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: SecretAsianMan3.blogspot.com

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!  http://store.nike.com/us/en_us/pd/hypervenom-phelon-fg-soccer-cleat/pid-1480794/pgid-728985

If you are interested in more on our adventures from T's point of view:  http://secretasianman3.blogspot.com/

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 www.springfieldantiqueshow.com twice a year. A trip to Paris wouldn't be complete for me with out the Marche de Puce www.marcheauxpuces-saintouen.com . 

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 fine..now.

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.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Soft Landing

My first full week in Jakarta has been a buffet of sights, sounds and smells. 
I have struggled with words that don't sound familiar, trying to find my place in a new space and lots of new i.d. cards. 
I have dipped my toe into the American Women's Association (AWA), The American Club, Jakarta International School (JIS) and am looking forward to my first meeting at the Indonesian Heritage Society www.heritagejkt.org.
Oh yes, I have spent some time getting oriented at the Embassy on all the ways my family and I can get sick (medical), other ways we can get hurt (security) and where I can find support (community liaison or CLO).
I have also had to try and figure out how to have household staff for the first time in my life. It is both unsettling and wonderful. A is an amazing cook and H gets me where I need to be. The last is a blessing since I am positive I could not currently tell a cab driver how to get me anywhere, even though they are supposed to speak English. He also hasn't batted an eye when I want to sit in the front seat. Something I am told not all drivers are pleased with.
Oh yes, I have found lots of friendly smiling, helpful people.
Everywhere I have been people have been friendly and welcoming to whichever community I am currently visiting. Everyone has also told me if I need any help just let them know. This has been especially true of L, my sponsor and J who seems to have become my honorary sponsor, thanks Em ( you know who you are).
I have always believed it takes a village but here in our tiny little expat community it is more true and I plan on paying it forward as much as I am able.

Today's big adventure will include a trip to the Mall and Hypermart (Jakarta's Wallmart) to stock up for our two visiting Soccer Players from Singapore coming into town for the tournament JIS is hosting. Nothing like jumping in right?
These are growing outside my front door :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The last big push

Last day in Ohio. 
It's dark and thunder is rolling around in the sky. I need to get up and finish my list of things to do before I lock up the house and head out to  lunch with friends and then the airport. It's simple things like laundry, sweeping the floors. Getting things ready for our tenant who is moning in for a short time.
This whole week has been full of goodbyes. Thank you to my friends who were able to turn them into "see you soon" those are easier to take.
The hardest was dropping Fe off at his dorm last night. Yes, I know I will see him for Chistmas and lots of parents go that long without seeing their college age kids but my emotions are raw right now so it was hard. Even he must have known it because  he didn't try and make me laugh.

So now I am facing down the long journey. That seventeen hour flight feels like a giant block in the road that I wish would magically disappear . The good news is that on the other end T , Z and Shanti are waiting for me and I miss them all so much it will be worth it. 
Plus at every one of my pit stops along the way friends and family are rescueing  me from my hotel and making those moments ones to look forward to!

Well it's time to get the laundry going...
See you in Jakarta!