Homeward Bound

Well, friends. We have had an amazing overseas adventure over the past five-plus years. But it’s time to wrap it up.

For every incredible place we’ve seen and every wonderful friend we have made along the way, we’ve also been faced with health struggles, financial burdens, and feelings of being perpetual “outsiders”. These carry a balance over time, and slowly the scale has tipped; our hearts now weighing heavier and our wanderlust quenched. We are ready to live “easy” for a while, in a familiar place, where our spirits feel at home and we have the support and comfort of many friends and family around us.

The benefits of living abroad have been huge, and we have zero regrets. We would do it again in a heartbeat. Maybe we’ll take it up again when the kids are off on their own, or maybe sooner, who knows. But for now, our compass is set for home.

So what’s next? Our timing is still tentative, depending on how quickly we can navigate the complicated Swiss bureaucracy required to leave here (which is another story, for next time!), but we plan to be settled back in Ottawa either at Christmas or by mid-January at the latest. We’ve already started putting down some roots – we have a house and car ready and waiting, thanks to our family’s generosity and support. Our new car might look familiar to anyone who remembers the one we had before moving!

Does this look familiar to anyone?

Also, B has decided to renew his university degree, and has already registered to start classes in January. We’re still missing a lot of pieces to this puzzle… like, say, jobs. Whoops. And it will be complicated to move back and re-establish banking, healthcare, school registration, and everything else in between. But if our past five years have taught us anything, it’s that we can probably handle it, and hopefully even better than ever before.

So, this isn’t goodbye! We still have lots of backlogged adventure stories to tell, and new ones to come. This is just another step in our journey, and one we’re facing with joy in our hearts. Stay tuned!

Bonne fête de Suisse

Happy birthday Switzerland! We celebrated by hiding indoors all day to avoid today’s oppressive heat and humidity.

But after dinner we headed downtown to watch the fireworks. And they were great! There’s nothing better than a small town for fireworks, because we were able to get really close and still had plenty of room to sprawl out on a blanket and drink wine until the sun set. Friends brought some firecrackers that kept the kids busy in the meantime.

The show started with a bang – haha, literally – but more actually with a Céline Dion song, thanks for the hometown nod, Switzerland. The fireworks made their way around the lake from Geneva, timed to start and end in each city along the way for a traveling “wave” of celebratory ‘works. We stood right under ours and felt each bang like a gunshot and a rumble in the ground. And the show capped off by lighting a huge bonfire on a barge in the lake. To represent… I’m not sure what. But it was impressive.

Afterwords the fire brigade let all the spectators with their own fireworks set them off safely from the same official location. A few hilariously blew up or plummeted into the water, which is always the best part of discount explosives.

Here’s to another year, les suisses!

Snow season, sad season

Winter in Nyon is depressing. It took me until just recently to wrap my head around why we are all cranky and depressed by the time February rolls around. For two years in a row, we have hit that month and spent the whole time talking about how much we hate it here and want to leave – often with no good reason. Well, some good reasons, but mostly no good reasons. Now that it’s summer, it’s easier for me to look back on things from my state of happy, sunny days and realise the problem was the weather, not us, obviously.

In Ottawa, the winter is long and cold. But it’s bright – even the short days are offset by at least one or two days of full blue sky, shining sun, and sparkling snowfields. Heck, the nights aren’t even what I would call ‘dark’, since the snow keeps the light even through the evening.

In Indonesia, the equal 12h-12h days on the equator do seem shorter, and we always missed the evening light. But there was a regularity to the schedule that kept us on track, with lots of sun in the morning to keep us going even through weeks of dark, rainy evenings.

Somehow it’s the worst of both worlds here. We get the short days AND we get the dark, rainy evenings (and mornings), and then the fog rolls in. And that’s it. Weeks and weeks of misty skies, barely-there sun, and depressing dampness. It’s dark when you get up, dark when you get home.

This year was slightly better since we got about two weeks of snow to break up the monotony of grey. We tried to make the most of it, although not being skiiers and having a fussy sportscar that can’t drive into the mountains put a cramp in those plans. We built snowmen, buried into the snow like wolves, went for walks in the winter wonderland fields, and even managed one nice trip into the hills for a sledding trip with friends.

Moral of story – please set an alarm to remind us about this post in about 6 months. So maybe we can make it through the next winter without as much agonizing depression!

Stuff day!

Our shipment finally arrived today… And there was much rejoicing!

Thank goodness.

Four months is a long time to be away from your stuff. I was seriously questioning why we even bothered shipping it all – a whole quarter of a year without it is surely a sign that we didn’t really need it in the first place?

Well, we really did need it. Here are the “before” pictures of our sad, empty, echoey apartment:

The shipping truck arrived right at 8 am as we were told, which in itself was amazing. Swiss clockwork is still a novelty to us. We watched them open up the container, and it was thankfully only half full. I was already having a bit of a panic attack about everything not fitting, and it was only made worse when a 40-foot container drove up this morning.

These guys were super efficient. They only took about 2 hours to bring everything in. Of course, as the rooms started getting fuller and fuller with boxes, I was again seriously questioning our life decisions. But then as we started unpacking and getting rid of the mountains of cardboard, our apartment started to come to life.

A few stowaways came along: half a cockroach, some termite pellets, possibly some pinworms in our favorite teak shelf, and plenty of cobwebs. Everything smells vaguely of Jakarta – stale smoke, citrus soap, and a hint of halitosis. And it’s amazing! It finally feels just like home.

Ruban Rouge

La paperasserie… Red tape… Switzerland is full of it. I heard that was the case before we moved here, but I rather stubbornly believed it was an exaggeration. How bad could it really be? Well, friends, let me describe that joy in agonizing detail:

So, to live and work here, my employer applied for a work permit for me back in June. This was a process that they said would take 8-12 weeks, which explains our long sojourn in Ottawa over the summer. Ok, fine. I contacted the embassy in Ottawa and was told that we could simply go there during the summer and get our initial visas, which would get us into the country and then be converted to the more permanent stay permits.

Summer arrives, and we visit the embassy. Oh no, sorry, we’re told, you have to wait until the authorities in Switzerland notify you that your visas are ready and then go to Montreal to pick them up… Ok, fine.

We wait and wait, missing school registration, missing the first day of school… Finally everything is ready! We buy our plane tickets with a stop in Montreal, go to the embassy and find out that actually only MY visa is ready. Apparently no one thought to submit any forms for the rest of the family nor tell us that we should. The visa lady pulls some strings and sends us onto the plane anyway with relatively inadequate stamps in the other three passports and a rainbow unicorn wish of “you’re Canadian, you should probably be ok…” Ok, fine.

So we jump on the plane and make it to Switzerland (3 of us as tourists). But it turns out we have nowhere to stay. Apparently we are forbidden to stay anywhere but in this very specific Canton of Vaud because our non-existent visas and work permits are only for Vaud. Too bad everything in Vaud is booked up. Sorry. We scramble to rent a car, find a shitty motel, and hope to get the kids registered in school. Because they’re losing it. We’re losing it. But we can’t register them until we have a permanent address… Ok, fine.

We look at apartments on our first day in town. We’re desperate, jet lagged, fighting. We just pick one because good god it’s not worth waiting. But first we have to apply for the apartment and earn the right to rent it. And to apply for the apartment, we have to get a bank account, because the bank runs a deal where they hold 3 months of rent in trust for the landlord as part of the rental laws here… Ok, fine.

So we go to the bank. We manage to open an account, but the bank really would like to have a copy of our work permits, please. So we go to the population bureau and fill out some residency forms, take some awkward photo booth photos, pay some money and are told we can go get our work permits in the next city over in about a week. So we go there, to get our visas converted into work permits, and it turns out that only MY work permit is allowed, since no one sent in any forms for the rest of the family. They will have to come back another time. They take my fingerprints and tell me my permit will be ready in a couple of weeks… Ok, fine.

But to finalize our rental, we have to get household insurance. And to register the kids for school, we have to get medical insurance. So we meet with an insurance broker, go through a very complicated set of decision making about our deductibles (while meeting at McDonalds, because we are homeless immigrants), and sign a bunch of papers. But it turns out that to get insurance, we first have to prove our residency… Ok, fine.

So we go back to the population bureau and get them to sign a form saying that we live here, and manage to get insurance. We finalize the apartment. So we take the kids to the school, fill out some forms, and wait… and finally we move into our apartment! Meanwhile, B can go register for his work permit, but not the kids. Apparently Ontario birth certificates are not specific enough for the Swiss, so I have to order special long form certificates from Canada… Ok, fine.

The kids get into school. But our stuff hasn’t arrived. The shipping company needs our work permits to fill out the customs forms. And the shipment is delayed. So I send them ALL the forms we have and work out a deal to give the work permit later. Stuff still hasn’t arrived… Next week, apparently… Ok, fine.

But our rental car time runs out. So we buy a car from a dude on Facebook, but we don’t have work permits for registering it. And we need more insurance. But to get insurance, we need to prove our driving history, so I call our old insurers in Canada and have them send over some details. We get insurance and borrow a neighbor’s car to visit the car registration bureau. But because we don’t have work permits, she can only give us temporary plates, which means we need a different kind of insurance. So I call the insurance company from the parking lot and get them to send a new insurance form to the office. We get plates! Christmas miracle!

But we have to change over our licenses, which we can only do once we have our work permits, accreditation from the population bureau, and an optometrist test. Plus special forms from Canada explaining our entire licensing history because Ontario licenses are not detailed enough to pass Swiss muster. And, you guessed it, we also need our work permits. Sigh.

Some other things we need work permits for? A cell phone plan instead of pay as you go. The discount fare passes on the train. Other little things like, oh, leaving the country.

Aaannnddd… We still don’t have our work permits.

A few of our favorite (Indonesian) things

Even though we’ve started settling into life here in Switzerland, Indonesia is still on my mind. I asked the family to list some of their most favourite and least favourite things about living there, and here they are, in no particular order:

My most favourite:

  • Random backyard fireworks. Sure, it was sometimes annoying to be woken up at 2 am by something that sounds a lot like a gunshot, but it was always made up for by the fact that we got to enjoy backyard fireworks. Fireworks make every day a holiday!
  • Cicaks. I loved those little guys, skittering around the house and purring squeakily from behind the furniture. It was like a whole houseful of our own lizard pets.
  • Thunderstorms. I never got tired of the big thunderstorms in Bogor. Even after our house got hit and all our electronics were fried, I still loved the blinding lightning and rumbling fury of the thunder rolling by.
  • “Belum”. I love this Indonesian word. It means “not yet”, as in “Have you eaten nasi goreng before?” The answer is not “no”, because there’s a chance that someday in the future you will eat it, so the answer is “not yet”. Beautiful logic.
  • Swimming, diving, nature, jungles, sunsets. What an amazing place to learn to dive and snorkel. For sure, I have been spoiled for swimming in the rest of the world. And living in a rainforest was amazing. The rare sunsets were always a wonderful treat on the drive home.
  • Movie theatres. Where else can you see a new release movie for under $5, in assigned seating, and for a few bucks more, sit in a theatre filled with lazyboy chairs??

LittleB’s most favourite:

  • Visiting cultural places, like Borobudur. I definitely agree, it was wonderful to see so much culture and history, and such a variety of art and style throughout the country. Let me expand this one to say Batik as well. What a beautiful art form – and I collected way too much of it!
  • Discount prices. Can’t deny him this one – things were very reasonably priced!
  • The people. Of course! I definitely agree wholeheartedly. More on this later.

J’s most favourite:

  • When our house is attached to another house
  • I love you
  • The colors of the Indonesian flag
  • When we are near malls so we can get to malls easier
  • Going to Canada at Christmas

I don’t think she really understood the question…

So what are we not going to miss?

  • Open, enormous gutters. Absolutely. Those things were smelly, filled with garbage and regularly on fire. I was always paranoid the kids were going to fall in and die. I even heard a story about a friend of a friend who fell in and later died from some kind of awful disease. And along with this goes the fact that there are really no sidewalks. Impossible to walk anywhere, and when you do, you risk falling into a gutter or getting hit by traffic.
  • Garbage. This goes without saying. Burning garbage, street garbage, litter everywhere. People picking through garbage. It’s horrible.
  • Water quality. The water was terrible. I’m sure we shaved several years off our lives from the heavy metals and toxins in the water. For a while I thought I was allergic to my shampoo because every time I had a shower, my face would turn red and feel burned, but after I switched shampoo multiple times, I realized it was just the water itself… I’m still having a hard time drinking from the tap and rinsing my mouth after brushing my teeth.
  • Flooding. What do you get when your gutters are full of garbage and there is a tropical downpour? Toxic flooding. Everywhere. All the time. Definitely not going to miss this one.
  • Traffic. See above. I will never, ever complain about normal rush hour traffic again. Three hours or more in a car every day was quite literally killing me.
  • Bugs. Actually, I rather liked the bugs. I mean, even scorpions in my office… it’s cool, right? I did hate the termite swarms, though. I always thought I might suck one in and choke to death on its lacy wings, gah.
  • Over-the-top kids’ birthday parties. Good lord, these were the stuff of nightmares. Take 50 hyper kids, plus their screaming siblings, plus their nannies, then stick them in a room filled with loud music, sugary food and balloons and someone dressed up like a cartoon character from 1974 and you have a seizure-inducing party room from hell.

What about some funny things?

    • Weird habits. For some reason the kids picked up the habit of sitting on the toilet with the toilet seat up. Like, bare bottom to porcelain rim. Weirdos. They also eat everything with their fingers, and we’re currently raging battles at every meal to get them to use cutlery. And they just Will. Not. Wear. Shirts. At home. Ever. Argh! Hopefully the coming Swiss winter will cure them of that habit.
    • Accents. The kids went through phases of speaking with different accents, depending on their teachers, friends, and school assistants. J’s gone through British, Australian and Kiwi, and we’re still trying to get her to say “th” properly (it sounds more like a “d” in her mini-Indonesian accent). LittleB has managed to sound fairly Canadian, but has perfect pronunciation for Australian cities and European football players, so really, I guess that’s a plus.
    • Everything-cycles. These guys who put EVERYTHING on their scooters. It was just flabbergasting. Toilets, tires, gas canisters… I never saw one in an accident, but I’m sure it happened all the time.
    • Engrish mistakes. You know what I’m talking about. It never stopped being funny.
    • DVDs. Every (slightly illegal) DVD we bought for 60 cents had the exact same rating and length: rated R and 109 minutes. It’s like they just used the same template or something! Particularly funny on the kids movies.

But of course, the thing we’re going to miss the most are all the people we met and amazing friendships we forged there. Indonesia is full of the most sincere, light-hearted and deeply caring people I have ever known. My face ached every day from all the smiling.

And we met so many friends from around the world… I can’t possibly even begin to list them all. Here is a small sampling of the many goodbyes we shared, and so many more that we didn’t photograph.

I’m sure there are a lot more things we could list here, and maybe someday I will. But for now, I’ll answer the question “Are you actually ready to say goodbye to Indonesia?” with “Belum”.

#SwissLivin

So we live in Switzerland now.

It still feels like a bit of an extended vacation, but the reality is slowing sinking in as we get more and more settled. Let’s list the happenings so far:

GEOGRAPHY
This is a beautiful place, no question. It has everything: rolling fields of corn and sunflowers, orchards and vineyards in every backyard, mountains all around, a shining silver lake on the horizon, quaint stone villages hidden throughout the valley… and we’ve had days and days of beautiful, sunny afternoons, and fresh, crisp evenings. Flowers are still blooming and fruits are hanging heavy in all the trees.

I know the weather will change soon, and these adorable country roads winding through the Jura will be covered with treacherous snowfall. But we’re keen for some winter! I’m looking forward to watching Saint Bernards frolic through across the snowfields, depositing a barrel of brandy at my feet…. That’s a real thing, right? I’m also looking forward to at least one broken limb this year as the entire family learns how to ski, poorly. It’s a good thing we’re paying 1000 FRANCS PER MONTH on health insurance, just for that kind of situation.

Which brings me to…

MONEY
Things are crazy expensive here. Of course, being used to our dollars stretching quite far compared to the Rupiah, prices seem even more extreme. But it’s the fact that you have to pay a lot for EVERYTHING that is a hard pill to swallow. Groceries are expensive. Rent is expensive. Parking is expensive. Restaurants are expensive. Trains are expensive. You pay fees for TV and radio (whether you use them or not).

Anyway, we’re basically out of money over here. Would you contribute to a GoFundMe account if we opened one? Kidding, but really, you are going to see a lot more posts on here about “we stayed in this weekend and ate ramen, darned socks and played board games” instead of “we visited an amazing city, bought expensive art and ate delicious food etc. etc…” But I’m sure that we’ll figure out the tricks to saving money soon enough… for now, here are the ways we are foolishly squandering our paycheques:

HOUSING
Our realtor told us that a healthy real estate market has about 4% available housing. Here, it is 0.4%. And all properties are incredibly overpriced. This fun graphic gives you a peek into the obscene costs of renting here. That being said, we spent one day visiting about 7 properties, and we jumped on one just for the sake of having somewhere to live. So we move in next week. It’s great to have a more permanent place to live, if only so we can stop dumping our stuff in various hotels/vacation rentals around the area. We just moved out of a dumpy motel and into a lovely homestay apartment, but I do feel bad for our very generous landlords who have to put up with our shrieking children, B’s socks all over the place, and my incessant mandolin playing… Soon we will have our very own neighbours to annoy with the same things!

It’s a 3 bedroom apartment with an open-concept kitchen/living room. And it’s… 80 m2, maybe? So we’ll be taking a lot of advice from the IKEA small spaces designs. And it’s anyone’s guess whether our incredibly oversized furniture from Indonesia will even fit. Probably not. We’ll find out when it all arrives in October.

SCHOOL
The kids are still out of school. Oh my god, please kill us now, or at least come and babysit. Getting them into school has been a dominos game of first housing, then insurance, then local immigration approval, then registration, then planting a golden egg under the light of the full moon… but thankfully we managed to get them registered today with the goal of having them start early next week.

And it’s a local school. In French. Now, B and I both speak French, but we were basically too lazy to speak it to the kids for all these years, so they don’t speak French. Regrets there. Anyway, Switzerland seems to have a generous language integration program, so we’re hoping they pick it up quite quickly. Or they fail out and we pay 50k/year to put them in international schooling…

LIFE and CULTURE
So far, the people and the life has been great. Before moving here, I heard some opinions that Swiss folks can be unwelcoming or at least a bit reserved, but everyone we have met has been more than welcoming and incredibly keen and supportive towards us. It’s possible that they are just amused by our “quaint” Canadian French and the fact that we are GIGANTIC compared to everyone else. But it doesn’t feel like we stick out too much. In fact, I’d say that this area of Switzerland actually seems a lot like Canada. Take a bit of Vancouver landscape, a bit of Quebec City downtown, and a bit of the Montreal or Toronto attitude and you have Geneva.

We learned how to play Petanque with some new friends at the downtown court, shadowed by a group of enthusiastic local players who taught the kids some colorful new French words. We picked some apples straight from a tree in the backyard. I found out there is a Circus School here, and am counting the days until I can register. We’ve been drinking all the regional (on sale) wine we can find. We played life-sized chess under the watchful eye of a Geneva elder. J had a crazy temper tantrum in a Geneva diner and we had to bodily carry her out in shame. So I guess it’s just like home!

 

Until we meet again

This is it, my last day in Indonesia. I have a lot of goodbyes to make, and I’ll get to them all soon. But I have a whole team full of goodbyes that are especially hard to make, and I want to do them first.

I don’t really talk about work on this blog, not because I don’t have wonderful things going on there, but rather because I try to maintain a line between work life and home life for my own sanity and privacy. And this blog is about my friends, my family, my thoughts, and lately it seems – mostly my travel photos.

However, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have such a great work experience while living here, and it is owing to this amazing, creative and caring group of people on my team. Over the past three years, each one of them has crossed over the line from my work life to my personal life, and now I am happy to include them in this blog as forever a part of my family.

They made this sweet and funny video for me:

So this is my little thanks to them.

Anto, Erisa, Dodi
Anto, Erisa, Dodi
Dodi, Vidya, Yahya, Wigid, Eko, Edli
Dodi, Vidya, Yahya, Wigid, Eko, Edli
Gideon (looking serious), Yahya, Dodi
Gideon (looking serious), Yahya, Dodi
Everyone after a night of bowling
Everyone after a night of bowling
Everyone - Serious
Everyone – Serious
Everyone - Silly
Everyone – Silly
Sarong makes it official
Sarong makes it official
Group hug
Group hug

 

I’ll miss you all! Sampai jumpa lagi.

Sampai jumpa

Well it’s been a good ride. Our time in Indonesia is up and we’re headed off for some new adventures in the world.

What can I say to sum up three years? Three years of exploration, cultural learning, good laughs, new friends, amazing places, and curious creatures. Also three years of frustration, illness, anxiety, homesickness, lost things, broken things, and too many goodbyes.

I remember a conversation we had years ago, before the thought of moving to Indonesia was even a speck on the horizon. B and I were sitting at the dining room table and talking about our long-term plans – Where was I going with my career? Where did we want to live? How do we escape the rut we felt like we had fallen into? That was the night that moving abroad came up, and at the time I think we both imagined living in some kind of European countryside, eating baguettes and drinking espressos in a provencal cafe.

I started applying for jobs – Paris, Vienna, London – and when the perfect job came up in Indonesia, I applied for kicks more than with a real consideration of what I might do if I actually got the job.

Well, as you know, I did get the job, and we had to very quickly decide whether we were the type of people who would sell their house, quit their stable government career, and pack up their two young kids on a whim to live in Indonesia – a country that I am ashamed to admit I couldn’t even pick out on a map at that point. It turns out that we are those people.

Friends and colleagues called us ‘brave’ or ‘crazy’. Family was torn between being thrilled and heartbroken. We were feeling all of those same things in equal measures, questioning: Were we being unfair to our kids, taking them away from home and family? Were we abandoning our family when they might need us close to home? Were we crazy for giving up a house and comfortable life in an enviable city? On any given day, the answer might have been ‘yes’ to at least one of those questions. But the thrill of the unknown was too hard to ignore. Off we went.

And now? Three years later? We have no regrets. I would make the same decision again in a second.

Sure, our kids have missed being close to home, but Skype is an amazing thing. Yes, our family has missed us, and we miss them every second of every day, but everyone is coping and we have all found ways to make up for the absence. Of course our life is more unpredictable now, without a stable household or home city, but I’m starting to see that was part of the rut we got ourselves stuck into.

And the gains have more than made up for it. In three years, we’ve seen more beaches, sunsets, volcanoes, temples, turtles, boats, malls, elephants, thunderstorms, rainforests, airplanes, and monkeys than I ever could have imagined. We’ve been to nearly a dozen countries, learned a new language, saved up some money, collected a houseful of teak furniture, made lifelong friends.

And it turns out we didn’t travel to the unknown, we just discovered that people and life are the same around the world, give or take a few amenities. We aren’t brave or crazy, just willing to take a little risk and I think we have more than reaped the rewards.

Mohon maaf, Indonesia. Sampai jumpa!

Photo: Thecayas about to set off an overseas adventure in 2012!

Thecayas Short Film Festival 2015

LittleB got a stop-motion animation kit from his Auntie for Christmas this year, and he has already started putting it to good use.

I managed to acquire exclusive distribution rights to his first two films (since they were made using my iPad), and I’m pleased to say they tied for first place in our inaugural family film festival. So, without further delay, for your viewing pleasure: Meeting on Mars and Mad Science.

Meeting on Mars: Two spaceships meet on Mars, and alien hijinks ensue.

Mad Science: Trouble is brewing at the lab, and only a daring helicopter rescue can save our heroes.

Hopefully these will be worth thousands of dollars when he grows up to be the next Hitchcock/Spielberg/Nolan.

Resolutions

It’s a new year already. I can’t believe how quickly 2014 passed – so quickly that it seems like it didn’t even happen!

I often have this feeling of time whirling past, like I’m just part of the audience as life rushes by – as though I’m in stasis, waiting for something to happen. Waiting for some next phase, some kind of change, for the right time to engage. It’s a feeling I’ve been wrestling with for a long time, and it seems worse when living abroad: that somehow real life is on hold, and the time we spend away doesn’t really count. It means we are often making choices that don’t move our lives forward: we sit, and wait, and eat, and wait, and wonder when life will really begin. What is this feeling? Depression? Ennui? Homesickness?

You would think that picking up and moving across the world shows us to be brave, confident go-getters, grabbing the world with our fists and shaking loose everything we ever wanted. But most of the time I think we’re running from this feeling of being trapped by time and routine, only to be trapped by that very thing, in a grand chicken-or-egg game around the world.

Coming up on three years abroad and after a long trip home for the holidays, our thoughts are turning again to the future. Do we stay? Do we move home? Do we try something new? The thought of moving home scares me, as though somehow I will feel like we failed and be unhappy there, falling into old routines as if nothing ever happened, as though the last three years were meaningless and did nothing to break us free from the rut of suburban life. But staying scares me as well, as our current routines become, well, routine – and now there is nothing special about being here anymore: we’re just living the same regular lives we could have anywhere. Trying something new is just as scary, knowing that we will have to get over this hump of ‘life in stasis’ again, as we figure out the necessary sense of normalcy that lets us function in school, work, and society, but feeling like our progress in the world has been rewound all the way back to the beginning. So where is the happy medium? How can I have it all? Extraordinary experiences within a healthy, forward-moving life?

I guess I need to start small, making time for myself and my family, building up the core of personal health and strength that we need to be successful anywhere, whether that means a villa in Indonesia, a suburban townhome in Canada, an apartment in Europe, or a hut in the desert somewhere. I think I feel like life is passing me by because it is passing me by – it always will be, no matter how I choose to spend it or where. It’s not homesickness or depression, it’s just being faced with mortality. And I won’t find the strength to face that down from where I live or how, but from finding significance and happiness in every moment, no matter how small. So this year I will try to make time for those moments, and more time for the things that make me happy:

  1. More music practice each week, and try writing a couple of songs
  2. Regular weekly blogging, and start writing short stories
  3. Make time every day for exercise and yoga practice, and aim to be able to do 100 push-ups by the end of the year
  4. Try a new recipe every week, stop drinking soda, strict limit on dairy/wheat/sugar
  5. Host a music/games/theatre/poetry fun night for friends at least once a month
  6. Take a photography class
  7. Refresh my Spanish and French skills, and learn some German
  8. Spend at least 1 quality hour with the kids after work, no matter what
  9. Travel wish list: Siem Reap, Hanoi, Luang Prabang, Sulawesi, Northern Bali, Perth, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, London, Scotland, Iceland

So here’s to 2015! All the best to you and yours. I can’t even guess where I will be writing my 2016 plans from at this time next year, and I think for now that’s exactly how I want it.

Happy New Year from the Cayas!
Happy New Year from the Cayas!

Christmas in Canada

We had an old-fashioned canuck Christmas at home this year. Visits with Santa (twice), snow, sledding, Christmas village tours and sleigh rides, dinners, friends, presents, caroling. I hope all your holidays were as merry and bright!

Happy New Year!

-The Cayas

Move n holidays

As you know, we found a new house in Jakarta, and we’ll be moving in August. It’s a four-bedroom house with a pool and a large kitchen and plenty of open living space. I was a bit worried that we wouldn’t have enough furniture to actually fill the house. Then I started making a list of the things we need to put on a truck and figured out that somehow, in the mere two years of being here, we’ve collected more stuff than we’ve ever had before! The truck I booked might actually need to make two trips. It’ll probably look something like this:

He is literally holding those poles on with the force of his will.
He is literally holding those poles on with the force of his will.

Or maybe we will get really lucky and it will look like this:

What. Is. This. Is it some kind of modded flatbed? and good god, is that a man in a fishing chair driving it? No way...
What. Is. This. Is it some kind of modded flatbed? and good god, is that a man in a fishing chair driving it? No way…
...Yes, yes that is a man in fishing chair driving it. Oh, and he's trying to put on a rain slicker at the same time, going 80 km/hr. Fantastic!
…Yes, yes that is a man in fishing chair driving it. Oh, and he’s trying to put on a rain slicker at the same time, going 80 km/hr. Fantastic!

Because we managed to figure out the housing situation in a reasonable time, we decided to organize a last-minute trip out of town before the move. Because I really, really need a vacation. So where can you go in Southeast Asia that is reasonably cheap and easy to arrange on short notice? Vietnam is top of my list, but flights + visas are quite expensive and I just didn’t have time to sort out tours, train tickets, etc. Cambodia would also be nice, but a trip to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh is not really longer than a few days and my minimum required vacation dose is as least 7 days. Laos? Also near the top of my list, but there’s no way to get there other than going through Vietnam or Thailand, and that increases cost if we’re not taking longer to visit those places as well. So, Thailand! Recent military coup, driving down tourist costs and vacationers? Check. Cheap flights on Malaysia Airlines via Kuala Lumpur? Check. Nothing can go wrong with this plan! Nothing.

So we booked ourselves a week in a beach villa on an island off the coast of Krabi. We packed up the bare minimum of clothes into a couple of carry-ons and we’re going off the grid! I’m looking forward to lying on the beach, lying by the pool, lying in the villa, walking down to the restaurant and eating fresh thai seafood every day, exploring the beach shops for silks and spices. Maaaaybe we’ll take a day for some kyaking or cave exploring or elephant rides. And if we don’t do anything but nap all day in the sunshine, I won’t regret a thing.

J turns 5!

Dear Sweetie,

I can’t believe you’re already 5 years old! I realize that’s not very old in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the perfect number of years for so many things – a university degree, a healthy run on Broadway, establishing a successful small business, a tasty block of cheddar.

Over the past five years, you’ve put up with daddy’s ceaseless teasing; joined in our overbearing weekend pillow fights and wrestling; sat through endless re-watchings of Ghostbusters and The Three Amigos; laughed at every silly story we’ve told that ends with someone being poked in the eyeball and dies; and managed to choke down your vegetables when we fight with you to eat them at dinner.

And we’ve tried to be patient as we’ve watched you spill every single drink, ever; sat through endless re-watchings of Tinkerbell, Tangled and (most recently) Frozen; as you’ve whined or cried across at least 8 different countries; as you’ve fallen asleep in so many awkward places and we’ve had to carry your dead weight up and down stairs, on and off airplanes and buses, trains, cars, sketchy tuktuks; and we’ve put band-aids on you at least once a week for the past 5 years as you’ve fallen on literally every possible surface in the world.

In your five years, we’ve seen you grow from an adorable little baby into a beautiful young girl. You’ve shared our strange adventures with joy and laughter, and you have lit up our days since the very first moment. It’s both exciting and frightening to see you growing so fast. Soon you’ll be doing things on your own and we’ll be sad to lose our baby, but even prouder of you than we are now.

Happy birthday!

Love Mommy & Daddy

Birthday celebrations spanned a few days, from birthday morning presents to a nice family dinner, to a full blow-out party with all the neighborhood friends. It was a fun time, but I’m not sorry we won’t have to do it again for (almost) another year!

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it. (How appropriate, since we are in Sydney right now!)

Click here to see the complete report

Also, just so you aren’t left hanging – I’ll be posting some more interesting content than this soon! I just imported 600 photos from Australia.. stay tuned!

Injury in Indonesia

Since we moved here, we’ve been really lucky. None of us have had any serious illness or injury, other than the usual bumps and bruises, colds and flus of a normal life anywhere.

I’ve been particularly thankful of this because the closest “western” medical center is at least an hour away from us, in Jakarta. Sure there are hospitals in our area, but there is no guaranteed standard of care, not to mention that our Indonesian skills are probably not good enough to navigate a true medical emergency. Some of the hospitals around here would be ok if we had no other choice, but we have been told to avoid certain ones because they quite literally have no supplies.

There is also no dependable ambulance service or other emergency transportation. Yes, there do seem to be “ambulances” on the road at times, but they look more like vans with the word “emergency” painted on the side. I’m not convinced there are any sort of life-sustaining medicines or tools inside. Also, they are just as trapped in the traffic as everyone else, and would probably not end up making it to a hospital in time anyway.

So, with all these sobering thoughts, I’m grateful every day that we are relatively healthy and have yet to need a doctor visit for even a minor issue. That is, until this week.

On Thursday night, I was going about my usual bedtime routine. We had just finished packing for a weekend away at my work’s mountain cottage, and I was looking forward to a relaxing few days off the grid. Then, randomly, as I stood up, my lower back gave an ominous twinge and trapped me in a half-standing position like an old lady in a bad sitcom. Holy crap.

I’ve pulled back muscles before and gotten back pain from sleeping in a weird position all night. These are painful, but easily handled with a bit of stretching and extra care for a few days. This time was different. It was a close second to childbirth. I managed to fall onto the bed and immediately tried all the “recovery” positions I know, the crunched-up-like-a-ball one, the one-leg-at-a-time-pull, the butt-in-the-air-bend… I finally settled on the crying-fetal-position, hoping that a night of sleep and a relaxing swim in the morning would make some difference.

Friday morning, in excrutiating pain, I managed to hobble to a friend’s pool for some floating relief. It was neither relieving nor helpful. That afternoon, another friend kindly sent over a massage therapist whose life’s mission seemed to be to rid my body of tension, no matter how long it took or how many bruises formed. It was relaxing, but my back still hurt to the point of vomiting, and now I was covered in painful bruising. The therapist’s wild sign language depicting bones out of place was also not encouraging.

So, I decided to brave the hour-long car ride to the clinic on Saturday morning, in the hopes of getting a full back transplant or at least some horse tranquilizers to knock me out for a few days. This was a big step for me – I don’t usually go to the doctor or admit to any pain at all, so obviously I had reached the acceptance stage of my grief, admitting something more was wrong than just a muscle pull.

Somehow I made it through the car ride and the wait in the clinic. I did tear up a few times in the waiting room, sitting on their horrible non-ergonomic chairs. Luckily I brought B with me, and luckily he is strong enough to lift me bodily out of cars and chairs and things. At one point the tiny Indonesian nurse offered to help me out of my seat and I actually laughed at the absurdity, told her I would probably crush her, and I should probably use my husband instead. She looked relieved.

As it turned out, the doctor was very knowledgeable and actually did the leg and back mobility tests I would have expected from a doctor at home. He also recommended x-rays. After 2 radiation blasts to all of my important organs, we determined that I have an over-arched lumbar spine, which has managed to push the base of my spine off its normal resting place on my hips.

Of course, I googled that as I soon as I got in the car. Apparently this is called “lordosis” and often happens to horses. Jesus. I really did need horse tranquilizers.

Speaking of which, the doctor kindly gave me enough muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories and painkillers to have a week-long trip. And told me I had to stay in bed for several days, and only once the pain subsides, to start a regimen of gentle strengthening and stretching. So, it sounds like this was an inevitable injury, and is probably going to be a lifetime of recovery.

At least I’ve been able to milk it, lying in bed all weekend and having the kids and B bring me food and entertainment. I’ve also been using our rolling office chair like a poor man’s wheelchair. No regrets.

All in all, I guess it could have been worse, but I would have preferred a weekend at the cottage.

Bedtime stories

We have a very strict bedtime routine in our family.

It all started when LittleB was a baby. He hated his crib, and would cry all night, forcing us to constantly come in and out of the room or give in and let him sleep with us. Finally, at age one, we decided that it was time for a toddler bed, just to change things up and “start fresh.” So a few days after his first birthday, we moved him from a crib to a mattress on the floor.

At first, it was great! He loved being able to get in and out of the bed on his own. Unfortunately, it meant he got out of the bed on his own, whenever he wanted. Bedtime was suddenly worse! He wouldn’t stay in there by himself, so we started waiting with him, beside his mattress, sort of half sleeping in the bed with him, crunched up on the cold floor, singing songs or reading stories until we were hoarse, waiting for him to pass out so we could sneak away into the night.

After a few months of this, we had enough. It was cry-it-out time. So we put one of those kiddie door handle locks on the inside of his room (he was a tall for a toddler) and abandoned him in there for the night. To make this process more palatable, we set a strict 7-pm bed time, which came with one story, one song, and a few minutes of cuddling. That’s it, then you’re on your own, kid. Eventually this took hold, and we have been blessed with relatively good sleep patterns ever since. And we have continued the bedtime tradition (now with both kids) to this day.

These days, bedtime is usually a lovely moment in the evening, when the kids are settled down and we get to spend some time with them really talking and bonding. Now that LittleB is older, it has become his special few minutes with one of us. Usually we read a couple of chapters of a novel or a few pages of a science fact book, turn off the lights, sing him a song, give a hug and kiss, fix his covers, walk to the door, pause halfway out the doorway to say “Goodnight” one last time, and…

“Mommy?”

“Yes, what is it?”

“Mommy, what existed before the big bang?”

Are you kidding me?? At this juncture of the evening, while I am literally walking out of the room after half an hour together, are you seriously asking me this huge, far-reaching, speculative, basically unanswerable question?? 

Indeed, he is. Every single night. Here are some other doorway doozies he’s dropped on us:

  • Is there such thing as the end of the world? How do people know about it?
  • What would happen if the world stopped spinning?
  • Where did life come from?
  • How did people come to exist?
  • What’s the biggest thing in the whole world? In the universe?
  • What would happen if the sun went out?
  • Is there other life in the universe?
  • How many stars are there?
  • How many earths can you fit inside the entire universe?
  • When you die, how do you become a ghost?

Do I  know what existed before the big bang? Of course not. Maybe I speculate, mumble a couple of things about string theory or dark matter or something, thinking “dear god, make this end so I can go have a gin & tonic and be a human adult for an hour.” Maybe I say something like “I don’t know, buddy, let’s check it on wikipedia tomorrow” or “Neat question, but ohmigod go to sleep already.”

But you know what? I love his questions. Even on the nights when I really want nothing more than to get out of there and decompress on the couch, I usually end up staying there awkwardly, half in the doorway, saying something like “Well, scientists think that before the big bang, there was just nothing. Just a teeny tiny, massively dense ball of matter, and then bang – it suddenly turned into everything! Pretty cool, huh? What do you think about that?”  And then I spend an extra ten minutes (or more) standing there while he peppers me with follow-up questions that I can also barely answer.

Some nights, I’m lucky and he asks the question before I get to the door. Other nights he opens up about his feelings on school or friends or life in general, and we spend those extra minutes talking about how to deal. Sometimes our conversations are more like this one (actually, that’s more like BigB’s conversations with him).

Anyway, I think I’ve learned more from our chats than he has. It’s a great addition to our bedtime routine, and I think we’ll try to keep it alive as long as we can!

Pretty cool, huh?

Spring cleaning in Indonesia

We have never been the tidiest family, and partly that’s just because we’re not so fussy about it. I guess what I mean is, we do like having our things organized, but we’re too lazy to be bothered to do it. So what I really liked about moving here was that we brought almost nothing with us. Less stuff = less mess. Of course, as the year has passed, we’ve accumulated more things, and we’re starting to reach the saturation point of our storage space. With our relatively careless lifestyle plus no sensible filing system, our things are starting to just kind of pile up on top of surfaces or get mixed together in jumbly drawers.

It’s really starting to get hard to find things. I mean, everyone misplaces their keys or glasses, but normal things are starting to get lost in our stuff sinkhole… for example, all of the scissors, 3/4 of our coasters, the doohickey for the kitchen gadget thingy. Weird stuff.

This makes it sound like our house is some kind of horrible sty. In fact, it’s spotless. Of course, this leads to root of the problem. We employ a lovely lady who helps keep our house clean, but she has zero clue about where things belong. So she does her best to clean up by putting things “away” wherever she can, without any kind of sense. Those receipts we left on the counter? They go into a Ziploc bag, put into the silverware drawer. All of the ipod cords we were using on the bedside table? Put into a folder with some nail clippers and business cards and moved to the bottom shelf of the wardrobe. The lego pieces left on the stairs? They show up a few days later in the cutlery holder of dish rack.

So maybe this is our fault for not having established a filing system for her to follow? Maybe it’s that, bless her, our cleaner just quite literally does not know what some of our things are and can’t figure out the categories of things that go together? I guess I just assumed that anyone, anywhere, would be able to tell “which one of these things doesn’t belong” – but apparently that’s not a universal ability.

This came to a head this week during the great “broken camera saga.” The camera, as previously mentioned, has been in a bag of rice for a while. Well, we wanted to test it again this weekend but could not find the battery anywhere. I swear I put the battery on the desk only the day before, but of course, it was not there when we wanted to use it. I assumed it was in a bag of random items, filed away in a drawer somewhere, so we spent the whole day today unpacking all the drawers and cabinets and re-sorting everything into sensible categories. Still no battery.

It was a good exercise nonetheless, and one that every household needs to do once in a while. It’s a good chance to find things that you’ve been looking for or be reminded of paperwork that needs doing. In our case, we’ve managed to free up a whole box of Ziploc bags! I also managed to throw out a horde of tiny straws that J was saving from her juice boxes. Maybe I should tidy more often…

Tomorrow’s mission is sorting the kids’ toys. Wish me luck!

Enjoy this unrelated photo of a dude holding a row of giant concrete cylinders onto a moving truck by the sheer force of his will:

Am I worse than he is for having taken this photo while driving? Yikes!
Am I worse than he is for having taken this photo while driving? Yikes!

 

 

No-update update

It’s been a while since I updated. Sorry!

I could give you all sorts of excuses as to why I haven’t written lately. Work has been busy, we’ve all been a bit under the weather, and I’ve been feeling a bit lazy. In fact, I think I wore my pyjamas all weekend for the past two weekends in a row. It’s just that time of year, I guess. But mostly I haven’t written lately because I just can’t think of anything exciting to say.

Could it be that the thrill of living abroad has worn off? At the 14-month mark, maybe nothing is new or interesting anymore? Nothing to “write home about” so to speak?

I still see interesting things every day, but I suppose they seem more normal all the time. When I talk to my family back home, I have fewer things to tell them and they have fewer things to ask about. Our day-to-day lives go on as usual – work, school, a bit of shopping, a bit of sleeping – I feel like we’re living our lives the same as we did in Canada, we just happen to be on the other side of the world.

So, what have we been up to lately? Well, our passports are full (already!), so we spent a day sitting the Canadian embassy office last week. That was nice in a familiar sort of way. Similarly, we met up with the local Canadian association president to buy tickets to the Jakarta Canadian Thanksgiving dinner coming up in a few weeks. That was also nice in a familiar sort of way, drinking tea and eating croissants with a lovely lady from Sudbury. A few new families have joined the neighbourhood, so we’re looking forward to expanding our circle of friends. And we are trying to plan some more weekend trips around the country. It’s already been a year and I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of what to see and do!

All in all, not exactly blog post worthy. That being said, I hope we do have some more interesting things to share very soon. So bear with us.

Also, I’m writing this in the car and I just saw a t-shirt with a photo of a generic rapper and the hilarious caption “Amerikan hip-rocker,” so I guess things are looking up!

In the meantime, enjoy these random photos.

The Starbucks guys never get our names right. It's hilarious.
The Starbucks guys never get our names right. It’s hilarious.
Not even close.
Not even close.
The "Canada" shoe store nearby. I don't think there is any connection to Canada, or even shoes for that matter.
The “Canada” shoe store nearby. I don’t think there is any connection to Canada, or even shoes for that matter.
About a week after we got her, Goldie got super ill. We were pretty sure she was going to die, so I took this "dying bird" photo for posterity. Luckily she got better!
About a week after we got her, Goldie got super ill. We were pretty sure she was going to die, so I took this “dying bird” photo for posterity. Luckily she got better!
This spider fell on B at work. He was pretty sure he was going to die. But he got better!
This spider fell on B at work. He was pretty sure he was going to die. But he got better!

Games time!

Just a quick follow-up on our beach weekend a while ago. I left out part of the story in anticipation of this announcement.

On our way home from the beach, we stopped at a board game maker in the area. He has a little shop and hand makes wood and stone games, like dominoes, peg solitaire, scrabble, chess, and many many more. He even custom designs game pieces in stone like settlers of catan. Because you buy these straight from the source, they’re very reasonably priced and great quality.

We stopped in to visit the storefront, where he had lots of games on display. We also got a special tour of the workshop, which was basically just a shanty in the back where a guy was hand shaping gemstones into game pieces. It was a lot of work, and for the prices we paid… he’s definitely being undervalued!

In the end, B and I chose a peg solitaire game and a ludo game (which is like Sorry), plus a second solitaire game that we brought home for our cousins (also why I didn’t mention this before!). Our friend put in an order for a Finnish Scrabble game, and we put in an order for a table version of chess/scrabble. And it just arrived today!

We’re very happy with them, and I think we’ll be playing a bunch of games later tonight! Now to find somewhere to put this giant chess table…

The table in Chess mode
The table in Chess mode
Side detail to see the drawer - there is another drawer on the opposite side as well
Side detail to see the drawer – there is another drawer on the opposite side as well
Top view of Chess
Top view of Chess
Close up on White
Close up on White
Close up on Black
Close up on Black
The board is made of inlaid stone tiles
The board is made of inlaid stone tiles
The table in Scrabble mode
The table in Scrabble mode
Top view of Scrabble
Top view of Scrabble
The board is a mosaic of individual stone tiles. The letter tiles are hand engraved stone
The board is a mosaic of individual stone tiles. The letter tiles are hand engraved stone
Board removed, you can see the two drawers
Board removed, you can see the two drawers
English peg solitaire
English peg solitaire
Detail of game play
Detail of game play
Ludo game. Even the dice is stone.
Ludo game. Even the dice is stone.
Ludo gameplay
Ludo gameplay

 

Going West!

Here we are, at the airport again, but this time we’re on our way back to the other side of the world!

It’s been a long week of wrapping up projects, clearing out inboxes, packing suitcases (well, ok, that only happened a few hours ago), and the other typical running around before an extended trip. It’s been fun, though. This past weekend, we had an afternoon of swimming and and our second biannual neighbouhood poker night. I lost. 😦

Our first stop is NYC for a few days, then we head to great white north to eat bacon, see friends and family, buy toiletries and go to the dentist. In that order.

Anyway, time to go. LittleB just broke a plate in Starbucks, because we’re that family.

See you on the other side!

Pokerface
Pokerface
Money shot
Money shot

Endings, beginnings

This week has been the kids’ first week of summer holidays. Yay for them! Boo for us. Well, we love them and everything, and I do like not having to make lunches every morning, but they are going a little stir crazy around the house. There are no summer camps here. And also, it’s always summer here, so the “summer” part of summer holidays is not very exciting.

School ended last Friday with a final assembly and a bunch of class parties. The assembly was sweet, with little songs and plays, but somehow neither of our kids’ classes did anything, so I have nothing to show you. Other than this hilarious shot:

Let's play "find the only two blonde kids" in the school!
Let’s play “find the only two blonde kids” in the school!

Seriously, though, it’s lovely to be in such international company. And the kids are oblivious to it, which is exactly the way it should be. After assembly, B’s class spent the day playing games and sports in the yard.

B's class playing some kind of partner skipping race. He was with a girl - I will be teasing him about this for at least 6 weeks.
B’s class playing some kind of partner skipping race. He was with a girl – I will be teasing him about this for at least 6 weeks.

J’s class had a party and invited the parents. It was cute, but I got the impression these teachers had not just spent a year teaching 2-4-year-olds. First, they tried to play musical chairs. We all know how well that went – a bit of crying, a lot of confusion, and mostly it was just a bunch of kids wandering around. Then they had a game where the kids had to pass around presents, and then when the music stopped, the one holding the package got to keep it. Again, a bit of crying and a lot of confusion. Plus there were a few sneaky kids who kind of “forgot” to pass along the gift and got to keep it. Luckily there was something for everyone.

J with her "Angry Birds Happy Birthday" party hat. I guess it doesn't matter what they say when none of the kids can read.
J and her friend with their “Angry Birds Happy Birthday” party hats. I guess it doesn’t matter what they say when none of the kids can read.
This is the kids singing the "Mandarin" song. I don't know what it is about because it is actually in Mandarin.
This is the kids singing the “Mandarin” song. I don’t know what it is about because it is, appropriately enough, in Mandarin.

After the games, there was a “pot-luck snack” for everyone to enjoy. These things are always terrible. Every single parent sends a pack of donuts or some kind of crazy Indonesian sweets. Because it’s such a great idea to pump your already-so-hyper-they-are-on-the-verge-of-an-epic-tantrum kids full of sugar at 9:30 am. We sent sandwiches. All J ate was a strange jelly cup and the red from a rainbow cake slice. Awesome. So I left her with B and went to work. Heh.

Speaking of work. Some of you may recall that before I moved here, I went on an awesome health kick and lost a lot of baby weight, ate healthy and just generally took better care of myself. Yeah, so that pretty much ended when I got here. It’s no one’s fault but mine, although I would like to blame it on the stress of moving, and settling into a strange place, and having a new job, and not knowing where to shop for healthy food, and eating a lot of fried food and comfort food, and plenty of other things. But all in all, it’s still depressing to have put back on a lot of that weight and stopped eating so carefully.

Anyway, it only took me almost a year, but I’m finally feeling ready to concentrate on myself again! So I’ve been going to the gym at work. I don’t know why I wasn’t going all this time, because it’s great. They have a bunch of cardio machines (which I don’t use, because seriously, my body parts were chosen from the “unfit for cardio” pile), a rack of free weights, several weight machines, and of course stretching space (all of which I do use!). Also, it’s always empty, and it’s lovely to work out in the tropics:

Sunny gym in the morning!
Sunny gym in the morning!
And I have it all to myself
And I have it all to myself!

B also started a health kick recently, and purchased some DVDs from the internet. I call them his “man yoga” DVDs, because they are yoga moves taught by a former wrestler. I’m not going to lie, they’re awesome. I’ve never really liked yoga, but I realize now it’s because it was always missing the testosterone that comes from a burly wrestler teacher.

So hopefully with all these powers combined, I can get back into a good routine and keep it forever this time!

In other news, we’re heading to the south coast of Java this weekend to check out the surfing. I mean, we’re not actually going to surf… we’re just checking it out. Maybe we’ll watch some other dudes surf, or more likely, we’ll just dig holes in the sand and maybe try to catch some tiny crabs. I’ll be back with pictures soon!

Robbed!

I don’t mean to be dramatic, and some of you may have already heard this tale of woe, but I’ll share it again in all its g(l)ory.

Wednesday last week, we woke up to our usual hectic routine of getting dressed, getting breakfast, getting packed, getting out the door… in the rush, I could not find my laptop bag. It wasn’t a big deal, because I had emptied it of important things the night before after my water bottle spilled in it. It wasn’t where I had left it to dry, which seemed a bit strange, but misplacing things is not uncommon around here. I quickly grabbed a different bag and filled it up to bring to work. At the same time, I was trying to find B’s phone to see if our driver had texted him, since he seemed to be running late. We couldn’t find it immediately either, but if anything goes missing on a regular basis, it’s B’s phone. Again, I didn’t think much of it, and assumed he would find it later that morning.

Kids in tow, I headed out for school and on to work. Wednesday was a busy day for me, stuck in a seminar for the morning and thus out of reach. Mid-morning, I logged into my computer and saw of series of increasingly panicked emails/messages from B:

“Hey, I’m having a crisis here. Have you seen my phone & wallet? I literally can not find them anywhere.”

“OK, seriously cannot find my wallet or phone.”

“Crisis time. Seriously. Cannot find wallet anywhere in the house. Did you take it with you today or something?”

At that moment, I looked up and saw B walking into the office. He said those three magic words that no one ever wants to hear: We’ve been robbed.

Hehad just spent the morning tearing the house apart for his phone and wallet until it dawned on him that several other items were missing and put it all together… unfortunately, because his phone was among the lost possessions, he couldn’t call me and had to come all the way to work to get me (because I wasn’t answering email either). After an hour or so of wrangling with bank helplines and changing all our account passwords, he headed back home to assess the damage more thoroughly.

Turns out, some sneaky f***s climbed over our 10-foot gate, scaled the front wall and pried open a second-floor balcony window. (We know this because of the bare, muddy footprints going up the side of the house…) Once inside, they grabbed whatever was sitting out that was of even moderate value: our personal laptop (not a huge shame, because recently the 8, i, k and comma keys had stopped working – enjoy that, suckers!), LittleB’s month-old netbook (he cried all day), B’s phone and wallet, my laptop bag, my iPod, my blackberry playbook, B’s wedding ring, and a bottle of vodka. All in all, we lost about $3000 worth of stuff. And of course, we don’t exactly have what you would call ‘insurance’ here. Luckily, both of our work computers and my phone/wallet were in our bedroom with us, along with most of our other important documents and items.

In retrospect, it could have been much worse. Because we were home, they didn’t simply clear the place out (which I’ve heard of happening). No TVs or other sizable items were taken. However, I also think they didn’t realize we were home: the TV was actually unplugged as though they were going to take but got spooked – I bet they made their way downstairs and saw us in our bedroom and bolted. That’s also lucky, because my biggest worry is that they could have turned violent and someone could have been hurt. Frankly, probably them, and we would have been on the first plane out of the country to dodge manslaughter charges.

So, now what? Well, we’ve taken a closer look at the security of our house; what felt before like it was safe is obviously not. We lock absolutely everything now, sacrificing fresh air for safety just in case another monkey of a robber scales the walls. That wouldn’t stop a determined thief when no one is home, however, since they could easily break a window or jimmy a few locks to get in. We always figured as long as someone was here 24 hours, there was no issue, because who breaks in when people are home? Those guys, apparently. A lot of people here have night guards, which we’re seriously considering. Although the night guards at the house directly across from us “didn’t see anything” that night, because they were asleep by 2 am. Thanks for the vigilance, guys.

Anyway, it’s not all that bad. We lost a few things that in the grand scheme we didn’t really need. I like to hope that the person who stole them needed the money to literally survive, which is fairly likely… maybe they had a sick child or grandmother or something, and our few possessions helped them through a rough patch. It could have been worse.

On another, happier, note, here are pictures of the kids dressed up for “Hero Day” at school last week. Green Lantern and Batwoman. By the way, J has asked to officially change her name to “J the Batwoman,” so keep that in mind for next time you see her.

Green Lantern
Green Lantern
Batwoman
Batwoman

This week is International Night at the school – look out for that recap! We were going to make pemmican as the “Canadian” food to share, but it’s really hard to find rendered caribou fat here, go figure.

Bahasa Indonesia

The kids dressed up in their Javanese clothes for Ibu Kartini day at school
The kids dressed up in their Javanese clothes for Ibu Kartini day at school

When we first planned on moving to Indonesia, we scoured the city looking for DIY language course books. It turned out that Indonesian books are not easy to find in Canada. Although we eventually discovered a few phrasebooks meant for tourists, these were not so helpful because (presumably) our day-to-day language would require more than ‘Is Mr. Tirta at home?’ and ‘No thank you, I don’t like Durian.’

Once we arrived here, we struggled with the language, but we quickly adapted a combination hand gesture / nodding / smiling process that seemed to take care of most of our needs. It helped that the majority of people we deal with regularly speak enough English for us to get by. Eventually, we took language school for a week in January, as you may remember from some of those posts. It was an immersive school – meaning the teachers did not speak English, and new vocabulary was taught using context. Or as B called it, “playing charades.” He was admittedly not very good at this style of learning. It was easier for me, but unfortunately, the few skills we did pick up have disappeared from under-use in the months since then. Our kids don’t need Bahasa at school, I don’t need Bahasa at work, and we rarely need it otherwise. It is very difficult to practice the minimal skills we do have!

I’ve always been critical of folks who move to a foreign country and can’t be bothered to learn the language. It seems so insulting and crass to act as though it’s the responsibility of the local residents to find a way to communicate with you rather than the other way around. In addition to our hypocrisy, I think we’ve also been hesitant to dive into the culture and local lifestyle because of the language barrier. We don’t feel comfortable shopping or visiting anywhere that isn’t “western” because we just cannot communicate our needs or understand how the social process works in certain situations.

So. That brings us to now, eight months in, and I’ve finally started regular language classes with a local teacher (and good friend). She is a wonderful instructor and after only a few lessons I’m finally feeling like the language is making sense. She has been helping me understand the grammar and structure – something that the other language school did not focus on at all. I still need a LOT of practice, but I think very soon I’ll be able to enjoy our adventure here a bit more.

Why am I telling you all this? Really, I just wanted to share some interesting language quirks that I’ve noticed:

Times and days are tracked differently here. You know how you say “last night I went to the cinema” on Sunday, when you mean Saturday night? Well, here, if you say “last night I went to the cinema” on Sunday – you are referring to Friday night. This is because Indonesian “days” start at sundown, so the night that just happened (Saturday night) is technically part of the same day you are still experiencing. But if is after sundown on Sunday, then “last night” means Saturday. Confusing, right? Well, apparently it is confusing for Indonesians too, because my teacher told me to just use the day of the week for clarity. So don’t say “last night,” say “Saturday night.”

You almost never say “never” but instead you say “not yet.” Like, have you ever visited China? The answer is “not yet” – even if you have no intention of going to China, there is a possibility that you might. You never know where life will take you! This is harder when asked personal questions like “Are you married?” and “Do you have kids?” Especially if you are a young foreigner without either (or even without any intentions of having either). You can’t say “no” – you have to say “not yet”… because you never know what might happen!

There is no plural. A lot of meaning is based on context, so if you’re talking about multiples of something, there’s no language distinction (for the most part). Instead, you just know the other person is talking about multiple things because you can literally see those things in front of you or you have already mentioned them in the preceding sentence. This isn’t such an issue when going from English into Indonesian, but it is an issue when going the other way. None of my Indonesian friends remember to put s on plurals. Or they put one when not needed. The same is for gender pronouns. So you only know that the person is male or female based on context. Growing up without a way to distinguish plurals or gender and then suddenly having to must be confusing. I apologize on behalf of the English language.

Similarly, there is no “to be” verb. Really. You just say things like “My name Mary” and “She from France.” All in all, the language is much simpler than English, leaving many of us learners feeling like we are speaking in baby talk. And unfortunately, that’s how Indonesians with beginner English skills sound to native English speakers – like kindergarteners. Conversely, if you did a literal translation of a moderately complex English sentence into Indonesian, it would come out with so many extra words and strange noun strings that you would sound like a crazy person. There, I’ve just explained the source of all intercultural misunderstandings.

Speaking of intercultural misunderstandings, I have a confession to make about my family. I don’t know why, but the three of them have not picked up much language but have somehow picked up a tiny bit of an Indonesian accent when speaking in English. This sounds like it would be adorable, but instead it just sounds like they are making fun. You know how tourists just speak LOUDER AND M O R E S L O W L Y to explain their point, despite the language barrier? It’s like the lite version of that. Subtle, but possibly more insulting? I’m not sure, because I haven’t wanted to stir up any trouble. So I’m telling the internet instead!

 

Illness in Indonesia

Sleeping something off on the couch - at least she's cute when she's sick!
Sleeping something off on the couch – at least she’s cute when she’s sick!

This seems like a good time to tell you in more detail about being sick here. It’s good timing because we’ve all been sick this week – J missed the whole week of school, LittleB was sick through the national holiday we had yesterday and I took today off work to recoup.

It’s really not that different than at home. We’ve always gotten colds, sniffles, coughs, fevers, stomach bugs. But there’s something about being in a place where we don’t have comfortable knowledge of the medical system or even over-the-counter medications that makes it more difficult. We do have a small pharmacopia that we brought from Canada, and luckily it has served us through the past several months. I honestly don’t know what we will do when we run out!

Now for some, ahem, gory details. This could be a TMI post, so if you don’t like gross sick stories, move on and come back for the next entry!

Rashes

Living here, in the humid climate, has actually cured both me and LittleB of all our dry skin ailments. It’s fantastic! He used to suffer so brutally from eczema that his skin would bleed from all the wintertime scratching. I wasn’t much better, but I had more control over my scratching frenzies. Since moving here, we now both have baby-soft skin and it’s fantastic. B’s more oily complexion isn’t doing as well, but it’s manageable now that he uses oil-control face wash as shampoo. The problem, however, is that sometimes we get irritated skin from … I’m not sure what. Perhaps it’s the questionable bathing water, perhaps it’s the harsh laundry soap (there’s no PC Organics brand here, surprisingly), perhaps it’s all the beach time and swimming we’ve had, perhaps it’s the filthy cats that live in our yard that we play with, or perhaps it’s some kind of awful bacteria or sweaty athlete’s foot issues. I don’t know, but it freaks me out a bit. Eh, I’m sure it’ll go away. Right?

Cuts

So, cuts. Because we live in perpetual summer, the kids are perpetually falling and scraping and bruising and cutting up their legs and arms and faces. And cuts don’t heal quickly here. Maybe it’s due to some of the same reasons above (see: rashes). But I also think it’s because we just have a really hard time finding bandages and ointment here. I don’t know why. Here’s a fun story: I went for my scuba test two weekends ago and had borrowed someone else’s fins. They didn’t fit, and they rubbed quite a lot on the backs of my ankles whenever I finned (which is, you know, kind of an important thing you need to do under water). After the first day, my ankles were rubbed raw. But I was swimming in salt water, which is a natural antiseptic, right? And me being me, I scoffed at such a small amount of pain. So after the second full day of swimming, the raw skin was now gone – literally. There were a few spots that were dangerously lacking in skin. Again, me – no big deal, I’ll just shove some tiny bandaids on those bad boys and they’ll get better in a few days. Well, no. A few days later, they were festering pustules of yuck. I soaked them in some water and table salt and sent B out to find some larger bandages, hydrogen peroxide and antibacterial ointment. He managed to come home with the same size bandaids, a strange alcohol spray and some weird oily iodine concoction. Anyway, I plastered myself up and only covered most of our sheets with iodine juice. Two weeks have passed and the wounds are finally closing up. So where was I? Oh yeah, don’t borrow someone else’s scuba fins.

Cough

Having a cough is a recent thing for us. In fact, until the past month or so, I was pleasantly surprised at how great my breathing and LittleB’s has been (we both have touches of asthma, so I figured with the pollution and humidity, we would both have a hard time here). I was pleasantly surprised too soon. About three weeks ago, a nasty cough went around work and thus the family. I got it first, just a chesty cough, not a throat problem, and I figured it would be gone in a few days. Not so. For the past three weeks I’ve been hacking and choking, coughing up congestion and just generally sounding disgusting. Now both kids have it too. We all sound like a bunch of octogenarians sitting around a card table smacking our gums. We just need some rheumatism to go with it. I think I’m finally on the mend, although I can still feel some tickle down inside the ol’ wind-bags. It would seem that, like every illness here, what is normally a small thing back home is compounded by pollution/heat/ dehydration/bacteria/non-immunity and takes weeks to get over.

Fever

This is the scary one – only in so much as we’re always on the lookout for the big bads – Dengue, Typhoid, Chikungunya, etc. Thankfully, both kids have only had a few reasonably low-grade fevers since we arrived. But it’s still hard to watch the poor kiddos suffer for 2 or 3 days. J had one since Monday and lost about 5 pounds over the week. I cannot thank our foresight enough for having brought over two big bottles of children’s Advil. That stuff really does work on fevers. It doesn’t make it go away, but they do get to sleep it off more comfortably. The rule of thumb here is: 3rd day of fever, get thee to hospital. Luckily we’ve never passed 3 days before, so we haven’t had to experience the fun of a hospital trip.

Vomiting

Hand-in-hand with fever is vomiting. Unfortunately, the kids end up sleeping in our bed every time they’re sick. I’m honestly not sure what’s worse – the kid being sick or the sick kid being sick (literally) in your bed. We had to recently institute a new rule that anyone who shows up in our bed has to bring their own pillow. I’m sick of ours getting barf on them. Here’s an awesome vomit story from just yesterday! LittleB wasn’t feeling well, so he laid down in our bed. We gave him a “barf bowl” and left him to rest (J even sang a “You Get the Barf Bowl” song for him, she’s special). Of course, about 10 minutes later we heard those sounds you never want to hear when your kid is sleeping in your bed. We came in to check and, yes, he had been sick, and, no, he didn’t make it to the barf bowl. The worst was that the night before, J had been sick in our bed, so we had taken off the mattress cover to clean it and hadn’t put it on again yet. ARGH. But as I was cleaning him up in the en-suite, I heard B yell “AMAZING!”, so I came out to see – we had forgotten that J’s previous christening had soaked through a bit, so we put down a towel under the sheet. LittleB managed to barf ONLY within the radius of the towel, saving our mattress from the experience! There is always a silver lining.

Diarrhea

Yes, I’m going to go there. Anyone who has travelled – anywhere – knows that even a little change in water, food, bacteria, will give you some extra “viscosity” down there. And when you travel far away, there is a multiplication factor of, oh, A BILLION. So yes, we’ve all suffered from this ailment fairly often since we arrived. Sometimes it’s just a one-time thing after a particularly spicy or greasy or slightly-off meal. Other times it’s a week of rear-end explosions that leave you wishing for some kind of special cork to plug ‘er up. My two best friends when this happens are acidophilus pills and the bidet attachment on the toilet. Nothing leaves you feeling better after a violent evacuation than a nice rinse-off. The best part about diarrhea, though – as if there is one – is that it’s not a taboo subject here. It’s a common topic of conversation among the expat group, especially when someone has been experiencing a particularly difficult bout or we all seem to be sharing the same bug. In that sense, it’s important to talk about it so we know what’s going around! At our house, it’s totally open for discussion, and we even have some cryptic but descriptive names for the different, erm, varieties. And when you tell someone you gotta go here, it’s a real thing. You gotta go!

I do want to point out that this is obviously my first-world take on illness here, and of course I meant it in good fun. The true illness is in the local population, on the streets, where we see the poorest of poor folk begging and sleeping in filth. Many of them have obvious physical ailments and deformities, and their quality of life and life expectancy are accordingly low. Our housekeeper once mentioned casually that her daughter has a “tumour” and needed to see the doctor. B and I have spent many hours wondering whether what she calls a tumour is the same as what we would – and if it were, does either she or her daughter understand what it is or how potentially serious it could be? When you grow up with poor health and poor access to care, I guess it’s just part of life for you, your friends and your family to have serious illness and often die young. Indeed, in just the past few months, at least four of my Indonesian colleagues have lost a parent or close relative quite unexpectedly.

In closing, we are four strong and healthy folks with access to high-quality health care if we need it, so please don’t worry about us (Mom).

Easter thoughts

Easter

Happy Easter!

We’re here in Sri Lanka, celebrating Easter in — appropriately enough — Kandy.

But it’s funny, trying to have a quasi-Christian holiday in a mainly Buddhist and Hindu country while on vacation away from our mainly Muslim home country is, well, funny. Indeed, it almost makes it easy for us to completely ignore it… and, actually, this year we have. We decided that our kids don’t need any chocolate or candy or dollar store toys. And being away from home, it was easy to avoid bringing any of those things with us.

Part of the reason we were keen to move out of Canada in the first place was to get a non-North American perspective in our lives. Why do we even celebrate Easter? We’re not Christian, so the original purpose behind the event is meaningless to us. That means we’re only supporting the commercial side of it. You could say the same thing about Christmas.

I’m not going to lie, there is also something a little strange about the Easter Bunny. Why does a bunny give out chocolate? And where does the bunny get the chocolate? At least with Santa, it seems a bit more reasonable that a human would consciously make a career out of giving presents to kids. But much, much worse is the thought of a human dressed up as a bunny, giving out candy to kids. That’s an incredibly unwholesome thought. Like this guy:

creepy-easter-bunny-2Or just horrible and awkward, like these guys. So, I think we can all admit that the easter bunny is the weak link in the pantheon of fabled folk (ok, maybe second after the Tooth Fairy).

tooth fairy.

All in all, I think we’re okay with blowing open the Easter Bunny truth. This will probably be the year. But of course, that will cause a domino effect with all the others, and when our kids blab the truth about Santa to all your kids, sorry about that.

So here we are in Sri Lanka, and we’re having a lot more fun than we would have with a bunch of candy that none of us needs. And luckily the kids are totally fine with it! Which is good, because we’re doing a no-present Christmas in Australia this year, so I guess this is the practice run.

Either way, it is a nice chance to enjoy time with each other, and that’s what we’re doing. I hope you are too. Have a great holiday!

Grocery Shopping at Giant

One of the things I miss about Canada is grocery shopping. No, I don’t miss it specifically, but I sure as heck do miss the quality in the variety that you can find at almost any grocery store back home. You could go get groceries (good, healthy food), maybe buy a birthday card for someone, browse some clothes, and for the most part, it was all fresh food, and good quality products. You can go to one enormous store and get pretty much anything you want.

Here in Indonesia, they have… well, they sort of have that. They have Giant. Have you ever thought to yourself “Self, I would love to shop at Walmart more often, but I find that the stuff in their stores is too high in quality”? If so, Giant is the store for you. Giant is like Walmart’s sad, dirty orphan brother that grew up hoarding empty cans “because you can totally re-use these later!”

Without further adieu, I give you: a typical trip to Giant!

Daddy! Let's go to Giant!
Daddy! Let’s go to Giant!
It's this way, Daddy!... We admittedly go to the nicest Giant, it's in the only 'Western Style' mall in Bogor, called Botani Square.
It’s this way, Daddy!… We admittedly go to the nicest Giant, it’s in the only ‘Western Style’ mall in Bogor, called Botani Square.
So at the mall, they're finally installing their first elevator. To give you an idea about just how unsafe a career in construction here is, yes: that is a hand-made ladder, made out of bamboo scraps. And it's 150 feet off the ground.
So at the mall, they’re finally installing their first elevator. To give you an idea about just how unsafe a career in construction here is, yes: that is a hand-made ladder, made out of bamboo scraps. And it’s 150 feet off the ground.
OK, let's start this off with weird groceries: This is egg-flavored jam. It also costs like a dollar. I bet that it's just as disgusting as it sounds. I have no plan on finding out.
OK, let’s start this off with weird groceries: This is egg-flavored jam. It also costs like a dollar. I bet that it’s just as disgusting as it sounds. I have no plan on finding out.
This is an aisle full of instant noodles. There are three aisles that look exactly like this. EVERYONE here eats instant noodles. Mie Goreng in a bag for like 10 cents.
This is an aisle full of instant noodles. There are three aisles that look exactly like this. EVERYONE here eats instant noodles. Mie Goreng in a bag for like 10 cents.
To compare against the rice and noodle aisles: This is the bread section. VERY few people here eat bread. It's barely a thing. We had to buy our own breadmaker so that LittleB can eat soya and egg free bread in the morning.
To compare against the rice and noodle aisles: This is the bread section. VERY few people here eat bread. It’s barely a thing. We had to buy our own breadmaker so that LittleB can eat soya and egg free bread in the morning.
I hope you like rice, because it's the main food here. Aisles and aisles full of rice. TONS of different brands, too. I dunno... it all sort of just tastes like "white" to me, but I guess some people prefer the Bumblebee brand to the Snooty Non-Asian Chef brand?
I hope you like rice, because it’s the main food here. Aisles and aisles full of rice. TONS of different brands, too. I dunno… it all sort of just tastes like “white” to me, but I guess some people prefer the Bumblebee brand to the Snooty Non-Asian Chef brand?
One of the quirky Indonesian features are bags. EVERYTHING comes in bags. This is a bag of cooking oil, but you can get anything you want in super-sized bag-form: oil, laundry detergent, liquid sugar, ketchup, soya sauce... anything.
One of the quirky Indonesian features are bags. EVERYTHING comes in bags. This is a bag of cooking oil, but you can get anything you want in super-sized bag-form: oil, laundry detergent, liquid sugar, ketchup, soya sauce… anything.
In a country that's over 85% Muslim, pork really isn't a thing here. This is the pork section. Funny story: they only recently started carrying pork. I bought some ham whose barcode I guess wasn't yet in the system, and the very Muslim cashier refused to do a price check because she refused to touch the package. She had to call a manager, who used a paper towel to pick it up and take to the meat department to get a price.
In a country that’s over 85% Muslim, pork really isn’t a thing here. This is the pork section. Funny story: they only recently started carrying pork. I bought some ham whose barcode I guess wasn’t yet in the system, and the very Muslim cashier refused to do a price check because she refused to touch the package. She had to call a manager, who used a paper towel to pick it up and take to the meat department to get a price.
Ugh. These are some gross-ass meat balls. I have no idea if they're even meat. They taste like someone mixed barf with gelatin, and made a "meatball" out of that. Unfortunately, it's very popular: you see this stuff at street vendors EVERYWHERE.
Ugh. These are some gross-ass meat balls. I have no idea if they’re even meat. They taste like someone mixed barf with gelatin, and made a “meatball” out of that. Unfortunately, it’s very popular: you see this stuff at street vendors EVERYWHERE.
Oh yeah: they don't refrigerate eggs here. This is just a bunch of eggs... who knows how long they've been there. For all I know, that bottom layer of eggs has been in Indonesia longer than I have.
Oh yeah: they don’t refrigerate eggs here. This is just a bunch of eggs… who knows how long they’ve been there. For all I know, that bottom layer of eggs has been in Indonesia longer than I have.
Apparently, they don't refrigerate chickens here, either. This is just milk crates full of whole chickens. I took this photo at about 1PM, and I assume they'd been there since the store opened at 9AM. They were room-temperature when I touched them.... but they were on sale, so it's ok, right?
Apparently, they don’t refrigerate chickens here, either. This is just milk crates full of whole chickens. I took this photo at about 1PM, and I assume they’d been there since the store opened at 9AM. They were room-temperature when I touched them…. but they were on sale, so it’s ok, right?
This is a close up picture of our shopping cart, that J not only took herself, but insisted I put in this blog post. A picture about a shopping cart in a post about pictures taken from the shopping cart... she's so meta.
This is a close up picture of our shopping cart, that J not only took herself, but insisted I put in this blog post. A picture about a shopping cart in a post about pictures taken from the shopping cart… she’s so meta.
Here is an uncovered cooler full of Chicken Nuggets. OK, I lied, I have no idea if there is any chicken in those nuggets. It's like a box of Cracker Jax: you get a surprise in every serving! Hint: surprise is most likely salmonella.
Here is an uncovered cooler full of Chicken Nuggets. OK, I lied, I have no idea if there is any chicken in those nuggets. It’s like a box of Cracker Jax: you get a surprise in every serving! Hint: surprise is most likely salmonella.
Aw, god damn it. God damned Durians. They smell like a used diaper pulled off of a kid on a "peach-only" diet, and then electrocuted (the diaper, not the kid). Durians smell so bad, and so strongly, that if they're cutting Durians in the fruit section, you can smell it as soon as you enter the mall.
Aw, god damn it. God damned Durians. They smell like a used diaper pulled off of a kid on a “peach-only” diet, and then electrocuted (the diaper, not the kid). Durians smell so bad, and so strongly, that if they’re cutting Durians in the fruit section, you can smell it as soon as you enter the mall.
BEER! What's that? You can buy beer off the shelf in grocery stores in Indonesia, a country so anti-alcohol that they impose a 400% tax on any other liquor? Heck YES! The trade off: all of the beers you see in this picture taste like piss. All of the beer in Indonesia tastes like carbonated piss because Indonesian laws restrict beer sales to only beer brewed in Indonesia, and Indonesians have no frigging clue what they're doing in a brewery.
BEER! What’s that? You can buy beer off the shelf in grocery stores in Indonesia, a country so anti-alcohol that they impose a 400% tax on any other liquor? Heck YES! The trade off: all of the beers you see in this picture taste like piss. All of the beer in Indonesia tastes like carbonated piss because Indonesian laws restrict beer sales to only beer brewed in Indonesia, and Indonesians have no frigging clue what they’re doing in a brewery.
Haha, I had to include this... how often do you go to a toy section and see both the name brand AND it's cheap Chinese knockoff brand being sold side-by-side?!? Literally, they were right next to each other! Nerf: $9.99, Sol: $3.99
Haha, I had to include this… how often do you go to a toy section and see both the name brand AND it’s cheap Chinese knockoff brand being sold side-by-side?!? Literally, they were right next to each other! Nerf: $9.99, SDL: $3.99

Don’t take your local grocery store for granted!

-B

Sari Roti

When I was a kid, I always loved the ice cream truck, watching it drive through the neighborhood playing its happy song. It was like the siren call of summer.

I suppose the fantasy has faded a bit since then. Now as an adult, I’m just irrationally angry at vehicles that play music. At least an ice cream truck plays chimey, happy tunes, and you only hear them once in a while. But what if that ice cream truck drove past your house twice a day, once at 7 am and once at 7 pm? And what if instead of ice cream truck music it played an annoying 10 second loop of high-pitched voices in another language? What if instead of an ice cream truck, it was a Sari Roti motorbike, playing this?

Yeah. That’s all true.

So you might ask, what is Sari Roti? Well, it’s some kind of bread. But I assume most of the items are filled with surprise banana. We don’t buy them.

There are some other guys who pass by as well. One of them comes round at about 10 pm, dragging his noodle cart and banging chopsticks on the metal pans. Another one walks past in the middle of the day selling brooms and cleaning supplies. He doesn’t have chimes or pans – he just whoops. Like, “whoop, whoop, whoop.” I’m not kidding.

But the Sari Roti jingle is by far the winner. It will haunt all our dreams for the rest of our lives. You know that scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit when the evil Christopher Lloyd finds Roger by tapping out only the first part of “shave and a haircut…”? Well, if one of us whistles or hums the first part of the tune, someone else must finish it.

I suggest you watch the video a few more times. At the crack of dawn.

Bugs bugs bugs

Bugs are something we’ve had to get used to since we moved here. Luckily none of us are particularly squeamish – and in fact, most of us swing the other way towards obsessive fascination with gross things, bugs included.

As I’m figuring out, being ok with bugs is kind of essential to live in the tropics. I’ve alluded to some of our experiences before, and I’ve talked it through with several of you (lucky!!). But I think it deserves a dedicated post.

So in celebration of all things creepy crawly, here is a run-down of the weird and fascinating things we’ve been living with since we got here.

Ants

Back home, I never really thought much about ants. A few times in the past they had moved into one of our houses and we used a variety of traps and home remedies to deal with them. But here, it’s like we died and went to ant heaven.

I finally understand the picnic/ant thing, because we can cut up a piece of food on the counter and literally 5 seconds later – there they are, stealing the crumbs! They mostly live in our kitchen, and they range from teeny tiny to, well, pretty damn big. There are tiny brown ones, slightly bigger black ones with giant heads, medium sized red ones, huge black ones, and a bunch more in between.

Some of my favourite ant stories:

  • One of the entrances to the tiny brown ants’ house is in a corner of our kitchen backsplash, about 2 feet up from the counter. Now, this is logistically silly, because it is nearly impossible for them to get their spoils up the wall. They try to carry giant pieces of bread up there, ten ants hooked onto each crumb. Of course they never make it. And if they do, they can’t fit these giant pieces into their tiny holes. B and I take bets on how many bread crumbs will be abandoned below the hole. It’s like a bread crumb graveyard down there. This is what we do for entertainment around here. Seriously.
  • Did I ever tell you about our ant bread? It would seem that some of the medium-sized black ants found the bread maker on standby mode in the middle of the night. It was probably like they died and went to ant heaven. Until it started mixing them… then cooking them… So in the morning, when I pulled out the loaf, I saw an ant on the top and figured, no big deal, I’ll just brush that one off. Then I sliced it open and saw another one near the edge and figured, ok, no big deal, I’ll just pick that one out. I cut in a bit deeper and, well, what would you say is an acceptable ant-to-bread ratio? 1:1? 10:1? 50:1? Yeah, I threw that bread out.

Termites

Another creature I didn’t think much about before we moved here was termites. They seem like exclusively desert or old-rotten-building vermin. And don’t they live in those giant piles of dirt, where anteaters can get in there and suck them out? Well, apparently they live here too. And they are annoying.

To be fair, our house itself isn’t too badly infested. (Well, the range of infestation in this country is not 0 to 10 – more like 4 to 10. So we’re probably at a 4.)

But what I hate about them is that every few weeks, the juveniles with wings swarm out of their nests and try and establish new colonies. It’s like a freaking termite prom: reckless teenagers flapping themselves into and all over our house, shedding their wings like rental tuxes and silky dresses at 2 am and doing all sorts of disgusting termite coupling in our front hallway. Then we have to sweep up about 500 abandoned wings the next morning. We’ve started shoving towel barriers into the cracks under the outside doors on these ‘party nights’ like the curmudgeons we are. Then we call the exterminators to come break up the festivities.

Spiders

So spiders are a less obvious deinzen around here, but of course they are one of the ones we’re more careful about. We’ve seen a few scary ones – including a few huntsman spiders in our bathroom. But we do like them because they eat cockroaches.

I’ve also seen a lot of beautiful garden spiders around the forests. They’re harmless, though I’m sure they could still give a good pinch if you piss them off. Here’s a nice photo:

Garden spider. That's B's hand for.. ahem.. reference.
Garden spider. That’s B’s hand for.. ahem.. reference.

Ok, it’s about to get gross now. Fair warning.

Spiders do sometimes bite. And there are some spiders whose bites are very bad. One of our friends recently had this unfortunate experience. We’re not sure what kind of spider it was that bit her, but this happened:

Our friend's spider bite. Gross!
Our friend’s spider bite. Gross!

Don’t worry, she is ok. Please don’t tell her I put this photo up on the internet.

Worms

Ok I don’t have a lot to say about the worms here except this: they are crazy. They’re just like normal worms, but they appear in strange places. Once, I got up in the middle of the night and saw something long, creepy and black on the floor in the dining room. I’ll admit I freaked out a bit and made B get up. With his exceptional sleuthing skills, he determined that it was a worm. But where did it come from?? We figure it somehow crawled between the panels of the patio door. Since it was still alive, I threw it back out the door and said something like “you’re crazy, worm, get outside”. But the kicker? It was back again in the morning. Unfortunately for it, our ant friends found it before I did, so it was mostly eaten. Gross!

But here’s my favourite worm story: just a few days ago, I looked through our window into the backyard and saw something funny. I should mention that our yard is framed by two-storey high concrete walls. It looked like a giant crack had opened up in the concrete, about 6 feet off the ground. But it was moving! Can you guess it? You’re right, it was a worm! A worm inching up the side of the wall. Is that even possible?? Apparently it is here.

Snails

Perhaps that worm had been watching our local snails with envy, because those little shits climb all over everything. And I say little shits because they quite literally shit on everything they climb over, which, as I said, is everything. They leave disgusting slimy poops on the outsides of our windows, all over the walls and on the paths.

There are about 4 or 5 living in our yard. They have this little routine where they ooze up the worm-famous concrete wall every morning, release a giant trail of excrement, then head back down to overnight in the garden. It seems like a long way to go just to poop. I don’t really get it. But then again, they are snails.

I used to love snails. I thought they were cute and so interesting with their retractable eye stalks. Now, when B tells me he accidentally stepped on one while taking the garbage out, I add a victory chalk mark to the “human” side of the board in my mind. Oh, and by the way, if you step on one of those suckers, a bunch of poop squirts out, as you would expect. It’s not pretty.

Miscellaneous others

I think I’ve mentioned before about whip scorpions. They look awfully creepy, and the first time we saw one, we spent the rest of the night looking them up on the internet because we were freaking out. But it turns out they are harmless and people even keep them as pets. Interesting fact: they’re also called vinegroons because they can excrete acetic acid when scared, to drive off enemies. I figured that was a bit of an exaggeration, but then I startled one of them once and it let rip. It was so vinegary that I ran away. Win for the scorpion! They’re cool, you should look them up.

Mosquitoes are a given here. They bite us, we get dengue. You know the drill.

We also have huge bees. I mean, these things are gigantic. Unfortunately, I’ve never managed to capture one on film… but, trust me, I would say some are as big as 2 or 3 inches long. They’re like hummingbirds. I have no idea what happens if you are stung by one of those suckers, and I hope I never find out.

Last but not least, we do have cockroaches. Actually, they’re some of the least common visitors in our house, but once in a while they come up through the drain or pop out of a kitchen drawer. If that happens, we try to kill them with whatever is handy, while at the same time J tries to catch and collect them as her “cockroach friends”. Once, I was sitting in the bathroom enjoying some alone time when I heard some tiny scritch-scratchy sounds. They got louder, and I was starting to feel genuinely worried. Then all of a sudden a pair of antennae popped out of the overflow drain in the bathtub, followed by a wee cockroach head. But then the rest of it failed to appear because it couldn’t get out, and it was pretty much stuck. So we killed it with a piece of cardboard box, because it was handy.

You might be asking, how do we deal with all these creatures when there are no cardboard boxes around?

Well, we’ve started having the exterminator guys come once a month to fog for mosquitoes, ants and termites. It was a tough call, choosing between having bugs or cancer… but at least our bread is now ant-free every morning.

On a more fun note, there are these crazy fly swatters you can buy here that are electrified. They look like tennis racquets but the strings are metal and charged with electricity. Unfortunately, they’re highly immaneuverable and it’s basically impossible to hit any bugs with them. We mostly just use them to freak out the kids. This is what we do for entertainment around here. Seriously.

So when are you coming to visit?

On the road again

Well, folks, it’s been a while since the last update. Sorry!

But I’ve found a few free moments at the Jakarta airport, so I will try to give you a rundown of the happenings lately.

The past two weeks have been a busy, regular routine. Both kids (and frankly, everyone in town) caught some kind of stomach bug/flu/cold that took them out for a while. But luckily it was not dengue or typhoid fever as I generally suspect. I’ve heard of a few cases of dengue, but we’ve made it through safely so far. It’s also been raining. A lot. Jakarta keeps flooding, though Bogor has been fine. It has increased commuting times, so most of my energy disappears in those long drives.

We went into the city last weekend for yet another fancy brunch. This one was a “jazzy” lunch at the Ritz Carlton. It doesn’t get jazzier or ritzier than that – fancy little foods, foie gras on everything, and a bunch of seafood. I didn’t try the oysters, but it was just as well because everyone who did was a bit ill the next day. I guess even class doesn’t stave off salmonella.

Brunch out

After brunch, we visited the “totally legal” DVD mall, and stocked up on something like 60 discs. Granted, most of them were blockbusters like “Mulan II” and “Meet the Robinsons”, but at least the kids were happy. Also, they cost like Rp. 6000 each, so it is pretty hard to overspend. We managed to get a few adult movies (not that kind), and some new releases, so we feel a bit more in touch with cinematic reality.

Earlier in the weekend, we started up what will hopefully become a regular poker night in the neighbourhood. I won. (It paid for brunch.)

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Otherwise, I’ve been busy this week planning some trips, including the one I’m about to take. A work-related conference is bringing me to NYC for the week, and my family and best friend are coming down from Canada to meet me! So I couldn’t ask for a better vacation/trip. Exciting work, friendly faces, exploring the big apple. Expect some more travel posts soon!

Also, we’ve decided to take a spring trip to Sri Lanka with the family. So we’ll be visiting for about 10 days over easter. This has taken a lot of organizing (and money), but it’s going to be fantastic. We’re doing it all: beaches, safaris, tea country, culture. Expect even more travel posts soon!

All in all, things are going well. This country is starting to feel like home now, and sitting here in the airport before my trip is already making me homesick for Indonesia. Or maybe I just miss these cuties already.

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I might check in later from Doha. Otherwise, see you on the other side of the world!