culture shock · daily life · parents

What it’s like to move back in with your Indonesian parents – Part 3

Following the first and second pieces, this is the last part of my living with parents saga – for now. Surprisingly, writing about my family life is actually a good therapy. It helps me analyze the situation and look deeper into why things are the way they are. Reading people’s comments (on Facebook – I don’t know why no one comments here), sort of reminds me, Hey, it’s not that bad. I still think I live in a circus of four, but it’s MY circus.

As mentioned previously, one of the reasons we moved in with my parents is to save money. Instead of wasting money on rent, we were planning to chip in by offering to cover the electricity and water bills.

However, my parents wouldn’t let us pay for anything. Our money is no good in the house. They would rather have us save as much as possible so we do not have to depend on anyone when we’re old and no longer able to work. They went through the same thing when they got married, back when my dad was still in training to be a surgeon and has yet to earn any income. My grandparents paid for all of the communal expenses and taxes.

uang-copyYour life will be glimmering with cash once you move in with your parents. Jk. We’re still broke. Source:

We were grateful for that opportunity, yet things can get uncomfortable when we go out to eat or grocery shopping. My parents won’t even let us pay for dinner. I can understand them wanting us to save money by eliminating rent and utilities out of our expense list, but come on, I can’t even treat them once in a while?

Let me tell you why paying for dinner is important to me.

When I was young and my grandpa was still around, we used to go for a big family dinner almost every weekend. His favorite restaurant was Nelayan. It was the go-to place for middle-upper class Chinese Indonesian families in the 90s. The meal would start with pickled cucumbers and roasted cashews as appetizers. I remember eyeing on those cashews but not being able to eat any until someone put a couple on my plate, because I was too shy to ask. We would then share 4-5 entrees, all served on a lazy susan. The cold shrimp with lychee and chicken boiled with ginger and garlic were my favorites. Everyone would pass the food around and chat about everything from school, my grandpa’s business, to who has the highest cholesterol level and why. A mix of melon and watermelon balls in thin coconut milk with basil seeds was always our choice of dessert. Everyone would enjoy their meal peacefully.

However, as soon as the check was laid on the table, came the most pivotal moment of the night. We all knew it was time to do the Chinese standoff. All of the adults would go back and forth insisting on picking up the check. This would last several minutes before someone finally swept away the check, held it tightly between the side of his body and his arm to prevent anyone from reaching it, did the elbow dance to shoo away people who tried to take the check back, then walked straight to the waiter to hand in the cash. That’s how you know it’s over.

Let me just tell you one thing: Dude, thou shalt not walk away from a Chinese standoff. You better stay in the game as long as possible until someone did the sweep away-hold tight-elbow dance-walk to waiter-hand in cash grand final strike. If you back out mid battle, people will think you are being insincere about wanting to pay the bill. I’m not kidding you. Check out the TV show Fresh off the Boat for a demonstration of the scene.

With that concept implanted in mind, I had one goal: I’m going to do the sweep away-hold tight-elbow dance-walk to waiter-hand in cash for my parents! I never thought Sean and I would have to fight over it against them. And every time, we lost.

One successful strategy I’ve done to treat my parents to dinner is by cooking the food myself. Then it becomes a problem of the choice of menu. Most of the time, it’s cheaper to purchase a meal instead of cooking it yourself. Therefore, anything that we can buy within 1 km radius from our house is out of the question. My parents aren’t very adventurous either, they do not like trying new stuff. I have a couple of dishes that I know they like for sure, but how many times in a month can I make hot pot and smoked beef mini pancakes? Moreover, my Dad thinks sweet soy sauce is the epitome of all food. There’s something missing with your spaghetti bolognese? Add sweet soy sauce to it! I have to choose a dish that can potentially be mixed with soy sauce without ruining the integrity of the dish.

A week into our stay in Jakarta, Sean was starting to miss pasta. We ended up buying some pesto from a high-end supermarket that sells imported stuff. My parents don’t usually like any food with strong herb aroma, so I wasn’t sure they would like it. I showed them the pesto jar and described its ingredients, and amazingly they said they would like to try it! We agreed to have penne with pesto and shrimp for dinner on Saturday.

Saturday night came. I made the pasta dish and served it on the dining table.

Mom     : What is it again? Why is it green?

Me         : It’s a type of pasta, same ingredients with spaghetti but it’s just shaped differently. The sauce is made of olive oil, basil, oregano and garlic. I mixed in a little chili flakes.

Dad        : You know what would be good with it? Chili sauce!

My mom rushed to get a bottle of chili sauce from the fridge.

Me         : Noooo…this is not supposed to be eaten with chili sauce. I have added some chili flakes in the sauce to make it a bit spicy. Try it first.

My mom and dad took a very tiny scoop of pasta and tried it.

Dad        : Wah, this is yummy! Enak nih!

Mom     : Of course it’s yummy. Anything with shrimp is yummy.

Me         : Ya. Sean really likes pasta. He can eat this every day.

Dad        : This is good! But salty. We’ll have to drink a lot of iced tea.

Me         : …

Anyway, my Dad ended up eating three full servings. My mom had seconds. Sean ate all the pasta. Everyone was happy.

pestoMy parents’ first pesto pasta experience. Apologies for the poor quality of the picture, it was kind of dark.

When Sean and I just arrived in Jakarta, I asked my parents if they would like to try Iranian food. They said no on the spot before I could describe what it’s like, and my mom asked for hot pot instead. The pesto experience somehow changed their mind, and they would like to give Iranian food a try. I think I’ll start with kofteh. I mean, who doesn’t like meatballs stuffed with apricot and walnut, simmered in turmeric and tomato based sauce? I’m simply glad I have the opportunity to introduce them to some of the wonderful food I’ve had in Davis. Who knows, amidst all of the culture shock-lathered interactions in our new family, maybe one day I’ll be able to throw taco Tuesday at home.


10 thoughts on “What it’s like to move back in with your Indonesian parents – Part 3

  1. Here I go and post my comment here instead of facebook…
    Great post, as always!
    This is gonna be a great morning ritual for me, Mesa! 😂😂

    And me too like your mom and dad, think pesto taste great with chili sauce!! Not because it’s missing something… just because I’m your typical Indonesian (totally not because I work for chili sauce company, of course)

    Anyway cheers to your mom and dad! They’re great! 😄😄


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