Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Living in luxury in Jakarta

Source (click to view full story): The Southland Times/ Rhiannon Horrell

On a sunny afternoon, 23 floors up in a modern apartment building in South Jakarta, the Quertier family are a world away from their beginnings in Gore.

"Next time I say I want an assignment overseas I must be more specific about the country," Carol Quertier says, laughing.

They are sheltered from the harsh realities of Jakartan-life within their high-walled apartment complex, which boasts an expansive swimming pool, a garden and even a convenience store.

"One of the great things with living here, with our lifestyle, is having people who come in and help," Carol says.

They have two Indonesian women as servants. Darsi shares care of 6-year-old son Orson with Warren while Tartik does all of the cooking and cleaning.

The original plan was to stay three years, maybe five at the most, but they've been there nine. Orson was born in New Zealand but was an "expat" by the age of one month.

"They kept saying to me `Would you stay for another year Carol? Another two years'?"

Now they've been away from New Zealand more than half their lives, but plan to end up back here, where the pace of life is slower.

Each day, Carol has a seven minute walk to Axa Insurance while Warren works from home in online financial trading.

Despite security concerns and terrorist threats to Indonesia, the couple says they feel safer walking the streets of Jakarta than other major cities.

"I think we have said to each other that if ever we get to a point where we are worried, and you are always watching your back, then it really is time to move on.

"I was at Axa when they had the Mariott Hotel bomb. It was like 200m across an open field from my office. I was sitting there watching the smoke."

Warren says it is surreal to see how quickly life resumes when a bomb does go off.

"At Senayan complex, where they play baseball, they stopped for about a minute because they heard the bomb. Within a couple of minutes they carried on playing. You would think everything around it would stop but they just kept going."

The family has grown to love Indonesia after taking six to nine months to adapt. With a population of 12 million, Jakarta is a bustling city with traffic problems that make Auckland's seem minor.

"There is always something going on. It is the city that never sleeps," Carol says.

"You go back home to the farm and it is so quiet you can actually here the ringing in your ears," Warren adds. "It takes a bit to get used to it again."

Now in their early 40s, they find New Zealand too cold after acclimatising to the tropical heat of Java.

"I can't stand the cold now," Warren says. "This is all I ever live in a T-shirt. You go home to New Zealand and it takes you half an hour to get ready by the time you put all the layers on before you go outside."

With general costs lower than at home, living in Jakarta can be relatively cheap despite the fluctuating Indonesian rupiah.

"You could probably live better here for the same amount of money," Warren says.

"When we go back to New Zealand, we will holiday using our US dollars, which at the moment gives you a better purchasing power there."

"When people come to Jakarta we say everyone is a millionaire," Carol says. One million rupiahs is about NZ$166.

While they live in luxury, they are aware of the mass poverty that plagues Jakarta. Slum housing sits alongside skyscrapers, with whole families living on the streets.

"It is pretty much just squatters, not even a kampong (neighbourhood) as such," says Warren. "You can see real hardship there.

"People in New Zealand complain about silly little things. They need to stop it and realise just how lucky they are."

His mother, who visited at Christmas, was shocked to see the locals washing their clothes in a dirty puddle on the street.

"It wakes you up a bit," he says.