Before being assigned to Indonesia I will confess that it was one of the countries in the world in which I had little or no curiosity. My knowledge started and ended at the fact that it was located in Asia. Suffice it to say, as soon as it appeared on the radar as a prospective country of residence for my family, I took to the search engines and was awed by how fascinating this country truly is. Forget the language barrier, risk of earthquakes & volcanic eruptions and you are in an amazing country with a most beautiful landscape (once you leave Jakarta), wonderfully pleasant and helpful people, an endless supply of Nasi Goreng (Indonesian Fried Rice) and a variety of parasites to help you lose weight (My weight loss has given me much self-confidence).
A little background information:
* Indonesia is the 4th most populous nation on earth – approximately 238 million people.
* Indonesia has the largest muslim population in the world but strangely enough it is not a muslim state: it has a secular government. This therefore means that alcohol can be bought and consumed and miniskirts & shorts are quite acceptable. It was quite a shock for me when I arrived and noticed some locals skimpily dressed.
* Indonesia has the most volcanoes in the world and the most active volcanoes in the world with 167 of the 850 known active volcanoes. (It’s sounds scary but it really isn’t as bad if you are not residing in any volcanic area. You do however feel saddened when you hear of the lives lost by these tragedies). See a BBC article on Indonesia’s volcanoes: http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20101118-indonesias-mountains-of-fire
*The country is made up of over 17 500 islands.
Other Facts About Indonesia – some of which I love, others irk me to the point of irritability:
1) Do not go a restaurant hungry – it takes a long time to be served and if you are dining with company there may be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour between the arrival of each persons order. You could request that the meals be served within minutes of each other until the cows come home it makes no difference.
2) This one is a classic: it takes 2 weeks to get an ATM card when you open an account. To make matters worst, your pin may or may not arrive at the same time. Try not to lose your pin as it takes an average of 10 working days to get a new one.
3) On arriving in Jakarta one of the first things we wanted to get done was to convert US dollars to rupiah (the local currency). Foreigners beware of folded, crushed, marked or what they consider overly used bills. If your US dollar, Euro etc is not in mint condition the rate of exchange drops significantly. After being quite irked about this I had no choice but to laugh. I am still waiting on an explanation. Note to self: do not fold your money in your wallet. Oh and by the way the rate is different at the Money Changers (available all over the city) depending on the denomination of the bills. For example, a US$20 note is converted at a lower rate than a US$100 note.
4) Traffic is par for the course. It is unlike anything I have ever experienced but to God be the glory that as an expatriate or a visitor you will have a driver so you may spend your hours in traffic taking pictures of 5 persons on a motorbike or catch up on your reading.
5) The furniture and home decor are gorgeous, well made and reasonably priced relative to the USA. Notice the use of the words ‘relative to’.
6) You may end up with more staff than family members. You will need a driver, a maid, a gardener, a pool boy and security guards. If you do not want to cook and your maid cannot cook you may also need to hire someone to prepare meals. Do you feel the place getting crowded? Tasks here are very specialized. Try telling that to a Jamaican girl like me. Labour is cheap so do not start worrying about bankruptcy.
7) I could go on and on and on but I will end my list by pointing out one of Indonesia’s greatest weaknesses: there seems to only be 2 types of mangoes available in Jakarta. My husband’s time here has been blemished by this fact. As an island boy he expected that living in a tropical country he would have an endless supply of different varieties of mangoes. This thought is based on his life growing up in Jamaica where the quantity and variety was enough to ‘stone dog’ (to animal rights advocates: please note that I am not promoting the idea of stoning dogs with mangoes. It is a Jamaican term used to note the abundance of a particular item). The poor man is still hopeful that more mangoes will appear even though the mango season has ended.
Thought I should end the list with the mangoes but it would be wrong of me to not point out that everyone in Indonesia is a Manchester United football club fan and living here I have finally figured out how Manchester United remains wealthy. Not only is there a Manchester United Sports Club but you can buy all their paraphernalia from floor mats to winter jackets. Another day I will tell you a little about the wearing of winter jackets in this tropical country.
Until next time……One Love!!!