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”.
It’s been two months now since we moved, and in so many ways the time has flown by. Sure, we’ve had our share of challenges and frustrations, but I think what has surprised us the most is how quickly our new house and school have felt like home. Our old house in Bogor was a lovely building, but B put it best when we moved out: “It felt like we just spent two years living in a hotel lobby.” Something about that place never fit with our lives – it was a bit barren, sterile, unloving, and the space just didn’t flow – maybe the feng chui was off, or it was built on some kind of indian burial ground, or something like that. Anyway, it was nice to be there, but we never really settled in.
Our new place just feels right. Sure, it’s a bit of an upgrade to the house itself: now with a pool, reliable hot water, bigger kitchen, plus we have friends living right next door. And the area is much improved, within walking distance of a big mall, lots of shops and restaurants. Of course that means we’re in a loud, hot, smoggy part of town, but the do evenings cool off and we aren’t bothered too much by the noise. But besides all that, the house feels more like us. Less pretentious? More comfortable? I don’t know. Here are some of my favorite spots in the new house:
The only downside to the move is that now I commute about 3 hours a day. Most days it’s not so bad, and really, I rather like driving myself to and from work. It’s a good chance to unwind and be “off the grid” for a few hours. And so far, I’ve managed to get home within 2 hours of leaving the office. Except for the first night, when there was a freak flooding in our neighborhood and I got trapped for hours on the road. Hopefully that’s an uncommon occurrence…
Meanwhile, the kids have settled into their new school almost instantly. The teachers are all very supportive, and with a bigger school, we’re getting a lot more opportunities to try new activities and have a more varied curriculum.
As for B, he’s settling in too. Jakarta has a lot more to offer for foreigners, and I think he definitely feels more comfortable here.
This past weekend we traveled down to Pelabuhan Ratu on the south coast of Java. Another group of friends made the plans and booked a villa to celebrate a few birthdays, and they very kindly let us tag along. We went into it knowing that the trip takes a long time, the roads are crap, the beach is beautiful but basically unswimmable, and the places to stay are of questionable quality. After writing that out, I’m sort of wondering why we went… but it had to be done for the sake of adventure!
Knowing that the traffic can be bad, especially on a weekend, we decided to leave early after lunch on Friday. The rest of the group was planning to leave Bogor at 7 or 8 at night, which was just too late for us with the kids. So we piled into the car with our friend and set out. I drove. Now, to put this trip into perspective, here is a google map showing our route:
Okay, 110 km, just under 3 hours. Sounds pretty reasonable, considering we are driving through a volcano range in Indonesia… Actually, just writing that makes me wonder again why we did it.
The drive started slow as we headed up the first mountainside. There was a lot of traffic, and, as it turned out, several of the roads were under construction, slowing down even more what was already our snail’s pace. But, I pulled a couple of *ahem* questionable passing lane moves (basically I just drove into oncoming traffic until I couldn’t any more, that’s a thing here), and it only took us an hour or two to get through the slowdown.
By then, we had reached the “bad” part of the road. I would describe this section of road as 30% road and 70% potholes. And very curvy. Luckily, LittleB only barfed once. I think that’s a pretty good average for this road, from what I’ve heard. Apparently there was a former school principal who used to go up every weekend and his kid would be sick in the car every time. That sounds like a good family bonding activity to me! We averaged about 25 km/h.
Six and half hours later, we rolled into the hotel.
We stayed at a charming villa nestled into the side of mountain, overlooking the coast. It was built of teak and boasted of luxury on its website. The truth? It was kind of a crazy haunted mansion / grade 5 matchstick building project / Frankensteinian monstrosity dangling precariously off the edge of a cliff. Yes, it was made out of teak, but it looked as though someone took parts of other buildings and glued them haphazardly together, holding it all up with random pieces of wood and twine. Also, the driveway was at about a 75 degree incline, which our automatic Avanza was not happy about.
Anyway, we were the first ones to arrive, so we had our pick of rooms. Originally, we were supposed to be in the Panorama room, which I assumed was the nicest because it cost more. It turned out to be a strange little room at the bottom of the house (without a panoramic view, despite its name), and it only had three single beds in it. There is nothing comfortable about squeezing two above-average-sized adults and two children into three single beds (let’s be honest here, they were actually cots), plus to reach the room you had to travel down an unlit, slippery, misshapen walkway. Um, no. So we took the room upstairs that had a king bed in it. At least we mostly fit into that one.
Other than the wasp nest in the bathroom, the rest of the accommodations were ok. Oh wait, there was also a pool. I use this term loosely. It was kind of a little rectangle of water surrounded by a bunch of old wood and tarps. It’s possible someone swam in it once… but no one ever found them again, so it’s impossible to know for sure.
By the way, the rest of our party arrived at 2 am.
We spent the day on Saturday at the beach. It was beautiful. Big waves, dark, ferrous sand, rugged coastline. But the undertow was vicious. I didn’t even bother putting on my swimsuit, because I didn’t want to float away. The only people in the water were professional surfers. And B.
I stayed on the beach with the kids, building sandcastles and digging up crab holes. Once in a while, a giant wave would sweep onto shore and wash everything away. Like our friend’s flip flops. Like the kids. Like J’s swimming suit. Seriously, it got ripped right off of her, or rather, she got pulled right out of it. I had to choose: J’s bottoms or J herself? It was a tough choice (we paid 20 bucks for those shorts, they were Roxy brand!). In the end, I went with the kid. She spent the rest of the morning in her underpants. At least she thought it was hilarious.
Here is videographic evidence of such a wave:
Eventually the waves got big enough that even B had to give up, so we headed to a resort down the beach for lunch. We spent the afternoon enjoying beers and pasta on the beach, watching the local kids play some rousing games of football and “dunk your friends in the ocean” (I’m assuming that’s what it was called).
That night, we just stayed in and got drunk. It was a birthday party, after all. I don’t have any photos, so you will just have to believe me.
Sunday morning came early, as usual, with a bright-eyed J up and at ’em at 5 am on the dot. We Cayas tend to have a GTFO attitude on the last day of a vacation, ready to just throw everything in the car at 5:30 and head out. I hate suffering under the looming trip home. But we waited it out to spend a few more precious hours on the beach. And drink some caffeine.
Mid morning, we headed out back on the road, thinking it couldn’t possibly be worse than the trip up. WE WERE SO WRONG. First of all, it took us nearly two hours just to get away from the coast. It would appear that every person on the island of Java was at the beach that day. And there was only one lane of the road open because of construction.
It took another six hours to make it through the mountains and back into Bogor. At one point, we literally sat still in traffic for about an hour. It was a long ride… But we made it home in time for a dinner of fruit loops and peanut butter. We live a charmed life.
Moral of the story: Don’t go to Pelabuhan ratu.
Bonus feature. We found this video on the camera that LittleB took of himself. He appears to be narrating our lunch at the resort on Saturday. It’s amazing, so we figured we should share it with the internet. Enjoy!
This Thursday was the Islamic New Year, giving us a long weekend from school and work. Without a driver, we decided to once again brave the roads on our own and head to the nearby mall. It had been some time since we went to the theatre and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
There’s a theatre chain here called XXI (21), and we’ve seen them in all the big malls. I checked out the website and it looked like there was a matinee showing of Wreck-it-Ralph. Perfect! And it was only $5 per person. Even better!
This time, B decided to drive, and we headed out early to miss the afternoon traffic. We got to the mall early and did a bit of shopping until the theatre opened. Half an hour before the movie we headed in.
Basically, this theatre was exactly like any other – except that it was much better. First, we got to choose our seats at the cash – a very nice feature (and next time we’ll go early to get better ones). The seats were plusher, in better condition, and the trailers started before the actual movie time, so our 12:30 show actually started at 12:30! Did I mention this only cost 5 bucks each, and it was a 3D show??
Oh yeah, and the movie itself was good too. I think this is going to become a regular family activity!
Otherwise, we spent today (Friday) doing a little more shopping in Jakarta for those hard to find items. Like salami. Tomorrow is a family BBQ at my work, so that’ll be fun. We’re making potato salad. B bought a $9 bag of imported bacon bits and has thus proclaimed that his potato salad is going to “blow everyone away.” I’ll let you know!
Today is Saturday, which means we don’t usually have our driver and are thus trapped in the neighbourhood. But, we very much wanted to go swimming at my work. What to do? I drove!
This is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. Everyone is nervous about the traffic when they move here. It is a weaving, confusing dance of motorcycles and angkots, plus the roads run opposite to what we’re used to. Many of our expat friends here have never driven, but many have, and do so on a regular basis. I would much rather be the latter. I’ve been chafing a bit at our dependence on a driver, and certainly it would be nice to make a quick trip to the store on our own should we need to, for example.
So today was the day! Luckily we had some friends going too, so I was able to follow behind them. I was more concerned about the directions than the driving. And actually, I didn’t find the traffic too bad. It’s busy and complex, but relatively slow and low tension. No one is in a rush here, and despite the congestion, everyone is patient. This is not to say I’m ready to drive for hours into Jakarta – we’ll be bringing our driver with us for that tomorrow!
We haven’t posted since Halloween, mostly because nothing very exciting has happened. We did have a second round of Halloween celebrations with the school, where the kids got to “trick or treat” a bit at neighbourhood houses, followed by a dinner and dance at the school. Then last weekend, one of J’s classmates (the daughter of one of my colleagues) had a birthday party. All that partying really took it out of us!
Since then, B’s been under the weather this week with some sort of tropical stomach bug. Someone had amoebic dysentery last week, so hopefully that’s not what he has! Don’t worry, moms, it’s not. But we have heard about a few cases of dengue already starting, which is making me a little nervous. Hopefully we can make it through this season without getting it. In other news, we’re heading into Jakarta tomorrow, mostly just to buy some $10 cheerios at the import grocery store. But we might find something exciting to do while we’re there. Stay tuned!
Here are some b-roll pics from the past few posts for your viewing pleasure:
Yesterday was the start of our mini vacation in Bali. So this morning, I was looking forward to waking up in our spacious rented bungalow and enjoying a beautiful day beside the pool and/or beach. Instead, I lay awake all night in a tiny bed in a disappointing hotel next to the Jakarta airport. Yes, folks, we missed our flight out yesterday and had to hole up here overnight.
Let me give you the full story.
Thursday morning, we wake up at 5 am. Our departure was scheduled for 1:30pm, so we spent the morning getting ready. Was 5 am too early for this? Yes, but that’s the time J wakes up every morning and I want you to feel our pain.
I took the morning off work, so I spent some time answering emails and such while the kids harassed everyone in sight. Now, traffic in Jakarta is bad, we already know this, so we planned to leave with plenty of time. In fact, last time we travelled, we got to the airport too soon because we left so early. We decided to leave just after 10 am.
It’s 11ish and we’re about halfway there, but traffic is starting to concern me. There are more cars than usual and we’re being held up in long lineups at toll booths. The kids are getting restless and B has woken up from his nap in the car. I figure we still have lots of time, though, don’t panic. Then we start hitting actual traffic jams – maybe there are some accidents, maybe it’s unexplainable, I don’t know. I start sending panicked texts to my coworkers for advice. But the traffic clears, and we think we might make it! Arrive at the airport at 1 pm – we’re cutting it close! Race to the counter for check-in: and THEY WON’T LET US CHECK IN. Apparently you have to arrive 45 minutes before the flight leaves to check in. Sure, I get it, I hate people who are late, and I understand having to make a cut-off time. But seriously, with just under half a hour before the flight leaves?? Surely we can run for it. Nope. We are officially turned away.
Thus begins a 2-hour saga of panicked calls to our travel agent. Every single flight on every single airline is booked for the day (it’s a long weekend). And our original flight/hotel bookings are non-refundable, so we can’t even bail on the trip. We eventually settle on a flight leaving Friday afternoon on a different airline and book a room at a nearby hotel for the night. Unfortunately, this means that 1) we pay for a whole new flight, 2) pay a no-show fee for the original flight that is basically the equivalent of the original tickets, 3) pay for a night in the airport hotel, and 4) pay for the night in our hotel in Bali, even though we are not staying there. This trip just got very expensive. You know how in Home Alone, the family just travels all over and stays in random hotels as their plans fall through because of the kid? I always thought it seemed crazy and imagined just how much money they were spending to do it (I was a weird kid). Now I know how they feel. They were rich, though, so maybe they didn’t care so much.
And, it turns out, we managed to pick a hotel that we suspect is the gay Asian businessman hookup point. That in itself is not an issue, but the fact that it feels like we walked into the eighties is. It’s all neon and block lettering. There’s a a karaoke bar, a “music lounge”, a fusion restaurant and a festive spa treatment area. They did let us ride in a golf cart to our room, though, so that’s a plus. The view from our room? Not as good.
Anyway, Bali trip take 2 happens later today.Wish us luck!
And… we finally have a car! It’s a Toyota Avanza, about as cool a 7-seater family vehicle as we could have gotten. Well, and the only other choice was a Toyota Kijang.
So it turns out that getting a car here is about as suspiciously easy as everything else. I asked my HR team if I could have a car and it just kind of showed up. Tah dah!
Now to figure out how to drive it…
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:
There are Cat Ovens in Indonesia. All over the place.
I don’t know how to break this to some of you, but Cat Ovens are quite popular here in Indonesia. I have found that there is usually one Cat Oven every couple of city blocks or so, at least on the main strips. Apparently, the competition among them is pretty fierce, so much so that they sometimes employ someone to hang around intersections and try to procure business while cars are stopped at a red light.
They’re not shy about what they do, either, and there is a certain amount of pride at working at a Cat Oven: it’s a much better job than some others, and you are helping keep the streets clean and looking their best.
I’ve seen different Cat Ovens: some are small little shacks that I would be worried about the cleanliness of, others are large, massive facilities about the size of a large gas station, and clearly make sure that they keep themselves in tip-top condition. The cleaner ones, I imagine they are vying for the valuable expat clientele, who it might surprise you use the Cat Ovens far more often than the locals. You would think it were the other way around, right?
Also: “Cat Oven” means “Paint Kiln” – for baking on car detailing/repainting.
So macet means congestion. As in, traffic congestion.
I have a feeling macet is going to be a word that we’re going to come across in Bogor quite a bit. Traffic here is a whole different ballgame compared to what we’re used to back in Canada, and the fact that they drive on the left side of the road is just a small part of a completely different vehicular landscape.
First of all, there are no traffic lines anywhere. No lanes. It’s absolute chaos, yet it’s a very organized chaos. Everyone seems to know where they fit in, how much space they have on the road, and where everyone else is. Now, road awareness is a fairly admirable trait in North America, but here in Indonesia, it’s made even more impressive by the fact that people literally zip in and out of traffic seemingly at will. You need to be paying attention at all times, because there is a 100% chance of having a motorcycle squeeze between two cars, finding a space that wasn’t there mere seconds ago, and cut your car off. Some vehicles will be going 30-40km, others 70km/h. All on the same roads. There are no real speed limits (or none that I can see anywhere / none that seem to be enforced), though if you can get going past 70km/hr anywhere, consider yourself lucky. Which brings me to my next fun travel fact…
CONGESTION. It’s everywhere. And with all the motorcycles fighting the cars and mini-buses (“angkots”) for space on the roads at any point around town, it’s unavoidable. There seem to be certain spots where the congestion is worse than others, though: intersections. Traffic seems to flow fairly well, until you see the glimpse of an intersection on the horizon. Traffic lights mean a sure-fire 10 minute wait, at least. And the funniest part is that drivers don’t seem to pay much attention to the lights themselves, they are more focused on the “traffic directors”, people who dress in plain clothes and carry a whistle, forcing cars around. You’d think they were police, but no. Just random plainclothes Indonesians moving traffic in the busiest intersections I’ve ever seen.
There are even people who make a living doing this: they occupy small intersections with no traffic lights, and literally will move in front of traffic, hand in the air signaling for oncoming traffic to stop and let someone through, in exchange for a few thousand rupiah (around $0.20CDN).
I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it sooner or later, and by get the hang of it, I of course mean pay someone who has been driving in this elaborate labyrinth of asphalt and metal his entire life to do it for me.