The weirdness of normalcy

I’ve been back in The Netherlands for a few weeks now (and in fact leaving again in less than two weeks from now), and I find it has been surprisingly normal. I know I have been totally neglecting you with my blog posts and seeing as how I have recently discovered people actually read them, I almost feel bad about this. But I have plenty of ideas and still some unpublished blogs from way earlier that I will publish sometime soon.


Do you know that moment, when you walk off a plane and pass customs and you see all these people waiting for their loved ones? Every time I pass this area, I look around for a familiar face. I never expect them to be there, but it is an automaticity. I always look. And when I arrived back home from being away for 6,5 months, I didn’t even have to search for a familiar face, because they were at the front of the crowd, right there in my face, unmistakably, my friends.

Even though I didn’t want to expect somebody to be there sometime, I’m the kind of person that remembers… a lot. So I kept it locked away in my mind somewhere that one of my friends had asked for details on my return flight when I left, so I had my suspicions. But what I did not see coming, was the banner. They made a freaking banner. Mind. Blown.

“Welcome back, dear Sanne”

After I got past the fact that it felt so weirdly normal to be with two of my best friends whilst not having seen them for so long, it was like I had never left. I also experienced this when another friend came to visit me in Jakarta. I was looking through the stream of people coming into the arrival hall at the airport and occasionally you will see someone and wonder ‘is this my friend?’ But it is never them, because when it is actually the person you are waiting for you will know it instantly and you don’t even have to ask yourself.

I felt like everybody expected me to have changed when I came back. Maybe they expected me to have become Buddhist, or maybe they would wonder if my native language skills have decreased a bit, or if I would now be this sophisticated, well traveled, young woman who feels like she has ‘seen the world’ (which, I have to admit, is a little true). And yeah, maybe I have changed in some ways. I have seen more, I have learned more, I have more knowledge and experiences, maybe some new ambitions or insights, but my personality has not changed. I’m still the same person as I was before I left. We’re just at a different point in time, at a different location, but it is weird how you find yourself wondering if you will still have something to talk about, and, oh my god, what will we talk about? But you never wondered about this before, so why start now?

And I found myself wondering why people would expect this. Maybe it is the fact that when you don’t see someone for a long time they always seem to look slightly different and they have many new things to tell, new topics to discuss and new insights to share. But you have read all of my stories and know a lot of what I have experienced. So when I see the people I have been away from for so long they ask me to tell them all about it, as they seem to think I have many stories to tell. And yeah, I could tell a few, but I notice I’m more interested in what they have to tell. After all, I already know how my stories end, but I have been kind of out of the loop where the lives of my friends are concerned.


Of course, as any returning traveler, there are some things that I miss, some things that I’m very happy to have again and some interesting moments, created by a new set of eyes.

Euros felt like foreign money, but I’d gotten used to it quite quickly. Speaking to people in my native language felt like I had mastered a foreign one and I was actually proud at the well structured sentences that left my mouth. Doing laundry and dishes again is not something I had missed, and could have done without for the rest of my life. Cooking all my favorite meals has been a joy and sharing a meal with my loved ones has been even better.

Walking into a Dutch supermarket felt like walking into a foreign one at first. Different products, prices, people… Maybe they renovated during my time away, they changed their assortment… But there were also some items I had missed and it felt really nice walking into a familiar supermarket and knowing exactly what to get and where to find everything.

Coming back to Groningen, I had expected them to have made huge progress on the mall-like building they were busy with when I left, but I found it in the exact same state as when I left, while two other buildings just seemed to pop up out of nowhere.

You know how they say ‘it is like riding a bicycle’? With this saying, one tries to say that you will never forget how to do it. And while this may be true, and I still knew how to ride a bicycle, muscles do weaken and make it harder for you to do so. The first time I got on a bicycle was completely embarrassing and made me realize I had neglected some of my muscles. It’s going much better now, thankfully.

When I went out to dinner to spend some quality-time with one of my besties, I saw the huge white walls and I kept looking up expecting gecko’s to appear out of nowhere. And I noticed that we have so much less bugs here. I guess it’s too cold for them, which brings me to my next point: the cold.

I got off the plane in flip flops and a thin sweater, as I didn’t have anything warmer. So when I arrived at my brothers house, I took a hot shower and dressed in many, many layers, drank a bunch of tea and went to bed cold anyway (and I had to get out in the middle of the night because the tea decided they couldn’t wait until morning to make an exit).

When I went back to my mothers house where all the crap I call my possessions is stored I got to open all the boxes that I had packed away seven months ago. Let me tell you, it was like shopping for free. I was so grateful for my collection of warm sweaters and my ginormous winter coat. I also gained a new appreciation for gloves. I forgot many of the clothes I had, which made me realize how unimportant stuff is. Clothes are replaceable, as are all the other items I stacked away.

So, I’m getting used to the cold again, I guess. And I liked dressing up again, putting on some make-up, trying on all my old clothes. And the past few weeks have been filled with fun dates and events. The jet lag was less severe than I expected, which was great. I was quite tired in the evenings, but all that did was ensure I would go to bed early and get up at a reasonable hour, and even after three weeks, I’m already back to my lazy old self that cannot get out of bed in the morning. I had so many people to see and most of them I have already seen, my schedule was crazy (also, because I picked up some work at the university, which sounds a lot more glamorous than it is). The next week I am completely free and I will spend it doing more of the things  I love, seeing the people I love and packing my bags for the next adventure: working at a campsite in the south of France.

And I’m already so excited about it!

The touchscreen technology in Indonesia

In contrast to what you may suspect after seeing this title, this post is about food, not technology. In Indonesia, there is this thing. This amazing thing. It is the kind of restaurant that they should have everywhere. Actually, a variant of this does exist in several countries under the name of ‘buffet restaurant’. But it is not the same.

In a warteg (Warung Tegal, named after a certain region in Indonesia), they have many different features, which all create a technological idea causing many people to name these kinds of restaurants a touchscreen restaurant.

Feature one: touchscreen. You can look at the different kinds of food, and point at what looks good. Then, the seller will put it on a plate for you (if you want to eat there) or wrap it up in paper (if you want to take away). It’s very easy.

Feature two: voice-activated search. If you are not sure what you’re looking at (which is not uncommon with Indonesian food) you can try to use the voice-activated search feature. If you want to eat some vegetables, you just say ‘sayuran’ (vegetables) and the seller will point at one of the plates that has vegetables on it, all the while looking at you questioningly. If it looks good, nod once. If it does not look good, shake your had, or give a small wave of the hand.

This kind of restaurant is really great. There is something for everyone. But, most of these restaurants make the food in the morning and they will leave it out until it it sold. So if you go there for dinner, you should know that the food won’t be very fresh. For me, a person who doesn’t eat meat, fish or egg, that’s not a problem. But I wouldn’t recommend buying these foodgroups late at night (but, me being me, I wouldn’t recommend buying these foodgroups at all :) ).

This will be the only piece of vegan propaganda on this blog, I promise :)

A funny thing is that when you want to eat at a warteg and your friend wants to eat at the street-cart outside… there is no problem. One of you can just get the food and sit at the other establishment (if you can call them establishments). You can also bring your own drink to the warteg if you want. Oh, and, you will probably never spend more than a euro when you eat at a warteg. They also have loads of krupuk, free for the taking. But you have to pay afterwards ;)

There is also another kind of shops, called warkop (warung kopi). Literally translated this means coffeeshop, which is funny because I am from The Netherlands. While at the warteg they sell full sized meals, at the warkop they sell snack-like foods. To go with your coffee, or tea.

And remember, if all else fails: NASI is everywhere.

Bahasa Indonesia (part I)

I thought Indonesian would be very hard to learn, because it is so different from the languages I already know a little bit about. But it turns out, it is actually a very easy language. And when I say easy, I mean the basics are easy. Just like any language there are many different layers, but if you just want to communicate about food and directions, like I do, you can learn it quite quickly. It’s all about memorizing the words, because there is hardly anything more to it.

So I will tell you some of the words I have learned so far. Let me start by showing off some of my skills.

Nama saya Sanne. Umur saya dua puluh empat tahun, dan saya tinggal di Jakarta sejak September. Saya di sini selama lima bulan, sampai Februari. Setiap hari saya pergi ke kantor, untuk magang. Saya tidak pergi naik taksi atau bis, saya jalan kaki.

Waktu favorit saya adalah makan siang. Saya suka pergi ke rumah makan dengan kolega-kolega saya. Saya suka makanan Indonesia, karena makanan itu enak sekali!

I know, you will all copy-paste this into google translate (yes mum, I’m talking to you). But it won’t work properly, because the formal Bahasa Indonesia and the language people actually speak are two different things. This makes the learning process very confusing sometimes. For instance:

I= saya
I= aku
I= gue

So you have three different ways of saying I. The first is formal. The second is informal. The third is very informal.

One thing I like about the Indonesian language is that they use a lot of titles. And there are so many. For instance:
Mr (older person): Bapak
Mrs: Ibu<
Mr (young person): Mas
Miss: Mbak

It is not uncommon to use these titles after almost every sentence you speak. So it seems the Indonesians are very polite and formal, no?

However, saying please when asking for something is not common at all, and often you just ask: “Do you have…?” If they want something. But saying things with a smile can make it all the more friendly.

Which brings me to another thing I like about this language. They repeat a lot of words. They don’t just answer with yes or no. For instance:

Do you have nasi goreng?
Ada nasi goreng? (so easy!)
The reply: Ada.

Which means they have it.

The easy part about Indonesian is the lack of articles and conjugations. Also, when speaking about he/she, they do not make a distinction between the two genders (which would make speaking about a transsexual person a lot less confusing). For instance:
I am hungry.
I = saya
Hungry = lapar

So: Saya lapar.
He/she is hungry = Dia lapar.
So no hard times with using am/is/are. You just leave it out.

Now, what how about the verbs, I hear you asking.
I want to eat:
I = Saya
Want = mau
Eat = makan
Saya mau makan.

And this sentence stays exactly the same if you talk about others, except for the first word.
Anda mau makan, dia mau makan, kita mau makan, etc.

I loved learning the basics of Indonesian, because it is so great to make people smile when you speak their language. They really appreciate it greatly and because very few people here in Jakarta speak English, it makes communication so much easier.

I am now fully capable of giving someone directions, ordering my food, answering basic small talk and, which I discovered recently, haggling.

Warning: if you start talking a few words of Bahasa Indonesia to an Indonesian person, you will be bombarded with questions and they will start talking very fast, assuming you have mastered their language. Just smile and nod  if you do not understand. That’s what they do when we speak English :)

The efficiency of bureaucracy

Let me start this post by giving you the conclusion: The title is a lie. There is nothing efficient about bureaucracy. Nothing at all.

In the past four months I have been to the immigration office eleven times. Take some time to let that sink in. Every time you want to extend you visa, you have to go to the office three times. Or, if you are lucky, as I was, you get an interview, and get to hang out with the workers there four times!
This is globally how the extension process works (at least for the socio-cultural visa I am here on):

Step 1: You go to the immigration office. Which on its own can be quite a challenge, given the morning traffic in Jakarta. There, you go to a random counter to ask for the extension forms, and they will point you to the counter that hands these out. If you are expecting signs to make things easier for you… well, there just aren’t any.
So once you get the form, a lot of websites tell you to go home and collect the proper documents, and then go back the next day and hand them in. Don’t. I will tell you what documents you need, and all you need to do is bring a pen when you go there for the first time, so you can fill that lovely form in, right then and there. And when I say bring a pen, I mean bring a pen. Don’t forget it. Because there are no pens lying around, and only if you ask the receptionist really nicely, they will loan you their pen. But they will watch you write everything down and wait impatiently until they get their belonging back, so this option may cause you some stress (it did for me). So bring a pen!
And also bring the following documents:

  • Your sponsor letter
  • A copy of the passport of your sponsor
  • A copy of your passport (don’t know why, because they also want your actual passport – see next point)
  • Your passport
  • The printed confirmation of your flight leaving the country
  • Details of your stay (addresses, phone numbers, email addresses of all people involved. In my case, the address of the office where my internship is – and my own of course)

You can hand in the documents, together with the form and they will tell you to come back two days later.

Step 2: Go back two days later. Working days that is. Don’t show up on a Saturday if your first visit was on Thursday.
If you are lucky, today you will get to proceed to step 3 immediately. If you are unlucky, you will have to do an interview. Sometimes they say it is random, sometimes they say it is because they have a question about your documents, but what I can say for certain is that they won’t save the notes they take during the interview, because I had to do one twice. It was kind of a test for my patience, because they asked me all the same questions. Anyway, if you have an interview, they will need another day to process that (i.e. put the paper in the correct folder) and you will have to come back the next day.

Step 3: On this day, you will have to go back for two activities. First, you will have to pay. For an extension it costs IDR 355.000 (December 2015). Second, you have to take a picture and give them your finger prints. Of course, the queues for this are kind of long, so bring something to entertain yourself.
And mind you, you only have to take the pictures the first time you extend. Because of the slow process and their lack of methods to save documents (like my interview notes), I assumed you also had to do the photos every time. So for my second extension I waited to get my picture taken for half an hour and then they told me it was not necessary to do it twice. So I wasted some time there.

Step 4: The last day (for this month at least). You get to pick up your pasport with an amazing new stamp, waiting to be admired by you and all of your friends.
So all in all, my advice would be to live close to an immigration office, because you will be there a lot. And if you have to travel to go there and back for hours, your life will be unnecessarily hard and those nice immigration officers (who also spend a lot of time on their phones, until you show up at their desk) will not show you any mercy.


Living the life

I recently came to an important realization. I won’t see snow this year. Of course this is never certain, but usually, at least there is hope. In Jakarta there is no hope. No hope at all.

What I will see, is rain. A lot of rain. Flooding the city kinds of rain. But that’s okay. Because my life is awesome.

Every time I tell people my plans for the coming weeks, months (year!) I still almost cannot believe this is my life. I am doing so many amazing things, seeing so many great places and meeting tons of lovely people. Even though I was living towards this part of my life for quite some time, It still didn’t seem real. But it is real. And I never want it to stop.

And the great plans keep on coming. Besides the global planning I already had, I have some more concrete ideas about what I want to do when I travel through Southeast Asia. The trips that I have planned in December are approaching rather quickly and even my ‘regular’ days in Jakarta are great.

I feel so grateful being able to do all of this and I feel like I’m learning something new every day (and not just words in Bahasa Indonesia, although… that too). It’s already such a great experience and the best part is…

I’m nowhere near finished. IMG_0635.jpeg



Daily life in Jakarta

12196142_1154910351187510_6672215356182971_nThe morning starts the same every day: with the horrific sound of my alarm clock and me snoozing at least three times. Next, I get up. I go into my bathroom and if I am unlucky, there is no water. I don’t know how this happens, but I have spent two mornings rather cranky because I could not take a shower. But, as the positive person I am, I choose to be grateful for all the other days I do have water.

I live in a “kost” which is a boarding house. I have a room with ac, a double bed (heaven) and a private bathroom. The boarding house is run by four or five amazing women who spend all day working. The service in a place like this is amazing: let me give you some examples.
They clean my room, every day. In the beginning they also made my bed, but I didn’t like this because I had to arrange the pillows every time, so with the help of my colleagues I wrote them a note, telling them I loved the service, but if they please could leave the bed as is (did I mention they don’t speak any English?) Anyway, they clean. All the rubbish I collect in a day, I put in a bin outside. Also, every day they will wash four pieces of clothing for me – by hand. And there are about 30 rooms in the place, so you do the math.

After I am showered and ready, I get my clean clothes from the hallway and walk out the door. When I am out of the front gate, I make my way to work. I walk, and it takes me about 25 minutes. In the time here that I wasn’t able to walk anywhere, let alone walk 25 minutes to work, I went to work with a grab-bike. It is this amazing application, where you enter where you are and where you want to go, and what do you know, next thing a motorbike driver shows up at your location and takes you to said location. All for the sweet low price of 15.000 rupiah (1 euro. Let me repeat: 1 euro!!!). It may be needless to say I use this a lot. It is so much quicker than a taxi. The only downside for a bule (foreigner) like me is the fact that they usually call you to verify your booking and check to see where you are. The drivers often don’t speak English either, so this occasionally causes some confusion. Sometimes I answer the phone and all they say is: ‘sebentar ya?’
Okelah pak. And I hang up. This, I can do. If they ask me where I am, I can also still answer. But any follow-up questions cause major confusion on my side and I have to look for someone to take the phone and explain to the driver where he has to go. If I am with a friend I just let them answer the phone right away, which is much easier. Although, one time when a guy answered the phone for me, the driver was a bit surprised when I showed up.


The first thing I do in the office is have some breakfast. When I first got to this neighbourhood, I used to go to the supermarket and buy a lot of mangos, sometimes pineapple or watermelon. I would get up in the morning, cut everything up and eat it. But the longer I was here, the later I wanted to get up. So the next step was cutting everything up, putting it in plastic containers, and taking it with me to work. But during the time I couldn’t walk, the supermarket was a challenge I wasn’t ready for, and because of the one-way traffic the driver arrived at my office from the other side of the building, taking a different route. And on the way there, we passed like three different fruit carts! The fruit is already cut in pieces and even cheaper than in the supermarket! So now, every morning, I walk to work with a small detour, and I buy fruit. The price, you may ask? IDR 3.000 per piece. I usually buy six, so I pay delapan belas ribu rupiah (18.000 rupiah). Oh my god, you are so fast with comparing it to the Grab-bike ride! Indeed, it is a little bit more than a euro.


The workday differs. Usually we all hang out in the office, do some work. Sometimes the concentration is gone for a while, and then there is a lot of talking and laughing. If the internet doesn’t work, we have to resort to other measures, such as playing a game (werewolves/mafia, for instance).

During lunch, we have three options. Well, there are more options, but these are the three we use often. We can eithFullSizeRenderer go next door, where I always get gado-gado, which is so good there! We can also go to
RNI (I don’t know what it stands for), which is a bit of a longer walk (5 minutes instead of 2). We go there often because of the chicken guy. I won’t elaborate on that. And lastly there is the third floor of our building, when we get sick of these two options. But sometimes we also go somewhere further away. To a mall nearby, for instance. Usually I don’t pay more than 15.000 rupiah for lunch (do you see a pattern?)


The food here is great. So great. I may have mentioned this before, so I will just say this: the food here is great. Sangat enak sekali!

In the middle of the afternoon, around three, the smell of fried deliciousness penetrates the office doors and with great enthusiasm we walk to the other side of the hallway to buy gorengan. It is food that is fried and there are a lot of variations. It is a great mid-day snack and tastes so good. The guy always jokes by replacing the word thousand with million when talking about prices, which causes a few giggles. It is a great distraction from the workday and because he is not here everyday, it is always a nice surprise.

After work, I go to a nearby hotel that is on the way to my house, where I do some exercise in the gym or I swim (in the pool). Afterwards I go into the sauna and relax. And I am revived after a shower and ready for the evening.

IMG_8143I usually get some food in my neighbourhood, either at a food court, or at one of the many warteg (small restaurants, kind of buffet style). I always get it to go, because I cannot let go of my habit to eat while watching a tv-show. And I’m sure you already guessed it. The food: never more than 15.000 rupiah (1 euro).

On some nights, I don’t go home, but I eat with friends and hang out somewhere. A couple of times I went to the cinema here. The caramel popcorn is to die for and the velvet class is totally worth the money. See the picture below. Even for a bed like this, you pay less than a cinema in The Expensive West.


Conclusion, short and sweet: Indonesia is fantastic, money is worth so much here and it is all great. I wish I could tell you more about all my disappointments, to make this blog more juicy. But I am (not) sorry to say, there are none.



Things I noticed about Indonesian people

I have been here for a little over two months, and in this time I have gotten to know a bit more about the Indonesian culture, about the people and the way things work around here. Time to review a couple of things that I learned.

Disclaimer: This does not apply to all Indonesians and there are of course exceptions.


They are so very friendly. Yesterday I was at the food court where I could be considered a regular. After my standard order (nasi goreng) I made some Indonesian small talk with the lady who owns the place (which consists of her talking, me nodding/smiling and giving one-word answers). But because of all the smiling the conversations are actually very pleasant! As she was eating, I was wishing her a good dinner (selamat makan ibu!) and she offered me some of what she was eating. After checking there was no meat or fish, I said okay, and she put some in a plastic bag for me to take home. When my food was ready and I asked how much I had to pay, she just told me the amount for the nasi goreng. She owns a place that sells food, yet she gave me some of her home cooked food for free. And did I mention all the smiling? Like I said: friendly.

There is an exception to this (what appears to be a) rule, however. As soon as they get on a motorbike and start participating in the traffic, they become selfish and the friendliness is nowhere to be found. Luckily, you can always use the magical hand, when walking around in the streets. Because nobody would stop at zebra crossings, everyone just crosses anywhere. You get on the street, and put up your hand like you would if you would try to stop a car. Then you just walk. I have done this a lot of times, sometimes without using the magical hand, and I have not been hit. It’s always a bit of a yolo moment, but if you wait until there are no more cars coming before you cross the street, you will be there forever.

IMG_0013 IMG_0017

People in Indonesia can create a job out of anything. There are people on the street, directing the traffic (and trust me, the traffic does not have any use for being directed), they help you find parking spots, they can sell everything on the street.

An example: in the office where I work, there is this guy that comes to visit almost every day to sell us some gorengan (fried stuff). He just goes by the office to sell some of his home made food, and makes a ton of money (and a ton is actually not a lot in Indonesia).


An even better example: there are a few roads in Jakarta that can only be used if there are three or more people (tiga orang atau lebih) in the car (see picture above). This is supposed to make the road less crowded, allowing people who carpool to pass quicker. However, before you reach these roads, along the side of the road you will find a lot of people, who you can pay a few rupiah to hop into your car, and they will get out after the road ends. This way, even if you are just one, you can pay some people to be your fake companions and still use this road!


Indonesian people could be described as a little lazy. They walk slowly, at least, compared to my western tempo. They go everywhere by motor bike, taxi or bus, as long as there is no walking involved. But I also realized that this creates a lot of jobs, which is very necessary in a country with so many inhabitants. People who don’t want to walk create a need for drivers. Being too lazy to cook creates work for people such as the gorengan guy. In the foodcourts of malls, people don’t clear their own table (which is how we would do it in Europe), but they leave it there. Someone else will come and clean the table and voilà, another job is created. They don’t have machines to sell tickets for the bus. We tend to try to replace everything that used to involve human contact with a machin
e, because it is supposed to be cost-effective. Here, they need the jobs. And I am guessing the wages aren’t that high, so possibly it is even cheaper.12074757_1685263878377337_4912718028118543686_n

Indonesian people are very proud of their country, even though there is also usually something to complain about. They want to tell me everything and most of them know all about their own history and the current events. As a person who chooses not to read the news paper, I noticed this immediately. They know where everything comes from. They have so many provinces and every place has their own signature dish, a dance (or several), songs, clothes, houses… It almost seems too much to remember, and yet… they all know.

Another thing… even though they can at times be more polite than direct, often I find them very honest. If you ask them what they are doing this weekend, it is not uncommon to hear someone shamelessly admit that they will sleep all weekend. While in Europe, if you don’t have exciting plans, parties to visit or people to meet, well… let’s just say you are not the definition of cool.

The people I have met also sing. Just because they are happy, or because they can. I have looked up with some confusion when I would hear somebody singing out loud in The Netherlands, but here it is very common. And not just when under influence. And it doesn’t matter what you sing, either. I have heard somebody sing “I like big butts” with a straight face and an angelic voice.


Most of the people living here don’t seem to have an environmental bone in their body. When driving on the street, if there is something in the car that you don’t need anymore… No worries. Just throw it out the window! But also, if you are not in a car and just walking around, you can also still toss it. There is a lot of trash IMG_8200everywhere. Plastic is used for everything. I have a huge collection of plastic bags in my drawer which I try to re-use as trash bags, but even I have had to throw some away (not on the street, mind you).

Finally, I noticed that nobody does organized chaos better than Indonesians. The traffic jams look like they will never ever get solved, but somehow they do. In the foodcourts everybody is shouting at each other, ordering from different people… And yet it works. You get your food, there is hardly any trouble and the hardworking peoIMG_8187ple get payed.

This seems to be the way things work here. From the outside, it looks like chaos. But there is certainly a system in place. Just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.