Despite being only 1 hour and 20 mins away by plane, most Singaporeans would never visit Jakarta unless they absolutely have to. For Heartland Boy, that “absolutely have to” moment came in January 2016 when he was posted to Jakarta for a 2-year work assignment. It’s absolutely unbelievable how fast one year had already transpired. Since he is halfway into his overseas secondment, it is an apt time to pause, take stock and reflect on the first year that had passed. As someone living and working in Jakarta, Heartland Boy would like to share what he had learnt from working in Jakarta thus far.
Never Take Safety For Granted
In the second week that Heartland Boy arrived in Jakarta, he witnessed army tanks roaring down Jalan Sudirman, the main arterial road of Jakarta CBD. It was not some National Day Parade that Singaporeans came to be familiar with. Instead, an actual terrorist attack had happened less than 1km from where Heartland Boy stayed, and still stays. Heartland Boy thought that he could very well have been one of those victims sipping coffee at Starbucks on that fateful day. Frankly, not the most welcoming introductions for a foreigner working abroad in Jakarta.
For a long period of time, the situation was relatively safe and stable until anti-Chinese sentiments surfaced late in the year. There were reports of demonstrations being planned, which is actually nothing unusual in Indonesia. However, Heartland Boy got increasingly worried when some of his Chinese colleagues started to pull their children out from school and apply leave to stay at home. His worst fears came true. It turned out to be no ordinary protest. In fact, it turned violent despite strong police presence.
Not mean to trivialize the incident, Heartland Boy had to be extra vigilant during the aftermath. He avoided areas with strong Chinese presence and that meant that he couldn’t satisfy his Bak Chor Mee craving in PIK, Jakarta for several months.
Lesson: Don’t behave and think like a Singaporean when you are overseas.
The Javanese Way Of Doing Business
When Heartland Boy first starting working in Indonesia, he got extremely frustrated at how slow business was conducted. Everything totally ran contrarian to his values and work attitude. You see, Heartland Boy is a do-er and wants to get work done as fast as possible.
It actually took Heartland Boy considerable time to realise the different work ethics between Singaporeans and Javanese. The Javanese may not work at the productivity and efficacy that Singaporeans are known for, but they will still deliver at the end. Heartland Boy’s way of managing this is to give constant reminders and if that still fails; dampen his own expectations.
Another working culture that was difficult to grasp initially was the importance of relationships in business. Your counterparts want to feel comfortable with you and sometimes it may take up to the third meeting before any formal business gets discussed.
Heartland Boy still recalls with horror when he was asked by potential business partners to leave a particular meeting. They felt that his body language was rude and nonchalant. The situation was eventually salvaged by Heartland Boy’s boss. Nevertheless, this harrowing incident left a deep imprint on Heartland Boy’s working experience in Jakarta. (hopefully not his boss’s as well)
Lesson: Never underestimate the importance of cultural nuances in business
Adapt When In Rome
The most common complaint about Jakarta is its notorious traffic jams. Initially, Heartland Boy lamented at how much time and productivity are being wasted on the roads. Working in Jakarta, he gradually began to adapt. For instance, he would instruct his driver to perform a U-turn first and meet him at the other side of the road. That easily saves Heartland Boy half an hour. It may sound incredulous, but spending half an hour to make a U-turn is not uncommon in Jakarta’s peak traffic. This also implies that you pay a heavy “time” penalty if you ever make one wrong turn in Jakarta.
The traffic jams had also forced Heartland Boy to be extremely productive in vehicles. He had already mastered the art of working on his laptop, surfing the net or even sleeping in the car. He was able to do all these because his expatriate package in Jakarta includes a driver. Fortunately, chauffeurs are relatively affordable. A skilled chauffeur who knows the ins and outs of Jakarta can save you an incredible amount of time. It could be the difference between boarding or missing a flight. Therefore, getting an experienced chauffeur would be a solid piece of advice for those expats working in Jakarta.
Since drivers are only paid a minimum wage of approximately S$300+, Heartland Boy was very concerned when his driver was caught by the traffic police making an illegal turn. Heartland Boy asked his local colleague how much was the fine. His colleague responded matter-of-factly, “It depends on who is paying the fine.”
Another way to cope with the traffic jam is to avoid travelling on weekends during “tanggal tua”, which translates literally into old date. This is the phenomenon whereby the streets and malls are packed to the rafters because everyone would have just received their monthly salaries. If you are curious, that is usually around 20th of every month.
Lesson: The fastest way to adapt is to hang out with the locals.
Javanese People Are Enterprising
It is often said that Javanese people are a helpful lot. From his time working in Jakarta, Heartland Boy fully agrees with this statement. Interestingly, their willingness to help extends to being “unofficial road marshals” directing traffic at busy cross junctions or turns. These “marshals” often put their bodies on the line to stop oncoming traffic. In doing so, your vehicle has a chance to make a turn. In return, you thank them for their help by paying a token fee of seribu. (~ 10 cents) Heartland Boy is a satisfied customer and gladly pays for these enterprising locals. The tremendous value that he obtains out of this 10 cents is immeasurable.
Another culture shock that Heartland Boy had occurred in a restaurant. He was happily tucking into delicious Indonesian food when a live band suddenly walked up to his table and began singing.
This was soon joined by a little child politely requesting for payment for the live performance. These entrepreneurs sometimes endanger their own lives by hopping on and off moving buses just to ensure that the passengers get entertained on the long and slow commute.
Lesson: We can all take a leaf or two from these unorthodox ways
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Jared Seah - SMOL says
Hello Heartland boy,
Reading books and watching videos on cultural differences are not the same as experiencing it yourself 😉
My exposure to colleagues and suppliers in Indonesia made my transition to Athens a walk in the park.
Family ties come first.
The father is the official head of the household; but the mother is the real boss 😉
There is always tomorrow 🙂
I had a single Singapore transport expat colleague who had a chauffeur (that’s normal), a housekeeper (what?), and a gardener (you freaking kidding me!) in Jakarta!
One person living in a landed bungalow!!!
No wonder he needed the company… LOL!
I see you had fun in Jakarta too 🙂
Totally agreed, no amount of reading beats the actual experience itself. You had a stint in Athens! That is amazing. I would believe that Athens is more challenging. At least language wise, Bahasa Indonesia still use English alphabet!
Yes, another thing that I often get confuse is the difference between a nanny and a maid. In Singapore, it is not surprising to see maid multi-task and take on both roles, but certainly not in Jakarta!
Finance Smiths says
It looks like you have learnt a lot from working in Jakarta! Always good to have work and life experience outside of Singapore, makes us appreciate the things we take for granted in Singapore. It also gives us a perspective on the aspects that Singapore can improve on. Maybe you can write a post with more detail about the nature of your work and why you got posted to Jakarta. Should make for interesting stuff!
Hi Finance Smiths,
Thanks for dropping by. Indeed, I personally feel richer in my life experience after a year in Jakarta. Great suggestion from you! I may take it up when the time is right, since I need to be really careful about what I can disclose 😀
Thanks for sharing your work experiences.
Is the economy in Indonesia good and are people buying in retail malls?
Thanks for dropping by my blog.
Ah, I do see where you are coming from. Perhaps you are just like me, vested in Lippo Mall Indonesia REIT. 2016 was a rather slow year for Indonesia, but I do see footfall picking up in malls lately. Probably due to the Tax Amnesty as cash are repatriated back in Indonesia from overseas. Do check out my initiation report on LMIR.
these days, i just go PIK for chinese food (btw, PIK ave has just opened)
my fav mee siantar shop has been closed for months.. heard there was a police case.
which bak chor mee shop is the one u patronise in PIK?
btw, you should try driving in jkt.
it really brings up your patience to a new level ! hah
Hi Foolish Chamelon,
Do you stay in Jakarta too? I would love to make more friends here! The bak chor mee is in Pluit Karang- Yong He Noodle House. It’s the closest I find to Singapore’s bak chor mee!
i dont live in JKT. but i do make quite frequent trips every other month.
which area do you live/work?
hit me up on my pte email.. we can arrange a lunch meet up in JKT in the near future =)
Sure, i work in Sudirman and live in Thamrin 😀
This is a great article!
I go JKT from time to time, but in term of work experience there is definitely not as intense as you. I also only spend my time in JKT at airport, hotel, factory and yes, commute. So what I know about this place is extremely limited.
Do you speak Bahasa?
I have some communication problems sometimes when talking more complicated stuff in English. While the Javanese usually smile and nod, they sometimes don’t understand what I say. Miscommunication is sometimes a problem. End up draw a lot pictures while explaining to help them understand. How about your case?
Thanks for your compliments.
Yes I picked up Bahasa language classes in Singapore as well as in Indonesia. Learning a new language is a very tiring process, but I take comfort that Bahasa Indonesia is relatively easy. Having said that I am a better listener than speaker of the language!
I am glad that this article has shed further insights for you on the Javanese!