Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Christmas Wish...
'Twas the night before Christmas
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there
The children were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter
Away to the window I flew like a flash
tore open the shutters and threw up the sash
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer
With a little old driver, so lively and quick
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack
His eyes -- how they twinkled!
His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath
He had a broad face and a little round belly
that shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Christmas Eve continued
Lil D standing on his fav toy to get a better look at whats been left for Santa...

Lil C looking forward to tomorrow...

Christmas Eve
Took these tonight, the children around the tree and setting up milk and cookies for Santa and oatmeal and water for the reindeer...

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They love these drums.. not sure if we are as enthusiastic...

Guess who I am, she asks me excitedly.
I wrack my brains, thinking hard but it eludes me...

Starts with R! she says, and a glimmer of understanding dawns.
A reindeer? I ask tentatively.
Yes! But which one? she asks, and I offer the only one I know..
Umm, Rudolph?
and she dances away...

A school project was to follow the life cycle of a butterfly, and Lil C loves butterflies. Thus, this time as a butterfly...

Lil C showing us what she will look like as a young lady, courtesy of mum's makeup kit and help... she is starting to grow up far too quickly..


Looking angelic, but has just finished bouncing on the neighbours trampoline for the last hour and probably entertained (or not) the whole area with his yelling..

Same goes for Lil C...

Cause for Celebration
The rain season has finally started, not as efficiently on the clock as it was last year but at least it is here. The rain provides welcome relief from the hot months, washes everything down , and for the kids, is great fun! Lil C & Lil D have not seen rain since last year. Lil D found the whole experience quite startling, but once over his reservations joined Lil C and they danced around in it happily!


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Looking Ahead Part Two
It’s Saturday morning, just after 5am, and I’m up with Lil D who wouldn’t sleep any longer. The morning outside is fresh, with plenty of dew on the grass. It’s a nice time to be up even if I’m not really a morning person. Fed the fish while having my coffee (I've become a pond and fish enthusiast lately!), gave Lil D a Yacult and then a plate of frosty sugary brekkie things that he seems to like and am now settling down for a few words. Lil D is watching Disney channel ( a godsend for those early mornings) and munching away happily.

So why this post? Not sure except that today is the 12th anniversary of our marriage, and 15 years of us being together. A long time by some standards but it all seems to have gone by so quickly.

I look back on what we have achieved in the past 15 years and realise that it’s quite a bit. I got a degree and a teaching diploma, both of us got our masters, a house which we renovated over four years to be the lovely home it is now, two children, 2.5 years in the countryside of Western Australia (Kalgoorlie), a life overseas, and much more besides. 12 years. It seems like only yesterday we were standing at the altar, or dancing at my sisters house later that night, or waking up in north Sydney on the 15th floor of a hotel suite to look out over Sydney harbour and the opera house. It was a great room, floor to ceiling windows running along two sides of the bedroom, allowing great views of the city and harbour. We spent a week there as part of our honeymoon, and then headed back to Perth to begin life as a married couple.

So where to now? I’m not sure I want to stop and settle back into life as a suburbanite, but I do have a strong hankering to get my hands dirty again and renovate another house. I would really like to buy another old place (our own house is circa 1906), and transform it. I also have all these plans in my head of what the ideal home would be like, and wouldn’t mind buying a large block of land to build the dream home. I can sort of see it now, bedrooms built around courtyards, semi outdoor ensuites, theatre room, study, library, games room, expansive living areas blending into a kitchen at one end, dining room opening out to the garden, pool, large workshop for fixing cars and doing carpentry and so on. One day I’ll buy one of those ‘design your own home’ software packages and plan it all out, then cost it and realise that it’s all just a dream, albeit a nice one!

The more we live here, the more I realise that once back home I won’t be satisfied with going back to our 430 sqm block of land. I’ll want some space, space for the kids to run around in, space away from next door neighbours, space to landscape, put in ponds and waterfalls, a workshop, and a big garden filled with fruit trees and veggies. Plus the odd goat or two, chooks, an aviary, a pony for Lil C and a dirt bike for Lil D.

I have never played a musical instrument, and think playing the saxophone or guitar would be kind of cool. I like the sound of both instruments.

I wouldn’t mind starting up the second masters I was doing before we left Australia. I put it on hold and had 5 out of 8 units left to do. Not even sure if the units I did are still valid, may have to redo them, but might check it out. It would be fun to blather along on some subject and discover things as you go.

I want to take the kids camping, show them life outdoors and pitch tents by a river, go early morning fishing. I used to love doing this as a teenager and I think they are almost old enough now to appreciate it and not go drown themselves. At least, Lil C is, Lil D would probably need a rope around his waist with the other end pegged down!

All my tools are in storage in Australia, but it would be nice to get some here and get back into some carpentry. I enjoyed it while in Perth, using the school workshop to build C a pretty good dining table, and of course, doing all the work on the house. Maybe build some bits’n’pieces for our house here.

C has dreams of her own and I know that sooner or later we will have to sit down, compare notes and come up with a game plan.

For the last year we haven’t had to, though we did while in Aussie, hence the study, the house, the moving to the countryside etc. Once overseas, you tend to lose sight of long term goals and focus more on the here and now, most probably given that each day is an experience in itself, not quite the same if we were living back home!

I also know that it’s time to take stock of my career and look at what I’m putting into it. I need to do some courses on IB, get some more workshops under my belt, network more, write some articles and get published etc. It’s time to crank it up a bit which is what I’ll do starting in January. The IB is the way to go if you want to live and work overseas as a teacher and while I have only got half a year so far doing the IB Diploma, I was in at the time of its planning and inception, thus have a good working knowledge of it. As the assistant to the IB Diploma Coordinator ( almost all possies at mgmt level are held by nationals, expats act as backups), I’ve been privy to the working of the DP and as I’m also teaching MYP (middle school) I’ve been getting good exposure to the two similar but different curriculum’s. So, will see what happens work wise over the next 12 months.

The children are happy; Lil C absolutely loves the IB PYP program and is blossoming under its guidance. Lil D enters preschool in July next year, though C and I are beginning to wonder if we should have arranged to put him in January rather than wait till July. He is such a bright kid and very active that preschool would help channel those energies into more positive outcomes. We believe that he needs more kid to kid interaction and so I’m going to check with the school to see if we can slip him in. It’s only for two hours a day but should make a difference.

There has been a lot going on over the last few years, and more is yet to come. Roll on next year.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Some interesting sites:
This is a very good photographic journal of places around the world.

An Aussie currently living in Shanghai and her experiences.

Life for an expat in Hanoi, Vietnam.

An expat in Shanghai and Hanoi, some great pics here.

Stunning photos of life and travel in Tibet.

All sorts of news and articles on and from Indonesia.

Links to all manner of sites for those interested in Cambodia.

Articles from a columnist for the Jakarta Post, an Englishman I believe, with some interesting takes on life in the "Big Durian" as he calls it!

Another writer of some renown for the Jakarta Post. Excellent articles.Duncan Graham is a writer who captures the human side of Indonesia in a way that few others do.

A travel blog of an NGO guy in SE Asia.


Looking Ahead
Bumped into an ex teacher of my school today on holiday from Singapore where he had relocated with his family. Currently working at OFS, an international school. He is enjoying his time there. He tells me its very high tech, with computers and screens etc in every classroom. Around 250 expat teachers and over 2000 students, shorter working hours etc. I listened to him sing the praises of his school and thought to myself that yes, it might be nice to work in a school with lots of resources etc, but in the end, it comes down to lifestyle. I’m not sure I would like to go back to living in an apartment, traipsing up and down lifts and in and out transport to get to school. Now would I want to forgo the luxury of popping down to the club, the golf course, the quiet streets, the house, and so on. I like where we are at the moment, I like the students, the relatively small size of the school (about 450 students) and I like the people I work with. Yes, at times it can be aggravating, and working with national teachers can be an exercise in patience, but overall, it has a lot of good points. Would I go to Singapore? Not sure, but don’t think so. I like the hustle and bustle of Indonesia, the extremes, the differences etc. So where to next? My contract has been extended for one more year so I finish here in June 2008. At that time it will have been 5 years spent in Indonesia, 2 in Jakarta, and 3 in Surabaya. Time indeed to move on.

I am looking around, and will probably take a few trips in the next 12 months to look at what other countries have to offer. I’m interested in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and possibly Cambodia. Then again, it might be Europe. This is affordable if we are both working, as international schools there do not provide the sort of benefits as they do in South East Asia or the Emirates etc. No accommodation is supplied, thus making it an expensive proposition for a single income family. C has been accepted into university starting in January to do a diploma of education. We figured that since we are now overseas, it might be of benefit if she were to get a teaching degree if we are going to stay overseas. C is both excited and nervous about the idea, but she does have a degree and a masters, thus proving she is able to get through the academia. I am sure she will do fine,

C will be away for 4 weeks in late January, the first time away from the kids, doing an intensive course to kick of her external studies. It’s going to be an interesting time; the kids are used to me being away but not vice versa. At least Lil D is no longer breastfed but he still climbs into our bed at odd hours wanting mummy (as does Lil C). I’m going to have to play a bigger role in the children’s lives and spend more time at home instead of going to the gym after work, shopping on the weekend etc. I’m confident I’ll be okay but it will be the first time I have had to take responsibility of the kids on my own.

Interesting times ahead.


Mudflow Disaster : a Month on.

The following is an edited article that appeared in the Jakarta Post on Nov. 27. Italics are mine.

Harry Bhaskara, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Six months since the hot, putrid mud gushed from the earth at the drilling site of PT Lapindo Brantas Inc. at the rate of 50,000 cubic meters a day, no one has been held accountable or punished for the disaster. This is despite strong evidence that Lapindo ignored important safety standards when it drilled the hole from which the mud began to spew. (According to some reports, the drilling team did not use the correct gear and further, were drilling a high pressure hole with a low pressure rig)

In the meantime, the economic woes of the people in the area continue to rise. More than 12,000 people in six villages have been made homeless by the discharge, and many of them have reportedly had their health affected by the toxic gases rising from it. (Another few thousand have been displaced since this article but Lapindo who negotiated a settlement with the first groups who were displaced are refusing responsibility saying that the agreement was only for the first group).

At least 15 factories have been shut down; more than 1,700 workers are now unemployed, the Surabaya Malang toll road has been closed numerous times, and the vital Surabaya-Malang rail link has been cut indefinitely. (Industries in the area are suffering enormously due to poor roads, with multinational companies taking a hard look at what they might have to do. One very large company is building a new factory in west java, taking away the livelihood of many).

At one point -- when it really mattered -- Lapindo was a unit of PT Energi Mega Persada, majority owned by the Bakrie group of companies, which is controlled by the family of Coordinating Minister for the People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie.

However, Lapindo was recently sold to a company called Freehold Group Ltd. on Nov. 14; its owners can now avoid being held accountable for the disaster. Environmental group Greenomics has estimated the mudflow has caused Rp 33 trillion (US$3.6 billion) worth of damage to the area. (Lapindo is still being held accountable for the disaster but there are some reports that the company is fast on its way to insolvency, leaving it to the federal government to bail out them out.)

Last week, a 70-centimeter gas pipe close to the drilling site exploded, killing at least 11 people, including a local military chief. Such an incident, caused by the immense pressure from the constantly sinking ground, could have been avoided had the authorities heeded early warnings from experts. (i.e Halliburton warned them of this. The company was finally asked to come in and fix the mud flow, and as the only group working on the problem, resigned a week ago due to unpaid bills. There is currently no expertise running the show now)

The explosion is likely to disturb gas distribution to Pertamina's East Java clients and has delivered a further blow to the province's industry. (Power outages will increase according those in the know all over Java and Bali)

Last month, the government decided to channel the mud, four million cubic meters of it, to the sea. (The mud can not be channelled as its too thick, thus it was diverted into the Porong River which is now suffering a massive buildup, and will most probably cause widespread flooding when the rain season starts in earnest)

Vice President Jusuf Kalla, a good friend of Aburizal's, avoided talking about the sensitive health and environmental issues besetting nearby villagers during his visit to the drilling site in June. (Kalla has since said that Lapindo is a good company and will do everything it can to fix the problem and help those who have been relocated,i.e. he is putting pressure on Lapindo to come up with the goods as he now realises that the government will be held accountable unless they do.)

The Bakrie family, he said, would have to be on the frontline in resolving this problem.

(A very public negotiated settlement has been reached with the displaced citizens but the company has two years to make good the payments, begging the question as to whether it will).

Ludicrous measures have been taken to divert public attention from the real culprits of this mess. Scientists were brought down to the disaster site to demonstrate that every mud volcano has a silver lining -- that the mud would make good quality bricks. (This has since been disproved as the mud is a mixture of dirt and water, not the correct materials for brick making). Another time, in an imitation of a bad reality TV show, psychics were offered a reward if they could tame the continually spewing gas. They were unsuccessful.

Then a local production house reported that Lapindo had paid for a 13-episode TV soap opera to show the "heroic" role the company and authorities had played in the disaster.

A deeper sense of crisis is needed in light of thousands of people who have lost their homes, are jobless and whose children have no schools to go to.

There is no time for complacency. The rainy season, with the power to destroy the government's flimsy embankments, will soon be upon us. (Experts are now saying that the walls, up to 8 metres in height are beginning to subside due to rain and will eventually collapse, causing huge amounts of mud to flow unchecked across more land).

This is a huge problem and is only getting worse. There are fears now that the water supply of Surabaya will be hindered due to leaching of the mud into the water table. Time will tell.

Postscript to a Robbery.
Btw, remember how A's house was burgled and the burglar was given the curse by my drivers 'teacher'? News came through last week that a robber was caught in a village and suffered an early demise due to the efforts of the outraged citizens of said village. The 'teacher' said he was the one who robbed A.
S now tells me that his 'teacher' not only put the curse that he would not be able to sell the goods but that he would die within forty days if he did not return the goods. If I had known I would have told S to ask his teacher to rescind the curse. While not entirely believing in it, one can't be too careful. Too late.
Legal justice in Indonesia can be slow and corrupt, yet justice as seen and acted upon by the people can be swift and brutal.

A Deaf Snake
Just when we thought we had seen the last of them, this was found behind Lil D's sandbox in the garage eating a frog a couple of weeks ago (ye gods, even now it makes me cringe at the thought of Lil D playing happily away with this thing lurking just a few inches away). And yes, its quite dead thanks to the brave efforts of P who saw it and gave it a good whack while it's mouth was full. Anyone know what type of snake it is? Leave a comment if you do. This seems to be the common type around here and they call it a cobra but then again, every snake is a cobra here... None since this one, so hopefully it was just a deaf snake that hadnt heard the snake guy banning them from our house (see a previous post about unwelcome visitors).

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Lil C at a Halloween Party. About 80 kids turned up to terrorise the neighbourhood (all participating houses preorganised) and by all accounts, it was a huge success.
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Lil D creating a work of art, he told me its a birthday cake.
Note how he has put photos of all family members next to it, interesting concept of how to ensure everyone is there to be part of the party! Posted by Picasa


Flat Tyres

A word of warning to those who are coming home from the international airport. This past week there have been 3 occurrences where expats have stopped along the way home to fix a flat tyre and then found their belongings gone once they get back into the car. According to S, my ever smiling driver, the guys will use one of the pieces of an umbrella spine (which are hollow) and stick it into your car while its parked at the airport (after checking who comes through arrivals and looks like a good prospect), then follow you till you realise the car is limping badly. So, being the nice person you are, you hop out to assist your driver in changing the wheel, almost always the back left hand side, and while you are busily jacking up the car, a motorbike pulls up, and a fellow will quietly open the right hand side passenger door and make off with whatever is on the seat.

This happened to someone we know last night but he didn’t realise his bags were missing as he was sitting beside the driver till he got home. Drivers should be aware of this scam and S was somewhat disgusted with our friends driver for allowing his boss to get out of the car, "I always tell missus, if car breaks down, you stay here, put bag on floor and lock doors," he told me with a grim face. "These 'bajingan' (bastards) take and we must be careful, they are no good". He was ready to ring the driver concerned and give him a piece of his mind but I managed to dissuade him by saying that I was sure our friend had already expressed his disappointment. I didn't think our friend would be too happy with our driver telling off his driver, but then again, they are a tight lot. You get to hear the most interesting stories as they all gossip, and S is just as bad, not that I would recount anything I hear from S...hopefully other expats will also keep mum if they hear from their driver that Pak Dominic likes to listen to weird music or that Pak Dominic ...well, you get the picture.

He then goes on to tell me why there have been three robberies this week. Apparently, and this is all hearsay, there is an ongoing battle between the navy guys and the police as to who controls the access to the airport. The land originally belonged to the navy so they think they should be in control, whereas the police think it’s theirs to run. So, a nasty little battle is going on with the cops, again this is hearsay, aiding and abetting the bad guys to force the navy guys to hand over control after a number of embarrassing incidents. Thus, the 3 robberies in four days.

This form of car robbery is also quite common in Jakarta. Also, the same thing happened to an expat friend of ours some time back in Surabaya. She stayed in the car but left the door unlocked and a fellow tried to grab her bag. She fought back by holding onto the bag (and managed to keep it) but S was just as disapproving of this method. "Too dangerous," he explained to me."They get angry, out comes a knife, then," and he shrugs significantly.

A few tips from those in the know:

If a tire ever needs changing, don’t leave the car, let the driver do it and lock all doors while waiting.
Keep car keys with you not with the driver.
The car can continue to drive on a flat tire for some distance; always stop the car in a well lighted area or near people.
Never open your window if someone knocks on it offering to help. Just point to the driver.
If you are alone, lock the doors then change the tire or ring someone to come help. Reject assistance from anyone offering to help.
Check your spare tire; make sure it’s filled and able to be used.
Check car has working jack to lift car and tire iron fits your wheel nuts.
Check both driver and yourself has a phone number you can call to get someone out if car breaks down or to help change a tire. Astra can also provide roadside service.

It's a shame we have to be cynical of offers of help, but I guess it's better to be safe than robbed. If you are careful, your coming home wont be a disappointment.


Christmas Month

It’s been a flurry of activity over the past few weeks as we head towards Christmas day.

Expat gathering have been in abundance with most weekends getting together with friends for various happenings around the city.

The expat ball was on Friday the 1st of December and like last year, was a memorable one. A few hundred expats came out of the woodwork for the big night of the year, dressed to the nines. Good food, great band, a lot of dancing, even yours truly took a few whirls and, as the night progressed, found to my amazement that I was getting better as it got later…not sure if it was new found confidence or the wine …It was a good night and we enjoyed it immensely.

There has been a teachers expat dinner at an American eatery followed on by a visit to a bar where a band played quite convincing blues; a cocktail and byo night under the stars at a friends house which lasted well into the night and with me discovering that cocktails are great but pack a wallop...the rest of the night drank water to mitigate the after effects! A visit to a Japanese restaurant that is the latest hot thing in Surabaya, with dishes lovingly placed on the table looking as if they were ready to be photographed for Vogue. The meal itself was excellent, and also by far the most expensive we have had since moving to Indonesia, but in retrospect, it cost about AU$50.00 a head, a laughable amount in an Australian restaurant of that class - you would be paying much, much, more than that for what we got. Once done, we wandered out and across into the lounge then club, filled with the beautiful people of Surabaya, models galore, and the blokes all with various exotic whiskeys bottles placed in front of them, though I did notice the more mundane Chivas and Glenfiddich here and there. It was all a bit strange; everyone was very stiff and serious. The band in the club was trying their best but everyone just stood or sat around, with waitresses going around madly filling up their whiskey glasses as soon as they had taken a sip.

We got a phone call from the GM of a big five star hotel who told us he was just leaving to join us. At this time it was after midnight but apparently this is not unusual for him and wife. They love to party and are often out till 4 or 5 am on the weekend. And since things get going after 12, they head out around that time. I don’t know about you, but I just wouldn’t have the energy to come home after a long days work, and then head out at midnight for a knees up till the wee hours. We tactfully declined to wait.

To exit, we had to wend our way through the crowd gathered at the front door of the place where, I kid you not, two women and various bouncers actually had a guest list on which you had to be on to get in. First time I’ve ever seen that, then again, maybe I just don’t get out to such places that often! The trick it seems is to arrive for dinner, eat then you have full access to the lounge and club but if you just rock up after 11pm, you have to be someone to get in, i.e have your name on the dreaded list.

Really not my cup of tea, a bunch of boring posers standing around with the glam girls draped like trophies over one shoulder. So we made a detour on the way home to a pub/club called Desperadoes at the Shangrila Hotel. Filled with blokes of various origins and teeming with abundant wildlife on the lookout for a prospective financial mate for the night, it was a heaving mass of people enjoying themselves to the rather loud and at times incomprehensible vocals of the very energetic band. May not have been all that good but they were enjoying themselves as were the patrons. C was a bit taken aback at first, she later told me it was a bit disconcerting to realise that the only Caucasian women in the place was her and the wife of the couple we were with. The other thing she noticed was the sheer number of good time girls and the number of expat guys on the prowl. What makes this place a bit different though is that they are also there to enjoy themselves. It’s not just a place to meet members of the opposite sex and conduct mutually satisfying financial transactions, but a place to hang out and have a good time. It did make for interesting people watching to say the least. Headed home in the early hours knowing that in a few hours the children would be climbing all over us wanting attention.

This week I’m on holiday and enjoying it. We decided not to go to Bali but rather stay in Surabaya and enjoy an Indonesian Christmas. With the club and all the rest of the good life around us, we just couldn’t see the point of packing up and heading to Bali to stay in a hotel where the facilities would be the same as we could get at home. Christmas day will be spent opening presents in the morning then a lunch at one of the hotels.

I hope this finds everyone well and in good spirits. May you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year .

Selamat Hari Natal dan Tahun Baru!


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