When I was a teenager, home was an apartment that housed my loved ones. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I didn’t have to — I was “at home” most of the time. As I grew older and joined my parents for overseas holidays, the term “home” expanded to include Singapore, as it now meant the place that I was born, raised and schooled.
In my 30s, the term “home” changed again when my daughter and I relocated to Germany with my husband for his job. The culture shock, the struggles to cope with the long winter and to befriend locals, who sometimes seemed as cold as the weather, made us miss home more than ever.
But then after about a year, and without us even noticing it, we began to feel “at home.” We picked up some of the language, made friends, experienced the German lifestyle and grew to love Munich, our adopted home. Over time, we felt strangely like foreigners in our own hometown when we flew back for the holidays.
It dawned on me then that it was possible to have more than one home simultaneously. It makes sense. Some cities just resonate with you so that you can’t help but want to settle down there.
Monocle recently published a list of the top 25 “livable and lovable” cities. The cities were judged in 14 different areas such as infrastructure, crime, unemployment rate, culture and climate. These seemed like fair and logical criteria for analysis, but at the same time, I wondered: Can one be happy making a home in a city based on a list of cold, hard facts?
I have visited 13 of these top 25 cities over the past 10 years. Cities like Munich and Honolulu were a joy to visit, but there were also a couple of cities that my family and I found to be rather hectic and stressful to stay in, despite all the obvious advantages.
Jakarta, on the other hand, is nowhere to be seen on Monocle’s list, and in a 2012 Global Livability Survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, it was ranked 118th out of 140 cities. Having lived here for the past three years, I found the survey rather harsh.
I have met many people who have made Jakarta their home and who would never think of relocating to one of Monocle’s top 25 cities.
In fact, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve known people to stay on in Jakarta after their expatriate contract ended. Then there are the many friends who left Jakarta after their work stint, but found themselves irresistibly drawn back to the city.
So what is it that draws people here?
The people. That was the most common answer I got when I put the question to friends. Relationships, be they spousal, friendships or business ties, play a significant role in making a city home. Despite media reports of religious persecution, Jakartans have an amazing ability to embrace differences.
My personal trainer, who was born Catholic, still practices her faith even though her husband is a Muslim. During the month of Ramadan, she prepared his breakfast in the wee hours of the morning and cooked up a feast for the family on the first day of Lebaran. And she is not the only one. I have met many others like her.
An American friend of mine who has lived here for more than three decades says that the people in Jakarta have always been there for her. And there are many other foreigners I know who not only live here but have also found life partners and raised children here. They have become perfectly at ease with everything from eating tempeh to taking a bajaj.
For these people, no magazine list would be worth referencing because for them, it is the soft factors than count. Perhaps the saying “home is where the heart is” has a lot of truth to it after all.
But just imagine the kind of city Jakarta could be if it fulfilled the criteria listed by Monocle but retained the Indonesian spirit. It would be unbeatable.
Anita Othman is a freelance writer slaving away on her novel, which is set in Jakarta. She can be contacted at email@example.com.