Friday, September 24, 2010

Jakarta Culture Shock Therapy for Expats

Setting foot in Indonesia’s capital for the first time can be overwhelming. The crowds, the traffic and the pollution in Jakarta are not what usually makes up a pleasant city. But while tourists have the chance to escape anytime they want, it is a different story for expats who have relocated to Jakarta for work. They have to make do with what the city has to dish out, whether they like it or not.

“Culture Shock! Jakarta: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette,” might help with the adjustment.

Part of the Culture Shock! series and recently published in a revised edition, this is not your usual travel guide.

Instead, it provides insider tips and tricks on how to interact with Indonesians, and their customs and traditions, in order to get a better understanding of the culture.

The second part of the book is dedicated to practical aspects of moving to Jakarta, including where to find accommodation, schools, health services and good food.

Co-authored by Derek Bacon and Terry Collins, who have known this city for many years, the guide presents an informative look into expat life in the Big Durian.

“Derek is a former colleague here, but returned to the UK in 1997. We’ve remained friends since then,” said Collins, who has been living in Jakarta for over 20 years and authors the blog Jakartass.

“It was [due to the] combination of Derek’s ‘exile’ from Indonesia and my writing that I was commissioned to rewrite his book, which was to be included in Marshall Cavendish’s series of Culture Shock books,” said Collins, referring to Derek Bacon’s book, “Jakarta at Your Door,” which was published in 1999.

“My original revision had Derek’s work at its core,” he said.

“Apart from the rapid changes to a ‘modern’ lifestyle — ownership of private transport, shopping malls, handphones, online social networks and the like — in essence, Jakarta is little changed from then.

However, I considerably expanded the book and tried to personalize the experience of living in Jakarta based not only on my observations, but also on those of fellow foreign residents.”

However, even though the first edition of “Culture Shock! Jakarta” only hit the book shelves in 2007, the publishers felt that it was already time for a revised version, in light of the political and social changes that have happened in the country in the last three years.

“I double-checked all the phone numbers, addresses, both physical and online, and regulations, particularly visa and business,” Collins said.

“Updates of the political scene and music were also necessary as these are subject to ‘fashion.’

For example, Riza Arshad contributed his thoughts on the current jazz scene, a particular interest of mine.”

Other new additions to the 2007 edition are 16 pages of photographs.

“But this is not a coffee-table book, nor is it a reference book, with details of restaurants, hotels and the like, although I hope the lists of embassies and cultural centers, the mini-section on Indonesia and other ‘facts’ prove of value,” Collins said.

“It is a guide to living here, so, above all, I hope readers have an understanding with what is going on around them and aren’t tempted to flee at the first opportunity.”

While Collins calls Jakarta home, Bacon, who still visits from time to time, now feels overwhelmed by the capital.

“I haven’t lived in Jakarta for a while now, but when I do visit, I always think it seems worse than the time previously,” Bacon said.

“Last time I visited [in July], I left wondering how I ever managed to live there at all.

"But I also remember feeling like that when I first arrived [in 1990], and I have to remind myself that this city really does take some getting used to.

"When I visit areas of greater Jakarta, like BSD City, I’m reminded how much the place continues to expand. It makes me wonder where it will end.

"I imagine all the cities on Java swelling and swelling until they all merge into one single never-ending city.”

“Culture Shock! Jakarta” definitely should help newcomers settle in.

The book is a pleasant and a humorous read, studded with personal experiences that one would never find in a regular travel guide.

Illustrations by Trigg, a British illustrator based in Hong Kong, add more color, as do the black and white and color photographs.

When asked if the recent changes in Jakarta ever make him think of leaving, Collins said that the Big Durian is his home.

“I’ve been supporting an Indonesian family for over 20 years, still live in the same rented house and I’m not bored,” Collins said.

“Sure, like everyone else, the chaos that is Jakarta gets to me as much as anyone — everyone — else, but Jakartass is my outlet for both the frustrations and my thoughts on how to make life better for Jakartans.”

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