I took in the surroundings here in Balikpapan during my first ride around town with my husband. A Jakarta born and bred, a metropolitan kid, I asked myself, What on earth am I doing here?
The airport where our plane landed did not have any air bridge because there was no second floor. A few steps from the plane and we were inside the baggage claim area. After a few more steps we were outside the airport. It only took two minutes to get our car out of the airport and cruise the beachside main street.
The city tour ended before I could ask, “Where’s the traffic?”
This is not home. Home is where I’m packed like sardines on the commuter train. Home is where I have to wash my face thick with dust after a five-minute walk from the train station to the office. Home is where, at 11 p.m., when I drive, my left foot is screaming for mercy after driving in such a crazy traffic.
Balikpapan is the size of Bintaro, the South Jakarta suburb where I had comfortably lived under my mother’s roof for the first 27 years of my life. When the longest you’d been away from your mom was during a four-day trip with your friends, it is not easy to decide to move out hundreds of miles away.
But my husband was relocated here, and like a devoted wife that I tried to be, I packed my bags, left my job in a giant food corporation, my best friends, my family, my life to settle in a town a fraction of the size of my hometown.
Dubbed the most developed city in Kalimantan, Balikpapan has four malls, three cinemas, and an airport barely the size of one of the floors of a wing of Jakarta’s Grand Indonesia luxury shopping center. Its 600,000-something population occupies some 500-kilometer-square space of the city. It only takes 20 minutes to get from one end of the city to the other .
So why? Why should any woman give up a promising career that brings double income to the family for this? Why should any city girl give up the bright lights and big malls with its therapeutic retails? Why should I leave my family, my best friends, my after-office coffee and karaoke sessions? Why should I miss out on great concerts that seem to be flooding Jakarta once I moved out, and had to settle with gigs of has-been bands like Michael Learns to Rock and Air Supply?
So after some contemplating, I’ve come up with some of the possible explanations:
1. Maybe it’s for the empty streets where a line of 10 cars is called “heavy traffic” by my husband’s driver. We can go to the cinema half an hour before a movie starts and still get nice seats, or squeeze in four kinds of errands in four different sides of the town under two hours’ time.
2. Maybe because there are no beggars knocking on my car window at every intersection, no pushy kids forcing me to buy the papers and then shouting about how I have no heart for not helping them pay for school.
3. Maybe it’s for the cleanliness this town holds a record for. Unlike in Jakarta, people actually put their plastic water bottles in the garbage can, and the pavements here don’t smell like trash. And, what air pollution? I’ve long said goodbye to thick, black fumes spraying out the back of a hundred-year-old Metro Mini. There are no ancient buses—hell, there are no public buses here.
4. Maybe it’s for the beach. It’s no Seminyak, but it’s nice to be able to enjoy the ocean view from almost every mall. We don’t have to beat the traffic and pay 15,000 rupiah per person and another 20,000 rupiah per car just to enjoy the trash-pond they call beach at Jakarta’s Ancol. It’s even nicer that we get to hold frequent barbecue at my husband’s office’s beach club.
5. Maybe because neighbors here are not just some random people who happen to live near you. I’ve moved houses and neighborhoods about four times in my life, and never bonded so well with my neighbors. I think it’s because most of us come from outside the island, and the husbands mostly work in the same office, while us wives stay at home with our children (we could have our own Wisteria Lane over here). We are like one huge family who could rely on each other whenever something’s up. And the local people seem to be sincerely nice; they don’t have those fake smiles plastered to their faces due to a high-level of stress they get from spending their time beating traffic to get to work every single day.
6. Or, maybe it’s that heart-warming small town vibe. Every year, to celebrate its anniversary, the city holds a town parade and people are jam-packed on side streets and pedestrian bridges to get the best views and wave at the carts. On the first year, I was too lazy to join the crowd under the sun, and, like a true big-city girl, opted to hang out at the mall instead. But this year, I carried my baby and shamelessly cheered at every passing decorative truck at the parade.
It was then that I knew, I had grown fond of this city, and maybe, just maybe, this is it and this is home.
About Putri Prameshwari
Putri is a twenty-something big-city girl living a small-town life. With Husband, a baby girl and a whole house to manage, she is currently enjoying a new role of being The Mamah of the Suryoputros.