This was back in 2005. I moved to Jakarta as soon as I finished college from a mid-sized old city called Yogyakarta. I remember I was not very keen on moving to the capital city as I dreaded the packed traffic and worried having to start all over again. I was aware that I would have trouble fitting in to my new life as a transplant in the metropolis. Life in Jakarta revolves around consumptive behavior; We flock to shopping malls at weekends and get carried away with the shopping scene. I was craving for an intellectual crowd just like the one I had back in my university years. I was trying hard to fit into this big sprawling city and am still not done with it some 10 years later.
The first few weeks in Jakarta felt surreal. As I had expected, I had hard times transitioning from exciting academic world where I had thrived successfully to the drudgery of office life. I had secured a job at the management office of a bustling shopping center in the heart of the business district. I remember I was earning little and had to save on food, transport and clothing expenses. I rarely renewed my wardrobe and unlike my colleagues who ate out during lunch I brought meal box from home. Every morning I rode on TransJakarta bus to work. I remember that the new transport system, which runs on its own exclusive lane, was newly installed after running into some prolonged rejection from motorists. The bus was always very busy in the morning and during the after office hours but nevertheless it was the most convenient way to get to work – we are spared the traffic jams that beset every motorist during the rush hour. Every morning on my way to the bus station, I walked through a traditional market which has been in business for so long. The market is called Pasar Petak Sembilan and it is tucked away in the narrow streets which are lined by rows of dilapidated houses. My every day commute was as sombre as my office routine.
I worked as a secretary in the office and sat next to a patronizing older lady. I was fresh out of college and had no real working experience except for a part time English teaching job when I was a student. The secretarial duties were mundane and days were running slow. While I didn’t like my job, my relationship with this older lady, also a secretary herself, was equally bitter. She acted as if she was above me and criticizing the way I carried out my tasks. She considered herself to be somewhat important as a gate watcher who could grant access for communication to her boss, who happened to be our CEO. I couldn’t wait till the day I got another new gig and resigned.
While the job did not go well, the place where I had lived also made my life equally difficult. I was living with my parents in a somewhat makeshift place. My family moved from our hometown Pontianak a year earlier and settled into a small room in the top floor of a townhouse. This townhouse is a four story building where my uncle runs his textile business. My father had agreed to help with the family business and during the transition we would temporarily stay in the same building. I slept with my parents and sister in a same room (the floor has one bedroom only). The kitchen and shower room are located in the lower floor and we had to share the facilities with people working in the office. We moved out a year and a half later when our new house was ready. This time around I was also preparing to quit my secretarial job and went into journalism. I had secured a job as journalist at The Jakarta Post.
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