Discover more from Slouching Towards Blok M
#12: To build a home
Are you even a proper adult if you haven’t considered leaving the convenience of a kost in downtown Jakarta for more space in BSD
Welcome to another Wednesday installation of this newsletter. This Wednesday ones are the hardest to write, to be honest, so excuse me if they tend to be erratic or weird. I’m realizing that my pursuit of consistency and frequency might come at the expense of quality narrative, so that’s that. I’m trying to figure out a better writing habit that wouldn’t require me to publish first drafts… but I’m also trying to live with first drafts (my therapist would be so proud).
Just know that I edit these pieces all the time post-publishing! Haha. The edits are never reflected on the newsletter you get in your inbox, but they’re there on the website/Substack app. Most of the time the story doesn’t change — I just feel like I get to tell it better and then I get to feel better about my decision to write these things. :’)
Thank you so much for reading!
The most impressive thing about N’s new house is its location. It’s a short 20-minute cab ride from where I’m currently renting, and I rent pretty central in Jakarta Selatan. On the top floor of his house, a door opens to a rooftop terrace, where several identifiable buildings come into view in the distance, signaling to me I wasn’t anywhere unfamiliar.
Unfamiliar is what I feel driving around my sister’s BSD neighborhood, in her a car, which is constantly blasting baby songs. I once tried to change the playlist on the basis of “gantian” but was promptly advised against it; apparently taking turns, or the sheer concept of fairness, was not a thing in baby-adult relationships. I swear I’m not selfless enough to have babies. I don’t see how I can ever drive the kind of distance people who live in BSD and work in the city do without being able to blast my Carly Rae Jepsen the whole trip.
Mom’s place is even farther away, about 45 minutes to an hour from my sister’s — which in my book is far enough in the first place. When I look around from the roof of mom’s work-in-progress home, I don’t know where I am. I pride myself for being pretty well-oriented with this city. Not just Jakarta, but to some extent, Jabodetabek. When Grab fails to locate the destination I’m typing onto its search bar, I can open its map and manually locate where I want to go, expertly telling one street from another without much clue. Give me a map of Jakarta and there are roads, coffee shops, homes I’d be able to accurately point out. But I couldn’t point out the road to my mom’s if my life depended on it.
A brief history of the places I’ve lived
I grew up in my grandparents house in Central Jakarta. It’s the place I refer to when I say “home”, the place my bills still gets sent to occasionally.
Friends have attempted to discount just how “Central” it actually is, and I love to entertain them as a bit. Frankly, it’s Central in the sense that my government-issued ID labels my address Central, with a Central Jakarta zip code and everything. But I understand the doubts. You can’t be this close to the North and East and claim to be Central. You can’t take 40 minutes to get to Senayan, maybe even an hour by TransJakarta, and claim to be Central. You can’t make a habit out of jogging in Kelapa Gading — which I did, at one point — and claim to live somewhere Central.
Home was also once Jatibening, which isn’t really Bekasi but is too Kalimalang-adjacent not to feel like it. We would wake up at 4.30 a.m. and leave at 5.30 a.m. in hopes of beating the traffic on our way to school in Salemba, Central Jakarta. We ate breakfast on the way, and by the time we made it back home, usually at night after spending after-school hours at my grandparents while waiting for my parents to finish work, the car would sometimes stink of leftovers that had been sitting in the there all day.
On days when my parents couldn’t pick me up from school, I’d take the angkot home. The M01 which passes by Salemba on its way from Senen to Kampung Melayu, and then M26 from Kampung Melayu to Kalimalang. During a recent conversation, I brought up this fact to my dad and he responded with surprise. “Did you really?” He has no memory of me taking public transportation in fifth grade. Mind you this was pre-smartphone era! I don’t know which is wilder, being 10 and navigating Jakarta’s public transport system in the year 2000 or having your dad completely forget he let you do that. Lmao.
There was also that time I kind of partially lived in BSD. I was in college by then, living my best life as the daughter of parents who were on their way to finalizing their divorce. I would lug clothes between Central Jakarta – Depok (where I was studying) – Tangerang. I could tell one parent that I was spending the night at the other parent’s place and get away with actually going back to neither. I never did it! But the idea that I could if I ever wanted to was comforting. It was around this time that Teras Kota opened. When it opened, I thought finally a nice enough mall in this part of town. I can only assume that these days Teras Kota lives under the shadows of Aeon, which marks a whole different era for BSD. Back when I kind of lived there, the area where Aeon now stands was a swamp. The city is so sterile these days it’s hard to imagine a time when it was anything but tree-lined residential areas, though drive far enough and you might just see it.
Where do adults live anyway
For the past six years, I’ve lived alone in the city. Central central. I am 10 to 20 minutes away from whatever mall or bar I would be meeting up with friends for dinner at all times. Yet while I’ve enjoyed experiencing the city without the exhaustion of a one-hour commute, lately I find myself feeling increasingly opposed to my current living situation. Well maybe not opposed, necessarily, but the thought of it no longer gives me the sense of excitement and freedom as it once did. Without going into details, I’m currently at a place in my life where the kind of changes that are happening requires me to also consider making changes to my living situation — and this has been a major source of anxiety for me. Maybe this is why I felt compelled to write about this today? All of my writings are really just ways for me to process or defend myself against things I’m extremely anxious about.
When I still lived with family, in the Central Jakarta home, the ideal life that I wanted for myself was simply one where I would get to make up my own rules, be surrounded by the things that reflected who I am. I also wanted to live closer to the city center, I wanted to look at the city from up close. And so when a job came along that required going to an office far enough from home (in West Jakarta), I took that as a chance to tap out and start renting. It wasn’t out of necessity as much as the desire to feel like I could finally get my life started.
These days, I look around and things don’t feel right. My place is at once too big and too small for the life that I want. In some ways it’s perfect: the right location, the the right size, and price for what I get. I also like the serendipitous way with which I found it two years ago. But it’s also not idea: I want a cheaper rent now that I’m self-employed, but I’ve also been hating living alone; feeling too lonely too much of the time, feeling like I need the presence of others to push me out of bed, like I need to feel “being perceived” — just the right amount — to function as myself.
Other than the obvious fact that changes suck and general problem solving can be hard and also essentially suck, I hate having this problem because it seems to highlight all the ways in which I am failing as an adult. I can hear echoes of the “rent vs buying” argument in my head, one of those “adult conversations” I never wanted to be a part of because making the best investment was never a priority in my life — freedom and my own personhood is. I hate how little I have it together at a time when I feel like I should be performing my best adult self. Or at least I’ve been led to believe that I should. I swear if I think about my ideal living situation long enough, these thoughts grow into a tornado that eventually eat on my sense of self.
Many of my peers seem to have taken the BSD or Bintaro route. All that space, all that greenery, with a train connection for “easy access” to the city. Are you even a proper adult if you haven’t considered putting a downpayment on a Sinarmas Land apartment? When my West Jakarta workplace eventually moved its offices to BSD, I went to look for apartments to rent in the area and was immediately put off by the silence.
N’s home, which is in Jakarta and is central central, an easy 20-minute from many of our go-to neighborhoods, with actually beautiful finishings and a Dyson fan we like to tease him about, made me think of an alternate life where maybe I had more to offer this world other than some essay about the perils of adulthood and moving.
Thanks for reading Party of Three! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.