PART II: Views of expats who chose to stay on throughout the pandemic…

(Illustration by Miroslava Chrienova via Pixabay)

IO – The situation in Indonesia is a difficult one at present but many expatriates are choosing to stay on despite warnings to return home from many embassies. This is part two of a series speaking to expatriates about their reasons for staying and what they are going through. Here are some of their stories: 

Alla Dulh, a Russian artist living in Bali is seen here wearing a Balinese headdress. (Photo courtesy of Alla Dulh)

Alla Dulh is a Russian artist married to an American living in Bali. They have a baby who was born in Bali which they consider their home. Alla was born in 1983 in Leningrad but has always loved travelling – by the age of 8 she already had her first passport. First, she travelled all over Russia. Then one day she realized that she could live in other parts of the world and simply visit Russia. So, for 15 years she travelled and lived in Germany, France, Spain, India, Burma, Nepal and Thailand before finally arriving in Bali. “I was basically looking for myself. My travels were in fact a spiritual journey. It was not logical but I arrived late in the evening in Bali from India planning to stay for a month. As I closed my eyes that night I thought to myself , ‘I am going to live here’. The next morning I woke up and went out. Everywhere I saw beauty.” 

Alla had been to many beautiful places in the world but she says that it was the first time she saw beauty not only in nature but also in the creations people produced and in the people themselves. It all fit together and this together with the open smile of the Balinese made a deep impression on Alla as an artist. 

Alla uses wood as her canvas and paints in a realist style and her subject is nearly always people. For her what is most important is the level of consciousness of the person she is painting. She found a studio to work in on her second day in Bali. “I just told a taxi driver that I was looking for a studio and that I am an artist and don’t care about comfort. I want to live on top and I want an amazing view,” Alla explained. 

The taxi driver brought her to the art gallery of renowned Balinese sculpture I Made Ada who specializes in statues of the god Vishnu riding Garuda. There she rented a studio on the second floor with a beautiful view. She felt very comfortable as there were so many different types of wood around needed for sculptures and she always had to pass through a gallery of sculptures to reach her studio. It was just what she was looking for. Eventually, Alla created enough paintings for her first exhibition in Bali. This proved extremely successful and two days later she met her future husband, Glenn. Two years later their daughter Zea was born. 

Alla with her husband Glenn and daughter Zea seated in the garden. (Photo courtesy of Alla Dulh)

One of the reasons Alla and her husband decided to stay on in Bali is because of their different citizenship.

America would not issue a visa for Alla and Russia would not issue a visa for Glenn. Had either Alla or Glenn been Indonesian this would not have been the case. The spouses of both Indonesian men and women can obtain residence. Added to that, Alla also suspects that the situation in Russia may be worse than the government is admitting. In Bali her greatest concern is that 80% of Bali’s income derives from tourism and she assumes that 60% of those working in that field will lose their income. She worries about an increase in theft and that people may become aggressive. On the other hand she considers, “The Balinese are a people who believe in karma and I think many will return to farming in order to sustain themselves during the next two years…” 

Alla and her husband did not panic as the pandemic broke out but moved into town where they feel more secure. They maintain a healthy lifestyle exercising, consume vitamin C and fresh yoghurt regularly, use their sauna and most of all practice breathing exercises so that they can take in energy through prana. Prana is a Sanskrit word meaning breath. In Yoga it is one of the five vital breaths moving through the body. Finally, Alla’s advice for other expats is if you have a house then stay but if you are living in a hotel for example, it’s probably better to return to your own country. If you are staying on in Indonesia then rent a house for at least a year and make sure you have funds and food available. 

Kenichiro Matsuhisa is a Japanese businessman who has lived in Indonesia since 2011. (Photo courtesy of Kenichiro Matsuhisa)

Kenichiro Matsuhisa is a 49 year old Japanese businessman who arrived in Indonesia in 2011. He was sent by a Japanese investment company to start operations in Indonesia. The initial investment was in BNI securities but he also managed Japanese investments in other businesses. 

At first Ken did not have an easy time in Indonesia. Before coming to Indonesia Ken worked for 5 years in the United States. Both the Japanese culture as well as American culture are very different from Indonesian culture and during his first year in Indonesia Ken really had to struggle to understand and adjust to the pace and way of thinking especially in Indonesia’s work culture. Working with a state owned enterprise did not make it easier. Added to this he was the first person sent out by his company to Indonesia making him in a sense his firm’s pioneer. Ken worked so hard at trying to understand the market and succeeding with his project that he became ill. “One day, I was working in my office when I suddenly felt dizzy. I looked up at the ceiling and found it was rotating. I could not move and was taken to the hospital. They found that I was over-stressed and had suffered a temporary mental breakdown. I was very surprised and realized then that I had been trying to do too much. I had wanted to do things exactly as in Japan with the same discipline and punctuality. I was working with a team and they could not deliver and I was becoming more and more stressed to the point of becoming burnt out.” 

As he recovered Ken realized that he needed to change how he looked at things in Indonesia. At first when things did not work out he tried to find someone responsible for the problem but as time went on he began to understand that most people were doing the best they could but that there were often problems outside their control such as online dis-connectivity or electricity problems.

Kenichiro Matsuhisa at work from home. (Photo courtesy of Kenichiro Matsuhisa)

He comments, “In the beginning I was prejudiced and perhaps even a little arrogant but eventually I came to realize that the problems were caused by a mixture of culture and mindset issues but also by infrastructure problems. Moreover, I was overwhelmed by the project but after being hospitalized I changed my mindset and become more objective. I began to realize that there was also something wrong with the Japanese way of thinking. It has such a high suicide rate: 30,000 suicides per year. I started thinking more about Indonesian and Japanese cultures. Neither is perfect. I tried to understand the good and the bad in Indonesian culture and to focus on the good and if something needed improving I was more careful. After applying this different approach in my second year I felt comfortable and worked closely with people and after 3, 4 years I became very comfortable and business was good. People are more tolerant of failure here and some times that is not good but the Japanese are too intolerant. Here there is a very low suicide rate. My wife agrees. In Tokyo we wonder why people are so impatient and rigid. Understanding Indonesia better has also helped me to understand Japan and the United States better.” 

The Japanese government has issued no firm instructions to its citizens to return home but many Japanese families have returned to Japan because the situation in Indonesia appears to be getting worse and some fear there maybe riots due to lack of work for people. Ken and his wife are carefully monitoring the situation in both Japan and Indonesia. In Japan the government only declared a state of emergency nearly a week ago but Japan differs from other countries because the government does not have the authority to force people to obey. This is because of Japan’s constitution after the Second World War which guards democracy and people’s freedom zealously. Ken commented, “The Japanese government has classified Indonesia as at alert level 3. If that changes to level 4 I may send my family home but at present it is not necessarily safer in Japan than in Indonesia. Here I am staying in a safe place and do not need to go out. We have many Indonesian friends to whom we feel an attachment and we feel at home here.” 

Ken speaks to many people online as well as to his wife and child. Work is slow but he focuses on what’s next after the virus has passed. He is able to walk around his complex, there is a gym and he can also swim and sit in the sunshine under a blue sky. Ken’s advice to other expats is to stay connected to the expat and local communities. “This is what we do and so we are not alone even though many Japanese families have left.” 

Bella Angelo gazes out at a beautiful Balinese sunset from her house. (Photo courtesy of Mary Lee)

Bella Angelo is in her sixties and came to Indonesia in 1991 with her husband. She was born in San Francisco but has lived 7 years in Jakarta and 22 years in Bali. Before coming to Indonesia she studied clothing design and was 10 years in retail management. While in Indonesia Bella and her husband divorced and she is now in the jewelry export business. During her years in Indonesia Bella has raised a Balinese daughter who is now 20 years old. “She is the love of my life,” declares Bella happily. 

A wong-wongan offering in Bali. (Photo courtesy of Mary Lee)

Bella loves Indonesians and Indonesian culture which she finds vibrant, alive and always having something new to offer. “Take for example the daily offerings in Bali. They now have one called wong-wongan. It is a figure on banana leaves and it is meant to be taken by the virus instead of the person offering it. This is such a rich culture and after all these years I have never once felt bored by it. And as for the Indonesian people they are so warm, open and friendly. After meeting once they feel like a friend. They have such genuine and authentic warmth.” 

Last December Bella was in Australia for a medical procedure. She returned around the 15th of December and it was only after that that the issue of the corona virus began to blow up. . She says, “The issue of flying to the United States never really occurred to me because of the dangers of flying. I felt that it was more important for us to stay healthy where we were rather than flying off somewhere. So, we started wearing masks whenever we went shopping already by the end of January when cases started to be reported in Singapore. We stopped eating out, self-isolated and cooked our own food. I used to use GoMaid but now we clean our own house.” 

Later when the American embassy advised all its citizens to return to America because of a perceived lack of medical facilities in Indonesia Bella and her daughter discussed it and together made the decision to stay on. “Home is where the heart is and our home and heart are in Indonesia,” Bella says. 

At first when things started blowing up in Italy and then later in Indonesia Bella remarked, “Like everyone I was reading everything I could wanting to be informed but I began to feel very stressed and after a few sleepless nights I realized that this was not good for my immune system so I now have a routine of meditation, yoga, reading uplifting books – I even dance and exercise for fun. I joined in the global meditation and prayer event online. In Bali there have also been prayer events at home as when the Governor of Bali asked all to join in prayer. We sat in our home and joined in in English. We tried to join that energy of prayer.” 

Bella says that she does not fear for herself or her daughter. She believes that if they self-isolate they will be all right. It is the unknown future that concerns her more, and the problems of the lovely Balinese people who live off their daily wages such as her tailor and a driver she uses from time to time. Bella comments, “I try to help the people within my orbit who are like family,” and her advice to other expats is, “Self-isolate. Take care of your health and mental state by staying positive and be aware of neighbours in need. I tell my daughter: whenever there is change in our lives we need to adapt and adjust. So, we are now adapting and adjusting! Adjusting and adapting!” (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

If you enjoyed this article you may like to read:
Part I :
Part III:
Part IV :