Indonesia Through My Eyes: Introduction


I’m officially a transplant in Indonesia now. I can’t believe it’s been a month. It’s the longest I’ve ever been in this country. Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming and realize that I’m not in LA anymore. It’s not everyday you uproot your life to move to another country to follow your passion. So, I’ve decided to create a series to document my journey in my parents’ homeland. Not only will it serve as a way for me to record my adventures, but I hope friends and readers will get to see Indonesia through my lens.

Setting foot 

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I broke my finger before I left LA in a basketball tournament. My parents were concerned for my well-being, as they should be, but I was insistent upon leaving as soon as possible. Being a very driven individual, I didn’t want my injury to stop me. However, it was only when I got on the plane to Korea that I realize it was going to be rather difficult having my hand in a cast. Lifting my bag into the overhead compartment, acting quickly to disrobe for the TSA , etc. posed some challenges. I just sucked it up throughout the trip.

I reached Jakarta passed midnight. I went through immigration with no problem. It was here where I found my injury to be a great icebreaker as the immigration officer was intrigued by it and we talked about it while he processed my entry. My cousin and nephew picked me up and the Jakarta I remembered came back to me: hot, humid and polluted.

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Despite the notorious reputation of unhygienic conditions at street food stands and warungs (mom & pop shops), I ignored my family’s warnings. We got some late night food on the way to my aunt’s house. My cousin drove us to get bubur ayam (chicken porridge) at Bubur Ayam Sukabumi.  After all, I’m a firm believer in supporting local businesses as well as food from these establishments represents the real Indonesian cuisine. The stomach aches and possibility of contracting food poisoning are worth the gamble.

While we exchanged words with each other and caught up with events since my last trip to Indonesia 4 years ago, I witnessed the Jakarta that some people talked about: privileged folks bossing around employees at the warung like second class citizens. I felt very uneasy sitting across from them. I could empathize with the workers because before I came to Indonesia, I worked at a cafe as a busboy and would never want to be given such treatment. It was late, so there’s a possibility, too, alcohol and other libations may have been a factor.

The next day I woke up to my aunt’s perfect breakfast – tofu, tempe, veggies, eggs and rice. Seriously, simple Indonesian food like this is what I appreciate and dreamed of when I first embarked on my journey.


My aunt is the widow of my dad’s oldest brother. She is deaf but what she lacks in hearing is made up with her big heart. No matter how far apart we were and how long time has separated us, she never showed me any less love.

My family is still somewhat traditional. So, during my first few days, I practiced a traditional Indonesian custom of sowan, where I visit elder family members to let them know I am in their presence and ask for their blessings. It is a way for paying my respects being the youngest grandchild in my dad’s side of the family. It was during this time I realized Jakarta’s terrible condition. The infrastructure, poverty and cleanliness are worse than what I read in the news.

Initial Culture Shocks


One of the reasons why I studied city planning was to help infrastructure issues in Indonesia. We talk about the pictures of children crossing treacherous bridges in outlying areas in Indonesia. Yet, we forget that even in the the capital city there are problems,too. I’m not saying the rural areas shouldn’t be helped as they do need support from the government asap. Though, how can we help those far away when issues within the immediate area where the country officials reside in aren’t addressed? Forget the smell, how can kids avoid falling into unstable or missing sidewalks that may have steel rebars and other dangerous construction hazards waiting underneath?  I’ve compiled my initial shocks which I’ve experienced, thus far, in my first several weeks and by no means is it a complete list.

Smoking & Trash


These two are my biggest pet peeves. I have managed to contract asthma somehow in my early 20s. So most type of smoke aren’t good for my lungs. Because I love to support local coffee shops back home (check out Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley), my cousin and friends have introduced me to some spots in the neighborhood. Upon sitting at these establishments, the sight of people smoking indoor is such a distasteful sight. It makes me want to tell them to stop because of my condition. But smoking indoor is still allowed and telling them to stop can possibly offend them. Honestly I’m not sure what I can do to prevent my respiratory cells from deteriorating. While this is happening, I find it scarier that from several folks I met on the street that smoking ads are just scare tactics. In fact smoking does not kill according to them. One said that smoking may further hurt someone if they are already sick but the smoking itself is not bad. Being a non-smoker, I feel like I’m the one in the straitjacket.

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My heart breaks when I see people throw trash wherever they please. Indonesia is such a beautiful country with its abundant natural assets. The waste just contaminates this allure. Unfortunately, the infrastructure does not support it either, so attempting to change people’s behavior is a monumental task. There are folks who benefit from the this rubbish but it’s not like all of it will be picked up. Only the bottles and recyclable materials will be taken. As for plastic bags, ziplocs and wrappers, they will just lay among the sumptuous banana groves and already sad riverbanks. I was fortunate enough to walk in solidarity with the laborers of Java on May Day. While it was great to march with these folks to advocate for labor rights, my attention was slowly being distracted by the sound not of their cheers but their feet kicking bottles on the ground. It was amazing that after the walk, the streets were clean. Still, what if the cleaners or opportunists weren’t there? What happens then?


Whenever I go out to eat back home, a majority of the time I just drink the water served at the table. I know it’s from the tap and maybe it’s not as clean as the bottled ones, but hey it tastes good to me. Plus, I find it more quenching and wallet-friendly than anything else (aside from coconut water). Arriving here, I realized that asking for water (aka Aqua for the brand by Danone) comes in a bottle. Only one time was I served water straight and that was at a restaurant I have come to like in Bintaro called Burgreens.


I understand that water in general in Indonesian is not clean but I really wonder if the tap water is safe to drink? It’s just hard to believe that ordering tea or something else can be cheaper than water. It will take time to adjust but maybe I should look into it or ask the managers why they don’t serve water from the tap.


Jakarta isn’t like any other city I have ever lived in. Everywhere I have moved previously was still in California, so the culture was still the same. Thankfully, I moved during the presidential election, thus it will give me insight on that aspect of the culture. Transportation is a bit difficult since there isn’t really a place to look up for public transit information. It’s all by asking friends, family and those on the street. Maybe in the next post I’ll get into it more. I’m still trying to figure out how to best document my experience. We’ll see what adventures I share next.


New Year, Let’s Try it Again


Balcony Sunset in Berkeley

Balcony Sunset in Berkeley

I meant to compose this first blog of the year yesterday. Unfortunately, I had internet issues when I got home from the gym, so I had to push back my post today. Before I say what I have to say, I want to mention that the post that was published today prior to this one was actually composed in November, however, I never got around to editing the draft until today. What a shame. Well let’s try this blogging thing again.

Different Year, A New Start?

I’ve realized after reading a question in a job app the other day – Write in 150 characters or less what makes you unique – that I don’t know what makes me unique. Maybe capturing the events in my life on a regular basis, I can recollect on tangible moments if I’m ever asked that question again.

Then, I keep telling myself and my partner also has vouched for me in that I have some interesting ideas to share but I never make the time to put it in writing. So now I’ve committed myself after much discussion with her during her recent trip to the Bay Area. Aside from sorting out our relationship, we hashed out some important activities to cultivate our personal growth. One thing she is pushing me to do is getting back to writing in a journal as well as blogging. I’m proud to say that I did begin a green book prior to her knowledge to channel my daily if not weekly feelings. We also collectively got a Slingshot Organizer which is pretty rad. Although it’s not really a space for composing thoughts but it’s nice to organize my days since I’m always forgetful of my activities. Finally, I sketched out my idea of how I can make this blog more interesting a tad bit. I know as an individual my two cents are valuable but i don’t know if others may take interest. Maybe what I plan or bring up will add one more cent of value to my two pennies.

New Adventures & Ideas

So with this new feature WordPress has conjured up in reminding you to publish a post, I hope it will inspire me to get on my laptop and write something worthwhile. Moving to my idea, I realized that I like reading the news and headlines. There are so many things going on in the world that people just can’t focus on just one thing. But I believe I’m always compelled to comment on news about Indonesia and the world at-large. I may have said this prior, but if not, I plan to write on my commentaries on these articles. My mind struggles to find something interesting or creative to transpire onto paper or the web so I figure something compelling as the news may ignite some flames in the ol’ furnace up there. I will dedicate these commentaries in the Indonesia or International Development section. To address my love for food and agriculture, I plan to start sharing my adventures in food and agricultural endeavors. I know that the organic movement and food justice scene is already everywhere in the country but hopefully my input could offer some insight to folks who may not have been informed like my involvement with Occupy the Farm, East Bay Food Not Bombs and my house garden project. This drive to find equality in food access stems from my passion for supporting local eateries and the love of cooking for myself and others. To round off my initiative with this blog is to have a space for me to just rant on life and experiences that may not otherwise be related to the other topics I have mentioned. Thus, my goal is to give passerbys a look into another human being’s life. I pray my sweat in the metaphorical sense will not be gone to waste.

Happy New Year’s folks! Wishing you all a wonderful 2014!