Some of you asked me, why given up a good living in Jakarta with managerial position, good salary and good reputation to go to New York with middle position, decent but minimal salary and no reputation? On top of that, why made a move when I already in my 30s and still not married. Well, sometime I also asked myself, why?
Career-wise, my decision was a step back in career point of view. I was already in managerial position, 8 digits salary (in Rupiah, of course) and had a huge network among multiple disciplines and industries. It was a good career and I was on my way to the top. Here in New York, I was working as a middle position knowledge worker, slightly above standard rates salary and no network at all. In other words, I was pressing a reset button in my career path.
I left my career and the opportunity to climb the higher ladder of position. I even abandoned my 3 years of teaching career.
Rent and Commute
Living in New York is very expensive, especially the rent. Most people were paying around 30%, even 50%, of their salary for rent only. Another 25-30% went into tax. At the end, people were getting 40-50% of their total salary to pay bills, food, entertainment and saving (or investing). That was not much and it would take a good judgement to spend the money wisely. Living like the girls (and boys) in Sex and the City and Friends TV series was a myth. Unless you were born or stayed in Manhattan for more than 20 years, I did not think those TV series lifestyle would be affordable for most New Yorkers. That would be another story, I was still surveying and writing about the reality of rent price in New York.
Commuting was another story. Currently it took me around 45 minutes to commute every working days to the office using bus and subway. Almost the same when I was living in Jakarta. The different was I did not need to drive and fight with the traffic. Hopped in the bus/subway, found a good spot, read or sleep during the commute. Less stressful and more opportunity to rest or read.
Other than rent, New York is actually quite cheap for living, if you know the right place to get what you need. Lunch for $3-$5 was not unheard of, dinner for less than $10 was possible and for sure it would be cheaper to cook on your own. Groceries were cheap, again if you know the place, and there were a lot of bargain shopping around the city. Especially in this bad economy, almost all stores were cutting their prices so people could afford to buy their stuffs. If people could not buy anything then the economy would halt and it would cost more damage than it already was. It would take some experiences, experiments and street smart skill to live as comfortable as possible without sacrificing too much.
Sure, living in Jakarta was way cheaper than living in New York. Rent price was affordable for a start. Lunch for less than $1 was still available, right? Transportation was also cheap, around 30¢ for one busway trip (it used to have a monthly ticket without discount rate but somehow that convenience was eliminated). Phone and cellphone rate, electricity, water were cheaper too and no need to pay for heating.
On the other hand, according to my ‘Starbucks Economy’ point of view, living in Jakarta was also expensive. Using my standard not-so-scientific comparison for the price of a single cup of Starbucks coffee it would goes like this: It was $1.65 for a tall black coffee here and it was Rp. 18.000 in Jakarta. It was practically the same price! Lunch/dinner in the restaurants could cost around Rp. 50.000++ per person; which translated into around $4.5++ here; which of course a bit cheaper. Car price was enormous with or without insurance. Clothing price were varied, branded clothes practically had the same price as here. Electronic price was a bit cheaper but not much, especially computers. Books were on the same ground and most of the time, even more expensive than the original printed price in US dollar (of course to be fair, add around 8-9% of sales tax in here).
Dropped the rent price and suddenly living in Jakarta was as expensive as living in New York. To be fair, it was not exactly the same but I was just trying to share my view.
Combining all of the factors above, the question raised again: Why the move? Why bargained everything I had for something uncertain? Why now?
There were no easy answer to that questions. The only thing I could think of was; I want change. Three years living back in Jakarta was teaching me a lot about how low people expectation of good quality of life could be. “It’s Jakarta, traffic is always packed, police are always corrupt, raining always means flooding, what do you want? It’s Jakarta”. Was it? Or was it because people did not know any better?
Maybe that was my main reason, I wanted to know more about the world. I wanted to grow, I wanted to experience something new, something great and something different. Even if it meant to throw my current comfort away, I would do it anyway. No regret, no remorse and embraced the unexplored.
Now I really understood the deep meaning of Frank Sinatra’s song, New York, New York:
I’ll make a brand new start of it – in old New York
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you – New york, New york!
It’s New York, the city that never sleep and I am living in it.
Welcome to a brand new life!