Insights from an Australian expat in Asia
Working in Asia - My Indonesian Experienceby David Partridge
Ever thought of working in Asia or taking the opportunity to work on an overseas project for a period of time?
I recently spent some time living and working in Indonesia on secondment and I would recommend the experience to anyone looking for a challenge and a way to re-evaluate your views on life.
In late 2014 I began an 8 month secondment as the Head of Brand, Marketing and Communications Indonesia for IAG International. My role involved supporting IAG’s acquisition of a local insurance company, developing and implementing a new brand for a joint venture company and establishing a marketing and communications capability including sourcing reliable local suppliers and recruiting local Indonesian professionals to form the Brand, Marketing and Communications team.
I was based in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia located in central Java. If you have the impression that Jakarta is third world and a little primitive, you would be completely wrong. Jakarta is the largest city in South East Asia, a sprawling metropolis over 662 square kilometres in area with a population of 22 million. Nearly all of the residents have mobile phones, with most infact having two - an analogue phone (for texting and calls) and a smart phone (for apps and internet browsing). Jakarta is also the most active city for Twitter in the world. There are over 120 shopping malls to visit with many as impressive as any you will see in London, Paris or New York, selling high end western brands, exotic cars and all types of local and imported fashion.
Living and working anywhere overseas of course has its challenges, here are some of the major ones I faced during my time in Indonesia.
Challenge 1 - Macet!!The first thing you notice when you depart the Airport is the traffic. In the first 10 minutes you experience 20 or 30 near misses and you wonder at your driver’s ability to stay calm and avoid collisions. After a day or two of flinching and grimacing your way to your destination it just becomes part of the daily process!
Jakarta has around 2.2 million 4-wheel vehicles on the road at any one time - on a road system that has a capacity, in Australian terms, of 1 million. To add to this, there are also around 20 million motor cycles in use.
‘Macet’ or ‘traffic’ is one of the most used words in the Indonesian language. A recent study known as the Castrol Magnatec Stop –Start Index which calculates the number of stops and starts made per kilometre, multiplying that figure by the average distance driven every year in 78 countries. Jakarta rated the worst in the world with 33,240. It was followed by Istanbul (32,520), Mexico City (30,840) and Indonesia’s second largest city Surabaya (29,800). Cities renowned for traffic like New York City (16,320) and Los Angeles (9,360) were well down the list.
The 14 km trip from the airport to my serviced apartment via the expressway on average took 40-50 minutes. The best time I experienced to the Airport was 18 min at 5.00am one morning and the worst over the same trip one Friday evening took 3.5 hours!
Challenge 2 – Bahasa IndonesianThe second biggest challenge when in Jakarta is the language. Very few Jakartans speak English and so communicating with them can be a real challenge. I would recommend that anyone who is planning to spend more than a week in the country to do some basic Bahasa Indonesian language courses!
Challenge 3 - The weatherAs you would expect because of its proximity to the equator the weather is a tropical hot 30 - 33 degrees which when combined with the high humidity, feels more like 43 degrees. This doesn’t vary too much with the exception of the wet season (November to March) when it is “hot and wet”.
Locals advised me that because of earthquake activity over the past two centuries parts of Jakarta have sunk up to 1 metre. This means that moderate to severe flooding throughout the city is common in the wet season. This flooding adds to the severe traffic issues in Jakarta as water covers back streets and main roads making them impassable. One other notable characteristic is the lack of wind even though it is on or near the coast. This exacerbates the heat which in an Australia summer would be relieved by a storm or afternoon change.
Challenge 4 - What to do when you are not working.Jakarta isn’t really a tourist destination and because of the traffic problems, it is difficult if not impossible to try and do two different destinations in the one day.
Some of the places of note include “The Monas” - a 30 metre high monument to the formation of the Indonesian Republic which includes graphic depictions of the key moments in history and a panoramic view of the city, and Taman Safari where you can view an array of African animals.
Prepare for the lack of outdoor parks or fields where you can kick a ball – they don’t exist. They do however close 40 km of a 6-lane main road which runs across Jakarta from 6.00am to 11.00am on Sunday mornings. The locals and visitors all walk, run, cycle and enjoy the use of this while it is closed to traffic. There are over 40 golf courses in Jakarta and all are reported to be excellent. A round of golf including carts, caddy, clubs etc cost $100 - $200 AUD.
Of course spending time with the locals and getting to know the real Jakarta should be at the top of any to-do lists!
Considering a stint in Asia?Working as an expat in Asia is not for everybody - if you are someone who likes a defined structure and prefers things happening in a predicable fashion it’s probably not for you. However if you are looking for a new challenge, here are my top tips:
- Take advantage of every opportunity - enjoy the chance to do things that you will never do in Australia.
- Make the effort to get to know the locals - you will make some great connections and the shared experience builds long lasting friendships.
- Don’t expect it to go to plan – things change daily, there is lots of government red tape and flexibility is a necessity
- Have a plan B – because things don't go to plan you always need a contingency plan
- Immerse yourself in the culture – learn the language and eat with the locals
- Use your location – visit nearby countries and destinations while you’re there. The short distances and the high volume of travellers mean cheap airfares.
My advice is “Take the plunge, it's challenging but worth it!!
Before departing Australia for an extended period of time, make sure you have the right protection for both the assets you are leaving behind and those you are taking with you, depending on your arrangements this might include obtaining landlords cover for your home, ensuring that your vehicle/s are covered when driven by alternate drivers (particularly if they are under 25) and of course travel / health cover. Speak to an insurance adviser to determine your specific requirements. Visit www.cgu.com.au to find an adviser.