Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pics of the Waterpark. Just to give you an idea!


A Day Out

It always surprises me when we go out and I see Indonesian families in action. Just when you think you have a handle on the family unit, something pops up and you go oh! And think about it for a moment then move on. Sometimes the ‘oh!’ is a mere mild expression of interest or bemusement, other times it’s along the lines of ‘oh! Would you look at that’, and the most rare of all beasts is the ‘oh my (insert applicable diety)’. Today was a mixture of all three interestingly enough. Not that this necessarily a bad thing, otherwise why live here? If one can’t find items of interest or import amongst the daily happenings of life here in Indonesia, or indeed wherever you live as an expat, then why bother?!

I think that’s what makes it all worthwhile, the sudden pause as you go about your thing only to experience something that resonates amongst one or more of the five senses. Tolerance is all well and good, and indeed one has to go one further and note such occurrences with acceptance stemming from the vagaries of difference, and heck, we could all say ‘viva la difference!’ and leave it at that. But that’s not much fun either.

Case in point was today. Up latish due to a very latish night out celebrating Australia day with a mixture of Australians, Kiwi’s, and folk of other countries thrown in for good measure. To digress for a moment, it was a good night. We hit the local Australian restaurant which we hadn’t been to for some time to discover it had been revamped and was packed to the gills with diners. Luckily one of the group had the foresight to book a private dining room, doubtless in the knowledge that singing Waltzing Matilda or Khe San in a room packed with Indonesians might lead to a few raised eyebrows. And thus we went bravely into the room to be confronted by our esteemed leader waiting with an Australian quiz, an instrument of diabolical proportions given that there were a number of questions, more than a few in fact, that had me scratching my head. For instance, name all Chief Ministers, or, who nailed a pewter plate to a tree (ok, that might be easy for the older generation), and where and what is the Tank Stream (runs under Sydney city would you believe). Or, name song and singer for “Words are easy, words are cheap” (and indeed in my profession words are easy though in the long run never quite cheap). After we had submitted ourselves to the test, we were then lead into song and must admit, we did raise the rafters with Matilda and Khe San amongst others. Dinner was good, then it was into the cars to head up to a couples house who had kindly donated their back lawn for more singing and the odd imbibing (not that yours truly imbibed, just the occasional discreet sip of wine) before heading home in the wee hours of the morning. Bless the nanny, kids were safely asleep and we tottered off to bed only to be woken a few hours later to be reminded that we had promised to take them to the water park.

Ah, the water park. Now this is an edifice that is hard to describe in one sentence or indeed a few. Picture a huge area devoted to water. Current pools, slides, fountains and spouts, tubes and pools, wave pool and paddling areas, climbing ropes and structures and you sort of get the idea. Throw in the theme of a world filled with larger than life animals and pirates, ship wrecks and towering Arabian turrets and you might even further get the idea. Add teeming masses of Indonesian families, women in jibabs, youngsters dressed in swimming costumes from head to toe (amongst the more liberal families there were some dressed somewhat more revealingly - I’m sure I saw a knee at one stage), constant Indonesian pop music piped through cunningly concealed speakers all over the park, and just to add some fun to the mix, a band playing dangdut style music in the main eating area. The cacophony of noise can be overwhelming at first, especially when one had been up to the wee hours singing and doing all those things that one expects of an Australian at such a gathering, so it was with some trepidation that we drove to the park, disembarked and headed to the ticket office.

Now, the procedure to get in has its own charms. First stop, line up to see two fellows standing behind a desk who open your bags as no food or drink is allowed in. Then stand in line to buy a ticket. There were three people in front of me and I thought no problem, but I had forgotten that ticket counters here are more than just a place to purchase a ticket, they also act as a social centre, a place to lean up against and chat while the attendant slowly organises the tickets, checks they are indeed the right number, they have the right date on them, checks the price again, counts the ticket again, has a chat to the fellow beside him and finally after politely asking the customer about her health, her family and her plans for the rest of the day, the tickets are then handed over. Now it’s the customers turn. Handbag is searched slowly all the while telling the interested attendant about her gall bladder, the state of the country, the price of rice and so on. A wallet is found and money is counted out slowly, checked and re checked. The attendant then gathers the money, counts it, recounts it, and then hands over the final piece de resistance, the plastic purchasing card. Akin to an atm card, you fill it up at designated areas and then use it to purchase food wherever you go. A mini cashless society, you could also be excused for thinking that would make things easier inside. It doesn’t. The wait while the card is scanned when you purchase something can take as long as it does for the ice to melt in your drink, the food go cold and feet go numb. He then instructs the woman how to use the card, what she can buy with it, the joys and pleasures that await her and her family when they finally get in, and finally she departs.

Two more people in front of me.

After getting tickets and card, show them to a chap who stands just nearby and had probably watched you purchase the tickets but you still have to hand them to him which he then reads carefully, before allowing you through a rickety turnstile. Once inside, it opens out into an enormous expanse of concrete and stairs leading down to the various play areas. We were there at 10 am but it was busy. Very busy. No seats or tables to be had so the next stop was the counter where you can hire a cabana, a locker or a towel. Cabana secured (not bad actually, Rp100,000 for the day) we made our way there to find a family already happily ensconced within, not minding the plastic chain draped across its front held together with a large padlock to which I had the key. I show them the key, point to the number on it, point to the cabana number, politely ask them to move and they ungraciously vacate.

Another large family was settled in tables and chairs to our front and side, while a smaller family had taken over the tables directly in front of the cabana, using its shade cloth as shelter from the fierce sun. Couldn’t blame them, it was hot. So we unpacked, got the kids out and hit the water. The next three hours was spent taking the kids around all the pools (Lil C got sick in the wave pool), to the tubes, both Lil C and Lil D had a great time sliding down (note to self, don’t wear the same swimmers again, they possess high friction thus slowing down my descent to a crawl), to the current pool where we all jollied around, and back to the cabana for fries and drinks.

While relaxing I noticed the family to one side ranging in ages from a small child to grandmothers had finished their lunch. You could tell because they had dropped everything made of plastic onto the ground. Cups, plates, napkins and other detritus littered the ground around them. The group in front of us did the same, allowing their napkins to blow gently across the cement and into the tots pool, while leaving the larger pieces of rubbish strewn about, despite the fact that there was a bin directly behind them no more than arms reach away.

Okay, so they are not schooled in the art of rubbish disposal, move on I say to myself, lurching around pointing at their rubbish and the bin would only cause a scene and leave them convinced of the madness of foreigners. No wonder though that Indonesia has a serious litter problem. Children from a young age are shown that it’s okay to leave it to someone else. Funnily enough, the guy who empties the bin did come round not long after. Aha! I thought. Now he‘ll say something or at the very least make a point of picking everything up around their table. This was not to be. A plastic cup was in his way and he kicked it a bit further before emptying the bins into a large one on wheels, ignored the other stuff on the ground and moved on.

Does leave one wondering who does actually pick everything up.

Reminds me of a school camp I went on last year. We had taken the students up for a hike into the hills, and stopped for a rest. One of the teachers, a senior motherly type lady well respected amongst the kids, sat down for a rest, pulled out a bottle of insect repellent wrapped in paper, and dropped the paper on the ground, not really taking note that she had done so. It was a casual gesture devoid of concern. A few metres to her right, the park ranger was giving the kids a talk about the environment and how important it was to keep everything clean etc. She listened with interest while the paper rolled gently down the hill.

There is little in the Indonesian consciousness on littering, it just doesn’t make any impact on their sense of right and wrong. Then again, it could be more a western thing, as the aesthetics of a place or area are not that important either to the average Indonesian. Everywhere you go in the city, things are left alone. Shops are faded and crumbling but no one bothers to patch them up or give a paint job, broken pavement out front and the shop keeper ignores it, allowing his customers to pick their way through the rubble. Office buildings slowly sagging in the tropical sun, signs missing letters, paint peeling and brown walls that were once white. The list goes on.

So what is it that makes them this way? How can they ignore the aesthetics of their surrounds? Is it a peculiarly western ideal to have everything neat and tidy? Are we just a tad too anal about it all? I was in Sydney in December and could not get over how picture perfect the neighbourhoods were, well, at least the ones I was visiting. Manicured gardens, tended houses and shops, carefully constructed walk ways, leafy streets and so on. I mentioned this to my sister, that it was all just a bit surreal, and I'm sure she thought I had been out in the tropical sun too long.

So how is it that the exact opposite occurs in Indonesia? It’s not a labour issue; there are plenty of people out of work. It could be a financial issue in that there might not be any funds to pay the people to keep everything orderly. It could also be that these things are just unimportant in the day to day race for survival. There is no social security system, no welfare net to catch you should you stumble, instead it’s every person for themselves. The lack of personal financial security must be an enormous weight to bear. The sheer battle to stay on top and climb out of the social group you are born into can only be imagined. Yesterday in the paper there were 500 people, 500 mind you, sitting a test to sit on an electoral commission. The number of places available? 5.

500 people dreaming of raising their living standards, 500 people aiming to win one of those 5 seats. Little wonder they don’t have time to worry about how nice something looks.

However, be that as it may, this just does not excuse the rampant disregard for the environment. Rivers are choked by rubbish, the city is weighed down with it, the streets piled with it, and few people realise the strain they are placing on their world.

It comes down to just one thing. Simple really. Education.

Educate the kids as they go to school, run grass root campaigns to raise awareness of what is happening in their part of the world. Provide the simple utilities to help contain rubbish. Show people what they can do and why. And it could all start with that one family instead of sitting amongst the rubbish they had strewn about their table, making the small effort to reach behind them and dump it all in a bin.

One small step.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

First day back

First day back at school and even before classes had started the bad news was spreading rapidly throughout the school. I was found by one fellow staff member who shook me by the hand, wished me a happy New Year then asked that question. The question that starts the heart racing slightly,(depending on the questioners tone), the question that acts as a rhetorical device from which the questioner will then launch into what would probably be by then a well practiced spiel.

“Have you heard?” Just that. And with that question, as I looked at his face, I knew this would not be the usual run of the mill gossip.

I answer in the negative and he tells me that one of our elementary teachers had died the night before. The information came in clipped bullet notes. Tragic accident. Car crash. Two small children hurt. He died in hospital. 35 years old. Wife not in the car. Well liked teacher. Possible he did not see in the dark the parked truck in the left lane. At considerable speed he hit it. The car is not recognizable as a car.

While there is some distance in relationships between the elementary school and the secondary school as is usually the case in a big school divided by land and buildings, Sonny was a well liked member of staff and as a PE teacher, had taught just about every child in the school. Thus, he had also had contact with just about every teacher in the school.

So, that afternoon we gathered in the gymnasium and I was privileged to witness a most moving ceremony. We all sat down on the floor, all 180 teachers. One teacher, a respected older man who teaches religion in the primary school for the Moslem students came forward. He then proceeded to call out a number of male teachers from both secondary and elementary who joined him up front. With a brief yet gentle introduction, he explained he was asking these teachers to join him in prayer. He asked us no matter what our beliefs to mourn the passing of Sonny and pray for him.

They sat down cross legged facing us, and with microphone in hand, the leader began to read from his prayer book. At first it was just that, a reading, but as he warmed up the tones became modulated and within a few more minutes he began to sing the prayer. The men with him accompanied in the background, their voices blending to provide a wall of support for the higher notes of the leader.

It was in Arabic so I had no idea what was being said yet the way in which it was said was as powerful as any words. It was clearly a call for Allah to watch out over Sonny, and, I imagined, a prayer requesting forgiveness for his transgressions. The sung prayer rose and fell in the still afternoon air and I found myself moved by the emotions that were indelibly imprinted into it.

Time slowed, the mournful voice of the teacher wrapped itself around and through the room and no longer did one find the floor hard to sit on. I looked around and all were bent forward lost in their prayers and thoughts. The women, eyes closed and heads bowed, held their cupped upturned hands in front of them. Everyone was silent, though as we drifted along the ebb and flow of the prayer, I did hear a few voices joining in the prayer from the back of the room.

The collective gathering of grief yet also of hope was a powerful one and when he finished, with little ceremony we all stood and left, feeling somewhat lighter.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Bali & Christmas 2007

It’s been awhile, once again, so I’ll bring you up to date on what we have been doing.

December was a big month, school finishing for the term, reports to be done but we all sighed in relief that all went well, and school broke up on the 14th. On the 16th we all headed off to Bali for a well earned break. 3 days in Kuta was planned, then 3 days in Sanur.

As usual, in Kuta we stayed at Kuta Townhouses, even got the same apartment we had last time! The new owners had remodelled a bit and had even supplied the apartment with another fridge; a large glass fronted one, good for cold drinks! It was as clean and comfortable as ever, thus our stay there was just as we had expected except for one thing. The only slight distraction was the building right next door of phase 2 of the complex. Out of the 43 new apartments being built, at the time of visiting only 9 were left to be sold, and at the prices they were asking, I was a bit surprised that so many had been sold. Prices ranged from 90,000 to 140,000 US.

The constant noise of construction was alleviated somewhat by the wet weather which stopped the workmen thus allowing us a fair amount of peace and quiet and once inside the apartment you couldn’t hear them so it wasn’t too bad. However, I would advise that if you were planning to stay there, hold off until the complex is finished. Still, they made us very welcome and we spent 3 days on Kuta beach relaxing and going for long walks. The children loved it, running up and down and diving in and out of the surf.

The waves were quite strong at times so it meant we had to keep a close eye on them but they had a great time all the same.

Kuta was fairly busy, I guess with school holidays etc people were starting to come out to enjoy the scenery etc. The weather was as expected, a bit of rain each day but you could usually rely on it to clear up by the afternoon and in the morning it was usually sunny.

After Kuta we headed to Sanur for a stay at the Peneeda View hotel. We had booked two beach fronting villas as a bit of a treat, thinking it would be nice to have our room and not be disturbed by the kids climbing into our bed during the night. It worked. They happily stayed in their villa each night under the watchful eye of Ari, the nanny, and we were able to go for long walks in the evening and enjoy the restaurants along the promenade. As usual, our favourite was the Beach Café and as usual, it didn’t disappoint! Great food.

Sanur beach up around Peneeda was calm and allowed for great splashing about by the children without having to be worried about being dumped by waves. They found all sorts of sea creatures as they hunted around in the shallow water and were delighted by the sand crabs they were able to catch and place in sand castles.

Peneeda itself is a nice little hotel. The rooms were large and comfortable, though the restaurant was quite expensive so we didn’t make much use of it. However, it is a bit of a walk down to where all the good beach restaurants are so next time we will probably go back to the Gazebo.

All in all, it was a lovely break for us all and we came back on the 22nd to prepare for Christmas day.

It was a rush to get ready for Christmas day. Last minute shopping for presents and food. We had invited two other couples to our place plus assorted children. The first couple to arrive came bearing a great big box of food, and we set to the kitchen to cook up a storm. All in all, it was a great day. The kids had a great time as did we.


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