culture shock · daily life · parents

What it’s like to move back in with your Indonesian parents – Part 1

Hello. My name is Mesa Tan. I’m 31 and my partner and I live with my parents.

In Indonesia, you can change my name and age with anyone else’s information and that statement would most likely still be true.

When my husband and I decided to move to Jakarta, one of the questions we had to discuss was, “Where should we live?” I explained to him that in Indonesian culture it is very common for a married couple to live with one of the spouse’s parents. As the only child, this is even expected. Since your parents have taken care of you while you were growing up, now it’s time to return the favor and take care of them. Sean and I agreed to go with it. Besides, it’s a good way to save up some money while we’re still settling down. In case we decide to stay in Jakarta permanently, we’ll find a place of our own.

My parents, especially my Dad, was really excited when we told them about our decision to move back. Not because I’m finally done with my Ph.D., but because I’m bringing home a son-in-law for them. My mom’s biggest fear is that I will never find a husband because of my degree, my age, and my weight – none of these are ideally marriageable by Indonesian standards, something I will talk more about in a different post. My Dad did not like the idea of me leaving to the US at the first place.

After years of living on our own with that sweet sweet independence, we know it’s going to be challenging. We are so used to doing whatever we want. In our own apartment in Davis, we could sit on the sofa and watch TV with no pants on. If we want to throw that dirty shirt on the floor and leave it there, game on. Moreover, we often went out until late at night, and no one would complain if we stumbled home with a bag of Taco Bell’s cheesy gordita crunch in hand.

My parents, on the other hand, do not have a social life. They do not understand the need to “hang out with friends” and to be out of the house past dinner time. They do not drink – alcohol is evil and you must be a gangster if you drink (my mom’s words, not mine).

We knew we would have to adjust our lifestyle to one that is acceptable by my parents.

Little did we know, all those things we had in mind are the least of our concerns. The first hurdle is related to our eating habit. Us Indonesians are used to eating heavy meals in the morning. Rice is a staple, thus it’ll most likely be served on the table no matter what time. On top of that, my parents are really eager to have Sean try all the Indonesian food. No, you’re understanding me wrong. I mean ALL the food. Here’s a typical conversation between me and my parents.

Early morning, sometime around 6:00-6:30 AM.

Mom     : What would Sean like to eat for breakfast?

Me         : Hmm…I don’t know, he’s still asleep. Let me ask him later.

Mom     : What does he usually eat for breakfast? Maybe he wants toast? With sausage? (She, and a majority of Indonesians, is convinced that Caucasians only eat bread)

Me         : He can’t eat that much in the morning.

Mom     : Do you think he would want some mie ayam (chicken noodle)? He told me he liked mie ayam the other day.

Me         : He can’t eat that much in the morning. I’ll ask him when he wakes up.

Mom     : Okay, let’s get some mie ayam.

A while later, my Dad emerges from his room.

Mom     : (to Dad) Sean wants mie ayam for breakfast. Would you like one too?

Dad        : Ok. (to me) He should try nasi uduk (rice cooked in coconut milk). Didn’t he say he liked bubur (rice porridge)? There’s a bubur guy across the street. Or curry soup?

Me         : Maybe next time. He can’t eat that much in the morning.

Dad        : What would he like for dinner? (In this context, my dad skipped lunch because it was a workday, and he doesn’t get home from work until 9 pm. On weekends, you’ll need to add in lunch discussion in this convo)

Me         : We can figure it out later. We haven’t even eaten breakfast yet.

Dad        : Would you like me to get martabak (a type of egg, meat and spring onion patty with spicy dipping saucy) on the way home? I can also ask Nopri (our driver) to buy some traditional cakes for Sean. It’s jackfruit season now, do you think he’d like some?

Me         : (getting increasingly irritated). You can ask him later when he wakes up.

Dad        : All right, I’ll buy some martabak on the way home. (to my mom, smiling proudly) I’m going to get martabak for all of us tonight. With duck eggs or chicken eggs?

Mom     : Nooo, no no no, don’t get duck eggs. Too much cholesterol. You don’t want any fried rice? Mesa said Sean walked by a fried rice cart the other day and he said it smelled so good.

Me         : ARRRGGGHHHHH!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, this happens EVERY DAY.

Indonesian BuffetIf opportunity arised, my parents would probably get Sean a buffet meal like this every day. Source:

The process of having the meal itself becomes a game of constant exchanges in English-Indonesian-English. My dad will start the meal by yelling out the name of the dish we are about to eat as loud as possible at least two/three times. The whole if-I-said-it-louder-maybe-he-will-understand-me does not only applies to English, people. One bite in, my mom will ask Sean if he likes the food and if it’s too spicy. Well, nowadays she has switched the question to if the food is spicy enough. Apparently, my husband has grown accustomed to bird’s eye chilies through my cooking that he doesn’t think anything in Jakarta is spicy enough. I’ve created a monster. Anyway, next my mom will ask if we have enough food. Then she will offer some food from her plate, to which we have to keep repeating cukup, cukup (enough, enough). Throughout the meal, my Dad will make suggestions on what Sean should eat next.

It was annoying the hell out of me. Then I realized: I USED TO FRIGGIN’ DO IT TO HIM. Do you like it? Eat more. Eat more. There’s more food in the pan. You want some of my portion? Here, eat more. Sorry, Sean, but it’s ingrained in my family. I mean YOUR family. Evil laugh.

I understand that they do it out of good intentions. My parents just want Sean to feel at home as soon as possible. They are worried that he is having a hard time adjusting to life in Indonesia because he doesn’t like our food. The more dishes he tries, the greater chance he’ll find something he likes, and the sooner he’ll fit in with our family. But still, can’t we just catch a break from all the food questions?!

It’s only been a bit over two weeks since we moved in with my parents, and already there are so many funny/irritating interactions between me, Sean and my parents. So many that I have to split this post into several articles. More stories to come!


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