Monday, October 30, 2006

Manado, North Sulawesi

The people make the town seem like that. The people of Manado are interesting - generations of mixed bloods and Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese, Indian, Chinese and many others, make the local population very different looking from other Asian people. Additional influence comes from the not-far-away Philippines. In some ways, the Manadonese look more Latino than Asian with dark skin, curly hair, brown eyes and choleric characteristics. But they are also an easy-going, emotional, sympathetic and happy people.

80% of the population of Manado is Christian (Protestant). The remaining 20% are, of course, Muslim. Recently, due to the economic crisis, the Muslim community has been quickly increasing, migrating to Manado from South Sulawesi or Java. However, until now these transmigrations are occurring without tensions.

Lifestyles of the Locals
Manado is a rich town. Rich, not in the western way of thinking, even far from the standards of Jakarta, but still rich. The fortunes come from the old coconut, vanilla and clove plantations. But also from rich fishing resources, mining, as well as trade with Central Sulawesi, the Sanghie Islands (a get away for Filipinos) and the Moluccas.

The economic elite are primarily of Chinese origin, just like in many other Asian countries. The only difference with the local Chinese community is that in Manado there are not many racial tensions. All of the communities are quite well integrated. Multiracial families (Chinese and Manadonese) are quite common.

You ask why I think Manado is funny. Well, Manado is funny because here it seems as if time stopped fifty years ago. Business is still based not on contracts but on hand shakes. The bureaucracy is easy bypassed with good personal relations and problems are managed through old respected family chiefs.

Cars, equipment, machinery and banking affairs are more expensive (10% to 15 %) than in Jakarta or Surabaya, but nobody cares. More important to the locals is that coconut oil, rice, fish and chili peppers are not expensive, but are easy to find and buy.

As soon as a little money is in the pocket of most Manadonese, you can be sure that the money will run out in one day. He or she, will run to the local Matahari department store and buy whatever attracts his or her attention. Or if there is a bit more money, it will be spent in restaurants, (there are many), discos, and other forms of nightlife.

The Manadonese guide their lives by stories they hear of the lifestyles in Singapore and Jakarta. Fashions come here a couple of years later than in the rest of the world. For example, recently thousands of hand phones have been sold. 90% of them are not in use anymore, because the owners have used up all their money to pay the phone bills or in many cases even borrow money so that they can show off to their friends that they have a hand phone.

Most middle class people live in town, or live within 5-10 kilometres of the town of Manado. Poorer people live around the river that divides the town in two. Nicer neighborhoods are up in the hills, where the politicians and government officials live.

Most of the middle and upper class Manadonese have relatives in the villages near the plantations. The plantation-based relatives hold most of the family wealth and all Manadonese, from time to time, have to visit their relative's village for money refueling.

Expat Lifestyle
Newly arrived expatriates usually live near the airport, were the golf club is. The airport residential area is about 20 kilometres from town, which is 20 to 30 minutes by car because of the heavy traffic. Expatriates who have been around longer tend to live in town.

There is not much public transportation other than the Kota buses (Micro-lab 6 or 8 seats). Taxis are rare, and often taxi drivers do not want to drive you to destinations outside the town of Manado. Cars are easy to rent and not too expensive. At the local market it is possible to rent a Kijang for Rp 100,000/day (including fuel) or for Rp 2 million/month.

Housing costs are cheap and houses are quite easy to rent. A villa with a garden in the residential area in the hills near the city, with 4/5 rooms, AC and two bathrooms can be rented for Rp 20-30 million per year to expatriates, Rp 15 million to locals. Usually the landlord requests two years rent in advance.

Do not count on buying land. Land prices are not expensive, but it takes a long time to build a house, longer than anyone would expect.

There are only a few cultural activities in Manado. There is one multi-show cinema, no theatres and no concert hall. Most of the activities are organised by churches, so it is quite common to attend a Gospel service on Sunday mornings. More common entertainment for locals are cars races and animal fights. The best activity in Manado is what the locals call "carlotta" which means to talk and talk about each other.

The expatriate community in Manado is not big. There are very few expats, but occasionally you can meet somebody who says they have lived in Manado for years. Most expats are in Manado because of new tourism-related businesses. Most are in the diving field. Others are in the hotel business, as Hotel Managers. Others are in mining, based in Manado, but working in the jungle camps. The rest of the expatriate community, working in different sectors totals not more than 10 people. Australians have the largest segment of the community, but there are also Americans, Singaporeans, Dutch, and French.

Expatriates spend most of their free time on the weekends diving or fishing. The diving is really fantastic, one of the best places I have ever seen. Golf is also a common activity. Tennis, jogging, cycling and climbing the volcanic mountains are also popular.

Night life options are poor. There are Karaoke bars, restaurants, a few night clubs, and a couple of discos. One of the most favoured spots for expats is the Novotel Hotel, in the Boulevard area. Novotel has the best western restaurant, the best accommodations, the best disco, the best swimming pool and the highest prices. Locals move in the evenings from the disco at the Novotel to other discos. The most activity is on Saturday nights, when the night life lovers get drunk and excited by other matters.

Groups of Italian or German tourists can often be seen accompanied by their local guides on a tour of the various night life spots. There is even a music bar which copies Hard Rock Café that is not too bad. Most of the expatriates enjoy going there.

When my family lived in Manado they enjoyed the new adventures, but after a few months they started to be bothered by the frequent water outages (at least twice a week the water supply is cut off), the power cuts (at least one day per week), and the lack of western facilities.

I enjoy living in Manado as life is much simpler. I find Manado uncorrupted, far from what I have experienced elsewhere. Manado may not have a lot of facilities, but the area is really nice. The islands surrounding the area are really a tropical island paradise, with white beaches. Only one hour away from Manado, but really a different world. But when I need to go into Manado, I find that I really like this funny, different, crazy town.
Community Organizations

Alcoholics Anonymous

Our thanks to Fabrizio Ratti for sharing his personal insights into Expat Living in Manado for the original article, and to Jeremy and & Ninny Barnes of Safari Tours and Travel for their additions/revisions to the article!

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