Sunday, April 25, 2004

Food and all that

Its Sunday morning. The better half is getting a much deserved sleep in and I’m watching the lil one, sort of, as she’s doing what most probably countless other kids are doing right at this moment, watching the flintstones and eating rice bubbles…

We had a good day yesterday. Went to visit some old family friends who had known me as a small boy, a family who have lived here in Indonesia since the 60’s. She is American, married an Indonesian, and they have an extended family that live both here in Indonesia and in Europe. There were a bunch of kids there, grandchildren with that particular Eurasian beauty from their mixed heritage. They made us very welcome, and laid on a feast of local dishes that had my mouth watering. Ah, the food!

I can just see the ears of my various siblings prick up at the word. You see, we are foodies, my family and I. Ever since I was a small child, food played an important part in our lives. Dinner was had at the dinner table every evening, and it was around this table that an appreciation of food developed in all of us. My father wrote a cookbook in the 70’s, one that is still recognised today by Indonesiaphiles as a classic in Indonesian food. My mother became an expert in whipping up exotic dishes that trained our taste buds from an early age. One of my earliest memories is that of the gatherings we used to have, my parents inviting friends over until the house was full to the brim with laughter and song, then laying on a feast of Indonesian dishes. As we got older, and moved away, and began to cook our own meals, the interest developed further. My mother once said on one of those rare occasions when we were all together, that ours must be the only family where food can be a main topic of conversation.

Indonesians are never satisfied with just a couple of dishes on the table; it has to be a plethora of them. Try and imagine dishes of different ingredients on the table before you, noodles and rice, assorted veggie dishes, meats and fish, eggs and chicken, all a dish of their own, cooked lovingly in spices, each different, each with a particular flavour that seemed to complement the next. This is what it was like yesterday.

We had just finished eating and I was savouring a delightful pudding wrapped in a thick rich sauce when another member of the family arrived. She had spent the morning cooking and was running a bit late. More dishes were laid out and I forgot all about my vow to keep the waistline down. It was just too tempting. More noodles, a different sort this time, fish in a glazing of saffron bright herbs and spices, peeled back off the bone to reveal succulent white flesh with a delightful aroma, another vegie dish, almost a soup, with small pieces of meat floating about, gentle on the palate, not heavily flavoured, and just perfect to wash away the heavy spiciness of the rendang. Ah, yes, the rendang. One of my all time favourite dishes, this was cooked to perfection, falling apart as your fork touched it, heavy in a rich dark almost dry coconut sauce. Then there were the light crispy fried potatoes chips, smothered in a sweet but tongue burning chilli sauce and mixed with fried peanuts. After it had all settled down somewhat, kopi tubruk was handed out, a rich black coffee made by simply pouring hot water over freshly ground coffee in a mug then allowing the grains to settle, then plenty of sugar added. Pure heaven!

We all sat around afterwards on the verandah, surrounded by a tropical garden of immense lush ferns and plants, taking in the quiet afternoon. As we relax and chat, a guitarist wanders past the high front fence, and hearing our voices, strums a few notes before launching into song. So we sit there, legs extended, somewhat full but just so content, and listen to a traditional folk song emanating from behind the fence. The deep melodic voice gathered around us, the song recognisable from my childhood memories. At that moment, the whole scenario of friends, food and song made me think of Pa and how much he would have enjoyed this gathering. I could see him so clearly, that booming laugh, his smile crinkling up his face till his eyes almost disappear, the great hrumph as he clears his throat and leans forward with one hand on his sarong clad knee, then the quick jest and more laughter, and I thought, thanks Pa for making all this possible. If he was anywhere that balmy evening, he was there with us.

When the musician was done, one of the children was given some money to hand to him, and the stillness of the late afternoon descended once again. It began to get dark so we got up to leave.
It had been a wonderful day.


Saturday, April 24, 2004

Reflections on blogging

I’ve been thinking lately about blogging. Given the thousands who are casting words out into the ether for their own satisfaction, it’s an interesting area when you take a closer peek.

What is it about writing a blog that gives so much satisfaction to so many? You only have to open www.blogger.com and refresh the page every now and then to catch the updated blogs of countless thousands. By doing this, you can wander through the inane and the curious, the interesting and lethargic, and find at times, if you’re lucky, a blog that really has something going for it. Almost all blogs focus on life, immediate mostly, and politics. I started my blog to avoid long emails and allow my family and friends to read, skip, pass over and otherwise decide what they wanted to hear from this side of the world…or not, as the impulse takes them.

Blogs have at their core more than the echo of attempted wanderings and musings. The approach that most bloggers and myself appear to be attempting consists of a narrative exploration that legitimises experiences. In doing so, varying perspectives surface, bringing the individual into a different relationship with the issue, thus setting the stage for a revised understanding. It’s also the sense of personal agency that one has in describing reality. This is the essence of the narrative letter that attempts to connect events across time. It doesn’t just reflect meaning; it represents a diary in which individuals provide meaningful experiences of their lives by using stories. It is these stories that shape and construct lives and relationships, real or imagined.

Our lives are narrated; we immerse ourselves in the retelling, reevaluating, and reworking of personal histories. To reshape ones world, the narrative is involved and utilised. By this I mean that each retelling allows a re-authoring, and a movement away from subjective/objective realities to a self centered dialogue of reinterpretation. In short, the re-authoring of life, the narrative telling of experience goes far beyond the flimsy gates of speaker/hearer.

In blogs, identification and understanding of elements for the receiver is no longer that important. It’s a journey of identification for both originator and receiver, allowing the fluidity of meaning to traverse formal, empirical evidence to situate itself in the imagination. Receivers will always try to interpret the meanings of narratives within a contextual framework that focuses upon similar aspects of social behavior. However, there are gaps that lie between, and the complexities of fractured narratives may avoid all the requirements of shared cultural signposts. In short, receivers seek their own understandings among the passages. When this occurs, the originator should be satisfied, for the narrative now bends to follow the person rather than the other way around. In other words, readers are free to make up their own minds on what they read once the words have been released onto the blog, while the writer is free to ramble on in their musings. A cosy co-existence :)

Thus, this blog.

(just one of those moments after spending a few hours wandering through countless blogs looking at what others are saying, and thinking, so what are we all doing here?)


Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Old Hands

We went to a childrens party yesterday. A colleague of mine invited us to drop round for his daughter’s first birthday. He’s an Australian, married to an Indonesian, and has lived here off and on for the last five years. We have talked, he and I, about this country, its place in our lives, and its power over those who foolishly think they can drop in for a few years then wander off again. I tell him about an article I read the other day that said expats living overseas for any longer than five years find it almost impossible to settle back into their old lives again. He agrees, and we exchange looks, our conversation lapsing into silence as we remember the bar we visited last week. It was filled with ageing expats, mostly Brits who wandered in wearing suits and gathered around various tables with an easy familiarity, looking as if they had gathered around those same tables for years. You soon find that most probably have, for behind the bar there hangs three huge wooden plaques with a roll call of honour of those expats who have frequented the bar on a regular basis. The first plaque started at 10 years of faithful attendance, the second at 15 and the 3rd at 20 years. And there weren’t just a few names on them, there were literally dozens.

The call of this country can be fierce, you can leave and think its gone forever from your blood, until for some obscure reason or another, there is a moment of clarity when one looks around at the humdrum of well maintained roads amongst well maintained gardens, rules and laws and regulations governing your every step, and realise that the place really hasn’t been rid of. It still lurks beneath, it might wait half your lifetime, colouring your life in a myriad of small ways, causing upheavals in the readjustment to home country. It has a ripple effect on what was once an easy familiarity with ones own culture. There is a sense of strangeness in which one realises that life at home is no longer so comfortable, so easy. Instead, it’s a touch bland, it lacks the energy and vibrancy of another place, a place harkened to in the still of the night. Nostalgia is no longer confined to the odd anecdote told to friends, but instead is actively engaged with: one finds oneself eating at Indonesian restaurants, getting together with other returned expats, spending hours discussing the latest political situation, or reminiscing about the favourite haunts, places to go, shopping, having a cook and maids, and so on.

Some returned expats begin to actively seek employment in their adopted country, others just land back again and start looking up the old network of friends, usually ending up with work of some type or another. For those though, the ones who most probably had a well paying job first time round, they might not be so lucky this time. They end up in dingy English teaching schools, or enter into short-term contract work, or consultant work that is usually intermittent at best. They find themselves living in small houses in suburban Jakarta, amongst the local people. They usually marry an Indonesian, have children, and go from strength to strength. Ties with the other old hands are retained, and you can usually find them grouped at one bar or another on a Friday night, discussing job prospects, life and family.

I met a Belgian the other day, has been here off and on since the 1980’s. He used to work with the UN, was posted here and fell in love with the country. Since then he has entered into various businesses, does consultancy work for any firm that hires him (he’s an engineer), and travels around a fair bit between Europe and Indonesia exporting and importing goods. He also has a restaurant, a little French place that serves the most exquisite escargot (imported from France), cooks when the mood takes him, or otherwise wanders around the tables chatting to old friends. It is constant networking that keeps him in business, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He gives me a very French shrug when I ask if he wouldn’t be better off back in home country. He smiles, “It’s not easy,’ he says, ‘but where else could you live a life filled with such possibilities?’ ‘Look’, and he waves his hand around the filled tables being served by graceful waitresses, ‘this is what I love’.

I look and try to see it through his eyes. It’s not difficult. It’s a beautiful evening, the air is soft with heat and humidity, candles waver on tables, and people sit back enjoying a slow evening of food and wine. There is a sense of timelessness here, no hurry, no need to rush anywhere, and life is good.

One begins to understand that for some people, living here is now their life, the deep attachment to their adopted country strengthening with each passing year, until they find themselves with no future plans of what to do when back home again. Instead, their future lies here.

The Belgian smiles and pours me another wine.

The Four Phases

Coming to a different country has a set of rules all of its own. There are, according to the old hands, at least four distinct phases of life here. For the first few months everything is viewed through rose coloured glasses, the incompetence of bureaucracy, the vacuous looks of misunderstandings, traffic jams, bouts of illness, longwinded smiling discussions concealing what is ostensibly, a full blown argument, …and one sees it as cultural oddities, curiosities to be dusted off and paraded at the next dinner table gathering as an amusing anecdote. Life is an adventure, and you bumble your way through it, treading on cultural niceties with gay abandon, not knowing any better and only realising much later on. Life is swell, it’s the honeymoon period and by god, you better enjoy it because it isn’t going to last...

The second phase is a slow process, an encroaching period of destabilisation, a time when you start to think of the good old days, the ordered traffic, the clean streets, the obliging official, and the food, yes, the food, as plain as it might be. A steak, a burger, a plate of shepherd’s pie. Then one begins to realise that there is a deep seated need for those things that are easily recognisable as being part of ones own upbringing and culture. You go through the process of gathering some semblance of your old life around you, providing a protective cloak against the vast depthless bulk of a culture that is, in its ultimate form, as alien as anything you could hope to come across. You start to shop at Kemchicks (a grocery store full of imported food stuffs), you play European music rather than tap the foot along to the local dangdut songs, you go to classier restaurants rather than the warung (road side food stall) down the road, and feel a sense of joy when finding a place that uses knives and forks rather than spoons and forks. And finally, you begin to seek and strike up relationships with other expats, having dinners together and a few beers.

The third phase begins sometime later, an opening of borders previously erected, the slow erasure of lines drawn in the sand as to what one would and would not do, as each incident give new meanings to the way of life here. Acceptance begins, cultural concepts and ideologies adopted. Finally, one is assimilated into the whole mad mass of what is, when viewed as objectively as possible, just that, a whole mad mass of humanity and timeless cultural traditions. This is when life begins to get better here, as you can still see yourself as an outsider and have become shrewd enough to play on it when it suits the occasion, but you can also fairly well blend into any gathering and situation, and come out relatively unscathed. You can speak knowledgeably about the new guy down the road and the troubles he’s having with his ‘pembantus’ (maids), offer advice to the pale skinned nervous looking chappie who blithely sets of international incidents through sheer ignorance (causing winces from the old hands), or wander down to the local ‘pasar’ to bargain as furiously as any Indonesian housewife for a difference of a few cents.

The fourth phase is the most dangerous one. I’ve seen it twice already, and it isn’t pretty. It doesn’t hit everyone, but it is one that most expats will encounter, and at the end of it, they either come through the other end with a stronger sense of who they are and why they are here, emerging with a new and renewed sense of self and the environment they live in coupled with acceptance and understanding...or they don’t.

But for the unlucky ones. Remember the cultural oddities and misunderstandings looked upon as just that, oddities? Well, they no longer are. Instead they gather force, a dust storm that looks fairly innocent in the distance but slowly and with inexorable ponderous might, it arrives choking and blinding, smothering all notions of easy cultural familiarity, leaving behind a staggering figure. The dust storm is usually caused by a number of seemingly insignificant incidents, possibly a small argument over money, a shirt lost at the laundry, a taxi driver who tries to rip you off, an obstinate official. But heres the thing. You find you can’t laugh it off at the dinner table. Resentment builds, anger and frustration replacing the calm acceptance. Friends are no longer treated to a casual anecdote about an incident, but instead subjected to the whole display, acted out in minute detail, every syllable stressed and explored, every gesture re-examined and focused upon.

Soon, those who were your friend’s start to edge away, declining invitations to a dinner they know will be filled with the latest outrage perpetrated upon their host. Newcomers to the country, pounced upon by the expat as a fresh audience, will fall into the trap of having to listen to the stories, repeated at various intervals by the now wild-eyed expat, almost as if by repeating them the demons will be chased away. But the old hands watch silently, sadly, knowing that their friend has joined the ranks of the lost. One of those who will, as sure as the sun rises, return to their home country a broken person, bitter and twisted by the last stages of their life here.

But, occasionally, after time smooths away the edges, after the healing properties of suburban normality affect our returned expat, s/he will start to see things differently again. The realisation begins to take hold, life wasn’t so bad, things weren’t so awful, I just needed a break that’s all. They console themselves with notions of returning, and after a long while, they return to start all over again, or… they don’t.


Saturday, April 17, 2004


It’s early evening now. I was sitting outside watching the sunset, the soft pinks and purples and oranges that run through the sky from one end of the horizon to the other, the air punctuated by the call of the local mosque, a chant and song of prayer that seems to lift up through the layers of the sunset. A sense of mysticism permeates the beginnings of the night, the calling to prayer and the ancient words of the Imam blending and rising and falling; somehow all this gives the sunset a special moment, a timeless segment of beauty as the sun dips below the horizon and darkness falls gently.

Though one cannot understand the words of the prayers it is easy to understand the time at which they have chosen to appeal to God, for it is a magic time. A time that rushes at one moment, the pinks and purples of the sky rolling and running into the ether, before slowing down and rendering the senses open to the multitude of colours, which seem to be drawn slowly, so slowly, in vast swathes across the sky with an elegant brush dipped in gold. Time stops for a few precious seconds, ones heartbeat murmuring softly beneath the warm air, then with gathering momentum the colours dissipate, subtly engaging with the enfolding dark blue, leaving behind a wondrous calm as the moon appears and the stars begin to scatter in their preconceived patterns across the sky.

The long night begins.


Friday, April 09, 2004

“The Passion”

A postscript to the DVD tales of the other day. I talked about the common acceptance of copied films being bought and sold amongst the people here. For the first time, yesterday I was given an insight into just how pervasive the whole thing is here. “The Passion of Christ”, undoubtedly a film that everyone who access to the media would know of by now, has been circulating as DVD for the past few weeks. It is openly available, though still in its first edition, thus the quality is a bit poor. How do I know? Read on.

Yesterday the school at which I teach had a church service for the students in the morning in anticipation of Good Friday, then the teachers were taken to the main church of the schools organisation (the Foundation). There, at least 300 teachers from all the other schools that belong to the Foundation, a single organisation of Christian bible based teachings (there are 7 schools, around 5000 students) had gathered to listen to a sermon from the leading church pastor. Once he was done, and the obligatory singing had taken place, the church was darkened and without fanfare, “The Passion” was displayed on two large screens suspended from the ceiling. We were not advised that they would be showing this film, nor were we asked if we would like to watch it. It was just…expected.

Immediately there arose a number of issues. With the full blessings of the Head of the Foundation (of which there are around 30,000 members) and its directors, a copied film was being shown to its entire personnel. The very large banner hanging across the front of the church inviting members and non members alike to come watch the film on Good Friday was advertising on a blatant scale, and could be read as the thumbing of nose at both copyright proprieties and federal law (the film is banned in Indonesia). Finally, asking the Foundations personnel to watch the film with little regard to personal choice made for interesting reactions.

For some people, national and expat alike, to have stayed and watched a film that is sickeningly violent or against personal beliefs was just not an option. A number of people began to quietly stand and drift back from the seating area, eventually finding their way through the back doors and out into the bright sunshine. As a few expat teachers got up and left, the school coordinator (answerable directly to the Foundation) came up to me and asked what was the problem. As he did so, the hugely amplified grunts of pain and cracks of a whip on the big screen almost drowned out our words. I explained that people were finding it too violent. He was slightly surprised, thinking we would have been more used to the violence, but had expected some national teachers to leave. He added that he had advised against showing it but was voted down by the Foundation. Our school pastor came up and said he was leaving, he also had strongly argued against the showing but to little avail. A number of national and expat female teachers left, visibly upset by the sheer brutality so carefully presented by Gibson et al.

As expats, we are somewhat shielded from the restrictions and unspoken laws that operate within an organisation as big as ours. We can act with some impunity, claiming cultural difference, an excuse that always seems to be the forgiving factor. We were thus free to make up our own minds as to what we wanted to do, though obviously with some reservations at to how it would be seen by the entire teaching force of the Foundation and to the Foundation directors themselves who were in attendance. A number of expats came up to me and told me they had to leave, the film was just not an option. After a quick headcount I realised that almost all of the expats were leaving, not just a few. I finally informed the school coordinator that unfortunately, expat teachers could not watch the film and could he please pass on our apologies to the Foundation. He accepted (quite graciously I thought), and those of us remaining made our way out through the backdoor, drawing a lot of looks though we tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.

The moral of the story is clouded. Personally, I believe watching copied films at home is one thing, showing them to mass audiences is an entirely different matter, even if some may think I am splitting hairs. More importantly however, the Foundation put its personnel in conflict with themselves and their culture. For an Indonesian, to leave the church would be perceived as an insult to the Foundation as it was obviously their wish that their personnel watch it. Indonesians are not, by sheer force of nature and culture, an openly resistant group. Respect for authority is paramount, and any display of rebellion or alternative viewpoints studiously avoided. It would have been an immense quandary for them. Some finally did take the step of leaving, and most probably will be worrying about it over the long weekend: will I still have my job on Monday, have I just destroyed any chance of promotion, will my immediate bosses single me out for abuse or worse, cut me out from the group (group harmony is critical in Indonesian society, to be ostracised would be akin to social death), have I just offended all my workmates by my lack of solidarity (after all, they stayed and watched it) etc.

There is no easy answer but for the first time, I was exposed to a set of thinking that was at odds with that of my own culture and values. Most times, one can find common ground and work within a paradigm of mutual understanding and tolerance. This time however, allowing an illegal film to be shown to all the teachers of a large organisation with the evident approval of their leaders, explicitly sends a very clear message. I.e. ‘we (the organisation) are above a universal understanding of copyright law’. Further, to expect its employees to sit through a film of undeniable violence which many would find repulsive, morally vague and ideologically inconsistent with their own beliefs, challenges the notion of fair go and common consent.

For myself, I urge people to be careful in their viewing of “The Passion”. It is but one persons interpretation of the bible, with extreme violence (that some may regard as necessary -‘lest we forget’), and promotes yet again the rewriting of historical understandings (I don’t use the word ‘fact’ as it is obvious that even the facts as recorded within the gospels are open to interpretation) by a director hell bent on promoting a particular viewpoint emanating from a position which discards Vatican II and the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) in which the council affirmed that "neither all Jews indiscriminately at the time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during [Jesus'] passion". That Gibson ignores this, and moves away from the conciliatory position of the Catholic Church who has tried to read the gospel of John and its selective memory based on oral tradition as a document manifest of political concerns of the time, leads one to question just what else has been omitted, distorted or changed to suit his biblical interpretation.

For some, this film is a literal translation of the bible and as such, is viewed as ‘gospel’, a position evident of the far-reaching power of the media. I am reminded of Naom Chomsky and his treatise “Manufacturing Consent”, his analysis on the theory and practice of propaganda in democratic societies. In it, he argues that populations are subjected to subtle forms of ideological control where the media mobilises public support for the "special interests" that dominate society through a process of selective interpretation and presentation, thus the term “manufacture of consent." I would extrapolate this further, and argue that a medium of media which promotes a supposedly alternative ideology to that of the mainstream may just be uncovering the thinly concealed prejudices of our past that have never really left us. If we were to accept this argument, then it is possible that “The Passion” is a vehicle endorsing a specific viewpoint that will inevitably draw Catholics and Christians alike back into a morass of suspicion and intolerance directed towards any who choose to take a different stance on the Jews, the Church, and Vatican II. Furthermore, one has to ask if the slow but steady liberalisation of stagnant, patriarchal and conservative ideologies found lurking beneath the various Christian denominations would decline, suppressed beneath the sheer weight of collective hysteria.

And all this because I went to church one day….


Monday, April 05, 2004

My First Time.
The afternoon started out somewhat slow, I guess I should have been forewarned that all would not go according to plan. At the apartment, I wait for my taxi, which eventually turned up nearly 50 minutes after my first phone call. The long wait is becoming more and more common lately, not sure why but am hazarding a guess the tight security that now envelops the whole area is a turnoff to the cabbies. The entrances to the complex (a few hundred acres of housing – which I really should spend time describing at some stage- with a four building apartment block in the middle) are guarded or locked. If you want to enter as a cabbie or visitor, you must leave your identity card with the guards and receive a token in return. There are only two gates open at any time, and even if you do get in, the roads are scattered with lowered and locked boom gates making it a maze of dead ends which would frustrate the most dedicated of mice. All of this came into being just before Christmas and eventually what was the solitary boom gate here and there, the yawning watchmen tilted back in a chair near the main gates, has turned into Fort Knox. Military dressed guards, no guns but large and ferocious looking knives strapped to their waists, stand at the gates, which are closed until a car approaches. The gate is opened and you approach cautiously, hitting a speed bump the size of a small elephant. He waves you down and a few words are passed between driver and guard. Even the drivers of the cabs are nervous around these guys, suddenly the driver is serious, and his every utterance punctuated with ‘pak’ (sir/mister), an almost servile subservience as he hands over his identity card.

Ask me why this sudden quasi military presence and you only have to look at the events of 1998:
Various Accounts One
Various Accounts Two
Rape Statistics etc
Analysis of the Rapes/Violence
The Riot Pattern: An Analysis

One day I’ll make some comments on that most infamous of years but suffice to say that with the housing complex consisting of almost 99 % Indonesian-Chinese, and after the murder, rape and looting of literally thousands of this ethnic minority group during the riots of ’98 and with the advent of the elections this year, these people are nervous. That this area was not touched during ’98 is most probably due to its isolation, resulting in skyrocketing property prices in the last few years. A friend told me his property had increased in value by 300 % in the last 3 years alone. Thus, this is now predominantly a Indonesian-Chinese enclave, and given their above average wealth, no doubt they played a major part in installing the security measures.

But I digress. The cab finally arrives and I head out to Glodok, a large shopping area with plaza and markets, teeming with people. A friend from overseas had written with a request for some movies. DVD copies are a major industry here in Jakarta. I won’t enter into the legalities etc as we all know that copied DVD’s are highly illegal, ethically unsound and a significant cost to all the main players involved in their production, let alone the small businesses that try to sell them at the legal rate. No surprise that trying to find a legitimate DVD shop is almost impossible in Jakarta. Video rental shops are few and far between – why rent when you can purchase the same movie at the same cost? Everyone else does it, why not me? I’m supporting the poor buggers selling them in the street aren’t I? And so on and so on...one can justify buying copied DVD’s until the bulls are lowing at the window, but in the end the excuses are meaningless, there are some things one just comes to accept as being part and parcel of living here.

The plaza was teeming, as were the streets, as were the walkways, in fact the whole place looked like a massive mad anthill. It was a busy Saturday and the people were out in force. I head up to the film market place, a warren of dozens of stalls situated behind the plaza but at the last moment change my mind and decide to wander inside the plaza instead. Almost immediately stumble across a shop selling DVD’s with thousands of titles. Check them out and yes, all the latest films plus ones going back a number of years. There is a system one has to use when buying films. First off, never just buy, instead choose titles then go up and give them to the girl always sitting behind a DVD player. A TV is mounted on the far wall at ceiling height and you get her to play each movie, checking that its quality is good. Often, new release films will by faded or jumpy or, as fitting in with the norm, evident of someone sitting in a cinema holding a digicam, every now and then you may see a patron get up and go across your screen, or the disk is low quality and scratched etc. But, by the time it hits its 3rd edition, the films are as good as you can buy legal retail.

Once done, one hand weighted by the bag of films, I wander down to get a taxi back home, where as it is approaching dusk, the frenzy of traffic and pedestrians is even crazier than before. I walk along, looking for a cab, when suddenly a fellow rushes up to me and starts slapping at my right jeans clad leg. Looking down, I see the remnants of a glowing cigarette being put out against my leg and thank him for his trouble, thinking I must have brushed against someone with a lit cig and caught the end of it against my jeans. Even now, I can still remember feeling the unease at being so handled by a stranger; this is not something one normally would accept here. As I twist around to look at my right leg and the fellow crouching almost behind me, another stumbles and pushes me against a parked m’bike. I recover quickly, thank the guy again, and wander on, hand patting the right front jeans pocket where I always keep my wallet. Only a fool would carry the wallet in the back pocket, too easily lifted, and I am reassured by the thunk of my palm hitting it. Take another ten steps and then realise that I didn’t check my left front pocket, slap it, and… its empty. Stand there, total disbelief, madly slap my other pockets but no, no mobile phone. The buggers had actually unclipped the mp that was inside my front pocket, slipped it out, and were away before I even realised. Whip around to scan the crowds but all I see are the teeming masses. I couldn’t even begin to describe the fellow who patted out the burning cigarette. It all happened so fast.

Its interesting to look back now at the surge of emotion to know that you have been done good and proper. Rage, disbelief, then rage again, followed by an icy calm as you begin to accept and then work through what you should be feeling. I fantasised of catching the hand dipping into my pocket, and yelling, “Copet! Copet!” (pickpocket) at full-strength, and watch the undoubted ensuing fracas and beating the bloke would get. People would have descended onto this fellow with force (I witnessed this angry mob phenomenon just a few weeks ago, same place, when a fellow was caught after pick pocketing, literally dozens of people chased him, the mob surrounded him after he was caught, I can only imagine what happened to him, but it would not have been a pretty sight by any stretch of the imagination), for there is no love lost between pickpockets and the general populace. Then I realise that while it may have given a certain amount of satisfaction at the time, I would have been wracked by guilt afterwards. So, you stand there, amongst the swirling patterns of people and traffic, amongst the dirty drains and broken pavement, and take a moment. Deep breath then start the legs walking again. Aimlessly now, for I need the time to think things through. I begin to rationalise, he would have only stolen because he needed to, the mp is just a possession, I’ve been travelling for years and have come across some extreme situations, been in and around the worst dives and people, slept in the blackest of places, and I’ve been lucky. I’ve never been assaulted, robbed, mugged, or taken advantage of.

This is it. My first time.

Another deep breath, and at this moment a calm of acceptance descends, I start looking for a cab. Time to go home and see the better half and lil one.

At The Pool
The pool is our saving grace living in this apartment block, it is a place to unwind after work, spend a Saturday or Sunday, a place to bring the lil one out of the air-conditioned rooms and into the (I was about to say fresh air but I’d be kidding you and me) outside, a task that at times can be difficult. She has taken to apartment living with such ease it’s scary. It was a good choice to move into the larger 3-bedroom apartment, its nearly 150 sqm in total, allowing the lil one to run about and adventure from room to room with her nanny always faithfully in tow. At times they will lock themselves away in her bedroom, playing games for hours on end, dolls and toys strewn about the floor and bed when I go check on them. Or they’ll wander through the kitchen, the lil one watching her nanny washing up and tidying, asking in her clear piping voice question upon question, standing on her own little blue chair that allows her to see over the bench tops. The nanny is always patient and affectionate, treating her with warmth and a gentle touch, and every ready to play any game the lil one can imagine. If she is tired, a movie is put on, usually “Finding Nemo” or some such title, and they will sit together, the lil one every now and then explaining what is going on to nanny, or comparing with some authority what’s happening in the film to her own views on life and her universe.

Strangely, the apartment blocks only have a tiny patch of grass to play on, there is a child’s small play set of swings and slide etc down one end of the pool but that’s about it. Upon enquiring, people tell me that Indonesian kids just don’t play that much outside. Parks and gardens are decorative, not utilised. When we were away on our last holiday in Bali, the lil one played outdoors non stop, only retiring to her room to sleep, and by the end of it she had a healthy tan and glowing eyes. It was brought home to us quite forcibly that we really should be spending more time outdoors, though the hours have to be chosen carefully to avoid the heat of day and the fierce sun.

We have a sports complex about a hundred metres away from the apartment complex, a huge affair with four pools, gym, aerobics, sauna, jacuzzi, tennis courts etc. Specifically designed for the attention of the wealthy Chinese in the area, it boasts just about everything you could want (though I would have liked squash courts-not a popular sport here I gather- but there is an indoor badminton court) in a facility near home. We get to use it for free as dwellers of the apartment complex, but the surrounding homes pay a sizeable sum to join, somewhere in the area of AU$1000pp, then a yearly fee of around AU$600pp. Casual visits are $20pp. These are enormous sums for a city where the average wage is AU$150 per month. Even for us, if we were not given free access, I doubt we would have joined. Thus, we consider ourselves lucky and try to use it as much as possible though obviously the apartment pool is handier to get to and easier to pop back home if you need something. Plus, to go the pool is always a fairly large operation. At the lil ones insistence and for our own comforts, one must pack a variety of things, we usually end up bringing down toys, towels, books, snacks, balls, drinks, mini boogie boards etc. It normally takes the better half and myself both hands to carry everything down, to be dumped onto a picnic table with some relief…

Saturday afternoon, the better half and lil one decide to go across to the sports centre to frolic in a current pool that carries you around past grinning Disney world comic figures (Mickey Mouse et al), assorted fountains, a waterfall which, if you stand under it, pounds heavily against your back reminiscent of an old Javanese masseuse, two fibreglass water tubes requiring herculean efforts to climb the stairs to the top before sliding down in a spray of water (an activity that whilst exhilarating, seems to take too much effort for those few brief moments, then again, maybe I’m just getting old), a wooden bridge crosses the pool at one point, children love to congregate and shriek at the walkers crossing above, and finally, smack bang in the middle is a flourishing tropical garden of greenery a botanist could spend hours examining.

The current pool is something the lil one loves doing, doesn’t take any effort…have floaties, will travel! Meanwhile the better half can relax on one of the sun lounges and wave as the lil one is swept past to be carried around and around in a never-ending procession of swimmers, or they both hang onto the boogie board and swirl through the flow, ducking under the waterfall, dodging the fountains, playing imaginary games only a 4year old could think up. Inevitably, people will talk and play with her, and if they have a child, there are introductions all around, the lil one is not shy, the constant exposure to curious eyes and questions has made her an expert at starting friendships with other children. If she sees any kids around our pool, she is off and playing with supreme confidence, never mind she doesn’t know them or they her. Toys are shared, water fights are started, and soon they are running around as if they have known each other for ages. I sometimes envy the ease with which children are able to adapt so quickly and easily to new situations and people. There is little verbal interaction between them, as evidenced by the lil one who is still refusing to use communicative Indonesian but is able to happily play with the other children for hours on end.

Even today, at the apartment pool where she was splashing about with the better half in attendance, some children arrived and as it began to pour with rain, they all met and soon were playing together, oblivious to mother nature. I went down with a couple of umbrellas to get them back to the apartment but found the better half comfortably ensconced on a chair under the roof of the changing room enclosure, reading her book while the lil one splashed about in the pool, one older child taking her gently in hand and leading her around and amongst the other children. The rain hit the water with some force, ricocheting up and out, slapping against small bobbing heads causing automatic face wiping every few seconds in order to see; the lil one who normally hates water in her eyes looked like a drowning baby seal with orange floaties, an incongruous sight filtered through the downpour...and yet, they were all so happy, joyous even, laughter and shrieks of delight punctuating the sodden air with a clarity redolent of warm summer afternoons and grassy lawns and sizzling bbq’s and happy children at play without care nor concern...


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