a nanny state Australia has become. For example, how to engage the exit 101. After three warnings over the loudspeaker and two additional warnings from the nameless airline hosts, I was sure we would be faced with a death-defying “Indiana Jones” departure. I was certainly disappointed to find a mere step, not even a gap, for which the most incapable of all human beings could navigate. So the question beckoned me, at what point was it declared that we are all simpletons incapable of navigating a step or walkway? And the list went on and on: stand here, walk there, behind the line Sir, plastic cups, light beer and I’m sure you can think of more from your own home – Singapore please stand up.
So what’s the point I hear you ask? Well, consider the freedom to consider yourself personally accountable for almost every action and moral decision you make. When was the last time you were pulled over for drink driving or J-walking? Walking home only last week I was distracted by the unnecessarily enormous Mega Kuningan video screens and collected my leg on what seemed to be a perfectly inconvenient light post. Who else did I have to blame, now really…
Of course, I wouldn’t be so ignorant to consider our home “free”. We are every day confronted with moral dilemmas, social, political and personal. When did it become the norm, for example, to not recognize the mother and baby begging for their next meal outside the local warung makan? It was my wise mother who repeatedly said, “Every cloud has a silver lining son”, and has there ever been a truer word spoken when we take the time to acknowledge life’s everyday hardships in contrast to our day to day travesties – like not being able to afford the high priced designer watch and settling with something less. I would hope this would become less of an issue when you are faced with that mother and child every day. All I ask is for a little perspective, people.
The perspective I hear your grunting… Come on I say, when was it you last took the time to acknowledge the feeling of gratitude when observing the recycling man collecting your rubbish via man-drawn cart in Jakarta’s heat, traffic and pollution, all for a mere Rp.50,000 a day? If he doesn’t help you to free yourself of the everyday stresses of buying your next designer watch or investment property, I don’t know what will.
When first considering “the things I love about Indonesia” it was easy to pick the low hanging fruit – house help, drivers, sapphire cards, weekend trips to tropical islands, an insatiable nightlife and how can I forget my favourite, sambal. Only after scrapping the first few attempts did I realize it’s not the low hanging fruit that helps brew my love for this place. It’s the love of accountability, the million and one reasons outside my door that humble my very existence and gives me perspective on what is a really good fortune. As I look back at my run-in with the perfectly placed light post I really only have myself to blame and I’m more than confident that the same principle can be applied to all aspects of our life in Indonesia.
As an expat, we are by definition here to help pass on knowledge and teach those around us the lessons we have been fortunate to already learn. At times though I do wonder who the real teacher is, thank you Indonesia.