One of my friends, Louis, is a 22 year old carpenter and sculptor based in Sydney, Australia. He lived in Indonesia with his family for around 8 months in 2001. Along with his sister Tess, mother Kim and father Paul, he spent his time moving between Jakarta city and a small island in the north west of Indonesia called Bangka. In September 2001, he moved back to Australia, where he has lived ever since.
Speaking of his experience moving back to Australia, Louis noted significant cultural and social differences which impacted his day to day life even at an early age. “My friends in Australia always had to go home by this time or that (curfew) for whatever reason but in Indo(nesia) we just played until we were done or it was raining so much that the sewer would start coming onto the road…time to go haha! Nobody had to be anywhere.” This idea of unformed schedules and different day structures is typical of the Indonesian rural lifestyle, however even the large cities have not been able to shake the trend. As an 8 year old kid he was nevertheless very perceptive, noticing the stark contrast in hygiene and day to day lifestyle of the Indonesians. “One thing in particular I remember was that nobody in Australia had any of odd looking scars on there cheeks. As opposed to Indo where almost everyone I saw had them. I later came to know that they are from pimples, presumably caused by a lack of general hygiene due to the state of poverty and also the constant humidity which Australia didn’t have.”
I asked Louis if he had ever felt overwhelmed by life in such a dense city, to which he anecdotally replied, “There were definitely some hectic moments…” Elaborating, he told me of the time his sister had suffered a medical emergency due to her severe eczema. What would have been a simple run to the ER in Australia, became a stressful and protracted process. “Tess and I both knew that medical care was not an option in this 3rd world country and police where not like police in Australia, they could not be trusted at all. We really where alone with no way to contact our parents.” He also noted that although he and his sister had a fairly easy time staying there, his mother, Kim, sometimes struggled, being a woman in a majority Muslim country.
Having travelled and lived overseas for more than a year, I was aware that immersion in foreign cultures gives a unique global perspective, even in local contexts. I asked Louis about his social experiences moving between Australia and Indonesia. He commented that “Compared to the people I went on to complete my schooling with in Australia, I had a very different perspective on the reality of the world. At the high school I went to, people talked about poverty in a far distant place…they had not seen a desperately malnourished child about my own aged beg a local rich private school boy for some of his bag of orange juice…I learnt that there were two different worlds that existed around us and that there where two very different types of people that filled that world.”
Of the working culture in Jakarta Louis knew very little, being only a young boy at the time. “I lived in hotel rooms while my dad worked and my mum attempted to home school me with little to no success.” When asked whether he would consider moving back to live there he replied, “There is no way I would live in Jakarta again, it’s a hectic city with nothing that interest me. Living back in the lighthouse at the very tip of a remote island with awesome surf, warm water and cool culture; I could do that!”
Indonesian Landmarks 2014, Lengkuas Island, Bangka Belitung, viewed 22 April 2015 <https://indonesianlandmarks.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/lengkuas-island-bangka-belitung/>
Bartel, L. 2015, Interviewed by Alessio Colli, (pers. comms., 21 April 2015.)