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Tasha May, Jakarta

Who are you?

My name is Tasha and I am originally from Melbourne, Australia. I have a two year old son, Samudra Mega, and an amazing creative and talented Indonesian husband.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

My move to Jakarta wasn’t intentional, it was supposed to be for a quick trip to visit my sister who is a teacher here back in October 2008.I had just moved from living in Sydney back to Melbourne and had put all my belongings in storage, and thought I would come to stay with my sister for a month at the absolute most.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Firstly I didn’t speak a word of Indonesian and couldn’t understand anything anyone said to me all day long, so I just walked around smiling all day in a state of utter confusion. It was this that actually made me love the city so much, my sister and I with stomach pains and sore cheeks from laughing all day long not knowing what was going on around us. Everyone was always shaking my hand and seemed so incredibly friendly and helpful and I decided I wanted to stay on a little longer. As I wasn’t working at the time, I found myself in Jakarta incredibly broke and trying to find any work unless you have moved here on an expat package was almost impossible.

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Are there many other expats in your area?

Where I live now there are no other expats, but it’s not too far to Kemang which is an expat haven. I never wanted to meet lots of other expats when I moved here as I wanted to get to know the locals and their culture so I didn’t really mix with many expats for the first few years. Now that I have a toddler, I find that most of my friends are expats as I needed some familiarity once I had a baby to know what I was supposed to be doing to raise a child, without having the language barrier and cultural differences that I couldn’t comprehend.

What do you like about life where you are?

I love that the people are so warm and friendly and there are kids absolutely everywhere I look so I just have to walk out the front door and my son has friends to play with. Our complex is really big and quiet so it’s easy to forget you are in Jakarta and escape the hustle and bustle of the traffic. I love to walk everywhere with Samudra and so that way we have met so many local people, and we especially love to visit kampungs so he can run around chasing ducks and chickens and play with all the kids there. I love that even though many people here are living in poverty, they are always smiling and happy and helping each other out and are so incredibly generous with what they do have, even if it’s just a big smile.

My husband and I have a small production company here making documentaries and commercial work also, so we get to meet so many incredible people and share their stories and I love that Samudra gets exposed to so many different people and cultures. I also like that everyone has such a relaxed attitude and everything gets done on time in their own time unlike feeling like you are under constant pressure like at home. I am still learning patience and trying to be ‘santai’ (relaxed).

I also love that there are no rules here, anything goes! It took a long time to get used to it as back in Australia there are signs that you will be fined for doing almost anything, so I was always worried I was going to get into trouble for crossing the road at the wrong spot or doing something simple like back home, but here you can actually breathe and relax.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I don’t live a big expat life, I don’t have an expat salary to afford me the luxuries that many other expats have living here in Jakarta. I adore all my expat friends completely so there is nothing that I don’t like about having expat friends. The one thing that could be seen as a negative I guess is the perception that some of the locals have of me being an expat here, and knowing only what they see in the movies of foreigners and they think I am someone that I am not.

What I really miss while living here is my family, friends, open clean spaces, fresh air and fresh food from back home, but there are many things that I love about here that have made me stay so long.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

There are so many cultural differences I don’t even know where to begin. For myself the biggest difference here is that people are very religious and one of the first questions people will ask you here when you meet them is ‘what religion are you?’ and not being religious at all myself, it always confuses people here and they don’t understand at all. You need to have the same religion to get married in Indonesia, you need to be married to have the father’s name on your child’s birth certificate and everything always seems to come back to religion here. A visit to Istiqlal mosque during Ramadan will give you an insight on a small scale of how important religion is to muslim people here in Jakarta as it can hold over 200,000 people at once.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Jakarta is a city that you either love or you hate, there is no in-between. If you can see past the pollution and can learn to look outside your window at life going on out in the streets when you are stuck for hours in traffic, you will see pockets of happiness and magic everywhere. There are people everywhere, there are women carrying babies and kids carrying babies, people selling weird and wonderful foods and goods, motorbikes carrying whole families and sometimes even the kitchen sink too! There are many amazing singers and musicians in this city, incredible artists and young and creative entrepreneurs everywhere. You can choose to either live an expat life or get to the know the local culture, whichever suits your stay here. There is luxury and poverty everywhere and mostly mixed together throughout the city.

If you take the time to walk the streets and meet the locals, your life will be so much richer for the experience. Always expect the unexpected, keep an open mind and a ready smile on your face… but most of all… be patient. Everything here runs on ‘jam karet’ (rubber time) so you will get what you need, where you need to be etc in time, just learn to breathe and take it all in.

What are your plans for the future?

For now we plan to stay in Jakarta a few more years while Samudra is still young, as our office is at home and so we can spend lots of time with him while he is still young and he can get the opportunity to do a lot of travel with us while we are working. We hope to grow our business even more and eventually be able to open an office in Melbourne also so that we can spend time between the two countries doing what we love. It truly feels like anything is possible here in Jakarta and life is so much more relaxed and easier here so we intend to make the most of it for as long as we can, and then see what the universe has in store for us.

You can keep up to date with Tasha's adventures in Jakarta on her blog, We Love Jakarta.

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