Having a four-year-old and a six-year-old, whose likes and dislikes seem to have been programmed from birth (this one likes chili, bananas and papaya; that one speaks in an English accent, likes chocolate, and is crazy about pink. And purple), I’m convinced that nature is just as important (or even more so), than nurture.

Wina Bisset with the Exapt Housewife also conduct culinary activity which involve a family gathering.
Photos courtesy of Expat Housewife of Jakarta/NOW!JAKARTA

As I get older, however, I am also more and more convinced that family background influences so much of our adult lives. Our childhood experiences stay permanently lodged in our memory, whether we want to accept them or not. Therefore, as a mother, I believe that it is important to spend as much quality time as I can with my children, even though it is not that easy to find things to do in Jakarta.

As the fourth of five children, I have always rebelled against my dad’s old fashioned Javanese upbringing. This pretty much served to widen the generational gap between us but it never stopped me believing in the importance of family and it never blunted my eagerness to have children (despite my husband’s terror of babies).

Even after 20 years I still remember those trips we had as a family, especially the one that we took to Medan and Lake Toba. As one of the culinary capitals of Indonesia, Medan offers some of the best restaurants for local Chinese and Padang restaurants, not to mention the traditional cakes – bikang Ambon, that I’ve had in my life. The mountainous road on the way to Lake Toba, where we stopped to have durian from the local villagers, is still vividly clear in my mind (even though I never eat durian nowadays). Though I haven’t gone back to Medan since, it stays in my mind because it was one of the best times of my life with my parents and siblings.

Therefore, as a mother, I believe that it is important to spend as much quality time as I can with my children, even though it is not that easy to find things to do in Jakarta compared to the UK, with its museums, concert halls, theatres and public playgrounds (that are free!) and parks that are littered so wastefully all over the place. There’s so much to do, it’s exhausting just thinking about what we might do. Unlike Jakarta, where so much of what we could do, is about where we’re going to eat. For a city of 10 million, or 18 million, or whatever souls, this is one of the most underutilised cities I’ve ever lived in.

Hence, I’m always looking for restaurants that are convenient and child-friendly.

The fun cake time.
The healthy sandwich.

It’s a good thing, then, that restaurateurs and hoteliers in Jakarta are aware of the demand—from crazed and frustrated parents—to entertain their crazily frustrating children. More and more I see hotels and restaurants offering great deals to suit the needs of the hyperactive toddler and young junior market. For my daughter’s sixth birthday I chose the Signatures restaurant at the Hotel Indonesia Kempinski because not only is the food good, and well adapted to local tastes, but also because of the availability of a semi permanent area for children, with indoor slides and activities during their Sunday brunch, including face painting, drawing, and even feeding rabbits (never fear, there was no rabbit stew on the menu that day). The fact that we were positioned next to the Sunday brunch kid’s corner buffet and play area made Kate’s birthday party more personal, and made me feel like I was hiring the whole place to myself.

Of course it doesn’t stop there. Another hotel offering a smart deal is the Double Tree Hilton, whose family Sunday brunch package also includes access to their pool and kids club. This is very generous, given that many Jakartans like me like to have weekend getaways at nice hotels just for the sake of being able to swim in their swimming pool and letting the kids play in their kids’ club.

Top marks in this area, for food and kid friendly amenities, still goes to that old stalwart, the Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta, which has a great waterpark and restaurants. And it’s also, relatively, good value for money. My husband likes it, because he can hunker down with the papers on a Sunday and ignore the kids.

One of the main things we miss, living in Jakarta – is the ability to be able to walk. On pavements. Where you won’t fall down an open sewer. Or bang your ankles on a random piece of metal sticking out of the ground. Or knock yourself out on a bakso soup stand. Or get run over by a motorbike. For a taste of this highly unusual experience, in Jakarta, we like to stay at the Fairmont Hotel in Senayan. This is where we go when we want a Singapore family experience, without paying Singapore family prices. We can actually “walk” from the hotel to Plaza Senayan, sit under the Banyan trees and look at the musical water fountain between Arcadia building and Union restaurant; best of all, in the evening “Sus” babysits, while we walk to the cinema, or catch a jazz show. And the “flight” back home doesn’t involve customs, immigration, or traffic jams from the airport.

Much as we’d love to, we don’t normally spend our weekends in Jakarta’s top end hotels. For normal weekends we usually go to restaurants in our neighbourhood that have play areas and toys for children, while we eat in relative peace. One of the best of these is Huize Van Welly in the Papillion building in Kemang, which has a great collections of high end toys – like kitchen sets with all the wooden fruits and veggies, as well as mini racing cars and motorbikes. And does some of the best pastry in town. Or the closest ones, just round the corner to our house, Mamain on Gunawarman, which also provides a small indoor playground and toys, plus free nanny facilities.

And if you scratch the surface, Jakarta actually is “the place” for educational activities. We can easily feed our— and the children’s — time “learning” stuff. Like a typical Asian tiger, my six-year-old daughter is doing extra Mandarin lessons, arts and craft, maths, a voice course, choir, piano, and painting classes as part of her weekly routine. I’m surprised the little thing isn’t exhausted.

The bruch time with kids at Signature Restaurant at Hotel Indonesia Kempinski.

Having no formal educational background in culinary skills, I started by taking some short classes and courses in places like Pantry Magic, Titan, and Sugar World Academy; now I’m developing my own kitchen studio on Jalan Cikajang and teaching cooking classes.

For those who love sport, we have Rock Star Gym for children, horse riding at Arthayasa where my husband and I used to love going before we had kids. I also did my PADI open water in Jakarta at Bubbles Dive Center near Mega Kuningan which, amazingly enough for a back yard in a residential area, has a seven-metre deep swimming pool, or Seadoo Club Indonesia for jetski lovers, which is located at Pantai Mutiara, and hosts jetski trips as far as Carita. And of course, one of the joys of Indonesia is that you can do all of these things for much less than it costs elsewhere, and with much better levels of care and service.

I believe in doing positive and educational activities with our family — not just to deepen our family ties, and to get the kids tired for their bedtime — but also to expose our children to new experiences and opportunities that will stay with them as great memories for the future. A joyful childhood and a great education are some of the best things that we can give our children as parents.

But I still don’t know. Is who they are, and what they like, and the people they’ll become, all down to the genes…?