Reverse Culture Shock

I’ve been in Indonesia for 9 months now, and I spent the first 4 of those 9 months cluelessly wandering around in a haze of culture shock.  I’m bearing that in mind as I prepare for JEXIT.  So part of my preparation is thinking about reverse culture shock for when JEXIT gets underway.  Because I’m not trying to leave myself careless for it to happen again just like that.

Given the experience I had in that Penang mall back in March with the shock of seeing so much skin on display, and given the fact that my limbs only rarely see the light of day since I’ve been in Indonesia, and given the fact that I have been living in a Muslim country for the better part of a year, I thought I’d better prepare myself for seeing a lot of Western skin again.  Additionally, I’ll be working out a lot when I get back to Jamaica since I have to bring my body back from a year of Indonesian living – unhealthy food and no exercise – and I’m already getting mentally prepped for feeling a little funny walking into the supermarket in my gym clothes of tights and a tank top, even though that’s quite acceptable in Jamaica.

For a few minutes during my reflection, I thought that the skin show adjustment would maybe not be a big issue for me, because being in Jakarta (instead of the stricter Aceh) sort of eased me back into more sightings of western dress – a large proportion of the women in the city actually dress western-style, though still very modestly by western standards.  But no, I took that back very quickly because I remember sitting in Gambir station a few weeks ago waiting for my train to Bandung.  A woman strode into the station with 2 teen-aged boys, presumably her sons, trailing behind her.  They all looked Indonesian.  And she was dressed in a tight shirt, booty shorts and knee-high boots (don’t ask me where she was going in those boots in this heat).  And I remember feeling shock at the amount of skin on display.  So I’m continuing to prepare my skin show shock absorbers.

But I think that there will really be 2 major areas of culture shock that I’ll need to deal with when I head back to the West.  The first is money.  From food to airline tickets, everything in Indonesia is dirt cheap.  That daily cup of 7-Eleven coffee that I buy?  Just about US$1.  Even at Starbucks I pay only about $3 for a cup of tea and an almond croissant.  Ayam bakar?  Less than $1.50.  Mie aceh?  About a dollar.

In all my flying around the country I haven’t paid more than $100 for a round-trip ticket, and that was for a flight that lasted 2 and a half hours each way!  That’s like paying a hundred bucks for a flight from Kingston almost to Atlanta and back!  One-hour cab ride to or from the airport?  Less than $20.  My most recent train jaunt to Bandung and back, 3 and a half hours each way, cost me a grand total of $16.  A Go-Jek to the Jamaican’s house costs me about $1.50 each way and one to my mall of choice, which is about 20 minutes away in bad traffic, costs even less.

I bought a pair of Crocs while I was in Bandung – the genuine article, not knock-offs.  Wanna know how much they cost?  About 25 bucks.  For the real thing.  Remember that blouse I bought to meet the ambassador?  It’s lined and has fake pearls all down both arms.  It’s a very well made piece of clothing that I would pay an arm and a leg for back home.  I bought it for less than $20 in a boutique in a high-end mall.

Things are dirt-cheap here!  My dollar stretches really far and I think I’m going to find it very difficult to get used to paying Western prices for things again, from hotel rooms to cabs.

The other major shock I’ll have to deal with is feeling that, based on how I’ve been living and some of the experiences I’ve had, some western concerns will escape me.  I got an inkling that this might be a problem a couple of months ago when a friend Whatsapp’d to complain about how stressed out she was.  I asked her why, what was going on, imagining all sorts of mayhem and destruction.  She told me that Amazon had shipped her order late.  And she was dead serious.  I felt like maybe that wasn’t real stress.  This is a simple example but the point I’m trying to make is that I’ve changed.  A year ago I may have commiserated with her stress but a lot of things about me are no longer the same as when I left Jamaican 9 months ago.  So how I relate to people may be different because my perspectives on some things are different.

Additionally, I find that I’m far more outspoken that I used to be.  I confront things very easily, a gift that I used to share solely for my family.  Whereas I’ve never been stingy with the compliments, I used to bite my tongue on the not-so-pretty feedback.  Now, not so much.  If somebody is acting stupid, I tell them (told a guy that just last week).  If somebody is being dishonest, I tell them.  My filters have apparently ceased to exist and I can only pray that they come back, at least in part, because I really don’t want to come off as rude and offensive.

So those are my main concerns – sticker shock and my own attitude.  I can only hope and pray that the work I do on myself in the time before JEXIT launches will help to ease the blow.


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