I spend the majority of my time complaining about Jakarta and raving about Indonesia.
It’s not that I don’t like the city. I live by the maxim that if you don’t like it, you know where the door is. Trust me, I don’t sigh myself to sleep at nights.
When I see those quizzes on Facebook that provide you with the name of the city where you belong, it makes me want to puke.
“Prague!” the answer will be, when in fact the respondent lives in Branson, Missouri.
Plus, if you need a quiz to tell you were to live, you’ve got problems.
Like I said, I love Indonesia. The people here are some of the most generous on the planet.
I was once lost on a motorbike along the north coast of Bangka. Tired, frustrated and aware the sun was dipping below the trees, I flagged down a teenage kid who was nice enough to not only lead me out of the labyrinth that was an abandoned mining camp, but take me back to his house.
His mother then proceeded to fill me with so much food I thought I was going to go into a coma, like those sharks you see on the National Geographic channel that, after gorging on a whale carcass, are so full they simply float atop the sea until they can get it together and swim off.
That was me, but lounging on a couch, about as far from Pangkal Pinang — the provincial capital and my intended destination — as humanly possible.
This is the most beautiful country I have ever lived in. I grew up dreaming about its reefs, volcanoes, mountains and beaches. I would be flipping through a magazine, or finding something to watch on television and stumble across something about Indonesia: the tigers of Sumatra, the Mola Mola that run in Bali, the orangutans in Borneo or the tarsiers in Sulawesi.
When I was on Komodo Island with a buddy, we were the only tourists there. I came around the world to see the closest thing left to a dinosaur and I was lucky enough to be one of only two people in the park.
Every chance I get I’m on a plane, the wings banking sharply to the left on approach to reveal a jungle or an untouched coastline giving way to waters so blue you simply shake your head.
There is nothing like Indonesia — that’s why I came here.
But the country’s capital, with its congestion and overcrowding, is too much. If you’re addicted to malls, the floor-to-ceiling windows and nose-furling air conditioning might be entirely to your taste. But I’m not. The lack of personal space in malls rubs me the wrong way.
So that’s why if you can’t get out of the city, you have to learn to appreciate your neighborhood.
Only in Indonesia can you flag down the veggie seller and get everything from fresh shrimp to ripe papaya from one cart.
And, if your guy’s short on change, you might get a tomato thrown in instead. That I love.
See, I don’t live in one of those 30-story filing cabinets for young adults. I live in an amazing four-story apartment block tucked away inside a little neighborhood just a few blocks off Sudirman.
I can sit out on my roof, sip a beer with my feet up on the railing, glance at the BNI building and listen to the tek-tek and tok-tok of the fried rice seller just over my music as I flip a steak on the grill.
Now if I’m in the local Indomart convenience store and the girl on the other side of the counter hands me six Mentos instead of my change, I shake my head at the city.
But if I’m out in my alleyway and feel like having some ice cream and the guy who pedals his bike through the city’s alleys all day doesn’t have any change, then the little kids whose badminton game I break up each day on my walk to work will get ice cream too.
And it’s the sounds of my neighborhood as well. If I’m woken up by the mosque’s call to prayer, I simply remind myself that I have to get up in a few hours and fall back asleep, or if the local monyet (monkey) crew comes by banging a drum, I know that if I like I can look out my window and see one of the most bizarre things on the planet.
Ninety percent of the time, my head just hits the pillow again. But it’s a comfort to know that if I wanted to, I could go outside for some free entertainment. Honestly, is there anything more bizarre than a grown man pulling a monkey wearing a plastic doll’s face by a chain as three other guys sit in the shade and drum along? It’s the first thing I show friends from out of town.
That’s just it. As a guy who lives in town but loves to get out of it, you have to make the best of what’s around. And if on my way to work in the morning I can’t smile at least once at the city, than the problem isn’t with Jakarta, it’s with me.
The day that happens, I’ll pack my bags.
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