Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Great Christmas Tree Hunt

Maybe I am too pragmatic. Maybe my husband it too much of a minimalist and he has broken me down over the years. Maybe I am just a bad mom. I did not pack a Christmas tree when I packed up all of our worldly goods. I thought we could do with the 1950's aluminum tree, it's small and doesn't take up space. But when I saw the look in my daughter's eyes. They one that said "You dragged me to the other side of the world. Away from my friends. I'm not getting snow for Christmas, I'm getting sand. I need a tree!"

Fortunately, despite the fact that Indonesia is 90% Muslim, they seem to be in the Christmas mood here in Jakarta. Every shop and restaurant I have walked into in the past week has had Christmas music playing festively and tinsel and trees decorating the space. Fake trees are plentiful but expensive. 

With some luck I discovered trees on sale at our local Carrefour. Not surprising since Carrefour is not frequented by expats. 

Unfortunately I was not smart enough to to buy the tree when I first saw it so I had to make a second trip. This time to a different location.

I ventured in and found the trees immediately. Same price but no boxes. So with my very limited Indonesian I attempted to make this purchase happen. 

Here's the blessing and curse about retail here, there are always lots of people around trying to help you. This time it paid off and I quickly found a lovely young lady who who with the help of the stock boy determined that the only trees available were the ones on display. So with the patience that I have learned is mandatory here I waited while a box was found and the tree was disassembled and boxed up. 

Here's the awesome part, the staff was smiling and friendly and helpful the whole time.

There was one unsettling part of the trip. While I was standing in the verrrry slow line to pay for my bounty the manager walked by with a a new cashier to open a new line. He plucked me out of my line and pushed my cart down to the front of the new line. Perhaps the blond hair that keeps me from getting the best deals at the market finally paid off. 

We are now the proud owner of a lovely little tree. Z is only mildly satisfied since the tree is only 5.5' tall but I consider this a major victory.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A lot to be Thankful for

Today is Thanksgiving.  It is in my opinion one of the best Holidays that America has to offer. I encourage all of you to take time to enjoy your family and friends. I have always embraced the big table and if you don't have family around it is a great time to bring together friends and enjoy sitting around the table together. 
This is especially true when you are posted in a foreign land where they don't celebrate our holiday.
We have in the past brought together a table full of Kiwi's during our two years in N.Z. and enjoyed sharing our table with our friends from Romania. 
I will always make room at my table for someone who doesn't have a place to celebrate.

I love this time because we don't always take time to be thankful for what we have. Too often we are so focused on the negative to celebrate the good things. I don't like making New Years resolutions but I have come to embrace taking time to note what I have to be thankful for.

Here is my list. Please feel free to share yours.

1) My awesome husband. This has been a crazy year for us. We have lived apart more than we have lived together and pretty much changed everything about our lives.  This level of stress can be a test for most relationships but I think we have come through this still strong. It's a good sign that I still miss him when he is gone.

2) My two amazing kids. My oldest for taking it in stride when his parents told him they were going to drop him off at college and then move to the other side of the world. He seems to be doing just fine with it too. My youngest for embracing this new life. I know it hasn't been easy for her, leaving her friends and starting at a new school but she is doing surprisingly well. Thank goodness for the internet.

3) Speaking of, I am thankful for the internet. It lets us all keep in touch so much easier.

4) Our friends and family back home who may not have been happy about our newest adventure but have been supportive none the less. 

5) My housekeeper and driver who are both wonderful people and who have made my time here in Jakarta and this transition so much easier.

Now for the less serious but equally important and in no particular order:

6)  The embassy commissary that sells wine at reasonable prices and also sells Triscuits.

7) Cheap airfare to Bali.

8) The men who deliver my drinkable water every week.

9) Amazingly cheap spa services.

10) Columbus Metropolitan Library's online lending program.

11) The men who are working so hard to have our new house ready so we can move in in January.

12)  All my new friends in Jakarta. You are keeping me sane.

13) That our household shipment is finally arriving next week.

14) The opportunity to explore this part of the world!

15) Air-conditioning

16) Ripe Mangos

17) and the Embassy DPO system

20) That, barring an emergency, T. will be home for the next month.

21) My sweet Shanti has come though this all pretty much unscathed. 

22) Podcasts

23) We have a place to go for Thanksgiving and will also have a table full of our new friends to help us celebrate on Saturday.

Shanti Says "Happy Thanksgiving!!"

P.SAllow me a brief moment on the Soap Box. Don't go shopping today! The stuff will be there tomorrow, you won't save any more money, I promise they will still mark it down again between now and Christmas and if you don't shop on this one national family day they won't make people work on it next year. Simple economics. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Marking Time

I've lost track of time.

It passes differently for me now.

I no longer have four seasons I have two. Hot and Humid and Hot and Wet. And I have no historical reference to tell me that now that the rains have started it must be November.

The sun rose today at 5:25 am and set at 5:49 pm. Pretty much the same time it does every day since we have been in Indonesia.

I am no longer working. So while I have activities throughout my days. My Mondays don't look much different from my Saturdays except Z is home. This is especially true when T is on the road.

The days and weeks seem the same.

Two weeks ago I the community made a valiant effort to celebrate Halloween with ghosts hanging from Palm Trees and trick-or-treating for the embassy kids. Now I see posts for Thanksgiving at the American Club or where to get my turkey but I still cannot believe it is November. Not even the Christmas themed charity lunch this week really did its job, though it was quite lovely.

My friends at home are posting pictures of snow but the trees outside my window are still full of blooming flowers and after the rains there is jasmine in the air.

Now I am wondering if this Northern Girl will ever get used to the passage of time without the markers she knows. 

In the mean time I will count the days till my son comes "home" for Christmas and try to imagine snow as I plan our trip to Bali.  

Life on the equator. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lines. What Lines?

Full confession here: I was born and raised in a country that believes in standing in line and waiting your turn.

While this is not always the case, think about those idiots who zoom up the highway and wait till the last minute to try and get over thus causing traffic to be even worse than it was to start with, it is generally the case. It is a an unspoken civil contract abided by in countries that were at one point or another under British rule. Every kid in school knows the rule: "No Ditching". 

I also believe that in America if you break this rule, and aren't separated by a mass of steal or what ever cars are made of these days, we will cut you...with a look, words or if you are in a bad neighborhood something worse.

Many other parts of the world don't understand this rule. I have been to both France and Italy and learned that I need to push my way forward if I am going to get on that train. In London I once had a conversation with a German woman while waiting in the queue for the London Eye. Her quote " The British really know how to Queue."  As if this was a strange phenomenon. 

Here is who else doesn't understand the concept of the line: Indonesians.  

I have thought about this a lot lately because it might be bringing out the worst in me. This weekend I traveled to Yogyakarta with my family to see the great Buddhist temple of Borobudur and the Hindu temple Prambanan It was beautiful and we had a great weekend.

However at the the airport, a place where even the most civilized have a tendency to get their feathers ruffled, I almost took out a little old lady at the baggage claim. 

Now I believe that the baggage claim is one of the worst areas on the planet for human behavior. Even in the land of "Taking Your Turn" people will rush to circle the belt as they wait for their bags to come gliding out. Shins pressed against the edge convinced that if they are not right there somehow their bag will never show or will magically disappear. I understand everyone is in a hurry to get out of the evil airport and onto what ever has brought them to this new city. But I do wonder why we haven't all realized if we all step back about two feet everyone will be able to see and access their bags.

In Indonesia, the land of no traffic rules and little personal space, this phenomenon is even worse. Not only are entire families crammed against the baggage claim as they wait they are crammed against each other.   Add to this the fact that humans flow they way traffic flows persistently nudging their way to where they want to be until the object in their way is overcome. 

This is what happened at the baggage claim in Yogyakarta. The little old lady wanted to be where I was and consistently and firmly started pushing. 

Be proud of me fellow Americans. Elbows did not fly. It did not become ugly. But as I have also learned from watching my driver. If you don't want to give up your don't have to.

In order to live in the world that functions more like a river than a man made canal you have to learn to flow around things to get what you want but also to hold where you want to be or you will be pushed to the edge.

If you want to read about the temples from my better half :

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I think I can, I think I can...

This week our little clan took a much needed break to Bali. We have been through a pretty intense year with our start up to the Foreign Service life style. 

If you count moving T to D.C. for training and our son F into his dorm room I have moved four times this year and still have one to go as we wait for our permanent housing.
T has been through training, moving, learning a new job and now lots of travel for said job. 
Z has been working on adjusting to a new school and just finished soccer season.
So, yeah, a week at the beach sounded pretty good.

Mostly we hung out at the beach, T and Z learned to surf. One was a little better than the other but I'll never tell who. We shopped at the cool boutiques, ate, napped.

Wednesday night however, at the suggestion of my friend J, who was in Bali with her kids, we made up for our slothful ways and decided to hike Mt. Batur. 

Now here are a few things you need to know about me before I tell you about our trip:

1) I cannot sleep in a car
2) I am not currently in the best shape I have ever been in. We will just leave it at that.

In order to hike this volcano and see sunrise, the point of the whole trip, we were to be picked up at 1 am on Wednesday night, or Thursday morning, you pick. So we ate an early dinner on Wednesday and tried to catch a few hours sleep before we had to meet the driver. I think I managed two hours.

Once our group was all together we were off into the darkness across the island. At this point only the driver and I were awake.

Our first stop was the meeting point for the tour company. A small coffee and fruit plantation. At 3 am they plied us with coffee, tea and banana pancakes while we waited for other groups to show up. Then they piled us into more cars for another 15 minute drive to the base of the mountain. 

It is still pitch black, about 3:30 in the morning and there were about 200 fellow crazy people wandering around in the parking lot. This was the time to use the toilet one more time, get a flashlight and rent your warm jacket or sweatshirt. The rental is a brilliant idea on the locals part since most people don't show up in Bali with warm weather gear and they keep telling you how cold it is on top of the mountain. I will say this though, if you do this and you are recently from northern climes, it's not that cold. The local guides are completely bundled up though and that's enough for you to shell out your $5 for the rental. I still think if they were really smart they would be selling sweatshirts that said "I climbed Mt. Batur"

Off we set off, in our individual groups and guides, into the darkness with only our flashlights and water. Our lead guide I believe is a natural long distance runner because the pace is set was very brisk to say the least. Also everyone in our little group is a reasonably conditioned athlete, except me, and we are headed up 5,633' at a nice little clip. I will also point out that I haven't slept except for the short little nap I had that evening. 

This is not my finest moment. My heart is quickly racing, and because they convinced me I needed a sweatshirt, I am over heating. God bless T who is willing to hang back with me while the rest of our group kept up their brisk pace but especially Komong, our 18 year old guide, who gently and patiently urged me up the mountain letting me take frequent rest breaks.

My critical moment came when we hit the half way point. Up to this point we had definitely been going up but as I looked ahead and saw the lights streaming in a decidedly vertical way I felt I just couldn't do it. My heart was already pounding so hard and I was finding it increasingly difficult to catch my breath, also I am exhausted since I didn't get any sleep in the car, so I promised them all I would be O.K. at the halfway stop and sent them on their way while I enjoyed the sunrise from a lower altitude. 

Streams of people passed me after that but eventually I felt like I was the only one one the mountain. I listened to the birds sing up the sun as well as the chants from the area Hindu temples. And then I watched the sunrise from my little perch.

This gave me plenty of time to think and I realized two things.

1) I shouldn't give up on myself.
2) If I was going to ever push my daughter in the future to work harder, I had to keep going up this mountain.

Since it was now daylight and I could see where I was going myself. Up I went. I took lots of breaks but I kept going and pretty soon I met up with some locals who make their business selling Cokes to climbers. They assured me I was only 10 minutes away from the top and this lovely, wizened man led me the rest of the way, all the time giving me encouragement and frequently trying to drag me till at last I put both feet over the top ledge and found both T and Komong who celebrated for me.

At the top I was able to see the volcanic crater, peer into the sacred cave where they still have Hindu ceremonies and enjoy an egg cooked in the volcano and a banana sandwich.

The hike down was much easier but I will say I was humbled watching locals as they worked their way up for the aforementioned Hindu ceremony, most in flip flops, at least one barefoot and all with large baskets of goods on their heads.

 Later on, back in Seminyak where we were staying, Z and I rewarded ourselves with Balinese foot baths/ massages/ pedicures, pretty amazing. But the best part of the day is when I put two feet on top of that mountain.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Too Many D@*% Zeros

I currently have 314,000 Rupiah in my wallet. Sounds like I'm rich! Frankly, by Indonesian standards you could say I do fall generally into that category. But really I am only carrying about $31.

I am still trying to get used to the local currency and the constant mathematical acrobatics  I am doing in my head. 

I have traveled rather extensively so I am reasonably used to the colorful cash that I am carrying around. The pinks, bright greens and blues don't really phase me. It's really all those zeros.

Most of the countries I have traveled to use something that is similar to a dollar type currency, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, The Euro all over Europe and the British Pound. 

Maybe it is because T is paid in U.S. dollars, but we are constantly thinking of what the cost is in our native currency and all those zeros make me think harder than I would like to and also attribute to potentially paying more than you think. 

An example from one of my neighbors:
Nina was shopping for gifts to send home to friends and family. She had selected a scarf for her mother with one of the beautiful local batik designs. The cost came up 4000000, please note there are never commas. She miscounted the zeros and thought it was about $40 and completely reasonable but by missing that last zero it turns out it was closer to $400!

The other catch. I keep using vague terms like "about" in figuring out the exchange. Currently 100000 IDR are worth $8.18 but most of us find it mentally easier to use the 100000 IDR = approximately $10...only better in our favor. 

I wish I could tell you I think it will get easier. It has some but I think given Nina's example I will always question myself during every transaction.

There is also the twist of the predominately cash economy. Many places don't take plastic so you need to have stacks of cash. Add to that the fact that most ATM's only spit out 100000 or 50000 IDR which is a lot of money for some transactions. 

Another example: 
I love fresh flowers and there are lots of local markets selling them, note we are not talking about the traditional florist you would see in the States but think more like permanent  farmer's markets. I have found that I can get 10 stems of my new favorite flower, tuber rose, for 40000 IDR ($3.27). The thing is you don't want to hand the guy 100000, he probably won't be able to make change. Also if you just negotiated him to that price you really don't want to now ask him to make change. 

Next week for an added bonus I am headed to Malaysia for a few days! Their exchange rate is closer to 10 MYR to $3 U.S. I hope all these acrobatics are making my brain stronger!

Current Cash on hand using the official conversion =$25.70

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Exploring Batavia

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. With that in mind I will be sharing many with you today.

This week I had my fist official meeting of the Indonesian Heritage Society's study group for Historical Structures. The goal of the group is to meet twice a month while different members do presentations on different historical structures and the culture tying in to the building. These presentations can be at the actual location or, since Indonesia covers approximately the same area as the United States, by power point type presentations

We met at Cafe Batavia, a beautiful old cafe that is centered in a square in the area where the port city of Batavia that was to become Jakarta was founded in 1620.
After a brief history of the area over coffee we headed out to explore a few old buildings. 

Before I share the pictures here is an interesting fact: These are protected historical structures. They can't be torn down. However, because of Indonesian law, they can only be renovated back to their original use. For example a bank must be restored back into a bank. That means these beautiful old buildings are mostly crumbling down. The other catch, while they can't be torn down if they fall down they can be replaced by a new building, and Indonesia is located on the most active seismic area of the world. Given the cost of renovation, the size of these buildings and Jakarta's apparent love of gleaming sky scrapers my bet is on the eventual crumbling and replacement.

Another interesting historical note. This area was settled by local Indonesians, Europeans and Chinese. In the 17th century the life expectancy wasn't very long...but somehow the Chinese seemed more immune.  The Dutch figured that is was all the tea the Chinese consumed so they started eating tea leaves. What they didn't figure out is that is was because the Chinese were boiling the water to make their tea. So much for the scientific method.

Images from inside Cafe Batavia, built between 1805-1850.

Old house taken over by a tree

Old bank building, 1920's

Cloisters around the bank

Art Deco glass. This can only be seen from the inside.
Images are Tobacco, Rice, Sugar, Tea, Rubber

Toko Merah, old double house. Built for family on one side and mother-in-law on the other.
Built in 1730. One of the oldest buildings in Jakarta.

Current interior of Toko Merah. You are looking at the M-i-L's side with newer openings between the two houses. It's currently a "museum" and event space.

"Chicken Bridge" Oldest Bridge in Jakarta. Named because it's near the chicken market.

To learn more about the history of Jakarta click below:

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Skin We're In.

This whole exchange started innocently enough. 

On Friday I met T at his office for a welcome lunch. It was to welcome the new nurse that had recently joined the staff. Because traffic in Jakarta is, as has been previously mentioned, bad I gave myself plenty of time to travel and ended up arriving thirty minutes early. Since there is a Starbucks in the lobby I decided to enjoy my new favorite flavor, Asian Dolce Latte before heading up. The young ladies behind the counter were happy and chatty, normal for Starbucks, and business at that hour was slow.

We established in our exchange that I didn't work in the building but was visiting my husband who did and they thought it was very sweet that I was coming in to join him for lunch. I then headed up to join the festivities.

It is pertinent to note here that my driver is a devout Muslim, and it is Friday. I note this because I feel it is the least I can do for the man who totes me around town that I make sure he is free to attend Friday prayers. This not a hardship on my part, it honors him as another human and it only takes a little co-ordination on my part. I mention this because we had scheduled for him to return to collect me at 1:30 and lunch was done at 12:45. Since T needed to get back to work I did what anyone else would do, I went back and parked myself in Starbucks with what was left of my coffee and a book.

At this point it is still pretty slow and one of the baristas came over to talk to me. 

We chatted about how my lunch was and she tried to figure out who my husband was. Since he had just been in the Starbucks with me I pointed out she had just missed him and proceeded to try and find a picture on my phone to show her. 

This is when it happened. 

As I am scrolling through the pictures looking for one of T I jokingly noted I had lots of pictures of my kids but was having trouble finding one of him. 

And then she said: " Your children must be beautiful because they are white"

I'm going to let that sink in.

It took me a few moments to catch it. In fact I was well past that point in the conversation when my brain did the..."Did she just say what I think she said!?!" Maybe because my children might pass for white, but generally don't, and are in fact biracial. Maybe because I was not expecting anything so sad to be said in such a matter of fact way.

I have discussed in earlier posts how I tend to draw attention when I am out. I have blond hair and fair skin and I am in South East Asia. I have never thought in any way that this made me more beautiful, just different.

Later that evening T came across something in a book he is reading about Jakarta discussing the perceived superiority of light skin in this region. It is interesting to note that the people of Java, where Jakarta is located are generally lighter skinned than many from some of the people native to the other islands. This is such a phenomenon that many people will try to lighten their skin with creams and powders. The article then discussed the irony of how whites come to these islands, typically Bali, and try to get darker through tanning. It seems no one is happy with the skin they are in.

I am not out to save the world with my blog but I would encourage you to appreciate the beauty in every shade humans come in. I am treating this as my own wake up call. 
A reminder that in the future that I will be able to do my part to correct this assumed bias.

I eventually found a picture of T and showed her. She knew just who he was, someone must be visiting Starbucks regularly. She then admired my lovely dark haired darker skinned children. 

She went off to make the next customer's coffee and I was left to ponder how such a lovely young woman could think she was any less lovely because the color of her skin.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

You gotta have faith

Before we left for Jakarta we had many conversations with people telling them where we were headed. With most of our friends back in Ohio the conversation went something like...

How Cool!!

With the multiple people we talked to who had been here, mostly in the State Department but not exclusively, it went more like.

How Lucky!
Your going to love it!
But, Oh The TRAFFIC!!

Sometimes, "OH The TRAFFIC!!"  was even the second sentence out of their mouth. And yes it is that bad.

It boils down to this. Developing Country, Big City, No good public transportation and traffic rules are really only suggestions.

Imagine New York City with out the subway system. Now imagine that no one really pays attention to lanes, there are no stop signs, and only the occasional traffic light. You're starting to get it. 

Now add in an abundance of people on motor bikes, sometimes whole families, who are even less restrained than the cars by lanes.

Mix in the fact that like any big city that has just grown up around itself there was no city planning office that gave any thought to street layout.

And for the final pinch of seasoning don't forget the "volunteer" traffic directors who work for tips to try and help the whole process.

I think you are finally starting to get it.

Because of this, we don't drive. And if you know me, you know this is killing me.

I sit in the back of the car while my wonderful driver Pak H. (Pak is the honorific for Mr.)
escorts me around town. He is generally pretty safe and conscientious driver. However even with him I have my moments where I just don't watch and hope for the best.

On weekends and evenings we have been known to take taxi's. We stick to the Bluebirds, known to be the best option, but I think because they are one a mission to earn more fares they are a little more daring.

Because here is the amazing part.  Due to the lack of any real lanes and a general dearth of traffic flow control, motor vehicles push their way into the space they want to occupy. The amazing part is that generally other cars let them do this. 

Want to make a right hand turn through the stream of oncoming traffic? Simply start going. 
Want to change "lanes"? Just start moving over.
U Turn? Sure!

I won't pretend that I am not occasionally terrified by this. I am never quite confident that the motor bikes, who weave freely through traffic, will really stop. But cars always do. Now I am sure that some of this has to do with the fact that everything moves at a crawl but other than the incessant beeping horns I have come to believe that anyone who drives in this city is a Zen master despite the fact that they are Muslim.

The amazing part is that there are very few accidents of merit. Sure there are minor fender benders but not the kind where people get hurt. Which is good because I am positive an ambulance would never get through the traffic. 

What I know for sure is that most Americans, especially some members of my family, would lose their minds driving in this. 

So while I sit in the back, sometimes closing my eyes or letting out a small gasp. I am learning you gotta have faith.  And somehow it happens.

Read more from T's point of view at:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Big Tease

I realize that some of my readers who are posted in other countries may not feel any sympathy for me when they read this post. You are stationed in one of those places where you have to ship in everything you could possibly want for the next year or at the very least the next six months. You should feel free to stop reading now. If however you think you might be posted in Jakarta at some point in your future you should keep reading.

Jakarta is a big city in the fourth largest country in the world. If you read my earlier post you know that there are about 10 million people who live here. 

Because of this you can get almost anything you want. Particularly if you are willing to pay the price. For the American shopper I have seen a Gap, Victoria's Secret, Clair's, Nike and Forever 21. Pretty much standard U.S. mall fare. 

With the help of my new friends I have also found many options for grocery shopping and have only discovered one item so far that just doesn't seem to be available but luckily for us we can always order on Amazon, Walmart or various other sites that will ship to our DPO, we just need to be willing to wait, so plan ahead.

But this is a developing country, despite the flashy malls and American fast food chains, and I have come to think of it as the Big Tease.

Just because it looks like the store should have an item or it's listed on the menu doesn't mean they actually have it. 

I have sat at a restaurant trying to order a beverage and had to work my way down the list in an attempt to find something they actually have...

Teh (tea in a bottle) ?
Mint Tea?

This week Z blew out her soccer cleats. (Insert Mom rant where I suggested we buy her new ones before we left the States and they were actually reasonably priced and she turned me down) This required our second trip out to the stores to purchase sport shoes for my daughter in the last month, the first time her new Nike running shoes were stolen.

We headed out to Lippo Mall where we had had success before and they are close to home. The have a Nike, Addidas, Puma and general "Sporting Goods Store".  We carefully scoped out all the options, if you have ever been shopping with a 16 year old girl you know what I mean, Finally to go back to the "General Sporting Goods" store because she deemed them the best option. 

This is where I should also tell you that Jakarta doesn't have much green space so there are not a lot of outdoor soccer fields. Because of this there are far more indoor soccer shoes than cleats available. 

This is also the point where we learned that women must not play soccer here because the only shoes they had were in men's sizes or children's. Like in the States the children's shoes are not as good for her level of play. The helpful clerk tried to bring her the model she liked in kids..nope. Then he went deep into the stock room and found an adult pair in her size but they weren't the style she wanted...nope. 

We thanked him for his help and since I had plans for the evening I took her home to T who had the fun of taking her to the next mall. Luckily there was success. 

I suppose we should be grateful it only took two trips. My neighbor's son wears a size 13 and they have to order all his shoes from the States. It turns out Southeast Asians don't have big feet.

That hunt is over now I need to find good, affordable cheese.

                                                      Our Find! Way to go T!

If you are interested in more on our adventures from T's point of view:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A little like dating again...

I have been very lucky in my life to be able to make good friends. I have friends that are from college and friends from my 20's and I am lucky enough to still be making good friends even into my 40's. Not just sit-on-the-sideline-and-watch-the-kids friends but women I have bonded with and could count on. Women I could delve into life's philosophies with. More often than not women who I have shared both a morning coffee and a late night glass of wine with, traveled with, cried and celebrated with and worked to change the world with. They are the "village" I am counting on looking after my oldest while I am on the other side of the world.
The unfortunate problem is that I am on the other side of the world from all of them and while they are still my "village" I need to expand it's members.

It seems that most women intuitively know we need each other to make our lives better.

One piece of advice we received before we started this adventure was to say "yes" to all activities we were invited to when we arrived. This way you meet new people and begin to establish your community. You find the people that you connect with. This is, I believe, is extra important in a foreign country where I am still finding my way, don't speak the language and don't know all the customs. T also has a regional position that requires him to travel so I will be doing this on my own frequently and you need to know who you can call for that glass of wine or directions to the Emergency Room.

Because I am what the State Department calls a Trailing Spouse and we are in Indonesia where I am only allowed to work for a U.S. entity I am not meeting lots of new people through work. I am out there meeting new people, mostly women, and going on "dates"
I don't want to be accused of sexism here because there are many Trailing Spouses who are men, but let's be honest there are many more women. It is also important to remember that many of us gave up careers in the corporate world, academics, law or medicine for this life of adventure.

The good news is that there are lots of opportunities. I have attended and joined the American Women's Association and the Indonesian Heritage Society. I have signed up for two learning classes and one explorers group in the IHS too. I'm joining a book club. And I have found the old standby of soccer-moms, a group to always be counted on.

Perhaps because we are all in the same situation where we are in a temporary life, people come and go from expat land, or perhaps because they all remember being in my position, where they were new and didn't know anyone, but I have found people to be quick at sharing their contact information, inviting me to call if I need anything and reaching out to invite me on "dates".

Now, I have been happily married for almost 20 years, so it has been a while since I went on an actual date. You know the kind where you sit at coffee or lunch and try to figure out if you have a connection that will help you move forward.

 And while I have to say I don't ever want to join the actual dating pool again, this kind of dating is kind of fun and almost as awkward as the first kind.

 I am sure that I have already met some women for whom I will be friends for a long time, especially thanks to Facebook. Those philosophy over coffee or wine friends. I have met a few that I know I will have fun hanging out with for a period of time but will lose track of once one of us moves away. A few that I will see regularly, serve on committees with and think of fondly but never be really close to. And there are a few very nice women that I may never really connect with but we will be there for each other because we are in Expat-Land and we need to. 

In the future I am sure all of these women and I will exchange tips on where to find soccer cleats, food we are craving from home, and someone who can actually color blond hair. We will be there when someone needs a ride and or a break from our kids. We'll eat together and laugh together.

I feel very lucky in one way. Many people move to other cities in the States for jobs or family and for them it can take a long time to make connections in a new place. I already know that the expat family is here for me..and I will be there for the next newbie. 

You never know what the next "date" can lead to..maybe someone who knows the best place to stay in Bali, a good book club that will make me think or how I can find a good job that is flexible to accommodate T's new career.

Or maybe they will just know where to find that perfect cup of coffee and make me laugh.

Monday, September 15, 2014

One of these things is not like the others

One of the primary reasons for this adventure is so that we can explore other cultures.
T and I have a dive-right-in attitude about exploring new spaces. Before my arrival he had already checked out some options around the city so he has been dying to take me on some short adventures.

My first Sunday, aided by the fact that I was still in the grips of jet lag, and therefore, awake at 5 am, we went to the "Car-Free Day" where one of the main streets of the city is closed off to traffic from 6am-11am on Sunday morning. The benefit of this is two-fold; one it is decreasing the air pollution in a city that badly needs it and two it gives the people in the city a chance to ride their bikes, skate, and walk and see people. Jakarta has very little green space so this is a great opportunity for people to walk around without being in a mall.

T and I walked the full length of the street and back and enjoyed the carnival-like atmosphere. There were lots of food vendors, musicians and people watching.

This Sunday, my husband who knows me well. took me shopping.

Now, I admittedly enjoy a nice mall, but I really love a good market. One of my favorite things to do in Ohio is go to the Springfield Extravaganza twice a year. A trip to Paris wouldn't be complete for me with out the Marche de Puce . 

I have scoured markets in Sydney and Hong Kong as well. Always looking for treasures and enjoying the sights.

For this trip we went to Blok M. It is a reasonable walking distance from our house so we didn't have to battle the traffic and it could serve the benefit of further familiarizing me with the area.

Blok M is not really a shopping center but more like a giant market encased in a seven story building. Each floor specializes in something different from books, both second hand and new, batik, electronics and dvds. The top floor has an arcade, food court and a movie theater. 

It is a bit of a rabbit warren, but also laid out in reasonably neat rows.  The vendors invite you into see what they are selling, always in a polite way. Prices all seemed reasonable but this is definitely a place you should bargain.

I found two lovely batik skirts that I paid a total of $20 for. I'm sure I could have gotten a better deal, but I am still struggling with the American guilt. Maybe that will change, but not for now.

Both these adventures served to remind me of one major thing. I look different here! 

There is no blending in for me. T and the kids have that blended Asian look that makes them stand out as being somehow different. so they have dealt with the looks and the open ended questions even the most rude on "What are You?"

I, however, have always lived in a country where I am visually easy to peg and that makes me blend in. But with lots of blond hair that has gone full on curly with the humidity in this country I stand out among the locals. 

I did the math. Jakarta's population is 10.18 million. Of that there are about 22,000 expats living here. About 75% of these foreigners are Asian. That means that there are about 5,500 people in the city who are from North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. The chances of those people being blond is about 25% so there are about 1,300 blonds in a city of 10 million. 

And even though I see my "tribe" through the week as I travel about in expat-land when I go out among the general population, I feel like a rare, blue-footed booby. 

I will say my favorite response usually comes from the young girls who's eyes grow big and aren't afraid to giggle and wave. So far we've only had one person ask to take their picture with us. And, thankfully no one has just reached out and touched  my hair yet. I am hoping the fact that Indonesians think the head is sacred and you shouldn't touch another persons head will keep that from happening.

T reminded me I could always wear a headscarf.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Secret Asian Man: Surabaya

Secret Asian Man: Surabaya

A crash course in the Jakarta Healthcare System

First let me start with the fact that everyone is

I would also like to mention that I have come to deeply dislike the mobile phone system here. First, no one has a phone plan. The way you get your phone to work is to get a SIM card for your phone that is provided by one of the local providers. This gives you a phone number.

The next step is to load your minutes on to your phone. This is a delicate attempt to balance cost vs. need as you try to figure out how much money it will take to serve your phone needs. I blew through my first top up in about 3 days. Unfortunately, I discovered this while T was out of town so I spent  about a day trying to figure out why I couldn't make phone calls and then trying to figure out how to fix it. Turns out I had to plug in another 100,000 RP (about $10) to make it work again. Which I can do at one of the local vendors out on the street or at the mall. I have since shut down every app on my iPhone. Here's hoping this top up lasts longer. I already miss my service plan.

The other annoyance is how phone numbers work. I have been given multiple phone numbers but when I dial them they don't work. Given my earlier struggles with the phone I assumed there was a problem with the service. It turns out that you are supposed to know that when someone gives you their number, you are required to drop the first two numbers and add an 021. This means that when someone calls you and you hit redial you must actually change the number you are calling. All of this I find extremely frustrating. Particularly because at no point did anyone tell me this.

So,you now know that T was traveling for State this week and I have not really figured out how to use my phone which leads to my crash course.

This weekend there was a Friendly soccer tournament at Z's school. Students came from Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to play each other in preparation for the IASAS tournament coming up in October. We were very excited to host two young ladies coming in from Bangkok and doing our job to pay it forward since we hope Z will get selected for the team to go to Kuala Lumpur and represent her school. 

So, as all the soccer moms out there can recognize I have settled myself in for a weekend of watching my daughter play. You are also familiar with how things can go wrong when your kids play contact sports. Exactly two minutes into the game Z took a ball to the face that came off the foot of a girl who was about a meter away. I knew something was wrong because Z plays tough and she hits the ground a least a couple times a game, but she didn't pop back up. The game was stopped and the nurse came out and escorted her off the field with ice on her face. 

After assessment we discovered she was having trouble seeing from her left eye. So guess what? We get to go to the emergency clinic!

I have already been through training at the Embassy, so I know that before I seek local healthcare I am to contact the Medical Office and work with the Dr. On Call. This would be great if I could figure out how to use my phone! I was able to reach T who was at the airport waiting to board his plane home and he had me call Post One (our general "call if there is an emergency number") and wonderfully I was able to have them patch me through. They directed me to the SOS Clinic nearby and called ahead for me so the "right" doctor would see Z.

I also need to tell you that this was the point that all the other wonderful moms sprang into action taking pity on the poor newbie and helping me with my phone, getting Z's stuff from the cafeteria and getting us to our driver and car. 

We got to SOS where she was seen and assessed immediately but they needed to have her seen by an Ophthalmologist. Since there wasn't one on staff they needed to search one out who could see her. This was found and we went "racing"  ( we have mentioned that Jakarta's traffic moves at a crawl most of the time.. its worse on Friday night.) to the eye clinic. All this time I am in communication with the Dr. On Call. 
Once we were at the eye clinic they were very friendly and helpful, which is good because all of the paperwork is in Indonesian and at this point all I can say is "Hello" and "Thank You"
The really good news is that the eye Dr. spoke almost perfect English. She checked  Z's eye and assessed no real damage but definite swelling. This has required dilation drops, and steroid drops to reduce the pressure.  And the worst part for Z: No More Soccer this weekend.

At this point I have her speak to the Dr. On Call and she gives her the same information.
We then check out for a grand total in medical expenses that night of 900,000 RP or $90.

Then comes the fun part. We are still hosting the two girls from Bangkok and despite everyone's hopes that we would be back to the school by 8pm to pick them up and bring them home, we weren't going to make it. I have mentioned the traffic.  I have also been in communication with the Athletic Director. He can bring the girls to our house but what then? No, no one is at home. No, the house isn't unlocked. Oh, Yes! one of the other players lives in our compound..they can be dropped there till we get home, thankfully only about 15 minutes later. 

So I have managed to get my daughter treated and get two guests from the school to my house in a place where I still can't quite figure out how to use my phone!! Thank goodness for my new Village! Also for my driver who got me through all this and my housekeeper who left dinner waiting in the oven.

As a follow up. The Dr. On Call phoned later and said she wanted Z to see a State-approved eye specialist in the morning. T was able to handle this as I herded the other soccer players and watched the games. That appointment was even more hopeful. The swelling had gone down and she was cleared to play on Monday. I was told the conversation when something like this...
Dr.: So you need to rest your eye. No reading or Computers this weekend. 
Z: So can I play?
Dr. : No, no computer games this weekend.
Z: So can I play Soccer?
Dr.: NO!. Soccer?? no no no

This appointment was $60 so all totalled $150 for three clinic visits and meds before insurance. Pretty good.

Last note..I watched the boys game that morning with another parent who turned out to be the Swedish Ambassador. We aren't in Cbus anymore.