Interview: Ida Merina

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Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk hails from Solo, the historic royal capital and cultural centre of Java, Indonesia. She has been cooking since the age of 12, and also performs and teaches traditional Javanese dance. Her dream is to eventually write her own Indonesian cookbook.

To realize their dreams and aspirations, or for the sake of a better life, it’s common for many in Indonesia to migrate from their hometowns to bigger cities. Ida Merina is a portrait of such a person, and represents many urbanites of Jakarta. She hails from a town in East Java known as Nganjuk, and moved to Jakarta to find better opportunities to establish a career, which wouldn’t have been possible had she stayed in her hometown.

In Jakarta, Ida works in a large multinational corporation while running ‘Merin Coffee’, a small, trendy coffee business she has just started. She also pursues her broadcasting hobby by developing her own Youtube channel. She has had to learn many lessons and make many personal adjustments to adapt to life in Jakarta. Today, when she returns to Nganjuk, she has to similarly adjust to the differences.

In this conversation, Ida shares many of her experiences, especially of her life as a Youtuber, and her coffee business. She also describes her impressions of Jakarta and Nganjuk.

When did you move to Jakarta?

I moved to Jakarta in 2015. 

Why Jakarta? Did you aspire to live in Jakarta and to build a career here?

It’s simply because Jakarta is a challenging place. Jakarta can be a scary place, especially if you’re alone without your family. I didn’t have any dreams to move to Jakarta. But being young, I was searching for something more in life.

What are your most significant impressions of Jakarta?

Jakarta is the most developed place in Indonesia. Everything can be found here. When it comes to lifestyle, whether it’s culinary choices, living spaces, or anything else, everything is here.

You have a Youtube channel with more than 2,000 subscribers. How did you start the channel?

At first, it was just for fun. Actually, I’ve always been drawn to the world of broadcasting, except my fate was in the world of tourism. So to express myself, I made a Youtube channel for fun, as a hobby. Then, I started uploading content with a consistent theme, and it began to take the shape of the channel that exists today.

What topics do you discuss on your Youtube channel, and what is the process of developing and executing an idea?

The themes of the channel leans towards travelling, hotel, food, and anything that’s fun and isn’t sad or depressing. But now, because I have a new coffee business, I also show people how to make trendy drinks on a low budget, that they can sell it at a higher price.

When thinking of the idea, the most important thing is, don’t feel pressured when developing it. It also depends on my mood. If I see something that’s good to shoot, with useful content, I’ll just shoot it using my mobile phone. There’s no need for a professional camera. I’ll just edit in on my phone, too.What’s important is that the content flows smoothly from start to finish, and that the explanations of step-by-step processes are clear to the viewer. 

Do you have a content development team who helps you?

No. I’m a lone fighter! Honestly, I’m just doing it on the side for now. It’s not my primary occupation.

Have you ever received a nasty comment from a viewer? If yes, what would your response be?

Yes, of course! If you want to be an online artist, you’ll definitely face such scenarios. But I don’t like hate speech because my Youtube channel shouldn’t be likened to my personal life, so people shouldn’t leave inappropriate comments. If I receive such comments, I’ll delete the comment and block that person.

How long did it take you to get to 2,000 subscribers?

Hmmm, how long? I don’t remember. To be honest, I don’t really maintain my channel diligently. So it took quite a while to accumulate subscribers. If I’m not wrong, it took about a year to get to 2k subscribers.

What did you do to achieve this number of subscribers?

I provide useful content. I’ve often noticed that a lot of content revolves around exposing the creator’s personal life. But I produce more content that educates the viewers, and I upload consistently.

What is your hope for your Youtube channel?

The same as every other Youtube. Who knows, one day I might get as much as Raffi Ahmad (a famous Indonesian celebrity). Holidays with friends and family, without thinking of the cost. Maybe one day, if I have a team, I’ll be able to be like that…hehehe.

Aside from YouTube, you also have a side business selling coffee on platforms like Gofood and Grabfood. How did you get the idea of starting this business?

It’s an interesting question. At first, I didn’t like coffee. But many of my friends at work gathered, and bonded over their love for coffee. Coffee became my obstacle to hanging out with them. To be honest, I tried doing this coffee business as a way to train myself to enjoy coffee. That’s how it started. So when I received my THR (Hari Raya allowance) last year, in 2020, I didn’t spend it. Rather than use it for shopping, or lending it to a friend and having difficulties collecting it back, I started my home business. On the one hand I could train myself to enjoy coffee, on the other, to roll my money and increase it . That’s how it started.

What kind of coffees do you specialise in?

I specialise in the latest coffee trends, at the moment, kopi susu gula aren (milk coffee with palm sugar), because it’s happening and it’s easy for the whole family to enjoy. But besides that, I’m expanding the product range. There are many products, such as coffees with caramel and mint, latte, and so on. But I also want to enter the non-coffee market, so there are some non-coffee items as well.

Do many people order coffee on Grab/Gofood?

Yes, almost 90% of the orders are online, via Gofood or Grabfood, because I sell from a residential complex, not a street stall. 

What are some interesting orders you’ve received?

Once I received an order of 10 glasses, and multiple flavours. My hands were shaking because I was making it by myself, from extracting the espressor, blending, packaging, etc, until the driver was annoyed waiting for me. To make 10 glasses, it takes me about 20 minutes.

Do you drink a lot of coffee?

Not really. I’m finally able to drink coffee, but only an amount that doesn’t make me nauseous. Once a day, at most twice a day, but only lattes and not strong coffees.

What’s the best coffee in Indonesia?

Do you mean the coffee beans? I use coffee beans. And where I source them from depends on the acidity – this refers to the level of sourness in the aftertaste, when we drink coffee. Not everyone enjoys the sour taste after drinking coffee. That’s why I choose Robusta Toraja, because it has low acidity, but the coffee tastes strong or bold. That coffee is enjoyed primarily by male customers. For lattes, I use a house blend. That’s a mix of Arabica and Robusta, and I like the house blends from Aceh, because it has low acidity.

How is local Indonesian coffee different from Western style coffee?

In Western style coffee, the most common are espresso, which is a single shot that’s consumed at a go, or cappuccino, which has milk and espresso but is still bitter. So they like bitter coffees, but in Indonesia there are differences, such as the use of gula aren (palm sugar), and so on. That’s not something people are familiar with outside Indonesia. Indonesians also like the sweet taste. The coffee isn’t bold, and there’s less coffee used, but it’s sweet. But Westerners prefer a bold coffee taste.

Have you ever sent a wrong order, and what did you do after?

Yes. The first time I got an order…heheh. I panicked. The first time the shop opened, I received 3 orders. People say, it’s lucky, because the first day you open a business, you won’t necessarily get any orders. That was the first day I opened, and I wasn’t sure I would get an order. Because I’m not an operations person, and that was my first time making coffee. The first order was for iced chocolate, and it had already been delivered. 10 minutes later I received an order, but I was still panicked from my first order. The second order was for 2 coffees, but I made 1 chocolate drink and 1 coffee. And I only realized it when the driver had delivered the order. Eventually I called the driver. I asked the driver to come to my house the next day, so I could remake the correct order. I gave the customer free drinks so I wouldn’t get a low rating on Gofood.

A full time job, a Youtube Channel to manage, and a coffee business. How are you juggling with all of those?

To be honest, the Youtube channel and the coffee business are for fun. I don’t feel the pressure — That’s why I can manage all of it. So from 9-6, I focus on work. Sometimes there’s an order for coffee during this time, but it’s rare. And then, I focus on my coffee business after 6pm. From 9-11pm, it’s the peak hour for coffee orders. Why? Because the shops have closed, but there are still many people who want coffee. People stay up late, trying to meet deadlines, so my coffee gives them an alternative to the shops. As for my YouTube channel, it doesn’t interfere with my full time work at all, because I work on it and upload videos over the weekend. That’s my schedule.

Do you miss Nganjuk?

Hahaha, that’s a heavy question. I miss Nganjuk, but I miss my mother more. My mom’s massages, cooking, and so on. Because I didn’t really grow up in Nganjuk, I’m not very attached to it. But my mom’s there, so I miss it.

What do you miss about your hometown?

I miss the cheap food! Since I started living in Jakarta, every time I return to Nganjuk, I buy food and treat many people to it. I feel like a very rich and successful person – because one portion of bakso rudal (meatballs) in Jakarta is 20,000 – 30,000 rupiahs (about SG$2-3), but there, it’s 5,000 rupiahs (about SG$0.50) for chicken bakso, bakso rudal, or bakso beranak (types of meatballs). The iced tea is 2,000 rupiahs (SG$0.20). For a big bakso sapi (beef meatballs), it’s 10,000 rupiahs (SG$1). I can treat 5 people – 50,000 rupiah for bakso, 10,000 for iced tea, so it’s 60,000 rupiahs ($SG6) for 5 people. It’s super cheap, and you can’t find that kind of prices in Jakarta.

If you had to choose, would you prefer living in Jakarta or Nganjuk? Why?

Jakarta, of course! I’ve already been out of the kampung for more than 10 years. So I would feel awkward back in the kampung. That’s the first reason. The second is, to jump into conversation with a villager is quite challenging for me, because of the differences in our points of view. It’s not that I can’t adapt, I certainly can, but for a newcomer who’s returned for a few days after many years, it’s hard to get along with them. And Nganjuk is still super limited, because it’s a growing town. So not all the things we want can be found there. But still, there’s been drastic development since my childhood. For example, now the pharmacy is open 24/7. In the past, there was only one pharmacy, named Toko Panggung, which was totally closed during lunchtime. After that they opened, but we would have to wait for them to wake up from their afternoon nap! But now I’m proud to say we have a 24-hour Kimia Farma (pharmacy).There are also 5 Indomaret and Alfamart stores (convenient stores) in Nganjuk. There are 2 petrol stations. That’s great progress. And now, my friend has an Instagram account where she posts food, and endorses food in Nganjuk. There’s a lot of new eateries there. Trendy coffee joints and famous brands from Jakarta are starting to enter Nganjuk. So the people of Nganjuk are becoming consumers, except that the progress is slow and this makes me think twice about living in Nganjuk.

Apart from that, it’s really difficult to get a good signal (mobile reception) from my house. If I want a good signal, I have to go to the front of the house, or to the padi field. There’s no signal inside the house. I’m used to life with Wifi, social media, and so on, and I can’t do that from my house in Nganjuk. That’s one reason why I’d choose Jakarta. There’s also no public transport in Nganjuk. If you don’t own a vehicle, you have to borrow one from your neighbour, and make sure you fill it with petrol. And then you have to treat your neighbour to some food. In Jakarta, we’re comfortable. There are buses, the MRT, and a lot of entertainment. In Nganjuk, it’s quiet after 9 pm. Everything’s closed. The road within the village is flanked by padi fields, and it’s long and dark. There are no street lights. It’s frightening. There might be a sudden disturbance, and we won’t know who it is. 

For those interested in Ida Merina’s Youtube channel, here’s the link. 

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