Seattle to Semarang: year one of living abroad

It’s been just over a year.  One year of living abroad and I can emphatically say it has been a mind-opening experience.  There are so many aspects of US life that I’ve missed this year: family, seasons, Trader Joe’s.   But there’s a growing list of items that I’ll miss when we leave Indonesia.

Leaving the comfort of my first world lifestyle is not something I would have done if it weren’t for my globe-trotting husband.  Sure, I’d dreamed of living abroad before, but those dreams drifted towards places like London, Berlin or Dublin.  Never had I entertained even the slightest thought of moving to Asia.   At the start of 2015 I had never heard of Semarang and certainly couldn’t place it on a map.  But now here I am, navigating the congested streets of this foreign  metropolis like a (semi) pro.

The differences between life in Semarang and Seattle are too lengthy to list, but I’d have to confess that weather has been my biggest daily challenge.  Four years ago I left my life in the American South for the Pacific Northwest thinking I would be forever escaping heat and humidity.  In the south at least there’s a slow build up to the dog days of summer and even then the summer days are always followed by the colorful reprieve of autumn.  In Java the heat is consistent and relentless.  Yes, it’s tropical in the sense of climate, but if you’re conjuring up images of a Caribbean paradise, you’re pretty far from reality.  The beach, though it was within sight from our high-rise apartment window, is a dirty port of cargo ships without a tiki bar or boardwalk in sight.  If our coastline looked more like the malecon of Esperanza, Puerto Rico I’d be much more inclined to make peace with the heat.

Despite the daily occurrence of sweating through a t-shirt or two, there have been a couple of differences that have softened the culture shock blow.

PTX Studio Indonesian favorites

Naturally, massage would have to be number one on my OMG thank you, Asia! list.  Massage and reflexology spas are fairly common in our city and I was lucky enough to find Golden Feet directly across the street from our first apartment here.  They offer a variety of different packages, but my standard was the 30 minute reflexology plus 30 minute body massage for about $5 USD.   What a deal right?  This past weekend treated myself to a 90 minute package (30 minutes reflexology and 60 minutes massage) bringing my total to $7.50 ($9.00 including tip).  The session began with the masseuse walking all over my body, she even cracked my back with her feet.  Color me impressed!  After that experience I might have to up my game and make that my new go-to selection.

Another huge perk has been our ability to travel which we take advantage of regularly.  Before 2015 I definitely had no need for a travel blog in my life!  I’ve shocked Joel on multiple occasions with my limited knowledge of Washington even after living there for three years.  But travel in the US is a whole different animal, as is cost of living.  Joel and I aren’t rich, but the cost of living here is substantially lower than in the US and the cost of travel parallels that.  It’s not a huge extravagance for us to get away for the weekend once or even twice a month, hence my need for a travel blog.

Earlier this month, Joel had to go to Jakarta for the day to attend a meeting.  Instead of flying in and out in a day, he decided to stay the weekend and I’d tag along just for some of that sweet, sweet Jakarta shopping.  In Indonesia, malls still reign supreme in the shopping scene and Jakarta is a shining example of that.  I’m not a huge shopper; I genuinely try to buy only what I need, not just shop for sport.  But I have to admit that the glittery, decadent malls of Jakarta still get me going even after half a dozen visits.  A year into my life surrounded by the pollution and chaos of a third world country, the clean, sophisticated design you find in the malls is a sight for sore eyes.  My favorite store for clothes and displays is The Goods Dept.  Their aesthetic is quirky, colorful, modern and they carry some very interesting, very Asian lines like Oline Workrobe and La Douche Vita.  I wish Goods Dept. would come to Semarang but, it’s better for my wallet that there isn’t one in my local mall.

One thing that does tend to give my wallet a weekly beating is GoJek.  The US has Uber, but Indonesia has Uber on steroids: GoJek.  Like Uber, GoJek is a transportation app but here they take it quite a few steps farther.  You can request a car, but the most common transportation is a scooter taxi.  With the minimum charge for a taxi in our city of 25,000 rupiah (a little over $2.00), a scooter taxi can be as low as 6,000 rupiah ($0.52 USD) for a short distance.  GoJek will also fetch food, beverages or just about anything from any restaurant or shop in the city.  When discussing dinner Joel and I almost daily ask the question “Are we cooking or GoJek-ing?”  The app has also expanded into on-call maids, massage, prescriptions, as well as courier and mechanic services.  Basically anything and everyone can be delivered to your house for a reasonable fee all easily accessible from your phone.

Despite these perks, there are homesickness triggers that can get me down in the dumps faster than a hot knife cuttin’ through butter.  I follow quite a few American blogs so when sites like TheKitchn or A Beautiful Mess feature Thanksgiving recipes and Christmas crafts I get a little misty eyed.  And this piece on autumn by Andrew WK definitely had me yearning for the brisk mornings and overcast skies of Seattle.  I’ve been talking up our upcoming Christmas trip to Washington in every blog post recently, but truly I feel like I need it.  Last year we had a wonderful Christmas in Jogja, but I’m not sure that drinking Bintangs by the pool and climbing the world’s largest Buddhist temple will ever fill the void created by a holiday season without family, winter weather and a home cooked meal.  Just 32 days to go before we hop on a plane to find just that!

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