Surprises about Life in Indonesia

This post is about things my friends and family find surprising about Indonesia and my experience here.

I’ve visited Asia a few times starting at a young age. At this point, there are very few things that shock me about different lifestyles. However, when I tell my friends or family about them, they are extra confused and sometimes even shocked.

Around the house

1. People don’t have ACs in their house full blast- Even though it’s always 23812382 degrees (Celcius) here, the majority of people don’t have ACs in Indonesia. Many also don’t even use fans. They also wear long shirts and clothing so I don’t know how they don’t overheat.  I live in a big city so it’s possible to find AC in restaurants, malls and even some people’s houses. I have one in my house but it’s not the norm.

2. No oven, no microwave, no dryer or even washing machine- Majority of the people don’t have the 4 appliances that I just mentioned. In the cities, a few people have them. My school provided me with a washing machine but I still climb upstairs in my house and sun dry my clothes on my balcony/roof thing.

3. I live alone but I have roommates- I have mini lizards that crawl on my walls in my house. They freaked me out the first few times when they popped out of nowhere but now we’re friends. They eat all the little bugs at my house! However, I can’t stand the cockroaches. I’ve seen WAYYYY too many in my bathroom/kitchen area. They freak me out but now, I don’t scream when I see them. Tropical country means big tropical bugs. GAH. For anyone out there who thinks that you can avoid cockroaches just by taking the trash out and keeping your house clean, LET ME TELL YOU THAT IS NOT TRUE. I bleach and scrub EVERYTHING. Once again, tropical country means tropical bugs. ***Many people think I live with Kelly. I do not. She lives in Sidoarjo by herself but we see each other often.

Mini Lizard Friend
At School

4. My school schedule is whack AF- My school schedule changes all the time; it can change anywhere from once every two months to twice a week. I’m serious. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason, so sometimes I don’t even know when I have class. We are on a block schedule and the past three weekends have been long weekends so I haven’t seen my Monday classes since the first week of April. It’s madness. My school schedule is actually more regular than most schools too.

5. Indonesian students don’t do long writing assignments- My students don’t know how to write formal letters even though they take 24 subjects in school. It’s not common for Indonesian students to write letters and essays until they’re in college. We had a lot of work to do when I took on a letter exchange project with my old high school at home in NJ. This is such a big difference from American education where we start writing letters to ourselves in kindergarten and start writing essays in 3rd grade.img_8253

6. Yes, I actually work- Some of my friends think that I’m just chillin’, riding motorbikes around Surabaya, climbing up volcanoes and going to the beach. Yes, I have done these things a few/multiple times and you’ve probably seen Snapchats or Instagram posts of these things. I am grateful that I’ve had opportunities to go on these trips. However, I do my job because that’s my priority. There are days where I’m at school at 6 am and sometimes don’t leave until 8 pm. Obviously, I don’t Snapchat how tired I am after my 14 hour work days. Usually, I get into school at about 7 am and leave at 5:30 or 6 pm.

In My Stomach!

7. Everything is covered in shrimp paste and fish sauce– The majority of the food here is smothered in this stuff. If it’s not these two things, it’s chicken broth/bouillon powder. Indonesians love their meat based flavoring. This limits the things I can eat and makes it hard to know if something really is vegetarian.

8. Indonesians eat a ton of rice & not many vegetables – Most folks in Asia eat a lot of rice. Indonesians eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even desserts are made out of rice in some form (and they’re all so jiggly)! Many teacher friends at school personally get stressed out if I haven’t eaten a bucket of rice that day. Unfortunately, I can’t eat rice more than once or twice a day otherwise I’ll become a narcoleptic potato. Plus, vegetables aren’t really part of their food pyramid. I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten sick multiple times because I haven’t been eating enough vegetables. My friends thought they eat more noodles than rice here but noodles are more of a snack for Indonesians and the noodle dishes in Indonesia are Chinese influenced. 

9. Indonesians eat a ton of fried stuff but are still so skinny-. Most Indonesians are constantly eating fried stuff!!! HOW ARE THEY SO SKINNY?! Their diet is fried and sugary stuff yet they’re all thinner than the average American.  I still don’t understand! Where does it go! The other things on the list don’t surprise me but this does. However, cholesterol and diabetes are starting to become a problem here.


Hygiene and the Bathroom Life

10. I take two freezing cold bucket showers a day- I take one in the morning before school and one at night before bed because I refuse to go to sleep all sticky. The majority of Indonesians don’t use hot water because it’s so hot here anyway! Most friends in the States thought this was extra weird because everyone at home has hot water! I’ve gotten used to the cold water but I do miss my bathroom at home. Also, most Indonesians take at least 2 showers a day!

11. #BucketShowerLyfe- I do have a shower head in my bathroom but it’s temperamental. I generally use my bak mandi and take a shower by filling a bucket with water. Then I just pour the water over myself. I don’t mind though.

12. Nonexistent food safety and hygiene- People leave meat out for up to 2-4 days and people somehow don’t always get sick. Food safety and hygiene isn’t really a thing here…even the locals get sick sometimes. Generally though, most people are okay. I eat out as well but I have no idea what conditions my food was prepared in and at this point, I don’t want to know. I don’t eat most street foods because of the whole vegetarian thing anyway. I’ve gotten 39 hairs in my food this year. Yes, I’ve been counting. >____<

13. Squat toilets- Squat toilets are common here. These toilets are built into the floor so you squat over them instead of sitting on them.  I don’t mind these either as long as they’re clean. I have a western toilet at my house. Most places in Surabaya have western toilets but this isn’t true for majority of the country.  Even the majority of the toilets at school are flat but we have two western ones.

14. No toilet paper and soap- Majority of the bathroom here don’t have toilet paper or soap. The no soap part irks me so I bring my own! People also use water instead of toilet paper to clean their business. Once again, I’m in the city so generally the big malls or restaurants have TP, soap, water and more.

In the Environment

13. It’s REALLY hot-  It’s hot here and people still wear a lot of clothes- I already mentioned that it’s a 347208343 degrees here. Well it’s usually 85+ degrees but witht he humidity, it hits 90-100+ according to my weather app. However, people still wear a ton of layers. AHHHH. Long sleeves, long pants and the works.

14. Early wake up call- Many people here including my co-teachers wake up around 3:30-4:30am to shower, pray, cook, clean, drop their kids off, etc. That’s madness. I’m convinced that no one sleeps because many don’t sleep until 10pm or 11pm! Call of prayer usually goes off around this time but now, I sleep through it.

15. City Vibe- From the pictures that I have taken, my friends are very confused by the Surabaya vibe. I totally understand that. Surabaya is the 2nd largest city in Indonesia so it has a lot of stuff going on. It has the big-wide-clean roads, fancy malls, fancy hotels, fancy food chains, stores with clothes that cost more than my parents house and more! However, it also has the small back streets and alleys where you can get a full meal for less than a dollar, mom & pop shop style warungs, small boy bands with ukuleles that won’t go away until you pay them, street vegetable markets, becaks and more. There are also some buildings left over from Dutch colonial times. It’s very different than an American city but shares similarities with cities other Asian countries.

16. Motorcycle Taxis– My primary mode of transportation in Surabaya is a motorcycle taxi! I usually use the Go-Jek or Uber apps to request a driver. They come by, give me a helmet and drive me off into the sunset! It’s quick, cheap, and easy. I also bum rides off of teachers at school occasionally! I generally ride a Go-Jek anywhere from 1 to 10 times a week. I LOVE it. NYC needs these. It’s honestly the best way to get around when there is so much traffic because motorbikes can zip in between standstill cars.

16. Constant state of wet- Here’s a direct quote from a friend–”What shocks me most of all about your journey to Indonesia is how at peace you are with being dirty/sweaty/wet all the time. Like. You are constantly wet. Monsoon. Workout sweat. Humidity. And you never acknowledge it. I should buy you a snorkel set.” LOLOL

Went running with my students. Got monsooned on.
When you put it like that, it sounds bad. But it’s not so bad in reality. I’ve been monsooned on often and umbrellas and raincoats haven’t saved me either. I’ve been completely drenched more times than I can count. When it rains here, it pours. 0 to a 100 real quick sorta deal. I’ve walked home in a thigh-high flood a few times and my house even got flooded once! If I’m not wet from the rain, I’m sweating! I sweat up a storm just walking 7 minutes to school from my house. Also when I work out, I am drenched within 3 minutes–Thanks humidity. However, my school does have AC in the teachers room and classrooms–which is REALLY REALLY uncommon so I lucked out!


17. BANANA LYFE- people still put random things on my desk for me to eat. It’s madness.  I even wrote a whole blog post about it. I still eat a ridiculous amount of bananas here!img_2797

Please note that a lot of these things were specific to my experience in Indonesia. There’s a chance that you might experience all of these things or only a few of these things when you visit. My experience was largely formed around the fact that I lived in a local community, taught at a local school and was expected to exchange in cultural exchange with the local community. (For example, the expat investment bankers in Indonesia have a very different experience than I do.) It just really depends on where you are (a city on Java, town on Sulawesi, village on Flores, remote island or on a mountain) and what communities you roll with.

Anyway, these are all just funny little things that I wanted to share. I don’t really mind them. Well, minus the soap thing.


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