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Expats in Jakarta: Our First Year

It’s been a year since we relocated to Jakarta, so I thought I’d write a post about our lives here so far (because my brain is like a sieve these days, and I need to record such things down for future reference).

Where do I begin?

We relocated in early November 2016, when the twins were three months old, and just before the end of N’s Nursery 2 year. C had been shuttling between Singapore and Jakarta for a couple of months by then, so he was the one who went house-hunting in Jakarta. He took videos of the units he saw, and sent them to me so that I could be involved in the process as well. We literally moved into our current home on the same day we arrived in Jakarta, and thank God my mum came with us to help us settle in. We hadn’t found a helper at that time, so my mum basically did all the cleaning and washing for us, and our meals were settled by Gojek. (More on Gojek in a bit.)

It was really tough on everyone, because we had to adjust to life with the twins, on top of being in a foreign country, away from our family and friends. C wasn’t used to the twins as he only saw them on weekends in Singapore, and it didn’t help that Didi would go into these crying frenzies at bedtime. N acted up a lot, and on hindsight, I think it was because he couldn’t quite deal with all the huge changes in his life, but at that time, his behaviour just made things worse.

Babies’ first morning in Jakarta

My parents with their three grandchildren when we first arrived

A year later

The children fell sick frequently due to the poor air quality, and I got upset because I kept thinking about how they probably wouldn’t have these sinus issues if we were still living in Singapore. Didi and N both got amoeba, albeit at different times, but it was something that wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t living in Indonesia. I ranted frequently to C about their health issues, and we decided to buy the Bluair air purifiers, and to get our house thoroughly cleaned.

Thankfully, things gradually improved, and as our lives in Jakarta became more organised, I missed home a bit less. It helped that we found a helper who was able to help me with the babies, and when N started school, I had occasional pockets of “me-time”, which allowed me to regain my sanity a little. I joined a Mums & Babes Bible Study group, and being in the company of English-speaking mums who constantly encouraged and prayed for me, truly did wonders for my emotional well-being. We also became friends with some of our neighbours, and this little clique, made up of four Singaporean families and one local Indonesian family, has become our support network here.

Our support network

The ladies

People frequently ask me how I find life here in Jakarta, and if I like being here. Honestly, it’s a difficult question to answer. I would say that we’ve more or less adapted to living in Jakarta, though things like the bad traffic (aka macet) and poor air quality still bother me. Many times, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I look out of the window, and feel as though I’m living in a hotel, even though we’ve already been here for a year. Somehow, this still isn’t quite home to me, and I wonder if I will ever miss being here, when we leave Jakarta for good.

Okay, this post is turning out to be more serious than I expected it to be, so here are some things which I’ve learnt, after a year of living as an expat in Jakarta.

1. Macet This means traffic jam, and anyone who has been to Jakarta will know that the traffic here is legendary. I’m really thankful that we picked a school that is usually a five to ten minute drive away for N, because we don’t have to leave home super early just to get to school on time. I say “usually”, because I’ve taken more than half an hour to get home from N’s school before, when there was an inexplicable macet along our route home. I’ve also learnt that physical distance isn’t an accurate measure for how long it will take to get somewhere, because bad traffic can extend the journey by a ridiculous amount of time.

2. Gojek Because of the super bad traffic, people rely on gojek riders quite a bit to get things done. There’s an app for it, and most people use the Go-Food option, which is basically a food delivery service. There’s also Go-Clean, where you get people to come and clean your place, and Go-Massage, where masseuses come to your place (massages are super cheap here by the way! An hour usually costs only about SGD15-20.). I can’t tell you how many times we’ve relied on Go-Food to settle our meals when we can’t bring ourselves to face the traffic!

3. Kosong Some ladies in the SG/MY whatsapp chat group recommend stocking up whenever you see your favourite items in the supermarkets or shops, and when I first came, I didn’t understand why they said that. Then one day, I was trying to find N’s favourite frozen mini croissants, and it was “Kosong!”, ie out of stock, at every single supermarket I visited. This usually happens for imported goods, and it can take weeks or even months to reappear, so yeah, stock up when you can.

4. Doctors and Medication Bring as much of your medication from your home country as possible. Stock up when you go back for holidays, because the meds here can also go out of stock. Because the traffic here is bad, you don’t really want to be stuck in a car for ages on your way to see a doctor, so if you can self-medicate, that is sometimes the better option. Some doctors here also like to prescribe their own concoction of “powder medicine”, which comes in individually packed sachets and has to be mixed with water for consumption. If you’re uncomfortable with not knowing what’s in your medicine, make sure you tell your doctor, and ask for the standard meds instead.

5. Helpers: Live-in, Live-out, and Part-time There are many different types of helpers that you can hire here, and it is quite common to have nannies (sometimes even one nanny per child) for the kids, and helpers to do the housework and cooking. You can hire a live-out pembantu (helper) and/or a suster (nanny) if you are uncomfortable having live-in help, and there are even part-timers who can come on specific days, for just a few hours. Finding help here is easy, but finding good and reliable help is a different story. I’ve heard of so many stories, where the helpers just don’t show up for work one day, and don’t respond to phone calls or messages. Some borrow money from their employers, then disappear without a trace. The expats usually prefer English-speaking helpers, but that also means that you’ll have to pay more.

In our case, we have only one helper, who helps me with the babies when necessary, and does all the cooking and cleaning. She lives in from Mondays to Fridays, which means that we are left to our own devices on weekends. It’s rare for helpers to cook, clean, AND look after kids here, but we prefer having only one helper, because we don’t want to have to deal with the “politics” of having two helpers, so we have to pay her more.

6. Drivers An experienced, honest, reliable, and resourceful driver is everyone’s dream, because your driver not only drives you around, but also runs errands for you. He needs to know all the shortcuts and little roads that somehow manage to be two-way despite being super narrow, because that’s just how it works here. Can’t get gojek to buy food for you? Send your driver instead. Need to replenish your water supply? Ask your driver to do it.

I wanted to come up with a longer list, but erm, that’s all I can think of at the moment. Please feel free to add to my list by leaving a comment!

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