Most people that I talked to will express their confusion when I explain that we plan to downgrade a few things in life. Because most people strive to keep upgrading their lives, with better job titles, better offices, better houses, living in better provinces or even better countries. And here we are, trying to downgrade them all in one go. And here I am trying to explain our idea behind why we downgrade our life, and what we expect to get in the short and long term for all of this.
The biggest downgrade of all
Is that we decided to move back to our hometown, Bengkulu. This is the 7th poorest province in Indonesia, downgraded more than 30 places from Jakarta, the richest province in all of Indonesia. We gave up the big mall, unique chain food stores, fancy restaurants, big brands of clothes, and all that only Jakarta can offer. Move to Bengkulu which just has one good mall, one dying mall, and the number of fancy chain food stores you can count on one hand only, heck even McD opened their first store ever in Bengkulu just a few years back. This downgrade hit my wife the hardest I guess, she’s no longer able to shop around nice clothes, hang around big malls, and eat in a nice restaurant. One reason why she was hesitant with this moving back idea for quite a long time.
But then I keep explaining to her, that 1 mall is good enough, we could do some shopping there, for her make-up & accessories, we could watch the cinema there, and a few other things as well. For food, our local restaurant is much better, and the local meatball store tastes much better than any meatball restaurant we have ever been to in Jakarta. And for clothes, she can do it online and every few months she gets a chance to go to other cities for work, and she definitely can do the clothes shopping at this time. After some time, she can accept this kind of downgrade.
The second downgrade
It is in our working place and title, because we want to move back to our hometown, we need to change our workplace. My wife is a government officer, so the way is pretty straightforward to her, it is downgrading her workplace from the ministry head office into the regional representative office in our hometown. While it seems simple, but not so much in reality, it takes months of preparation and another few months of approval process. But in the end of the day, she got it, and she’s not so happy with this, much thing happened in the rep’s office not as she expected them to be, but it is what it is, she tried to make peace with this change. Nothing much we can do on this front because it’s not like we can change how people work here, it’s just what has happened so far.
And for me, say bye-bye to working in high-rise tower building, I’m pretty sure the highest building here in Bengkulu has only 6 floor. And for my expertise and pay grade, I don’t think I could get any position here, it is just absurd for my hometown to have staff with this requirement. So that left me with working for a company that could offer remote work, at least for most of the weeks if not all, I can do Jakarta – Bengkulu flight every now and then. And thankfully, I got this chance with my current company, Tripledot Studios. I’m glad I got reached out by their HR, and I’m a good fit for them, and the only thing I negotiate in the offering process is a working arrangement because we need to move back, and I need to make sure that this new company is supporting that plan. The job title they offer is a staff level, it is a downgrade from the senior staff position I held in my last 2 companies. But hey, as long as the pay grade does not have a downgrade, I’m okay with this, and this also means I can climb higher to the senior staff position next 😀
The last downgrade
Is our living place. We got a small apartment unit in Jakarta that we could call home. I took a mortgage for it a few years back, and while it’s a super small 2-bedroom unit, it’s a lovely place with a nice view, and I would love to live there with my small family of 1 wife and 1 kid. And bye-bye to this as well, here in Bengkulu we live with our parents. No place we could call ours for now, and we just had one bedroom to be together, and the rest was shared with other family members. It’s not so ideal for a new family if you ask me, but this is what we got.
Then why do we do all three downgrades at the same time?
It comes to a single thing: the family.
We don’t see any scenario where we could be happy as a family living in Jakarta, that place is too crowded, pollution is bad, too expensive, and especially for us it’s too detached from our extended family.
Is it my personal opinion? No, it’s a fact. You can check it on this link https://www.visualcapitalist.com/ranked-the-worlds-largest-cities-by-population/
How do you notice cities get so crowded? Just take public transport during rush hours. I’ve been to Tokyo, Guangzhou, and lived in Shanghai for a few years. And all of them are supported by extensive public transport, so many MRT lines, buses that go everywhere for nearly 24 hours, and public transport costs minimum and is quite comfortable. Yes, I talk about taking public transport at the peak of rush hour. I have been there, and nothing beats the unpleasant experience of taking KRL in Jakarta to get to the office in the morning or get back home at night. Jakarta is so crowded, and public transport is not adequate, and the government is just trying to fix it now, with new MRT, LRT lines, high-speed trains, and centralized train stations in Manggarai.
I keep updated with this development, and do hope it will help the next generation, but definitely not us, we have kid already, and we need to commute daily now while it still takes years to develop to the level that is the same as other cities I mentioned above.
Take private transport instead of public transport as what others are doing? That’s crazy as well; traffic jams in Jakarta are no joke. People are spending 2 hours or more on one way to get to the office from their home. And I don’t think we could do it every day for years; that is unbearable and wastes too much of our time, the time that could be used to be together with our small baby.
And this crowded experience is not just on the way; everywhere you go, you will see people lined up ahead of you. If you want to have a nice sushi in a mall, queue please, here take your number first. Wanna pay for groceries that you just picked up in a store, queue please, other people want to pay as well, and the counter is only open 1. You get sick, get into a hospital, queue please, other people here are nearly dying and still they wait patiently. And this crowded people issue is actually the main reason for the next two problems.
Pollution is Bad
Now, it’s been quietly forgotten, due to the rainy season, that Jakarta’s pollution is really bad. Some months ago we got pollution fog so bad that we can see it from any high-rise building in Jakarta. You can monitor it every day here https://www.iqair.com/indonesia/jakarta
I’m not so lucky, being born with few problems with my health. I have had asthma since kid, well, my parent got it, and it’s genetic, there is nothing I can do. It’s better when I’m an adult, and it’ll get worse as I get old the doctor says. I have a sore throat so often and visit a doctor nearly every month, that the first question I ask every HR when I join a new company is how is their health insurance package covering. I am just not built for Jakarta’s air condition, the pollution gonna kill me slowly and make my life miserable every month I spend there. How Jakarta could be like this, perhaps I’m not the best person to answer this, but what I could guess is due to too many people here. These people all use private transportation, even the ones that are not able to afford them, so they use substandard vehicles that have high pollution. The industry is all built nearby to use the people and resources that are centered here. Power stations nearby are chugging coal and producing pollution to power up all the buildings, houses, and everything else in Jakarta.
What happens when so many people compete for limited resources is that the price goes up and up until only a few people can afford it. And the limited resource that I’m talking about when people start a family is housing. Houses in Jakarta are so damn expensive, and I’m talking about proper landed houses, in proper land size, located at proper neighborhood, that’s not too far from the city center, with a proper road in front of it that cars can pass easily, and close access to public transport. People keep saying it’s okay to sacrifice one or two or all of the proper things I mentioned above when getting a house in Jakarta, but it is hard when I think about all my family members. When I bought a house and sold my soul to the devil called banks under an agreement called a mortgage, I wanted every one of my family members to live comfortably in that house, so at least I could relax at night, knowing they were happy living in that house, while I keep paying my monthly mortgage payment. And is this only my opinion? No, as other things I stated above, data is backing this; there is some index called the property prices index that ranks city’s median property prices against yearly median family disposable income, you can check it here https://www.numbeo.com/property-investment/rankings_current.jsp
Jakarta ranked 28 out of 237 cities on the list, nearly top 10% in the world, roughly it takes 20 years of the median family’s entire disposable income to purchase a median-priced house in Jakarta. And does disposable income only cover housing? No, we need food, transport, and many other things to sustain family life. It costs an arm, a leg, and sometimes a head to get a house in Jakarta.
And it is not just a house that is expensive, nearly everything else is expensive. Health care is expensive, food in a restaurant is expensive, traveling around is expensive, hell it costs so much just to be alive from day to day in Jakarta. And coming from a simple family from both of me and my wife’s family, we can’t expect a windfall from our family to help us out living in Jakarta comfortably, heck we even need to help them out. Every rupiah counts for us, so we need to spend them wisely.
Too Detached from Our Extended Family
Both me and my wife are spending our time after high school far from our family, we took bachelor’s degree in Jakarta, and our master’s degree in China, then both of us have been working in Jakarta for a few years already. We get used to being far from our family and just live by ourselves, and sometimes we don’t even think that we need our family at all at that time.
But it all changes when our lovely baby comes, starting from the delivery preparation, when the baby is born, and for some years after the baby is born, we really need our family to help us raise the baby. Especially when both of us are working, we need our parents to look after the baby, sleep with her, feed her, give her milk, take care when she sick, bathing her, and so many other things. And be mindful that we hired a babysitter already, but no babysitter so far beat the care of grandparents.
And not just because we want them to take care of our baby, we also feel that our parents are getting old, sometimes they get sick, and we need to look after them once in a while. Our siblings are still fighting for their life and their dreams, and we feel obligated to help them out. They’re our siblings anyway, our parents might be leaving us behind due to aging, but we gotta be with our siblings for the rest of our lives, so better prepare them and make their lives better at an early age. We have been far too long, and it’s time to get back to our family and be with them, they need us as well, not just our boss in the office.
That’s all the reason why we downgraded our life and back to our hometown
We planned this since early this year 2023, and we successfully executed them in the middle of 2023. Exactly on 1 June 2023 we took a flight and back for good to our hometown.
And how has it been after 6 months?
- Not too many people here, traffic jams are nearly nonexistent, trips going everywhere are fast.
- No pollution, so my visit to the doctor is just once so far.
- Everything is pretty affordable (well, it might not be so fair because we got Jakarta-level salaries). We’re happy that we are now getting the house with all the criteria we want, and hopefully, the development process will start early next year, and the mortgage will not cost us an arm and leg every month.
- We could help my little sister plan her professional work, and hopefully, she could be a civil servant lecturer next year, while another younger brother still needs some fixing, lol. I hope we can still make it in time for him.
- The most important thing is that our baby is so happy that both of her parents are around most of the time, playing with her, sleeping with her, feeding her, and hanging around with her. It means so much to us when we see her sleeping with a happy face in the bed after a tiring day.
I hope we did a good decision, but only time will tell.
And I hope you could learn few things from what we did, especially if you also consider to downgrade your life a bit, it makes our life better, might be better for you as well my friends.