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”.

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!