My Jakarta: Doreen Biehle, Psychotherapist

With Jakarta back to its old self after the Idul Fitri holiday, the nightmarish traffic has returned in full force. But instead of ranting and raving as usual, we looked for someone to talk us down off the ledge. But if you’re expecting Doreen Biehle to start blabbing about the stress-related complaints of Jakartans it’s not going to happen. There’s a little thing called doctor-patient confidentiality, which means Biehle, who splits her time between work in Jakarta and relaxation in Bogor, isn’t about to tell you whether it’s the traffic or the hectic pace of the city that has everybody pulling their hair out.

How did you end up in Jakarta?

I’m from the US and have been working and living in Jakarta since 1992. I came here after marrying my husband, Widjanako.

I’m a widow now, after he died in 2003. I’ve done many things professionally in Indonesia, mostly with international public health projects, as well as providing private psychotherapy for expats and Indonesians.

Have you ever dealt with traumatic events in Indonesia?

I have over 20 years of work experience in the mental health field. Early on in my career in Indonesia I was recruited as a technical assistant for the counseling and mental health components of dealing with HIV/AIDS.

I have work experience with USAID, international NGOs and UN agencies. Recently I’ve been focusing on trauma work. I manage a capacity-building project for mental health professionals in Aceh, which started after the tsunami.

Is there a big demand for psychotherapists in Jakarta?

Yes. I mostly get referrals from embassies, international agencies and schools.

How does someone know which therapist is right for them?

It’s important to know something about the therapist’s experience and license to practice. If the therapist holds a professional license, you can contact the license board and inquire about their standing.

This is important since there can be fake professionals out there or professionals who have violated their code of conduct.

Can you talk a bit about confidentiality?

The confidentially principles are the same as with your doctor. The exception is if there is information that may affect the client’s or another person’s safety or welfare.

In these cases I must encourage the client to tell a family member or their doctor, or if they do not agree, to assist them in telling someone.

What is the most common problem among people in Jakarta who seek treatment?

There are myriad problems, similarly to any other urban setting. There are many mental health issues such as depression, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, addiction, relationship problems and behavioral problems with children.

There are many requests for counseling about sexual orientation and cross-cultural relationships.

What do you think is the No. 1 cause of stress in Jakarta?

Work, or lack thereof.

Do you spend more time giving advice or simply listening to people’s problems?

The role of the therapist is to listen and assist the client to heal their problem. There may be some practical advice I can give, but unlike a doctor, the therapist does not say, ‘Take this or do this and you will feel better.’

How do you listen to people’s problems day in and day out? It would drive me crazy.

Yes, there is a real art in listening and helping. It can bother you after a while, especially when you hear very horrible stories about the trauma people have endured.

That’s why a therapist needs to have ongoing mentoring, supervision and support in this profession.

For someone who can’t afford a psychiatrist, are there any other alternatives?

There are many therapists who provide pro bono work or have some arrangement with reduced fees. Public health facilities and some NGOs have psychologists with reduced fees. In Jakarta there are also help lines staffed by volunteers.

You split your time between Jakarta and Bogor. What do you like about Jakarta?

I love many things in Jakarta. I enjoy the arts, movies, fine dining, exercising at Plaza Senayan, but mostly I enjoy my home in Bogor where I mountain bike, run in Kebun Raya [Bogor’s city park], hike and socialize with neighbors.

Do you participate in any other organization or association?

I am active in church and in organizations related to my profession. I’m a founder of Yayasan Sejiwa, which tackles the problem of bullying.

Some friends and I run a mountain biking community in Bogor. You can rent a bike and ride around with us. Visit our site at

What is it that you find in Bogor that is not in Jakarta?

I work out of a small apartment in Jakarta. I don’t get to breathe clean air or have green space. This is why I have my sanctuary in Bogor. It is therapy for me.

What do you like the most about Jakarta?

I find the city to be quite vibrant and complete with all the modern amenities. The driving and rules of the road are quite unique. Yes, I’ve driven in Jakarta for nearly 18 years now.

Where can we find you on a Sunday morning? Saturday night?

In Bogor, mountain biking; having a laugh and drink with friends, looking for romance.


Doreen was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Doreen Biehle, Psychotherapist


Picture by Iwan Putuhena

for more information on Bogor mountain biking visit


My Jakarta: Haji, Lebaran Cirebon Train Veteran

Pak Haji never misses a chance to ride the rails. For the past 52 years, this loving grandfather has boarded a Jakarta train bound for Cirebon, in West Java, each and every Lebaran. It all started when he came to the big city at the age of 13. First he rode the train home alone. Then with his wife. Then with his wife and daughter.

Now the 65-year-old spice salesman makes the three-hour trip back home with his grand kids in tow. We met up with Haji on the platform of the Gambir train station in Central Jakarta.

While the trains rumbled past, Haji sat down with us and explained why he always takes the train, what he thinks about the bustling crowds and why he will never get his wallet stolen.

You said you’ve taken the train for the past 52 years? Why don’t you take the bus?

Well, I think the train and the station is improving, they have both got a lot more comfortable. I came to Jakarta when I was just 13, and I’ve been using the train to get home ever since.

You’re right, it looks like Gambir is a pretty nice place. Why are you headed home so early, the Lebaran rush hasn’t even started yet?

I didn’t have a choice. I bought my tickets the second day of the fasting month and all the tickets for the other days were already sold out. I didn’t want to get my ticket through a calo [ticket broker].

There’s hardly anyone here today, what’s it like when it gets really packed up here on the platform?

During Lebaran it gets crowded, but the rest of the year it’s not busy. I’m still healthy enough to get through the crowd without any problems.

There are around 30 cops on the platform; you’re probably not too concerned with pickpockets are you? No. I’ve never had a problem with that.

And I’ve been riding the train for 50 years. But then again, I don’t have much money for them to take [laughs].

What do you do here in Jakarta?

I have a store in a traditional market in China Town, by Gajah Mada Plaza. I sell spices that people use for cooking.

How long will you stay in Cirebon?

My family and I are going for 10 days. My grandchildren have to go back because they go to school here in Jakarta.

Who’s traveling with you this year to Cirebon?

It’s me, my wife, our granddaughter, my son-in-law and my two grandchildren.

What do you bring with you to snack on during the trip?  Do you pack any traditional treats?

Well, I’m fasting. But we bring along all kinds of traditional snacks for the kids. Mostly nasi goreng [fried rice]. Maybe some white rice and meat.

How can you keep fasting for an entire day while traveling  in such hot weather? It must be exhausting.

Yes but as long as I have the will, I can get through it easily enough, even though I only ate a little before sunrise.

Do you think Gambir is busier than 15 years ago? Busier?

I wouldn’t say that it’s busier, but there are more people riding the train. It will get busier as it gets closer to Lebaran, but we always try to leave Jakarta earlier.

Is it a hassle to travel with so many family members? As the grandfather you probably have to constantly pay attention to your grand kids.

Well, we just pay extra attention to our grandchildren, because they’re still small. But we have enough adults to take care of them and make sure they don’t stray.

Usually after Lebaran, people bring family members back to Jakarta to work. Are you going to bring anyone?

No, most of the people from the side of the family that lives in Cirebon already have jobs there, and everyone from my side of the family already works here in Jakarta.

How much does it cost for tickets to go back home? Is it more expensive to travel During Ramadan and Lebaran?

It has been getting more expensive every year. We decided to take the express train and this time it cost us Rp 85,000 ($9) for each person.

The rest of the year tickets to Cirebon are only Rp. 55,000.


Pak Haji was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Haji, Lebaran Cirebon Train Veteran


Pictures by Iwan Putuhena

My Jakarta: Patriana Sonia, Business Analyst

Patriana Sonia hides her addiction for adrenaline and all things extreme behind a bright smile and cool demeanor. Patriana, a Washington-based business analyst at Freddie Mac, left Jakarta four years ago. In between skydiving over the Grand Canyon or lapping a Nascar circuit in a race car she makes time to come back to Jakarta.  Patriana tells us what she thinks about the city’s housing market, reminisces over how inexpensive it used to be to go to the movies, and reveals how the move to the United States taught her to become more independent.

So you work for Freddie Mac, what exactly does that company do?

We lend money to the banks and they lend money to the customer. We focus on the residential mortgage market and help create opportunities for home ownership.

What is your position there?

I’m a business analyst. I do pricing for customers, mostly major banks like Bank of America, HSBC and Citibank.

Do you enjoy your job?

Pricing is fun. I do programming. I have to consider all aspects such as the inflation rate, market price and so on to analyze their ability to pay back.

How do you release the pressure from work?

I like extreme sports. Recently, I drove a Nascar circuit in a stock car and I was going more than 200 kilometers per hour. The gas pedal and the steering wheel are really heavy.

In Arizona, I went skydiving and got to see the Grand Canyon from the sky.

Then just last month, I was in Africa for the World Cup where I went bungee jumping. I’ll do anything at least once. Next, I want to fly a fighter jet.

Have you done anything extreme here in Jakarta?

Not yet, but I heard they have base jumping, where you jump off a building. I want to try that, but I bet it’s scarier than skydiving. I want to do all these things before I start having children [laughs].

What did you study in college?

I went to school in upstate New York, got my associate degree and then moved to Washington, DC, to attend George Washington University where I graduated with a degree in economics and religion.

Right now, I’m taking an MBA in finance, [management information systems] and software engineering, so I’m combining IT and finance.

That way I hope I can make my bank account fatter [laughs].

How’s the housing market in the United States right now?

Interest rates are still low, but at the same time it’s not easy for banks to lend money because there’s a restricted lending program. But overall the market is doing better than last year.

What do you think about the housing market in Jakarta?

With all the new development happening in the outskirts of Jakarta, housing is more affordable especially for the middle class.

Do you think the housing market in Jakarta will crash like it did in the States?

No. I think it will remain stable. Our biggest issue has always been a shortage of housing, lack of supply and high demand. We weren’t impacted by the global housing crisis because our economy is isolated.

So how long have you been away from Jakarta and how long are you going to be here?

I’ve been away for more than four years, and I’m only staying for a couple of weeks.

When did you move to the US?

When I was 16. I always wanted to move there. I traveled so much when I was younger and I saw New York as the land of opportunity [laughs].

I love the States because that’s where I learned how to be independent and make my own money. It’s different to living in Jakarta where you have a driver and maids. Living is easy at home.

How has Jakarta changed over the past four years?

More traffic than ever before, but I think the busway is not a bad idea. There have also been improvements in the government with the KPK and efforts to clean up the old system.

What do you think about the lifestyle in Jakarta?

The middle class is becoming more upscale. We have a lot of places to hang out at I think we are getting that taste for luxury.

I notice that people are speaking English everywhere and more international schools are opening, so there’s increasing evidence of globalization.

Where do you hang out when you’re back in town?

I’m out checking out new places, restaurants and malls. I spend time at Grand Indonesia, Plaza Indonesia, Social House, Immigrant and all those hip new places [laughs].

I realize that the prices are more expensive here when compared to the States where you can still find beer for a dollar during happy hour.

My favorite beers like Budweiser and Hoegaarden cost $10 in Jakarta.

When shopping here, do you convert prices to dollars in your head?

Yes, I have a tendency to think in dollars, so everything is either very cheap or more expensive. Since I’m only here for a month and I’m still earning dollars, it’s alright [laughs].

Not so long ago in Jakarta, Rp 50,000 [$5.50] could buy you a movie ticket and food, and you’d still have money left over, but not today.


Patriana was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Patriana Sonia, Business Analyst


Pictures Courtesy of Patriana Sonia Paago