Top 5 things we have learned while living in Jakarta

On November 29 this year, we will publish our very last post here at A Journey Bespoke. We promise this won’t be a sad ending, but a joy-filled celebration! 

In the ensuing months we will close our treasured blog, A Journey Bespoke with a collection of fortnightly posts that sum up the ‘spirit of AJB’. We will celebrate what has been the most amazing 5 years in Jakarta spent blogging together, and will soak in all the moments we’ve been lucky to have shared, reflecting on what we’ve learned in the process.

Over the past four and a half years we’ve published just over 200 posts and our goal has always remained constant: To share stories of the People we have met, the Food we’ve experienced and the Places we have travelled. Ultimately we have always celebrated ‘Our Jakarta’, the Jakarta we have come to know and love, the city which got under our skin (in a good way!)

We hope you will join us on this final part of our journey. 

But until then, read on as Jo and I share our Top 5 Things we’ve learned while living in Jakarta.

Liz & Jo

Top 5 things I’ve learned while living in Jakarta – By Liz. 

Apart from developing a risky relationship with coffee 😉 I learned these 5 things while living in Jakarta.

  1. Empathy
    Moving to a new country is opting in for a journey that will be painful at times, delightful and surprising. After moving from Australia to Indonesia almost 7 years ago, I have a much greater appreciation for anyone who moves countries no matter what their circumstances.

    Moving to Jakarta forced me to deconstruct my self, and to build empathy with my adopted city, the Capital City of Indonesia with its estimated population of over 10 million people.

    As a family we jumped right in, grew together and ultimately thrived.

  2. You are never too old to learn something new! 
    With the greatest human asset of time I now had in Jakarta, I was able to make learning Bahasa Indonesia a priority.

    I spent the first 3 years in Jakarta studying Bahasa Indonesia with three dear friends from Australia, Michelle, Tracey and Gulsen. I’ll never forget learning about this incredible country through our language study together.

    To this day I continue to study Bahasa Indonesia to connect with people and to be better equipped to write ‘A Journey Bespoke.’ Learning the local language has given me the tools not only to communicate, but to understand the complexity of Indonesian culture; behaviours, customs, traditions, histories and stories. It is amazing the quality of relationships you can build when you have ‘language’ to support you.

    Finally, this last lesson will come as a big surprise to those who know me well… while living in Jakarta I also learned to enjoy running for the first time in my life! In Jakarta I run to clear my mind, to think, plan and to dream…. at the same time always keeping my eyes on the road for potholes, squashed frogs or rambutans … I’ve become very good at multi-tasked running! 🙂

  3. Indonesia is a great teacher!
    I don’t think a day has gone by where I haven’t learned something new since I moved to Indonesia. The best learning has never been from books or Google, but from people, local Indonesian people who were open to my questions about ‘everything!’ I learned to measure the world through new lenses: Rupiah, instead of Dollars, Half to 3 instead of Half past 2, and Kilos instead of Kilometres.

  4. Humility
    I learned the hard way when a staff member at my home said with the greatest respect to me ‘Sorry Ibu Liz Birthdays are not a part of my tradition’ after I organised what I thought was the best staff birthday celebration including cake and candles. Until that day, I believed birthdays were celebrated universally. I was wrong.

    This experience taught me My way was not the Only way.  
    Living in Jakarta helped me to appreciate the incredible diversity that exists in people’s beliefs and customs across regions, cultures and religious traditions in ways I had never considered before.

    This event pushed me to rethink everything! (in a good way) My own view of the world was challenged, and as a result I learned to be curious, to ask questions, and clarify, rather than to presume I knew it all.

    Note to self: ‘When you think you know how people think and operate, it’s important to stop as you might only be guessing.’

  5. You have to taste a culture to understand it.
    Oh my goodness! You cannot live in Indonesia and not appreciate the food! Food connects people, promotes understanding, and it can even change your perception of a country.

    There are so many food highlights I could share with you here! Experiencing foods from across the regions has always been incredibly informative, mostly delicious and always lots of fun. I’ll never forget the traditional Javanese and Central Java dish ‘gudeg’ made from young unripe jack fruit stewed for several hours with palm sugar, and coconut milk I tried while visiting Yogyakarta. Did I like it? I did! I loved it! But my waistline would certainly suffer if I ate gudeg regularly! 😉

    A food highlight closer to home is this one. Two years ago with the guidance and support of our knowledgeable staff, we established a family vegetable garden and planted only what was native to Indonesia. With each vegetable planting and harvest we have learned more about Indonesia’s unique history, lifestyle, values, and beliefs than we could have ever imagined. Our new favourite dishes from the garden? Moringa soup and Stir fried Kangkung with chilli, shallots and garlic.

The last 7 years have been an incredible adventure, a time of personal learning and growth for me. My mind has been expanded as I’ve learned from a country very different from my own.
If you’ve never visited Indonesia, my hope is that you will have the chance to experience this very special country one day.

I believe Jakarta can’t leave anyone who lives here unchanged.

Indonesia is a great teacher! Here I am learning how to raise chickens in my Jakarta front garden from excellent local teachers
You have to taste a culture to understand it. So here goes … Gudeg served with rice, a hard boiled egg, fried chicken, sambal, topped off with a portion of kerecek AKA fried cow skin

Top 5 things I’ve learned while living in Jakarta – By Jo. 

When Liz and I decided on the idea for this post, it seemed like such an easy write; I mean we have learned SO MUCH from living here in Jakarta. And therein lies the problem! How to distil these countless lessons into a mere five points. 
Adding to this challenge is my lack of brevity when it comes to writing. But after numerous edits and rewrites, here in a nutshell are my Top 5 things that I’ve learned while living in Jakarta…. (it just happens to be a very big nut…!)

  1. Embrace new foods as a part of your adventure
    This obsession was initially driven by a relentless pursuit of fresh, high quality (and local, where possible) food to fuel my family. However, it was my father-in -law Bill, who inadvertently expanded my knowledge of new ingredients by issuing me with a challenge.

    Almost 6 years ago, not long after we had just moved to Jakarta, Bill and my mother-in-law Chris were visiting. Soon into their arrival they developed a daily routine of walking down the street to Hero Supermarket in my neighbourhood of Kemang. First stop would generally be a coffee at the local cafe. Next they would duck into the bookshop, just next door. The excursion would end with a visit to the supermarket, ‘Hero’ – Bill’s favourite destination. As a keen foodie, Bill was particularly interested in all of the less-familiar fruits and vegetables. Each day he would return home with some obscure item and ask our pembantu* to prepare it. During his stay we ate bengkuang, jeruk Bali, pare and oyong. The day came when it was time for my in-laws to leave and Bill issued me with a challenge, 

    ‘Each time you visit the market, buy something new to try’. 

    Almost six years later I can honestly say that there is very little (in terms of fruit and vegetables) that we haven’t tried. Some things have become a regular part of our diet, whilst others were rarely seen again in our kitchen!

  2. Cherish the simple things and maintain a sense of humour (I know, that’s technically two things!)
    By learning to cherish the simple things, I have been able to find happiness wherever I look. 

    Some of my favourite simple pleasures include:
    Waking to the sound of early morning chatter and bamboo brooms scraping the asphalt road.
    A big blue Jakarta sky. The sight makes me want to burst out of my house and run for miles!
    A day when I am able to source all the things on my shopping list AND not get (too) stuck in traffic.

    Maintaining a sense of humour as a part of my ‘Jakarta survival kit’ has also proven to be a good lesson. I’m certain that possessing this attribute has pulled me back from the brink of madness (though some would say I tripped over the edge. They would be wrong 😉 ). 

    Let me share an example of when having a sense of humour came in pretty useful.
    Just this week I had to call the electrician as a recently installed AC unit had ‘borrowed’ the existing circuit for my son’s bedroom lighting (I mean who would have ever noticed that his lights no longer worked?). But I cannot complain as the next day the electrician returned. How efficient! (celebrate the small things, remember?) And within a matter of moments the lights were back on AND the AC was working. Woohoo!
    Later that evening as I was preparing dinner, I noticed the kitchen lighting was particularly dim. Upon careful inspection (I looked up),  I noted we now only had two lights working in the kitchen – coincidence? (I think not 😉 )

  3. Time is a gift so use it wisely.
    Living in Jakarta as an expat is the ultimate luxury – but perhaps not for the reasons you may be thinking. In fact for me what makes this entire experience so wonderful is the gift of time. Having people to help me with everyday tasks means that I have more time to devote to the things that ultimately matter. 
    The memory of being a working mum and trying to keep all the balls in the air is still clear in my mind. Adding to the stress was the fact that my husband was regularly away with work. So to be able to relinquish some of these less-enjoyable responsibilities (washing the floors, cleaning bathrooms, ironing, should I keep going?), and be able to concentrate on the things I value most has been such a privilege. 

    So what have I done with all this free time? Here goes….!
    I’ve tried to feed my family well by sourcing quality produce and introducing them to new foods.
    I’ve studied new languages and revisited old ones.
    I’ve kept up my fitness and most importantly (for me), I’ve been a constant in the life of our three kids, made more important by the fact my husband is still away for extended periods of time (no, you do not detect a disgruntled tone here…).

    Time really is the ultimate gift in this expat caper so whilst it’s up for grabs, I’m making the most of it 🙂

  4. Connecting with people feeds my soul.
    Whether it’s a chat with someone in my neighbourhood, attending my weekly Bahasa Indonesia lesson with my cherished teacher and friend Ibu Hani, or meeting up with friends over coffee, touching base & sharing stories is the best therapy, particularly if I am having a ‘Jakarta Day’*.
    Of course a connection doesn’t have to be through conversation. The number of times I’ve been jolted out of my deep thoughts and back to reality by an unexpected smile from a stranger, is countless. The broad, endearing smile of an Indonesian person has a magic that cannot be explained, but can certainly be felt.
    Writing A Journey Bespoke with Liz has been the ultimate way to connect with people. Our greatest delights have come from meeting people, sharing in their stories and feeling that wonderful human connection. 

  5. Never lose touch with that feeling of gratitude. 
    It’s been almost 6 years since my family and I moved to Jakarta from Melbourne, Australia and I can honestly say not a day has gone by when I haven’t felt that overwhelming sensation of gratitude. During our time in Jakarta I have learned so much so quickly, and grown so dramatically (and yes, I did take motherhood into consideration – it was a close call!).
    This 6 year-long ride has been wondrous & exhilarating – and I am forever grateful.
Embrace new foods as a part of your adventure! Food has become an even bigger part of our lives here in Jakarta. Not only does it sustain us, it brings us closer to the market- and street vendors in our community
Connecting with people feeds my soul. I met Ibu Hani in my first week of arriving in Jakarta. She has been my Bahasa teacher, dear friend and mentor ever since. I treasure her dearly 🙂

So that’s it!, my 5 (+) things that I’ve learned whilst living in Jakarta.
But before I sign off, on behalf of Liz and I, we would like to say a big Thank You to you, our readers.
Thank you for joining us each week on our journey.
Thank you for your inquisitiveness, your enthusiasm and your warmth.
We have delighted in sharing our Jakarta with you and hope that you too now feel a sense of connection with this wonderful city.

Love always, 

PS: Be sure to tune in for our next post which will be scheduled for Friday 4 October. The topic? You’ll just have to wait and see. Sampai jumpa xx

* Pembantu – housekeeper
* Pasar – local market
* Jakarta Day – one of those days when even the most positive ‘half glass full’ approach to life, and ‘cherish the small things’ attitude are completely defeated. Best solution: head to the salon for a cream bath 😉

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