Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A work in progress

They say there's four phases one experiences during culture shock:

1) Honeymoon phase
2) Negotiation phase
3) Adjustment phase
4) Mastery phase

I thought it might be easier to tackle this long awaited post by telling you guys what's been going on here so far as I experience this "culture shock".

1) Honeymoon phase

Okay, so my "honeymoon phase" with Jakarta maybe lasted about a week. I've already told you guys about the cockroaches. I'll admit, I was totally grossed out at first but told myself to toughen up and not freak out.. that maybe this was "normal".. to have these disgusting bugs crawling.. all.. over.. the.. place..

So I tried to brush it off. I prided myself on how many bugs I could kill within a given amount of time. So I tried to ignore them until my roommate Aasha moved in and actually knocked some sense in to me! It's one thing to live in a tropical area and have a bug or two.. but 10 or 11 in one room? Or better yet, a NEST? Ridiculous. We could not focus on being teachers because we were too paranoid to grade papers on our couch. So instead we beging crashing on the futons in the guys' apartment 10 floors above. For 2 weeks.

So begins the complaints to housing at BBS. Problem resolved. Honeymoon phase over.

2) Negotiation phase

The moment I landed in Jakarta, I didn't know what on Earth was going on. I felt so out of place and my mind was so boggled as it tried to make sense of the new world around me and the lack of sleep didn't help either.

Take the putt-putting of the bajais (pronounced "badge-eyes") for instance. These marvelous machines make their way through the streets daily, in search of someone who awaits transportation to their destination. For only 6000 rupiah (that's around the equivalence of 60 cents), you can jump in the back of one of these babies and inhale tremendous amounts of black smoke as you try not to think about the bus that is just inches from knocking your precious ride over. I haven't gathered enough courage yet to hop in to one of these guys, partially because the drivers kind of creep me out. I shouldn't be so judgemental.. the drivers of these rusty vehicles just need some rupiah in their pockets so they can feed their families. They drive for hours upon hours in the blazing hot sun, with no AC ("air-con" as they call it here), dirty clothes, and a pair of flip flops (if they're lucky). Sometimes the drivers are up as early as 3 or 4 am. It's not unusual to hear the distinguished go-cart putt-putt sound outside my 14th story window before the sun rises.

They chill outside our apartment complex (Apartamen Mitra Bahari -- that's "Meethra Buh-are-ee") all hours of the day, eagerly awaiting a customer that can put some money in their pockets. And hey, if you're lucky - maybe they'll even bargain with you. Just hope they don't take advantage of the fact that you speak English.

Come on, you can't tell me that these guys don't creep you out.. not even the slightest bit?

Everything is all or nothing here. You either leave the mall with groceries and no taxi or leave the mall empty handed and there's a whole row full of taxis.. thanks Blue Bird. Always there when I need you..

I could sit here for hours and complain about how backwards everything is here.. and tell you all the things I took for granted back home.. like seedless grapes. And technology? Forget about it. My internet has basically been non-existent up until about 1 day ago. You can't just call up Comcast and have DSL the next day. It's such a process here. You have to physically go into a store and register but make sure you have some sort of identification on you otherwise they'll tell you "Maybe tomorrow."

This place is not customer service oriented. My friend Karl just spent the past 2 hours on and off with the internet company we just subscribed to! His internet went down and they were supposed to send someone to fix his modem hours ago.. he called at least 3 more times and yelled at them (in Bahasa of course) until someone decided to show up around 8 pm. No apology either.

The streets are not pedestrian friendly. I cannot jog outside so I run on the treadmill downstairs in the gym, which has air con capabilities but is always turned off.. and monitored.. so I feel like I am in a sauna instead of a gym. Excellente.

There are no traffic rules. Want to make a U-turn? Go for it! Just watch out for the bus that's flying towards you. No worries, everyone's doing it. Traffic jam? Just pay the guy in the middle of the street 10000 rupiah ($1) and he'll sacrifice his life as he blocks off traffic so you can squeeze your Mercedes in between two construction trucks with workers hanging off the side.

I used to be the paranoid backseat driver but have no fear anymore! I don't even cringe these days when a car comes flying towards our taxi, even if it very well could T-bone us if it wanted to.

Then there's the motorcycles. Or motorscooters rather. I have seen up to 5 Indonesians on one! I am not overexaggerating. Seriously. And this is not restricted to adults. I see women CONSTANTLY carrying their babies in an over the shoulder type slang as their 2 year old holds on for dear life behind them. Is she crazy? Invest in a vehicle that's actually child friendly! Don't you love your child enough to think about this?

Oh wait.. T. I. J!

This is Jakarta.

View from our taxi
3) Adjustment phase

Fire near Mangga Dua!
We recently traveled to an electronic hot spot - basically a mall with at least 5 stories full of pirated movies, CDs, electronics.. I know where I'll be doing MY Christmas shopping.

Anyway, after we purchased a new router for only $35, we hopped in a taxi only to sit in traffic. And we see a man. On the ground. Crawling. Because he only had one leg. The most traumatic image I will have etched inside my brain for a very, very long time. Begging for money. My heart ached for him.

And then all of a sudden, my attention deviated to the people running in the streets up ahead. Turns out there was some building on fire. Smoke everywhere. It was like a scene from 9/11. People running. Women crying. Sirens going off. Firetrucks honking. People banging on our taxi window because we were "in the way."

Quickly remembering the helpless individual meters away from my vehicle, I turned and the man was gone. I wish I would have done something for him.

I'm not sure what's worse to see while you're sitting in traffic. A man literally pulling himself across the ground as he begs for money, only using only his arms and one leg or the young woman who stands with her son and her face up at your window as her toddler knocks on your window because they're hungry? Or the 10 year old boy who roams the streets during peak traffic hours, begging for money and puts his head down in frustration when the BMW drives off without the slightest acknowledgement? Or the 6 year old boy who sells newspapers out in the blazing heat for hours on end whose not ashamed to knock on a taxi driver's window and beg for water because he is so thirsty?

I gave him what was left of my liter of water and he chugged it so fast. I yet I feel so helpless. And I feel especially selfish for complaining constantly because there's no organic apples.

How can a country full of so many natural resources and gold and diamond mines allow so many of its people to live so horribly? I don't understand it.

I now tell my taxi driver the name of our apartment complex in an accent he actually understands. I recognise numbers and have begun to spell words the British way because it's expected at our school when teaching the children of tomorrow..

I know that bottled water here is called mineral water. Whiteboard erasers are called dusters. Whiteout is called Type X. Notebook paper is called full scab. Clocks are watches. Bathrooms are toilets. Dates are written as 8 August and not August 8. Elevators are lifts. Paper towels are rare. Everyone uses tissue for everything. Good luck finding a butter knife for your peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You'll probably have to use a spoon. All toiletries are travel size, even shaving cream. Vacations are "holiday" and if you choose to eat Asian with American utensils, you should use your fork to scrape food into your spoon and then eat.

And expect to pay a ridiculous amount for a half gallon of Florida's Natural Orange Juice. Come on now, it's imported! What did you expect? Selfish American..

I used to get irritated with the stares as I wore shorts outside. Now I don't bother. I don't want to be seen as a prostitute.

Seriously. Promiscuity in any form or fashion = slut.

I have learned that when businesses say they are going to be closed, they usually aren't. You can walk in to a grocery store and not feel bad about it, even if they are closing in 10 minutes. Just make sure you hand the door greeter your bags so he can tape them up.

Need an HDMI cord? We don't sell those individually. Just do some shady business at the local Carrefour. Just watch out for the cameras. It's not stealing if you're paying the employee for it..

Do you want a cable or not?

Some days I begin to ask myself once again.. "What in the world? What if? But I thought.." and then I have to remind myself that I am in Jakarta.

T. I. J. my friends!

I miss Wal-Mart incase any of you wanted to know. And Pringles with salt. And candy that's actually sweet. I miss the deli at Kroger. I hate the feeling of nausea that succumbs my entire being as I shop the poultry section at Carrefour.

I swear this is real.

I miss kittens with tails. A long time ago the tails were broken off because Indonesians thought cats were too "perfect" so they broke off their tails and now they're just born that way. This is one such cat. I felt bad for it until it clawed my legs. In fact, I'm almost positive this cat hates me.

Pelangi - Ryan's roommate's cat

Must be nice -____-

4) Mastery phase

This is still a work in progress. However, there are some things I have mastered! Believe it or not I now can..

  • Step outside my apartment, clap twice, flap my "wings" twice and signal the number 1 (for 1 taxi)
  • I can drink drinks with ice and not get sick. And fruit. And salad! In fact, I had one the other day. My stomach is now made of steel! However, I will not be trying any street vendor food just yet..
  • "Mah kasih" = thank you; "Barapa?" = How much?; "Di mana" = where is?; "Sama sama" = you're welcome
  • Count rupiah accurately
  • Walk on the correct side of the staircase (which would be opposite for us..)
  • Identify the "good" yogurt
  • Know where to purchase CDs, movies, and electronics galore for two-thirds of the price! (Mangga Dua = literally translates into "Two Mangoes")
  • Teach one of the lowest P5 science groups and yet have them score higher than any of the other three P5 higher ability classes combined :)
  • Average an 85% for the first topical test with a P3 class -- GUCCI!
  • Meet 3 hot European guys and inspire them to invite us to some bowling :)
  • Fall down a step at a bar after one too many "iced teas"...
Okay, okay, so maybeeee I'm still a work in progress.


Bali in 7 days!

Until next time..

xoxox amber


  1. Amber, You know that getting to what you call the mastery phase can take months if not years. It depends on the individual. The more you travel, the easier it gets but it still take a lot of time. Dont worry you are doing great. There are five stages (learned this in my undergrad Cultural Anthropology classes) and just to get to the third stage can be difficult let alone the final fifth stage of autonomy or independence. You will go through a depression stage also before you get to the fourth stage. These thinks take time so don't be hard on yourself or put expectations on when you will reach each stage. You are adjusting fine and I know you will have fun and do well. You are awesome!! Thanks for keeping everyone posted with your blog. It's fun seeing life in a different culture through your eyes. Miss ya!

  2. I love and miss both of you very much! Yeah this place has definitely taught me not to take things for granted in the states. Im learning a lot of so-called "life lessons" with some not having anything to do with another culture.. i cant wait to come home for christmas and share everything ive learned! And amanda did you get the job yet? Skype soon!