My Jakarta: Erica Sauer, Wife of Finnish Ambassador

I remembered growing up doing the same while enjoying different cultures at different diplomatic postings.
Regarding the punctuality in this country has not frustrated me a bit…knock on wood for business related appointments that have always been on time during each trip here.

What do you do to escape the sometimes humdrum expat social scene?

I don’t think there really is one expat lifestyle, but what helps me is the children and the work I’m still doing in my job. Also, I like watching my husband play ice hockey every Tuesday in Taman Anggrek Mall. It’s strange to watch a Finn play ice hockey inside a mall.

Finish this sentence. Jakarta is heaven for …

Gardening. You can grow anything here. I think this is heaven for gardeners. I’m not talking about just having a nice yard, trees and grass, I’m talking about tomatoes, cucumbers, anything.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve stumbled on while exploring Jakarta?

Blok M Square. I go there two or three times a week. It’s an experience for me to see how, between 8 and 10 in the evening as the shops start closing, you can see the small warungs at the side opening up and everybody just puts a tarp on the ground, takes their shoes off and puts their plates there and sits down. Everybody’s there, students, young people, older people, families — it’s like a huge outdoor picnic.

Have you learned to cook Indonesian food yet?

Nasi goreng and mie goreng. I haven’t tried to make rendang yet, though.

Before you moved here, how did you imagine Jakarta?

I didn’t think it would be as modern as it is. I mean, I love this city. I love the architecture. I love the fact that there are these high-rise buildings but the moment you leave Jakarta there aren’t any buildings over four stories high. Take the UOB Building for example. I love that building. I have no idea what they do, but I love the building. Judging by the shape of it maybe they do something with storage containers [laughs].

How does Jakarta compare with other cities?

Imagine if Jakarta had a beautiful coastline. It’s difficult to picture it now because it’s terrible at the moment. There are many other big cities around the world like this one but they have beautiful canals with boats and restaurants. The possibility is there. Of course, it requires a terrible amount of money, but can you imagine a better place if there were a beach and boardwalk and canals running through the city. People would come here instead of Singapore because it’s just so much more interesting.

What’s the most Jakartan or Indonesian thing you’ve done since you came here?

Learn to be late. It’s such a no-no in Finland and Northern Europe that I like it. I like the relaxed attitude toward time, that time is somehow flexible. And it needs to be, because there is no other way to be sure to be on time. If I wanted to be on time, I would have to leave my house four hours early for every appointment.

Was there anything that you heard about Jakarta before you came here that you discovered was unfounded?

To be honest, I thought it would be more polluted, dirtier. But I wanna say it’s orderly … with a few exceptions, of course. And I don’t have breathing problems … the air is not terrible. In every other city around the world where there are lots of cars it’s the same.

Give us one do and one don’t for Jakarta. For instance, do drink cobra blood in Glodok and don’t try to get around Kemang at 8 p.m. on a Friday.

Don’t complain about the traffic so much because it’s there. Maybe there is a way to push the government to do something, but we should be more innovative and figure out more solutions instead of complaining. Someone always invents a solution.

Where do you take newly arrived visitors?

This is boring but we have taken them all to Cafe Batavia, which is extremely nice, but everybody goes there. We’ve taken them to Chinatown and Blok M and Ambassador Mall and the traditional markets, where all the normal people go shopping.

While nearly everyone  in Jakarta seems to be sporting a BlackBerry or iPhone, you can bet you’ll never see Erika Sauer near either. Not that the part-time researcher and management consultant isn’t a big fan of technology, but as a  Finn, (and the wife of  the Finnish ambassador), she’s always representing her homeland, which  means she’ll never part with her trusty Nokia. 

Today, Sauer explains why  the warungs around Blok M Square fascinate her, reveals what she loves about the city and tells us why she’s no longer as punctual as she once was.

Can you bargain in Indonesian?

That was the first thing I learned and it has served me well. My driver taught me that when I go out I should ask the price of two or three things I’m not interested in first.

When you think of Jakarta, do any cities in Europe come to mind?

Possibly St. Petersburg, because of the canals and the terrible environmental problems they had. They are in the middle of solving them now. The canals are really beautiful and the city center is nice. Of course, it’s different from here, everything was from the 17th and 18th century. But they are dealing with it and it’s getting better and better all the time.

If you only had one day left here, what would you do?

I would throw a party. This is a city where everybody loves to party. Nobody wants to stay home and watch DVDs. Another thing I would do — will do — is ride through the city center at night on a motorbike.

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