I’ve been traveling the world on and off for 10 years, but before I moved to Jakarta I’d never actually lived outside of California before. Clearly living abroad is way different than traveling. Having the chance to live in Jakarta has enabled me to fully immerse myself in the culture and get up close and personal with all of this city’s cultural quirks. Things that were weird and foreign to me when I moved here nine long months ago have become routine and almost normal. And at this point I find myself doing all sorts of weird things I never did before I moved here.
11 Weird Habits I’ve Picked in Indonesia:
1. Walking while browsing the internet
Jakartans are obsessed with social media and as a consequence they constantly have their noses in their cell phones and tablets. According to this article, Indonesians spend an average of nine hours a day looking at their phones, tablets and laptops.
Think this sounds unrealistic? Spend a day wondering around a mall in Jakarta and you’ll get the gist of how true this actually is. Whenever I’m at my local mall I’m always taken aback by how everyone – from kids to grandparents – is on their cell phones. Whether they’re dining with their families, standing in line at the store or just walking through the mall, people are staring at their phones.
When I first got here I found this behavior disturbing. And I was thoroughly annoyed by how everyone would walk around with their eyes glued to their cell phones. But after being here for almost a year, I’m now one of those people who walks around while browsing the internet on her cell phone. And, yes, I have had many near-collisions with people and walls…
2. Taking jamu at the first sign of sickness
Jamu is a traditional herbal medicine and Indonesians swear by it. Aaron’s co-workers and students turned him onto it. Actually they forced it upon him the first time he got a cold. He then forced it upon me when I caught his cold. Ever since then we simply can’t live without it. There is absolutely no scientific evidence that jamu does anything. But it’s kind of like taking Emergen-C in the US before getting on a plane. It’s just what you do.
3. Living without a microwave
Going nine whole months without a microwave was never part of the plan. I always intended buy one, but every time I went on a mission to purchase a microwave I was shocked at how much they cost. Literally I haven’t found a microwave here that isn’t more than $150 for something so small it won’t even fit a plate. Considering most things that are made in Indonesia either don’t work or break shortly after purchase, shelling out hundreds of dollars on a microwave was a gamble I wasn’t willing to take.
Then months went by and I learned to toast bread and heat up leftovers on the stove. And I realized, sure it would be nice, but I don’t really need a microwave.
4. Eating raw peppers
Indonesia is a huge country and the cuisine varies wildly depending on where you are, but in Jakarta people like their food spicy. Being from San Diego – a haven for Mexican food – I am a spicy food lover through and through. But I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get in the habit of consuming raw peppers on a near daily basis.
It all started when Aaron brought home some bakwan – one of the many popular street foods in Indonesia. The corn fritters came with a handful of tiny green peppers and Aaron explained that Indonesians just straight up eat them whole. So I gave it a go. Those little peppers can be spicy as hell, but they are so good. I now can’t eat bakwan without the peppers. I’ve become so obsessed with raw peppers that I’ve now gotten in the habit of slicing them up and putting them on everything from sandwiches to pizza.
5. Learning to trill my R’s like a true Mexican
Being from San Diego (and being half Mexican) I started taking Spanish classes at an early age. I am embarrassingly awful at learning languages so I can’t say that it did much good, although I do know enough to get by. Never did I ever think that my Spanish speaking skills would help me in Jakarta. But they have!
Indonesian words are pronounced a lot like Spanish words. So when I’m saying anything in bahasa Indonesia, I just pronounce it the way I would in Spanish and people can actually understand me! The only difference is that in bahasa all R’s are trilled. If I don’t trill my R’s people have no clue what I’m saying. A lot of the foreigners in Jakarta, many of whom are Australian, have a lot of trouble trilling their R’s. Indonesians actually get a kick out of the fact that I can do it!
6. Getting freaked out about escalators
Oh the escalator phenomenon…or as some of my expat friends call it, the magical stairs phenomenon. I don’t know why, but from my experience I’ve found that quite a lot of Indonesians seem a little freaked out of escalators. But to be fair, I’m mainly talking about elderly people.
It’s not uncommon to pass by an escalator and see someone standing at its base just looking down at the moving stairs. I’ve seen people stand there for up to a minute – while people pile up behind them – before mustering the courage to get on. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been walking full speed toward the escalator only to run into the person in front of me because they came to an abrupt stop. It’s the weirdest thing ever, but I’ve noticed that after being here for so long, I’ve started overthinking getting on an escalator. What is happening to me?
7. Becoming a delivery fanatic
In San Diego, very few things are delivered – mostly it’s just pizza and Chinese food. But in Jakarta, you can get anything delivered and most of the time there’s no extra charge.
Want a cold beer or a pack of smokes? No problem, just call down to your local convenience store and they’ll bring it to your door. Need your laundry done? They’ll come pick it up and deliver it back to you for a small fee. In Indonesia you can even get McDonald’s delivered to you 24/7. I’ve never done that, but knowing that I can is kind of awesome.
8. Avoiding the sun at all costs
Indonesians are petrified of the sun. Well, that’s not true. They just really, really don’t like it. In the US having a nice tan is considered beautiful, but here having white skin is the epitome of beauty. Skin whiting products are huge sellers here. Everything from body wash to deodorant to face scrubs have whitening agents in them, to the point that I have to be really careful what I buy.
Suffice it to say, Indonesians don’t like being in the sun, at all. None of the enormous pools in my apartment complex have lounge chairs, because why on earth would people want to lay in the sun? Given Jakarta’s lack of parks and outdoor activities I’m not sure that most people here are ever exposed to the sun – and that goes for me too. When I go out, I go from my apartment complex to a cab to (most often) a mall. That’s how life is here. My body rarely gets sun and I miss it so much!
9. Swimming in my tank top
While I’m on the topic of pools I will admit that I have become that person who just swims in her shirt. To be fair to me, a lot of women in Indonesia swim in their full-on clothes (jeans, shirts, socks) so it’s not all that weird. What is weird is when I go to the pool in my bikini. People stare and they probably get offended.
So now, when there are people around, I just jump in the pool in my tank top. I realize I should probably not do this while back in California this summer. (That’s right. I’m heading back for a visit!)
10. Throwing toilet paper in the trash can
After spending the majority of the past two years in Southeast Asia, I’ve nearly forgotten that in the US toilet paper goes in the toilet. Like pretty much everywhere else in Southeast Asia, the plumbing in Jakarta isn’t so good. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
11. Not being phased by the call to prayer
When I first moved here I wrote a post about the quirks of living in Jakarta. At the time, the call to prayer was one of the most foreign, most surreal aspects of living in Jakarta. It occurs five times a day, and each time the sound reverberated around city I would have one of those whoa-I’m-living-in-Indonesia moments.
Nine months later and the call to prayer has become normal. In fact, I’ve become so accustomed to it that I rarely notice it during the day. That being said, I’ve recently become acutely aware just how quickly my last two months in Jakarta are going to go and I’ve really started relishing the sound as of late.
I usually go jogging in the evenings, during the final prayer of the day. Instead of listening to music, I now take out my ear buds and listen to it as a run. That sound that was so foreign to me when I moved here is one of the things I will miss the most about Jakarta.
Have you ever lived abroad? What sorts of weird habits did you pick up?