What it’s like living in Yogyakarta

The following is a piece I wrote home with during my first month back in Indonesia. Although this was written back in 2010, it is still relevant today. I had just moved to Jogjakarta, Indonesia, to commence a position at English First as an English Teacher.

I had 6 days to settle in before I started work. Some things came back instantly and effortlessly, like shaking hands the Javanese way, not waking up to the Muslim call to prayer in the early hours of the morning and using the squat toilets and traditional baths. Other things, not so easy. Such as eating white rice 3 times a day, getting used to people staring at me because I’m white and unfortunately, my language! It had been so long since I spoke Indonesian.

There was also a real issue with my accommodation. My room stunk and everything felt damp, sticky, and smelly. There was a wall only a metre away from the outside of my window that went up to the second floor, so my room was pitch black at every hour of the day. After a few days, my towel had not dried and the pages of my books had gone wavy because of the moisture in the air. Therflywire fly wire on my windows so I listened to that annoying mosquito buzz past my ear every night and avoided cockroaches when I got up in the night. It did not feel healthy. I stayed out late, and woke up and left the kos (boarding house) early. It only really began to affect me when I started work and had no sleep. Later, an Indonesian girl from upstairs told me the space between my window and the wall was the septic tank, and everyone who got that room moved out of it! I suppose that explains why the drain in my bathroom sometimes popped off with mud covering the floor.

Luckily there was a German girl upstairs, who happened to be doing an internship at the same place I did in 2008 and as a result, we had the same friends. I slept on a mattress on her floor until the end of the month, when I was moving back to the place I lived in in 2008, which was also in the same street. Fortunately my new place was ready earlier than expected and I was able to move in at the start of the week. I went back into my old room at the old place to pack my things and found it flooded with mud. The new place is so much nicer, there is aircon, wi-fi, a fridge, TV, clean bathrooms, personal rubbish bins that get changed every day, nice people who run it and friendly girls who live here. The other place was a mixed boarding house, and people were coming and going all the time. I feel much safer here. In fact, strangers had entered my room uninvited in the other place. So I always locked my door. But the new place is locked and there is a curfew of 10pm, but because I’m a foreigner and no longer a student, I get a key.

As for work, I love it! I start at 1pm and have until 3pm to prepare for classes (lucky I only have one class on Monday and am able to prepare for the week ahead). Classes are anytime between 3pm and 9pm. Lucky for me mine usually finish at 7.30. For the first week I observed classes and team-taught. In the second week I did some team-teaching (there needs to be 2 teachers for the young kids, 4 – 6 yrs old) and had some of my own classes. I felt so much better when I was able to teach on my own. I have naughty kids, smart kids, rude kids, psycho kids, quiet kids, young kids, teenagers, young adults… and it’s so hard not to have favourites. I’ve dealt with situations in which I could not imagine me doing before, but I have no choice and I’ve surprised myself many times. I no longer respond to ‘Ramsay’ or ‘the lady behind the counter’. I’m “MIIISSS!!!!!!”

I have a lovely desk in the staff room, which is full of people from all over the world, and I fitted in straight away – they’re dorks and have a great sense of humour. Don’t get me wrong, I do miss making coffees, leaving my work at work and not taking it home with me, my customers back home and the staff I worked with, but this work has been so fulfilling, very challenging, and extremely rewarding.

Carly Gordan

Before work I either go for a swim, take a hot shower, and enjoy the western toilets at the 5 star hotel around the corner; go for a walk to drop off or pick up my washing; go grocery shopping; read; use the internet; or as of recently (because the new place has a big shady backyard) do Pilates with my Australian friend Nina. I pay Nina to take me to work, she’s here for a few months but isn’t working (she used to work at my school) because she’s about to marry my other friend who used to take me to work in 2008. They live at the end of my street and I’ve known them both since I first came here in 2008, great to have them so close!

I have also spent a weekend at the beach. It is so beautiful and free from tourists. It was a 2 hour ride on the back of a motorbike (ouch), but the road went through beautiful forest land, rice fields and villages. I’ve also been shopping down the main street Jalan Malioboro, promoting my school English First at the massive shopping mall, judging a big spelling bee competition, and enjoying the company of my old friends.

The things I miss most at the moment are real yoghurt and muesli, my colourful hair, cheesecake (I found them here! But there is no biscuit base. They even have meat pies!), celebrating the Collingwood grand final win, choc-mint things, red meat and red wine. There is a great ‘warung‘ called Steak and Shake but you can’t even choose how you want your steak cooked! It comes out sizzling on a hot plate so if you’re worried, I’m sure the heat would have killed any bacteria. I suspect it’s clean as it’s a big chain and always very busy. I also tried one of their battered and deep-fried steaks. And yes, I have been sick, a few times, and at work.. but not for a while now so hopefully my stomach is getting used to the different things.



P.S Tan = no. It’s rainy season! But it’s so hot, because it’s cloudy and stuffy and when it rains.. you stay sticky for a while!

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Carly is a second year PhD student in International Relations at ANU. As former Chief Policy Officer of the Asia-Pacific Youth Organisation, Carly has a keen interest in engaging youth with the Asia-Pacific region, and is especially in-love with Indonesia.

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