All the World's a Classroom
Or, The Thrill of Being in a Developing Country
Each time I go home, I have to reacquaint myself to Jakarta because it’s always a different city that I come home to. My 3+ years absence makes this process much more noticeable, since a lot has happened during that period of time.
Take the area around my house. Entirely new buildings have emerged, replacing the older structures, which were not so old in the first place. I could hardly recognize the street a block away from my house, which are now filled with restaurants, a health center, and a car showroom, all newly built.
Certain areas of the city are emerging business districts. New high rises are in construction whose lights glow at night and are quite enchanting. These complexes look less cluttered to me (and believe me Jakarta is a cluttered city), so I find these urban changes exciting.
I like being in a place that’s dynamic, where you can’t stay and operate the same way for years at a time. Jakarta is a place that forces its occupants to be versatile, adaptable, and creative, though not always in a good way. Some things are definitely worse, like traffic. Just yesterday, it took me 1.5 hours to get to a place that’s supposed to be reachable in 20 or 30 minutes max a few years back. Some people adapt to that by breaking the law, i.e., lots of motorcyclists ignore red lights. Some people develop patience.
But basically, the fascinating thing about being in a developing country is to actually experience the development daily. It is visible and its effects influence the way you operate each day. Someone said to me the other day, “We cannot see Jakarta 2012 anymore. When you see the city, you have to see Jakarta 2020 or 2030.” Being an optimist that I am, I think Jakarta 2020 will be a fascinating place, cleaner, healthier, and more organized. And the road to get there, the problem solving that will be required and the lessons learned, will be even more fascinating than the end result.
Coming from the US to Indonesia feels a little bit like being Alice in Wonderland for me – the world seems to shrink in size. Cars are smaller, roads narrower, furniture and doors more compact, etc., and people stand and drive much closer to each other. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the people are shorter too, so I’m relatively less short in Indonesia.
Maybe the shrinking feeling is not necessarily true everywhere, but it is especially true with the house that I grew up in. Of course, the most vivid memories of the house are from childhood days, when the house was much bigger relative to my size. So it’s always a surprise when I come back home and realize the fridge is not as big as it used to be.
It’s always a bit strange when a place you call home feels foreign. Whenever I don’t come back for more than 1.5 years, I need time to adapt and get used to the swing of things. And usually at the end of the visit I don’t want to leave. We’ll see what happens this time, but as for now, I’m acclimating myself to home for sure.
In about 15 hours, I’ll be taking off to Hongkong and Shenzhen for the first four days, and Indonesia (Jakarta and Bali) for the rest of this 22-day trip. They’re all familiar territory, except for Shenzhen, but it just has been a while. The last time I went home over three years ago was for a less fortunate event, so this visit will be very interesting.
All the world’s a classroom has been a personal motto of mine for many years. Last August, I had Honduras as a classroom for 10 days with many amazing personal lessons. To have the same mindset in a place I call home, where I would naturally want to kick back and relax, will be a bit more challenging.
But considering where I am in my life, about a year away from the end of grad school and probably the most important life transition, I suspect there will be tons of reflection and thoughts during the next three weeks and after.
Needless to say, I’m excited. My sister, Nestor, and Aiko will be joining me in Jakarta next week and then in Bali the following week. We will for sure have lots of good food. Stay tune for food and other pictures.