What makes some cities a little more daunting?

Every time a non-Indian remarked how crazy a city Bangalore (any Indian city for that matter) is, I was always amused and never really understood them. They pointed out the outrageous traffic, reckless driving, spicy food, talkative people, etc. as evidence to this perception. Having grown up with it, I could not associate these things as being somewhat strange or crazy, in fact, it’s what I thought made my Bangalore what it is, and if one did, they would have to love Bangalore for all it’s madness. In 2012, when I visited Japan for the first time, I stayed there for about a week and I severely missed chaos. I knew I’d go mad if I stayed longer. This didn’t happen when I first moved to Barcelona. It was chaotic enough for me to not miss home and not chaotic enough for me to feel lost. Living in developed countries is fairly straight forward – good infrastructure, established processes for most things, less uncertainity, etc. and one can get by with just a working internet connection.

When I landed in Jakarta two weekends ago, the humidity engulfed me as soon as I stepped out of the airport and there was a strange whiff of familiarity that I had stopped appreciating about emerging countries (even my own) – vehicles sprawling all over the place, tonnes of people gawking and invading my personal space, an instinctive fear (though uncalled for) to clutch my purse harder, watching my step every second and looking on both sides before crossing the road. Soon enough, I was comfortably escorted by a chauffeur in a private car and I was swept away from the discomfort of having to try to convince a taxi guy in broken English, Spanish (that’s my instinctive non-native tongue now) and Tamil (I have no clue why) to take me to my hotel.

First week was fairly smooth given that I was protected from most uncertainties except having to order my own dinner, which is fairly straight forward in South East Asia as menus are usually quite picturesque! I even had a chance to live Ramadaan Indonesia style, that too with the husband and that was enough to make some good memories of this city. But every time I struggle with basic things like not knowing how to tell the taxi driver to go left or right, not knowing when and where is a good place to cross the immensely wide streets, navigating my strides close to the edge of the road as there exists no footpaths, not knowing which animal I might be eating or not knowing whether the guy who hoots at me every evening while I walk down the shady alley from my hotel to the restaurant has good or bad intentions makes Jakarta a little more daunting than it is. This is not taking into consideration that one needs to grow a whole new social circle in a new place.

Locals grow up with this or learn to cope with it over time, but for a foreigner, the chaos and uncertainty takes a while to go down and especially, given that I come from a country that is very similar, I expect the worst simply because of my own prejudices and inability to understand the language here. As I walked the aisles of the Ramadaan food festival at La Piazza last evening, I was reminded of my Frazer town Ramadaan walk with Harsha last year and wondered if all the heat from the cooking wasn’t enough to make up for the warmth I was missing in my new city!


One thought on “What makes some cities a little more daunting?

  1. Incredibly, I have the same combination of languages I try and speak in when in a foreign country (and Hindi also). The number of times I tried to speak in Spanish (despite hardly knowing the language) during the week I spent in Indonesia is not funny. And in the past I’ve tried speaking Tamil in Delhi.

    I think it’s this instinct that all “foreign languages” are the same!


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