Whenever I thought about my late grandma, there are three things that I remember vividly: her taking me and my brothers to this huge playground inside a shopping center, her perfect Dutch when she spoke to people her age, and her big house that she turned into kos-kosan after my grandfather passed away.
I remember tante Jujuk – one of ther longest “tenant” who would come back from work and went straight to the dining area to have tea with my grandma, and repeatedly tell me and my mom about how good my grandma’s cooking was every time we came to visit. Or tante Sri, who always invited a young and curious me into her room everytime I engaged her in a conversation. I remember how close my grandma was to all her tenants, and how much they respected her. We even invited tante Jujuk to my wedding as she became a very good family friend.
Looking around me these days, I seldom see the same things.
Kos-kosan, or Indonesian term for leased room, is almost certainly the norms for young executives living in the capital. The heavy traffic in and out of the central business area makes it more reasonable to stay in a kos-kosan near the office or school, than to commute for four to five hours each day to-and-from our parents’ house. Imagine how long it would take to travel from Sudirman to Bekasi – a distance of 23km – when the average speed is only 5 km/hour in the CBD area…
“I’ve lived in a kos-kosan since I went to college because traveling from Ciledug to Depok every day is just too tiring,” expressed Alex, a 28 year old young executive who works in a financial consultant. “Now I prefer to stay near the office to save time and to get more rest. I won’t get that if I stay at my parents’ house.”
Alex is definitely not alone in expressing this opinion. Many young executives also feel the same way about commuting and prefer to stay closer to work or school. The long hours work, the long hours commute, and the high expectations from jobs and school eventually lead to people wanting more time to rest and relax. And a kos-kosan is just the place.
“Sometimes when I get home to my kos-kosan, I just want to sleep. Or do nothing,” expressed Utami, 31, who works in an NGO in South Jakarta. She preferred to stay near her office, renting a room in a medium-sized house, with three other women. “But because of that, I barely socialize with my fellow renters. Please don’t judge me,” she added lightly with a grin.
And again, Utami is also not alone in expressing this opinion.
As the demand for comfortable kos-kosan increased, more kos-kosantried to improve their “facility” and become the “home away from home” for the tired young minds. In-house laundry by kilo, internet access, en suite bathroom, delivery guy, parking facilities – all to accommodate the higher standard of kos-kosan living for these young executives.
Before, the definition of kos-kosan is a rented room in a house, now it is a rented room in a house of rooms for rent. When it used to be that people share kitchen, dining area, and bathrooms – now each room has en suite bathroom and most kos-kosan don’t even have a common area except for the lobby. What simply used to be additional household income is now a real for-profit-business.
But with this change, and the standard of kos-kosan living now escalated, we also witness other things diminishing. Things such as conversations and friendly jokes when hanging out in the hallway, meal-time togetherness, or watching silly TV show together in the common area. We no longer communicate with other fellow renters like we used to be.
I do understand that many things contribute to this, like our smart phones, for example. Or the demands to always be the best. Or to always be on top of things. And sometimes, when we are too busy minding our own business, we completely forgot that there are other people surrounding us.
”Maybe it’s because when you live in a kos-kosan, you never know who’s going to be your neighbor. You may like the person, or you may not get along at all. And sometimes you just don’t bother finding out,” said Eva, 38, a dear friend who is a freelance writer/editor in Jakarta.
Listening to Eva saying this makes me think, are we really that skeptical towards one another, or are we just ignorant? Or do we act like that just because we’re not expected to act otherwise?
At the office, we are assigned a certain role – a supervisor, an executive, a manager. We have a set of (mostly inwritten) rules and norms that we adhere into. We then act accodingly. When you’re a manager, you have to show assertiveness and effectiveness of one. When you’re an executive, you have to show respect towards your superiors. We understand our position, what is expected of us, and we behave to fulfill that expectations.
Same thing goes for school, college, and with our family. We know exactly where we stand, what our expected role is, and we carry out that role based on other people’s expectation. In other words, we are aware of the terrain, and so we walk through it smoothly.
However, in a kos-kosan, it’s a completely different story. Even more so in the modern kos-kosan. Our roles are unclear. We know we have a landlord/landlady, but we’ve never seen them because we only see the manager of the kos-kosan. So we don’t know who is the ”boss” there. With other renters, we are not superior, nor inferior. But to say we are peers are oversimplifying it because we don’t quite know what are the things we have in common. We’re not sure of what is expected of us in the kos-kosan social settings. Are we expected to smile to each other? To greet each other? To give welcome cookies to new-comers? To get together weekly? No one can answer this question. So most of us choose to do what we think is best in that situation: stay quiet and keep to ourselves.
On top of this seemingly neverending list of questions, most of us are just too tired when we get home to our kos-kosan. After 10 hours of work, 1 hour of exercise and 1 hour of dinner with friends, all we want is to take a hot shower and sleep. And, really, exchanging pleasantries with an acquaintance or queueing for shower is not something we want to do after a long day.
So, yes, we do communicate less with other renters. We no longer joke around in the hallway, or watch a silly TV show together. But can you blame us? With most kos-kosan not providing us with a common room, or a shared kitchen, do you really expect us to invite our new neighbor into our room? And with jobs that demand 10-12 hours of your day (because, come on, who works 8 hours nowadays?), do you really think we still have energy left for small talk at 9pm?
Perhaps it is not that we don’t want to talk to each other, or that we’re too ignorant towards one another. Perhaps we’re just looking for warm and comfortable place to greet our neighbors and to strike a conversation with them. Perhaps we’re actually missing that fun of watching and waiting together for who got sent home on Indonesian Idol. Or, perhaps sometimes we’re just looking for a company to spend that relaxing moment in the dining table while sipping a hot cup of tea.
On that thought, Eva also mentioned something very interesting. ”In principle, human beings are social beings. We want to feel comfortable and we want to trust one another. So if you provide a comfortable environment, we’ll go back to our nature – trusting, interacting, building comfort.”
Now I remember again why my grandma’s kos-kosan was always full and the people who stayed were always so nice to us. It’s because she always had her dining room door open, and always had food on the table – no matter how little. It made them feel welcome. It made them feel home. And they shared a home away from home.
As for us, what do we really share besides the same mailing address?