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The Indonesian Experience

O.K. buddy, so now you've moved to Indonesia. You've got the prerequisite expat training/package, the “Learn Bahasa in 2 Hours” books, the “Surviving in Indonesia” manual, a Land's End plant guide to edible food and friendly women, not to mention the essential shots, pills, and emotional counseling (from your mother-in-law nonetheless).

So now you're actually here and you've only got one last question to ask: “How the hell do people survive in this chaotic mess”. Well, the short answer is that, like so many things in life, they adapt. The longer answer in that once they adapt; they can even thrive.

The fact is that despite the poverty, the corruption, the political chaos, the economic abuses, and even the military intrigue. This is still one heck of a diverse country with a history, cultural blend, and spirit unmatched anywhere else in the world. After all is said and done, you're just got to admire a country composed of over 17,000 islands, 300 languages, and over 100 cultures that has as its official motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” on brazenly, “Strength Through Diversity”. My God, with a situation like this you'd rather expect the motto to be “Keeping Our Act Together - Somehow”.

But, optimism pervades that outward Indonesia persona (the inner spirit has another, slightly darker side entirely). People often like and appreciate you just for having the guts to stay and stick it out through all the problems their country has had recently. Of course, it could also be that after 400 years with the Dutch in charge, anybody else is appreciated. Where else in the world do people smile at you and tell you in perfect English how well you speak their user-friendly language when, in their language you just told them that “the dogs were flying well today” instead of “the wind was blowing rather hard”.

As for the many rather minor daily irritations, etc. that inevitably occur here, I find it better to act a little like the Javanese: 1) seek to understand, 2) accept what cannot be changed, and 3) work like hell behind the scenes to improve everything that you really can control - especially if it reduce you stress and makes life easier for you and those around you. Look around you; do the Indonesians look stressed? Of course not. They're too busy going through life holding hands with their friends - imagine several of your favorite Congressmen/Women in the U.S. strolling around Capital Hill like that.

Regarding more mundane issues such as business and money, remember the Indonesian adage “Ada Gula, Ada Semut” or literally “If there is sugar, there will be ants”. The best advice is to find people you really can trust and then get them to introduce you to people whom they trust. Western concepts of business ethics are different - accept it and remember that the West also has given the world Bill Clinton and Edwin Edward and the infamous business entertainment to write-off (not to mention Martin Michael Milikin, George Soros, Donald Trump and so on). There are certainly two standards for cost/expenses; one for Indonesian, and one for foreigners, So - what do you do? Cry in your beer or go find a competent, honest partner to guide you through the maze. Start at the Amcham (American Chamber of Commerce) - they've thrived here, so they must do something right. Also, look to the younger generation - the talent (sometimes raw) is everywhere. They really know computers, language, PR, and negotiation almost intuitively. And the average salary is unbelievably low by our Western Standards.

OK, OK! You're heard enough already - You're ready to stay for a few weeks and check it out. Learn a little of the language, find a few Indonesian and some ex-pat friends and get the heck out of Jakarta. See Yogyakarta, Bali, Bandung, Malang, Ancol, Lombok, Lake Toba etc., etc., etc. You're in a country with enormous cultural diversity and beautiful scenery at a truly historic moment. Enjoy it!! The only thing for sure in that it will never be the same again!

© Rob