Surprise, surprise 

I had never been to Indonesia before I moved here in August. Looking back, I knew shockingly little about the country, its politics, and its people. Upon arrival, there were a lot of surprises. Here are some of the surprises, the good, bad, and ugly, that have accompanied settling in:

The good (in no particular order):

Uber: Large cities in Indonesia (on Java, e.g. Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya), have Uber. I was so happy and surprised to open my Uber app and see that I could use it just as easily as in the States.

Donuts/Donats: Donuts are really popular in Indonesia. Even better, Dunkin Donuts is really popular in Indonesia. I think I’ve seen at least four or five Dunkin Donuts in Malang. Indonesia also has J.CO which is the Indo equivalent. As someone who lived in Massachusetts for four years, I’ve already attempted to explain to Indonesian friends exactly why Dunks is so great… and better than J.CO…

Yummy donuts from a bakery in Bandung

Unpredictability and jam karet: I guess this one can be good and bad, but life here is just plain unpredictable. Indonesians operate on “rubber time” or jam karet, meaning that time is (much) more fluid here. Maybe things will get done eventually, and people will show up eventually… I’ve learned to expect schedule changes and delays. Truth be told though, as someone who (outside of work and school) pretty much operated on rubber time anyways, I appreciate the change of pace, and seeing what excitement unfolds each day.

Western products: I really don’t know what I was expecting to find (or not find) here. But I can say that I can find (almost) every brand I would look for in the States: for shampoo and conditioner, Pantene, Dove, and Herbal Essences; for peanut butter, Skippy, JIF, and Peter Pan; for oatmeal, Quaker Oats; for soda, Coke, Coke Zero, and Diet Coke; for chocolate, Hershey’s, Cadbury, Dove. There’s Nutella as well. Call it globalization, but it has been extremely comforting to find these familiar products.

This picture could be from any grocery store in the States…
Pretzel crisps?!

The bad:

Pollution and the environment: one of the first things I noticed on our first night in Indonesia was the haze. The following day, as we flew out of Jakarta to Malang, outside the plane window, I could see the smog and haze over the city. In Malang, I’ve grown accustomed to clear mornings giving way to hazy and gray afternoons.

Note: causes of pollution include, but are not limited to, smoke from cigarettes and trash fires (people burning their trash on the streets, in alleys, on their lawns), cars and motorbikes, litter (which is everywhere), etc. The incredibly dense population of Java doesn’t help either.

In contrast, a very clear day in Malang.

Water and hydration: As the aforementioned “bad” anecdote might indicate, you can’t drink the tap water in Indonesia. It’s okay for showering and brushing teeth, and cleaning dishes (I boil the water first for my dishes). But I get drinking water from a water cooler either at my kost or at school. Then when I’m out and about, it’s unavoidable to buy water bottles to stay hydrated. Both at school and around Malang, I have to remind myself to keep drinking water all day long. Staying hydrated has been a far bigger challenge than I anticipated, and one of the least enjoyable surprises.

At least the water is clear and beautiful at the beach!

The ugly:

The errant hair: I am not a cook (I leave everything in the kitchen to my sister extraordinaire*), so when I make meals for myself, I try to cook things that are very easy…such as rice cooker oatmeal. At a grocery store, I bought a normal-looking box of brown sugar. The first few times I added brown sugar to my oatmeal, it was totally normal and fine. One day, I was spooning out the sugar and discovered a long, black hair. Trust me, it was not one of my own. Not sure when I’ll be brave enough to eat (store bought!!) brown sugar again…

To end this post on a positive note,

The best surprise has been the kindness of Indonesian people. They are warm, generous, and helpful. They love to laugh, smile, chit chat, and eat. Whether I need help navigating public transportation or finding anything, angkot drivers, strangers, friends, etc. will stop whatever they are doing to help me out. I’ve been given gifts (multiple times) just for showing up to places. Indonesians love to make people feel loved, welcomed, and well fed. I feel all three, and I am incredibly grateful to and inspired by the people I interact with on a daily basis.

Our beach crew!


*my twin is (objectively) an amazing baker!! She is currently in pastry arts school. You can follow/admire her on instagram @gailsbakedgoods or 


One thought on “Surprise, surprise 

  1. Caroline, We miss you and your leadership at Amherst College!
    Congrats on doing meaningful educational work in Indonesia.
    The Ed Pro Fellows sure admire you!


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