Friday, September 26, 2014


The word pulang means to go home in Indonesian.  At the end of the day, you would say pulang to your driver when you finished whatever you were doing and you wanted to tell him it was time to head for home.  Or, you might say it to your staff if they were no longer needed or the weather was getting bad and you wanted to send them home before a storm got worse.

So pulang, is what we have done.  We finally made it to our own home here in our "Mother Land."  We've recently passed the 8 week mark and the jet lag is gone, but the reverse culture shock is still hanging on.   As we try to sort out how to begin again in our own country and re-embrace our home country's culture, there are odd moments that occur.

I have tried and tried to think of what to say to wrap up this blog.  Part of me is having a hard time letting it go.  In the beginning, it was how I hung on when I was plunged in to such a massive change in my life.  Part of me feels that I should be able to write something so deep and so profound to do this experience justice that I will make a really meaningful statement for myself and to anyone reading this.  Those words are still not coming to me.  It isn't for lack of want, it is just it's hard to sum up something that is such a personal experience in a way that makes sense of it all.

In some ways, our homecoming is kind of like having to re-learn something that you once knew how to do.  You know how to do it, but you feel very rusty and awkward trying to do it.  The TV shows are different, the grocery stores are different, the neighborhoods are different, the way people interact with one another is different.  All of these things, and so much more, are different than what you have had to learn to do over the last 4.5 years.  You almost don't realize that you have changed during this time and how you are just slightly out-of-step with your fellow citizens.  It becomes painfully obvious when you try to jump right back in.  It is odd to feel like you are the outsider, again.  It makes for days of feeling a bit lost and conflicted.

The good part is that while this is uncomfortable, we knew this was going to happen.  And so we can keep reassuring ourselves about the weird feelings that arise.

It feels ridiculous when you go to a grocery store and can't buy large quantities of things because you have been trained not to do that due to lack of storage space, a housekeeper who wanted to cook everything you brought home even when you didn't ask her to, and going to the grocery was one normal thing that you could do.  You feel like someone's grandmother, even though I am at the age where I could be, driving so much slower than you did when you left 4.5 years ago because you are not used to driving a lot and you are used to traveling at a snails pace a good portion of the time due to traffic.  It also feels silly that you walk out of your house and wonder where everyone is.  I can walk a mile and a half and maybe see one or two people and 10 or 15 cars.  For our 4.5 years of expat training, about the only time you didn't see people or cars was when you were in the shower.

However, I am clinging to the things that I learned that I think are really important.  It is such an asset to know a foreign language.  I plan to take Spanish lessons as that is what I hear a lot in Texas.  I talk to strangers much more frequently.  I look store clerks, waitstaff, and other service folks in the eye and say hello and thank you and really mean it.  It seems to have the same effect, the majority of the time, that it did when I was living in a foreign land on the people who work at jobs that most don't value.  There are all kinds of friendships and relationships.  The people who value you are the ones to be valued and one should not settle for less.

Are there things I miss?  You bet!  There were such unique experiences to be had and such an assortment of friends from so many different places all bringing their own style and brand of "being" to the table.  I miss the easy smiles that would come to faces of almost anyone you encountered during the day.  I miss my Scoopy named Daisy.  I feel really blessed to have had the opportunity to experience something that has made such an impression on my life.

Are there things I don't miss?  You bet!  The traffic, sanitation issues, poverty, corruption, poor health care, and the constant feeling of not really being able to relax fully.  Even though these things were part of what made me grow and change, I don't miss them.

Are there things I am so glad to return to?  You bet your bottom dollar!  The simple joy of being able to put your toothbrush under the water coming from your faucet is such a pleasure.  Being about to cook without quite so much "assistance."  Getting in my car and driving myself (slowly perhaps) to a destination and not having to tell anyone where I want to go.  Being able to call my son, family and friends without having to figure out what time it is there versus what time it is here or having to get up at stupid o'clock to deal with someone about a question or problem that needs to be addressed.  It's good to be home.

Since I can't come up with anything prophetic to end this accounting of my integration in to foreign life and the transformation that ensued, I will use the lyrics of a song that in a lighthearted way describes the jumble of feelings that remain.  Thanks for sharing the ride with me.  For those of you who commented on my posts, you don't know how much I appreciated knowing there was someone out there reading what I wrote and making me feel connected to a world that I left behind.

"Oh, Yesterday's over my shoulder
So I can't look back for too long
There's just too much to see waiting in front of me
And I know that I just can't go wrong
With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same
Through all of the islands and all of the highlands
If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane"
Jimmy Buffett - Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Living with volcanoes

It has been a strange, wonderful, frustrating, illuminating and down-right amazing time here.  As I progress through these final couple of weeks, things still continue to happen to remind me that we have in fact done a pretty fair job of embracing the culture.

Over the last few days, I have been trying to sell off goods that we cannot or don't want to take home with us.  Various people have paraded through and looked at things and today I had to take my beloved scooter, Daisy, for a spin on very wet streets to find a guy who is interested in buying my washing machine.  So off we went, Daisy and I, just as if we had been doing it all of our lives.  It made me smile.

Our staff is benefiting from this relocation too.  Goods are being given to them and they will use them to furnish their own homes.  I enjoy the thought of our refrigerator cooling soto ayam at our house keepers home, our gardener and his wife watching the TV that we gave them and our driver going to and from his new job on the Ninja that my amazingly generous husband gave to him.  Other goodies have made it in to the jagas hands as well.  A chess set, guitar, small refrigerator, water cooler, two burner cook top and various clothes will be put to good use.

Tomorrow, I will take clothes to the trash pickers and hand over shoes, socks, underwear, slacks, shirts, blouses, tee shirts and capri pants that will provide something new for them to wear.  I see the men pulling the carts with no shoes.  Wearing shirts and pants that we would relegate to the rag pile.  They will have "new to them" clothes that I hope will be comfortable and practical.  I have seen such a different type of life here.

It still amazes me when on a clear day you can see the volcanoes that are all around us.  The golf course we have played on the last couple of weeks has stunning views of Gunung Salak which lies South of Jakarta.  I love that volcanoes create their own weather.  The clouds hover around the top and you play peek-a-boo. The weather moves up and down the flanks of it as if the volcano were the center of its universe.

Volcanoes are strange and powerful things.  Most of the time they just sit there and don't do a lot.  Then all of a sudden they unleash their fury and transform the landscape and lives of the people nearby.  They show their power but also their ability to create new land and provide fertile soil to grow crops which sustains the people who live so close to the danger.  It is risky business to live close by.

Perhaps you don't have to have a actual volcano erupt to be transformed.  A theoretical one will do the same thing.  Our volcano was the move and transition here.  The eruption of emotions, fears, dangers real and perceived, trying to figure out a new culture, struggling to learn a new language,  finding your way.  These are transforming things and many times you don't see the transformation in yourself.

I began writing this post yesterday, and today I did in fact go to the trash pickers area near our home.  The back of the car was loaded with goods and we were there early in the morning, so many of the workers were still about.  I got out of the car and my driver and I opened the back hatch.  Several of the men wandered up curious what we wanted.  When they spied the shoes, they got excited.  Sepatu was the word I heard first (it is one of the Portuguese based words in this language and means shoe).  These men who either had no shoes or just flip flops got really excited.  Then we started to hand out bags of clothing.  There was a  cute man's hat sitting on top of one of the bags and that got scooped up and put on top of a head all which generated a huge smile from the wearer and from me.  Yes, that was a moment of transformation.

The other thing that happened today was that I took my maid and gardener over to their new employer's apartment.  This very nice couple who are new to Indonesia have hired them.  We feel fortunate that they have come in to our lives and in to our staffs.  But as I visited today you could tell it is all a bit overwhelming.  Learning how things work here is a challenge and the language issue is a huge barrier.  I can see it in my new friend's eyes and her actions.  She is trying so hard to do it right.  She has limited language skills and even though mine aren't great, I can get the job done.  She was so amazed how I got the staff at least familiarized with her apartment and some of the things inside and out and how to navigate.  It really was not that impressive, but I realized I was comfortable with my limitations yet handled it with confidence apparently.  I so remember being in her position four and a half years ago.  It is so nice to not be quite so new.  But I smile thinking of all the new and wonderful things they will discover as their time here grows.  More transformation, perhaps not as obvious as the example before but perhaps longer lasting.

Through this non-geologic volcanic eruption, we have grown.  We have changed.  Some scars have been acquired, but hopefully much more fertile ground has been laid to grow new thoughts and new experiences.

All that is bittersweet

I have spent some of the time that I have left here saying goodbye to many of the business people who have contributed to my education, enjoyment, and pleasure of living on this great big island called Java.

To Shelly and Sri who know me by name at the grocery.  They make sure the other cashiers know my name when I go to check out.  The last time I was in there, I had my picture taken with Shelly while we stood in front of the mango display.  I just loved that little event.

To Aty and Henny at the frame shop where I have spent a lot of time and money.  You are so patient and have such a good eye. You have helped me countless times decide on mats and frames to make my photographs look their best.  Today, while I visited with you, it felt so very special.  I too will treasure the photos of tiga ibu who wouldn't wear their glasses for the pictures.  Hugs ladies.

To Pak Lukman.  I cried when I said goodbye to you today.  Your sweet and gentle nature just touched me so much each and every time we spoke.  I couldn't do a photo because I had tears streaming down my face and that wouldn't really reflect what a joy it has been to know you.  I will enjoy, for years to come, all of the items you and your talented family have made.  Most of all I will hold dear the decorated Scoopy helmet that will go on display in a case at my new home.  It is priceless.

To the staff at Antipodean where honey pie and I visit for Sunday morning breakfast most weekends.   Its small, its loud with noise from coffee being ground, heavy wooden chairs being dragged over the floor, children fussing and people talking.  Yet, I find I feel kind of like "Norm" on the TV show "Cheers."  They all know us and when one or the other isn't there they ask where we are.  I will miss your cappuccino and the lovely foam art work on top.  I will miss your mushroom cheese omelet.  I will miss those lovely smiling faces no matter what is going on in the room.  You are always gracious and accommodating.  You introduced me to hot honey lemon which is a miracle salve for sore throats.  Sunday morning breakfast will never be the same.

To the incredibly goofy nine hole golf course of Fatmawati.  I love Fatmawati like I love bajajs.  On the surface they are so dirty and imperfect and weird.  But that is what makes them rather charming.  They are unassuming and get the job done in a unique way that isn't all polished and slick.  I love that they have one lawn mower at Fatmawati.  It takes so long for them to mow from the first hole to the ninth hole, that the grass goes to seed somewhere on the course at sometime during the week.  You are guaranteed to be picking grass seeds off your socks.  If you don't,  you will end up with them stuck in your underwear days later after all the white things gets washed together.  I love the people walking to and fro on the course and the motorcycles and scooters that are parked in the fairway when a group comes to visit the guy mowing.  But you can go out there and hit four or five shots from the tee or from the fairway or practice your chipping or pitching and no one is there to fuss.  If someone wants to play through, you stand aside let them finish and then go back to practicing.  You really can't putt as the greens are so lumpy the ball bounces all around.  There is a mosque located directly beside one of the holes and if you are fortunate enough to be there during call to prayer, you get blasted out by the loud speakers.  I think the professionals should come play here as it is really silly that people have to stay perfectly quiet while they hit on to immaculately manicured greens from immaculately manicured tees and fairways.  What a bunch of whimps!  The caddies are really good and I still miss Pak Andi every time I go.  The only two birdies I have ever made in my year and a half of playing golf have been at Fatmawati.  I will miss you.

To yet another golf course.  This one is called Matoa.  It has, hands-down, the best iced lemon tea I have had here.  It is also here, that I have been assigned so many aliases that I have almost forgotten my own name.  I have been Juli, July, and June along with others, but those are my favorites.  Never did make it to April or May.  The guys at the front all know us by name (maybe not always the correct one) and for a while I felt like it was my home course.  You helped me expand my identity - one new name at a time.

To Chef Yogi, Pak Rahib and the lovely staff at FJ Bistro.  I loved that you guys gave me a shout-out one day in the grocery.  What a fabulous surprise in a city of 13 million to have you find me.  You have always made room for us even if we didn't have a reservation.  I will miss the green mango salad with prawns. Oh, I will miss that soooo much.  We always felt so special when we dined there.  Thank you for you graciousness.

To the little man who stands at the flower stall in my neighborhood and helps wave traffic on.  I enjoy seeing you smile and help motion cars on even if they really are not paying any attention to you.  You are being productive to me in that I see you almost everyday and enjoy your presence.

To the man who used to pull the trash cart that had a child riding in it.  I now see you wander without the cart or the child and I worry about you.  I have no idea how to help.  I say prayers for you as I can't imagine what is going on in your life.  May better things be in store for you.

To the satay guy who has a giant grill and cooks up some of the most delicious smelling chicken satay around.  I love watching you fan the charcoals with your woven fan and the smoke just pouring out.  As we drive down the hill I can tell its a busy night just by the thickness of the smoke.  Selamat makan.

Last but not least, to the wonderful ladies at the spas I have visited.  You have petted and pampered me on so many occasions that I am spoiled rotten.  The healing that happens from touch is very underrated.  It has been such a pleasure to have you help me over days that were just so bad and I was so homesick and fed up with how to cope in such a foreign place.  I can't begin to thank you enough.  The joys of a delicious creme bath, which I have never known until here, will be something that I will miss for a long time to come.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Southern Cross

As we prepare to leave this place we have made our home for the last four and a half years, it is just a flood of emotions.  You go between the elation of returning to your home country and familiar things and the sadness of leaving a place you have worked so hard to make your home.  The excitement of returning to the friends and family that you only get to see a few days out of the year is contrasted with the hole in your heart that you know will happen when you leave the people who have been your stand-in family.

Yet you know that in four and a half years, things have gone on without you and in some ways you will be like a newcomer to your own country.  This is a bit unnerving to think about.  I keep telling myself that I need to allow time to re-acclimate and get in the swing of things at home.  What a strange concept that is.  To know you are going to feel displaced just like you felt displaced when you arrived in a far-away land, maybe not to the massive extent, is just down-right weird.

The highs and lows of the situation came to a head last weekend when a big ole' cry was what was needed to vent some of the pressure.  My sweet, sweet husband took it well and I think in some ways he found relief in that messy, multi-tissue situation.  The fury died, and we were able to move on and begin the next stage of the process.

All the anxiety of getting things done has been challenging.  It is like any other move on the surface, but the distance involved, the billion moving parts that you are trying to synchronize between two worlds and three different countries just scrambles your mind.

Living as we have in Indonesia, there are various things that you have to handle that most of us don't when we move within the US or even other countries.  It has pretty much become our responsibility to find positions for the three staff members that we directly employ.  Currently in Indonesia, that is a little tough as the industry sweetums works in is not bringing very many American citizens in to work here, nor does the Indonesian government want us here.  In fact, when my honey pie leaves the group he is currently in, there will only be one expat left.  The government is pushing very hard for Nationalism.  That means people with 35 years of experience will be replaced with Nationals who have 3, 5 or perhaps 10 years of experience.  In this industry, that is not a very productive practice.  But it is what it is.  Yet it seems odd that it fall on us to find jobs for those we have employed.

The ramifications of all this filters through out the population.  We directly employ three people plus the  company supplies us with four jagas (guards) for our house who we consider our staff as well.  In our 4.5 years here we have paid for schooling for our staff's children, we have purchased computers, paid for hospital bills for illnesses and births, given interest free loans for house repairs, vehicle purchases and advanced education for the older children, and home purchases.  When we leave, those seven people will have all of those things go away unless the next employer they have agrees to feel these things are important.  Many local employers do not feel that way for their household staff.  To be fair, there are expats who feel the same way.  This is an employer's prerogative to pay what they feel is fair for the job done.

I am not trying to sound as if we are the only people in this country who are lending a helping hand to its people or that we have done anything so magnanimous.  There are other expat friends who are medical professionals who have worked with local doctors performing eye surgeries, secured child size walkers from the US and administered physical therapy, teachers who have taught English skills and thought out lesson plans, regular moms and dads who have taught children basic hygiene skills, rocked babies in cancer wards and orphanages, raised money to build schools, donated books and time, and the list goes on and on.  These people cared enough and did these things free of charge.  I think our expat community gives a lot of support through creating jobs, training new-hires at corporations, donating time, and a good deal of money.  It isn't all pretty and I would be misleading you if I didn't admit some expats behave badly.  Human nature has a very odd way of surfacing especially when folks are away from home.  I've seen it happen to seemingly pretty normal people who are fine when they are on home soil but loose control when taken out of their environment.

But through all of this rambling, I should return to the title of my post - The Southern Cross.  My local honey and I grew up in the 70's and Crosby, Stills, and Nash were big.  One of their songs, Southern Cross, always sticks in my head.  I thought about how there are millions and millions of stars that are on each side of the world that go un-viewed by the other side.  The Southern Cross is one of those constellations that would fall in the un-viewed category for us.

I thought about this unseen constellation while we were in Bali for the very last time.  This visit happened to fall on the Balinese Day of Silence or Nyepi.  On this day, people are asked to stay indoors as much as possible, to speak quietly, stay off the beaches and golf courses, the airport is closed and lighting is at bare minimal levels at night.  So on this very dark, still night in Bali I looked out from our balcony and spied what I thought might be the Southern Cross.  I looked it up on line and sure enough, I was correct.  So we very quietly slipped from our room and wandered out on the dark hotel grounds and gazed up at this very simple, rather unassuming constellation.  I thought of the song and how being out on the ocean looking up at it from that inky blackness must have made it even brighter and prettier and inspire the writer of the lyrics to reference it.

Our time here has been filled with many of these unseen shining stars that we had never witnessed, and in many cases had never even heard about.  We all live in our own worlds and our own countries and we often forget that there are so many more things out there unless we open our eyes and allow things to come in.  No, it isn't as simple as that I am afraid.  But by looking up and out instead of always looking in, we learn.

"When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way
'Cause the truth you might be runnin' from is so small
But it's as big as the promise, the promise of a comin' day"
lyrics by Stephan Stills

Friday, February 21, 2014

Singin' the Jet Lag Blues

FYI.  This is a post I wrote last year.  Obviously, it is about one of my return trips to Jakarta.  I found it, and decided to post it even if it is not dated correctly.

You know, for some unknown reason I seem to think that I should be unaffected by the ugly, ugly thing called jet lag. Maybe it is that I still am not as seasoned a traveler as some of the expats who have had years of training in the fine art of flying from one side of the world to the other.

You know how you feel when day-light-savings-time kicks in twice a year? Well, it is like that but magnified by a factor of 12. The first week you are all over the place with sleeping. Actually, you are all over the place with not sleeping. 45 minute naps during normal sleeping times. Completely awake by one or two in the morning. Trying to go back to sleep around four and then getting up around 5:15 to be ready to go to the gym by six. Trying to get up at my normal time as soon as the week began and get as much morning light and some exercise to see if that would help reset my clock.

I have so far found - that hasn't really helped. I am now wondering if I should take Ambien twice a day, every day for a week and just sleep through the process. Would that just make it a longer process?

I tried melatonin and that didn't help. In fact it seemed to actually make me more awake. What is that about? It is just an ugly process which I can't seem to figure out. Any suggestions are appreciated.

Four years and so much more

Well, four years have come and gone.   Yet, we seem to have come full circle in rather ironic ways.

I think one of my first posts to this blog was about being only 3 or 4 weeks in to living in a foreign land and my honey had to go to Australia.  All of this occurred right before my birthday.  I got great opals from the land down-under for a gift and specially made creme bruleĀ“for dessert in celebration of the day of my birth.  I survived the panic and overwhelmed feeling I had during those particular difficult early days.  It wasn't easy, but we did it.

Why am I bringing this up?  Here we are four years later and sugar lips came home last night and told me he has to go to Australia for a meeting.  You guessed it.  It's over my birthday.   This time I am not nervous or panicky.  I know how to get to and from Australia if I want to go.  I know how to talk to the clerks in the store to ask for things without having a dictionary in my hand.  I don't have to drag my laundry across the street, through security, and dump it on a counter for all to examine just to get it washed.  I am used to being swarmed by motorcycles inches from my car door or vehicles, large and small, coming at you from all kinds of directions that are not natural.  I know which local dishes I like and don't have to resort to just ordering pasta off a menu because it is the only thing I recognize.

The other thing that was ironic was that on the actual day of our "four years here" anniversary we had to resort to riding to our destination in a bajaj.  Yes, we got to ride in the very contraption that I have found so amusing from day one.  My honey pot has never ridden in a bajaj the entire time we have been here.  Yes, it's hard to believe.  However, it was easily fixed.

The reason for this situation was because our car was being serviced.   We knew we could just get a cab when the schedule worked out that way.  No worries, pak and ibu.  However, the problem was, there were no taxis at the normal place there are taxis in our neighborhood.  This left us with two choices, bajaj or ojek as a means of transport.

Since I don't relish the idea of head lice, and a communal motorcycle helmet is a prime cultivation area, we chose a bajaj.  We scored well.  The bajaj we chose at the front of the line was clean inside.  The seat wasn't ripped or the foam pad missing chunks in strategic places for sitting comfortably.  The little door stayed latched.  Pak Ito was very nice and best of all the bajaj did NOT smoke like a volcano.

We climbed in and off we went to the Dharmawangsa Hotel for a round of chocolate martinis with friends and a nice dinner to follow.  As we putted along, my sweetheart, who has so gotten in to cell phone photography and videography, made a little movie of our excursion.  The only crucial thing he left out was the struggle that little bajaj had when we got to a very large hill.   At one point I thought we were going to have to get out and push the bajaj to the top.  Two bule behinds are much heavier than the local ones apparently.

We arrived to the Dharmawangsa a little sweaty but relatively fume free and had stunning chocolate martinis with friends.  It was an unexpected way to add local flavor to our "four years here" celebration.

So, are we back to where we started?  Kind of.  But the view is so much different with four years of experience.

So much to be thankful for

I am currently on home soil, this Sunday before Thanksgiving.  The day finds me blending home country traditions with new country discoveries.  I'm making my list of grocery items that I need for the big feast on Thanksgiving Day while I watch the final Formula 1 Grand Prix race on TV.  It's an excellent blend of old and new.

This will be the first Thanksgiving and Christmas at home in 4 years.  My sweetie pie will be celebrating Thanksgiving in Jakarta while I have the good fortune to share the day with sweetie pie #2 and friends here in America.  I wish he could be here too, but there is only so much vacation time to go around.

The good news is, he will be here soon and we will all celebrate a Masters Degree earned, another birthday, and Christmas.  It is hard to stuff too many more things to be thankful for in to just a few weeks time.

As the title of my posts says, there is so much to be thankful for.  The last 4 years have taught us many things.  We've learned about a new culture.  One that is strikingly different from our own.  We've learned a new language.  It is, on the surface, simple but it can get complicated very quickly with various prefixes and such.  Since it isn't based on a romance language, except for the sprinkling of  Portuguese words that occur occasionally,  it takes a while to train your ear to understand what's being said to you.  I still really only posses basic skills, but I get by.

We've learned about sports that we've never really followed before.  Formula 1 racing and Moto GP were never on our TV screen at home before now.  We are learning golf.  While yes, we have knocked the ball around many, many years ago; we actually get out and play now.  This will be a game that we will spend a lifetime to learn.

I'm thankful for the opportunity to grow as a person in a way I didn't know I could.  I remember back in high school we had exchange students at our school.  I feel like I have been on a very long exchange program.  While I haven't been in a formal school setting, I have been in the school of life.  They both have equal value.

But I feel that we are having very a similar experience to each other; those exchange students and I.  The staff we employ at our house are a bit like a host family.  Even though we are their employers, they are the most constant contact I have on the most personal basis with our temporary country of residence.  I have seen pictures of their children who we are helping to educate, the houses that we are loaning money to them to help have built or repaired, through illnesses, weddings and just day-to-day life we interact with each other.  The minute I walk out the door, there is always at least one smiling, familiar face to say hello to and ask how they are.   I will miss them, and I think they will miss us.

But, I am thankful to be home in my own space with a bit more privacy in my day-to-day living.  That is one of the major differences I think.  As Americans, we live life much more privately.  Their lives are more out in the open.  Some of this is out of necessity for each culture.  Our worlds are very different in this way.  I am thankful that I have gotten to see this contrast.

So many, many things that I have seen and experience in this time.  Too many to list.  But I hope they will last me a lifetime.

I am happily giving thanks.  May it be the same with you.