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.

Moving on… again

I’m finally back online after a long summer of avoiding my laptop like the plague. I just couldn’t bring myself to open it up, even for personal activities like blogging. I think I might have had a bit of computer PTSD or something… anyway, here we are again, starting the transition to somewhere new, and all the hauling around of our stuff that it entails.

About six weeks ago, I packed up the last of our life in Indonesia and hopped on a plane to spend the summer at home in Canada. B and the kids were already there, having left as soon as school ended in late June. I stuck around to wrap things up, including two intensive weeks of sorting and cataloguing our things in anticipation of moving them. In the end, it took three days and 108 boxes for our household to be loaded onto a shipping container – I can’t believe that only a few years ago, we dumped a handful things into only 7 boxes for our move to Indonesia! Where did the 101 other boxes of things come from?

It was an interesting packing process. A troupe of guys showed up with some flat cardboard and Tetrised our stuff into approximate rectangles – putting pillows and kitchen containers into the negative space of a chair, for example – then placed the rectangle on a piece of cardboard and custom-built a box up around it. It was cool, but I’m pretty sure some of these boxes are not going to fit into any other place that we live in the future…

So where are our 108 boxes headed? Well, hopefully they haven’t been lost at sea (I recently read “The Wave”, which has left me with a deeply unhealthy obsession with cargo ships sinking randomly… you should read it) – but assuming they have made it across the ocean, the plan is to meet them in Switzerland, where we’ll be based for at least the next two years. I got a new position with an international organization there, so we’re looking to settle just north of the Geneva area.

Back in May, I visited Switzerland during my job interview process. Although I was hoping to do a bit more sightseeing and didn’t have a chance, I did spend a few hours wandering around the small villages north of Geneva and in Geneva itself:

So, that brings us to today. Here we are, traveling on the train to begin a complicated dance of getting ourselves out of the country: me and the kids are taking this train into Montreal, where we will stop at the Swiss embassy to drop off our passports. B is currently driving to Montreal with a friend – and our 8 pieces of luggage – stopping at our airport hotel to drop everything off and meet up with us later in the day. Then we pick up our passports and visas tomorrow and fly to Geneva from there. Aaaannnd that’s about all we have planned.

We don’t have a place to stay temporarily, or anywhere to live permanently. The kids are already missing school (which started yesterday, and which they’re not registered for anyway), and we have too much luggage for us to manage on any kind of public transport.

But I guess not knowing what the heck we’re doing is part of the fun.

See you in Switzerland!

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.

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!




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

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.

Selamat Thanksgiving!

Hello family and friends! I’m so happy to report that we finally have internet at home, and we’re (mostly) settled into our new house. It’s been a very busy, very long week. So I have lots to tell you and plenty of pictures! We’ll see how many I can upload.

When I left off earlier, we had just signed the lease and were looking forward to moving in. That was last weekend. We checked out of my work’s guest house/motel on Sunday morning, with fingers crossed that we would be able to get into the house that afternoon. The owners weren’t sure they would have everything out in time.

In the meantime, LittleB had been invited to a classmate’s birthday party, taking place at the kids’ fun centre/arcade at the mall. So we went there for the party and to buy a few essentials for a night’s stay at the house. The party was crazy! Imagine a bunch of kids, filled with sugar, running crazy in a party room in the middle of a noisy arcade. And this was Asia-level noise, so you basically couldn’t talk over the screaming kids’ music and screaming kids. Also, as some of you may remember from my post about brunch in Jakarta, there is an obsession with costumed figures visiting parties. We had a rather dingy-looking Dot? I’m not even sure. And LittleB managed to clock the birthday boy’s dad over the head with his pinata stick. We’re never going to get invited back! After all the candy and a poorly managed game of musical chairs, the kids headed out into the gym zone to run around crazy.

The gathering before the party storm
The kids all made a beeline for the balloon tree
The most elaborate Ben 10 cake ever made. Oh, and a photobomb by the creepy Dot (?) character
Pinata scramble! This very inadequately captures the chaos that was actually involved in this
All J got from the pinata was a tiny bear. But she loves it
LittleB in the bowels of the ball room
J playing on a spinner
No arcade is complete without a creepy batman ride!

That afternoon, we found out that we couldn’t get into the house. Yikes. Luckily, we had some very nice friends willing to put us up for the night. They’re here from England for a year, with a daughter in J’s class and a toddler boy. It was another night of crazy kids running around – thank goodness for face paints! Good for at least 48 seconds of quiet.

Butterfly J
Vampire B

On Tuesday, we got notice that we could go get the photos done for our Indonesian driving licences. The secretary at work said that the driver would know where the place was, and another colleague said it was very easy – just walk in, say your name, and it’s done. Ok, that’s sounds easy enough. So we head off. Now, one complication: we don’t speak Indonesian very well yet, and our driver does not speak English. After some back and forth, and gesturing, we figure out how to tell him to take us to the police station. He drops us off at what we assume is the front entrance, but of course, as soon as we walk into this tiny room filled with smoke and two sketchy guys sitting at a filthy card table…. we figure we’re in the wrong place. Luckily, I have learned enough of the language to say “Photo??” (hah, actually it’s the same word), and they send us down the hall. The next room had a nice lady cop in it, who sent us further down the hall. Finally, we get to a hallway filled with locals and tiny kiosk windows that was obviously the right place. But now what? I furiously start translating all the signs above the kiosks, and figure out how to say “appointment” in the language. Eventually we make it to a tiny sitting room that seems to be the right place. B gets up enough courage to announce our arrival to the guys in the window. Five minutes later, we’ve been fingerprinted and photographed, given our new identities, and sent on our way. No one else was out of there nearly as fast. I think we’ve just perpetuated someone’s belief that foreigners are entitled pricks. To be fair, the waiting room was pretty horrible. Enjoy the photo!

I was trying to be subtle, so it’s hard to see much. But it was packed, filthy, and mildly depressing.

In the middle of all this, my work had its annual meeting. This is when all the staff from the regions and here at headquarters come in for a week of brainstorming, learning sessions, and administrative housekeeping. So I had long days, lots of tasty food, and just a bit of stress! Thankfully, they know how to put on a good show. We all went to a “masquerade” party on the Friday night. It was lots of fun – dinner, drinks, African dancing! B took the kids home around 9, and let me stay out to dance the night away. I met lots of new friends, learned some interesting things, and I can’t wait for next year.

All face painted (again) for the masquerade!
Bat kid
This is the sports hall – normally a very unassuming place. Hooray for cheap labour and materials!
Our friends from the African offices doing a traditional dance
And everyone else dancing!

Now on to the house! We’re renting it from a rather rich family who own a lot of property in the area – in fact, the owner’s parents live right behind us (in a mansion) and the brother is next door. It’s a townhouse-style place, as in, it is connected to the ones next door, but it’s an injustice to call it a townhouse. There are two floors and a mid-level den, 15-foot ceilings, four bedrooms, two kitchens, five bathrooms, two-car garage, three balconies, and maids’ quarters. It is partially furnished with some couches and a master bedroom set, not at all our style, but in good condition. We’ve hired a housekeeper/cook, who is very lovely, and the kids already like her. We also accidentally hired out from under another person at my work, since they only had her part time… whoops! And we have a driver, because, although we have our local licences, I don’t think either of us is ready to drive here yet.

P.S. I promised you I would tell you about banana surprise. It’s exactly what it sounds: for some reason the food here is often filled with “surprise banana”. For example, you buy a normal-looking bun from the cafeteria. Inside? Surprise banana! Quite literally a whole banana wrapped up in there. Want some breakfast foods? Surprise, deep fried bananas with cheese on top. It’s become a running joke now. Everyone tells to watch out for “surprise durian” when they come into season… gross.

News news news

Sorry for the short hiatus, everyone. We have just moved into our new house, so we are rather busy! Plus, there is no internet here yet. I’m using a cellular wifi unit right now, so I can’t upload much. But hang tight, I’ll post a longer message soon! Remind me to tell you about the following:

  • Our new house (of course)
  • Hiring a housekeeper and driver
  • Banana surprise
  • Indonesian kids’ birthday parties
  • Getting a local driver’s licence

For now, I’ll leave you with this picture:

Traditional Balinese welcome dance performance at my work – this week is our AGM.


Hunting the house

Now that we’ve settled into a bit of a routine as far as work and school goes, it has been time to get down to our pressing life business: house hunting.

In Canada, renting a house/apartment is fairly easy. You search online, check out ads in the paper, look around a bit, pay the landlord a small deposit – and voila you have accommodation. For comparison, let me try to detail the steps involved with renting a house here.

1. Learn Bahasa Indonesia, because the landlords, caretakers, groundskeepers, etc., do not speak English and are exceedingly unhelpful when it comes to the gesture-based language we’ve been using.

2. Get hold of the local house agent/language teacher who has cornered the expat rental market. But still expect to find houses on your own because she’s never going to get in touch with you.

3. Literally walk up and down streets, knocking on doors and forcing your cell number on the locals. Also, harass your new co-workers until they take pity on you and help.

4. Find a house you like. Check for termites (as in, check to see how many termites, since there are always termites), check for appliances (unlike termites, there are never appliances), check the hot water (there is never hot water), and try to find out whether the crazy guy in the yard is your new inherited help or just a squatter. Use gestures.

5. Negotiate the price…. and then pay it all at once for the whole year! Make sure you agree on all the fixes/changes you want done in advance, because once you’ve given them your money and something goes wrong… well, tough shit.

6. Move in and hope for the best!

All this aside, the prices are reasonable, and you can get a lot for your money. We’ve seen places that range anywhere from 60 million rupiah/year (approx. US$6000/yr) to US$1650/mo. But please, let me show you some examples:

Here’s a typical mid-range front entrance. We also captured a photo of the elusive rental agent!
A nice kitchen, upper range. Not the nicest we’ve seen, although it does have a fridge!
Another nice kitchen. This one is particularly western. I should point out that Indonesians have a “dry” kitchen and a “wet” kitchen – the dry one is mostly for show, and the wet one is hidden away in the back, for the cook to do her work without interrupting the household.
Lots of windows, always good.
Now this is more like it. There is always a free flow between indoors/outdoors here. So basically this is the dining room.
Love these little hidden gardens. They’re always part of the hallways and wide spaces in the houses.
A typical mid-range bedroom. No, this is not the master bedroom.
Love it! Bathtubs are rare, especially nice ones.
A gorgeous Balinese door frame.
The best part of these high-end houses are the wide, open spaces! Oh, did I mention this is the garage? Seriously, the garage.
……Aaaaaaand, here’s what 60 million rupiahs/year gets you. B stopped taking pictures after this because the landlady was cleaning out what appeared to be garbage left behind by squatters.

By the way, we’re currently somewhere between steps 3 and 4. A few houses have caught our attention, but unfortunately, we didn’t take any pictures of them. As soon as we’re serious about something, we’ll let you know!

Out and about

We’ve spent the last few days acting like real locals. First, we attended a celebration for Indonesia’s Independence Day at my work on Friday night. Then we visited with friends, went to the mall and toured around the city a bit on Saturday. Tomorrow, we’re looking forward to a family picnic day by the pool and then a dinner with some more friends. It’s like we live here or something!

Time to regale you with a bunch of pictures:

School and friends

This has been a busy week chez the Cayas. Both kids started on Monday at the international school, we’ve been (unsuccessfully) house hunting, and we opened a bank account!

At school, J is in a preschool-level class, which she already loves. Even the teachers commented on how she just walked in and started conversations with everyone (i.e., forced the other kids to be friends with her) and how she felt comfortable enough to play right away (i.e., used up all their art supplies). LittleB is in an SK/grade 1 class, which seems to be significantly harder than the schooling he took in Canada. It turns out that you actually have to learn here, and do homework and stuff. I think he’ll figure it out eventually.

Next up was our first house hunting trip. The local real estate agent took us to see two houses in the area near the school. I was pretty excited to see some houses, get a baseline for what we want and look at the prices. Unfortunately, it was a bit anti-climactic. We did see two houses, but when I say “see” I mean it quite literally. We were only able to see the outside of the houses, since the caretakers of both places were not there. So the grand culmination of our trip consists of these two photos:

And even after all that, we later found out that this particular house is the infamous “turtle house” – a few other colleagues had come to see it recently and told us that inside there is a showcase of taxidermied birds of paradise and a giant preserved galapagos turtle. I’m more concerned that my kids would actually like to live with those, so I think it’s a pass… At least there was a tiny dead lizard on the front step that the kids enjoyed stomping on, so the trip wasn’t totally wasted.

Then today, we braved the language barrier and headed to the bank to open a local account. I think we managed to open a savings account with something like 4% interest. So we deposited $2 million into it!! Before you get too excited, that’s about CDN$200. It was a big deal, though. I also it connected to B’s cell phone, I think? Or else I signed him up for cat facts, I’m not sure. Anyway, at least now I can actually get paid and we don’t have to hoard cash in our hotel room like the immigrants we are.

Coming up next: another “word of the day”.