The key quality necessary to become a content expat is having the ability and openness to adapt.
As people, we have to adapt a little all the time; economics, children, health problems, marital issues, aging parents etc., all teach us that life doesn’t always go the way we may have planned. Our stringent opinions on parenthood become almost unrecognisable when there is a tenacious two-year-old tugging at your pyjamas wanting a lollipop at seven in the morning and your firm opinions of your own tenacity grow obscure when you find yourself unwrapping said lollipop at 7.10 and handing it over. Our romantic ideas of lifestyle and life choice go out the window when recession hits and ‘life sucks’ becomes the new mantra.
So if life is the beginner’s stage on adaptation, emigration is definitely the intermediate level. Along with all the usual curveballs that life throws our way, you need to learn to adapt to a new country, unfamiliar surroundings, and a new way of life, and learn to co-exist with people from very different backgrounds to your own. And if emigration is the intermediate level, then emigration to Jakarta, Indonesia, is the advanced course. (It would be advisable that you complete at least one year of the intermediate level before enlisting in the advanced level course.)
One week into life in Jakarta and so far every single aspect of my previous life is completely upended, having just gotten used to the strict ways of Abu Dhabi and the security of living in the comfort of an expat bubble of five-star hotels at three-star prices and three-star houses at five-star prices. A life almost exemplary of the phrase ‘monkey see, monkey do’ as most expats live the same life, do the same thing, in the manufactured western/Arab society. So, settling into Abu Dhabi or Dubai or Doha is easy; just do what everyone else does. But here in Jakarta, there is no semblance of a manufactured life; the biggest change is that as an expat you are joining a community, a city and a culture that is established. Indonesians have their own culture, their own industry and the city of Jakarta lives and breathes its own air – albeit polluted. While there are several expats in Jakarta, the influence of Indonesian culture is not diluted and being an expat in Jakarta, you are exposed to that culture every day, and therein lies the exercise of advanced adaptation.
In one week, I have a driver, because “expats don’t drive”, a statement to be accepted rather than questioned. I have a maid because she comes with the house and to excuse her would see her family hungry. That’s two things I said I’d never do, three if you count hunger. I have a medicine cabinet like Sam McCauley’s stockroom because the pollution is such that, contracting a disease is more ‘when’ than ‘if’. We are brushing our teeth with bottled water. The equatorial climate is such that you spend morning covering up from the hot sun but by afternoon the torrential rain creates streams of mucky water flowing down the streets. Dinner in a local restaurant could be with dogs and cats (alive) creeping around beneath the table. KFC has a live band playing on a Friday and Saturday night. The sight of an open sewer along a street is more popular than a rubbish bin. A pint of local beer, Bintang, costs less than two Euro in a bar and a bottle of wine in the supermarket costs thirty five euro. The old Irish habit of being able to frequent a bar is back but in many (bars, not Irish people) age-old prostitution and new-age exploitation live companionably side by side.
Apart from the disadvantage of finding it difficult to enjoy my take-out coffee in the passenger seat as I pass some of the most raw scenes of poverty I have witnessed – bearing in mind my travel to date has been limited to the Canaries, New York, and Dubai – Jakarta is a hotbed; it’s everything you want and everything you don’t want all rolled up into one big ball.