Friday, May 30, 2008


There was a date that I had not blogged on but today, while wandering through blogs by Indonesians, I came across this one written by a young Chinese Indonesian girl.

It has been 10 yrs now from the Chinese massacre in May 1998. Precisely 10 yrs. May 13th, 1998.
Last night, we were hanging out in my sister's room when she brought this up. She took the time, while applying her night cream, to share how her current boyfriend surpassed death only by sheer luck.
He was only 14 at the time. His family lived amongside the Indonesians in the community. They formed quite a good relationship, good neighbours you can say. On the eve of May 13th 1998, everything turned upside down. The mob took over his house, luckily they had the time to smuggle the mom to one of the neighbor's house. It wasnt safe for women that days. They promised to leave them, the father and 3 boys, untouched, if only they would surrender everything they own.
He saw the crowd stripped his family from everything that they own, unable to do anything. Anything at all.
Luckily his father was quick; he told my sister's boyfriend and his older brother to quickly save some of their precious bonds and bank books by fleeing from the house. On their way, they were caught in the middle of an angry mob. Everyone was carrying wooden sticks and torches, he saw face to face the murderous faces with no mercy, chanting "
Chinese! Chinese!".
They didnt know what to do.
As the mob grew closer, death was certain to them. It was so impeccably surprising that all of the sudden, police came in between and pushed the crowd. If they had not, or even came late by minutes, I wouldnt hear this story now.
My recounts of that night was limited. I was only 8 then. Too little to even understand what was happening. All I remember is that we were put together in one room by our servant, and my dad was on the phone talking to my oldest sister. Or my servant. I dont know.
My parents were in Singapore that night, my dad was having his tumor removed. It was then hen he heard that the crowd has reached the mouth of our block, and called to make sure we were alright. He then made arrangements, and we were fetched that night to spend a couple of days at his friend's house until things cooled down.
We were lucky enough to survive it.

I do have links somewhere in this blog of accounts by people who saw what had happened. Until this day, no one has been prosecuted for any of the atrocities, rapes, deaths, and so on that occurred. Estimates of the deaths/rapes and so on vary widely, but it is accepted that they did occur.

Interestingly, till this day the debate rages on about May 1998, such as the ensuing comments after an article was posted here: http://www.indonesiamatters.com/1788/jakarta-riots/

Yet what most seem to forget in this and other debates (which seem to develop into a discussion of semantics and linguistics- however, within the comments you will find some interesting observations), that no matter what light is shined on it, the facts are simple. I.e. the riots occurred, atrocities occurred, and yet in the end, not one person has been held accountable for any single act. It is impossible to ignore the horrors that occurred. If one were to do a quick search on wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakarta_Riots_of_May_1998 the associated links are not for the fainthearted. The photographs bear witness to what happened and serve to remind us that May 1998 was the blackest period in Indonesian history since 1965.

It’s been 10 years since the riots of 1998 and much has changed in Indonesia. Could they happen again? Impossible to call it but the recent food price hikes coupled with fuel hikes and growing unrest over situations such as Lapindo, Aceh and Papua suggest that it will be awhile before the pundits can lay their fears to rest.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Swimming Carnival

We had the school swimming carnival this week. Now, Indonesian kids are not too enthusiastic about swimming, except those whose parents have actively brought them up to appreciate the finer things of water. So to prepare, we had 4 weeks of swimming lesson etc delivered via the PE department earlier this term to all classes.

The day before, home groups were gathered into respective groups to divvy up who will be swimming what. Great enthusiasm ensued as the students made up lists of participating students. So you would think that the actual day would go er…swimmingly.

In some ways it did. After 3 periods in the morning, there was a rotation of the school buses and a number of private cars to take them down the road to the local university pool which is a good Olympic size.

Interestingly enough, when we arrived, my driver had pulled the car up in front of the foyer as my car was loaded down with speakers, flags, buckets and other assorted swimming requirements. I hopped out and started to unload. Behind us, a car pulled up filled with a group of year 9 female students. They then proceeded to sit in their car for about five minutes until mine had moved on so that their car could pull up in front of the entrance. If they had gotten out, it would have been a mere two metres walk. Go figure.

The students all arrived safely, though it soon became apparent by the sheer number who were still wearing their school uniforms that many had decided not to participate. Excuses ran from sore foot to the blast proof mother of all excuses, the dreaded period. Amazing how many girls were having their period today. Must be something in the air that sets their biological watches to such faultless synchronicity.

Anyways, those that did join in made a good effort of it and the day went fairly smoothly. Only one kid with a cramp, the rest sheltered under the tents as the midday sun blazed down with typical Surabaya ferocity. This was not a day to be faint hearted in the face of such blinding heat. So, we teachers armed with hats and sunnies bravely spent the better part of the day out in the sun cajoling, pleading, asking and organising the kids into the various events.

The girls without exception dressed very modestly for the pool. No highcuts or bikinis or even one pieces. Most were covered from neck to knee, pointing to an interesting conservatism that seems out of line to their casual apparel when they go to the mall where the mini shorts reign supreme. The boys for the most part wore knee length shorts in a variety of interesting hues. Given that Billabong has a store in the local mall, I guess the big pictures of bronzed models surfing amongst towering waves has some influence on the boys.

Teachers were all on deck though again, it does take some patience to deal with their very apparent lack of interest in the proceedings (and yes, I know I’m being very general here, as there were some who did actively take part and do their jobs). Again, I can only put this down to the general Indonesian sheer disinterest in all things water sports. Plus, there is also the aversion to standing in the sun.

Indonesians, particularly females, have the belief that white skin is preferable to dark skin, thus getting a tan, or a further darkening of the skin is viewed with horror and loathing. In fact, some of our female students were not allowed to come as their mothers worried that their white skin might be marred. These girls are Chinese Indonesian and it would appear that the whiter their skin the better. Thus, the white skin scenario not only holds true for the Indonesians but also the Chinese Indonesians. If you ever tell an Indonesian that Australians will sit out in the sun to get a tan they think you are pulling their leg. They just can’t understand why anyone would want to be anything but as white as the driven snow. Television is full of advertisements selling skin whitening creams. And if they can’t afford it, the next best thing is utilised. Baby powder. Go through a village and you see the faces of women and children all dusted with powder. I think this phenomenon is worthy of further critical analysis and discussion but I’ll leave it for another time.

Overall it was a good day with lots of cheering and yodelling (mostly from the expat teachers and few groups of students jazzed up on soft drinks) and we finally called it quits around 3 in the afternoon. The car park at the pool was packed as we had told the students to be picked up; I think no one had really thought of the consequences of having 450 odd students leaving at the same time with each kid hopping into their own car. My trusty driver managed to squeeze us through and we finally got on the road not too much later.

As I ducked under the shower once home, my thoughts were few. Sheer pleasure to be cooling down and anticipation of that first cold beer.

Life’s simple pleasures.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Shopping - The Sequel
Speaking of which (shopping that is), have you ever tried to buy shoes in Indonesia? Do you have a size that is at odds with the wee little things laughingly called feet here in indo? Have to say, for a bloke with size 11 feet (around size 46 in indo), trying to get a pair of shoes is near nigh impossible. I have been to just about every store in the city and there is always the shake of the head (accompanied by the incredulous look) when asked if they have any in size 46. Usually, the biggest they will have is a 43, sometimes, at a stretch, 44. But 46? Forget about it…

I did have a win some weeks ago when I found a Josef Siebel store that sold up to size 45. Bought a pair and while a bit tight, they are leather and I figured given time they will stretch. My feet feel like they are in a straight jacket but I live in hope. I reckon this time next year they will be worn in nicely. Strangely, the same situation in Hong Kong. Found some great shoes but nothing in my size.

And what about shirts, they are all tiny yet I know there are big Indonesian males out there, I’ve seen them! At the absolute stretch, you may be lucky to find a 17.5 shirt, though it seems 18 (my preferred size), is almost impossible. Usually they are around 16-16.5. Good luck if you find something you like then try to get the right size. The sales girls will look at you somewhat mystified and wonder why you don’t want to get a body hugging, seam splitting, show every ripple of body, tight tube of cotton, shirt. Go figure.

And don’t get me started on jeans. Have you ever tried to find normal denim jeans? The jeans shops have racks and racks of jeans, all made of material that bears no resemblance to denim, all usually stone washed (brings to mind a river, some boulders and a bunch of people whacking the jeans around with gay abandon) with trendy logos plastered all over them. Some have lots of jangly bits hanging off them reminiscent of a B&D party, others artfully torn at knee and thigh to daringly show that hint of flesh, while others have those atrocious wide ends that flare out every which way, to all intents and purposes a reincarnation of Abba gone mad.

Whatever happened to normal blue denim jeans? I kid you not, they are almost impossible to find. I did find a pair at the Levis store last week but not in my size. The salesgirl seemed bemused that I wasn’t more interested in some sort of stretch plastic type material jeans (and I use the word ‘jeans’ loosely). It will take 2-3 weeks for a pair in my size (and no, I’m not size 56, a modest 36 let me tell you) to be delivered. This seems to indicate just how popular true blue denim jeans are. Not much. Sometimes I wonder where this world is going.

Finally, and you may sigh with relief now, as I am on my final point, (lest some other idea strikes me right now) it is by far one of the most pleasant experiences. Shopping that is. You wander around the aisles where a multitude of sale girls are waiting to attend to your every question with a smile and helpful advice. My friend who recently visited from Perth couldn’t get over the sheer number of sales girls in any store. He also couldn’t get over the idea of being followed every step as you wander the aisles. I airily told him that one gets used to it and you do. Sort of.

The sales girls usually call me “bapak” and while on the one hand it makes one feel old, on the other hand, it also makes one feel a sense of belonging even if a foreigner. That I speak Indonesian fairly fluently helps I guess, and as soon as they realize this, their attitude changes, there seems to an increased willingness to help, though I do wonder if the recognition of the few grey hairs I have may have something to do with it.

Indonesians are taught from birth to respect their elders and this is one of the few societies in which this really does happen. Elders are held in esteem, even if they are complete twats. Little wonder that corruption is so big here as the younger person would find it almost impossible to criticize or stop an older colleague. Just won’t happen. But this respect for elders does have its payoffs as well. Instead of regretting the onset of grey hair and wrinkles, in some ways it’s welcomed as you find the people around you actually listening to what you have to say, a new experience for me…

So you enter into discussion on the merits of a particular article of clothing, and usually end up faced with some gentle coercion from her to purchase something you hadn’t really intended to buy. You refuse gracefully, and she just as gracefully accepts defeat. For the moment. As soon as you think its over, she pops up with another thing for you to see and try, even if it looks god awful the last thing you want to do is offend, so again, you enter into discussion, examine it critically and then with great regret pass on it.

There is gentle banter, smiles and more articles brought out to show you. It takes a person of great strength of character, sharp wit and exceptional conversational skills to walk away without purchasing something to assuage the salesgirls feelings.

I usually just buy something.

Yes, shopping in Indonesia is an experience not to be missed.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Shopping. Now usually I don’t have much time for it, both literally and figuratively, but yesterday I braved the Saturday traffic and made my way to Pasar Atum. Atum is an experience in itself. It’s a blend of decrepit old buildings grey with the accumulated grime of centuries, a middle mall, that is much brighter and cleaner, then the new attached mall all sparkling new but few shops yet. One goes to Atum for three reasons only, DVD’s, clothes and fabric.

It is a melting pot of kerbside stalls, shops, and the flashier joints that wouldn’t look out of place in a David Jones complex. Ah, the choice!

So, I wend my way through the crowds, heading for the top floor of the middle plaza to get some movies but find that they too, just like at the mall close to home, have stopped selling DVD’s. Seems there is an ‘operation’ at the moment, as they call it, and all shops have removed their stock and are innocently displaying store copies of older movies. They aren’t fooling anyone. As soon as the coast is clear, the shelves will be restocked and it’ll be business as usual. One week, an old man tells me in a hushed voice. Come back and we should be on again, he says, looking furtively around to make sure no cop is in ear shot.

Again, I find al this subterfuge somewhat amusing. Next week he’ll probably be selling the local copper a few flicks or maybe giving him a few for the sake of friendship.

The whisper is that the cops are actually in charge of production and distribution of the DVD’s but every now and then they have to be seen to be tough so they swoop down on a mall and hit the shops. Though of course, before they do so, word gets to the shops so they all clean out before the dreaded “razia”. The cops turn up, look around and announce that DVD’s are no longer sold in Surabaya. The poli’s are able to sleep better at night and the masses grind their teeth and turn wearily to the 50 odd sitcoms currently showing on Indonesian TV.

Another rumour puts the manufacture and distribution of the DVD’s squarely on the army’s doorstep. Now it’s well known that the cops and the army do not get long, never have, never will. So, whenever there is a rise in tension between the two forces, the cops retaliate by hitting the army where it hurts, i.e their hip pocket, by conducting raids on DVD shops. That they don’t usually do so is due to being paid sums to look the other way. Until pride gets in the way. When ‘face’ is in force, nothing will turn aside retaliation, least of all money.

The third rumour is that with the arrival of Bill Gates in Indonesia this week, there was a move to clean things up so that he wouldn’t see any copied films or software should he happen to drop in to a mall. Now, the likelihood of Bill Gates dropping into Pasar Atum is about as possible as the Queen allowing Keating another grope. You get my meaning I trust.

Anyways, I have a brainwave and ask the old fella about music. All shops that sell movies will also sell compilation discs that usually have between 10 and 20 albums of assorted bands etc. He takes another look at me, checking me for hidden microphones I suspect, and then slowly pulls a bundle of cd’s from under the counter. The selection is shocking; obviously music has been bundled into the sin zone along with movies. I buy a couple (Rp8000 each) as a thank you for his cooperation and then start the real mission of the day.

I’m going to buy some material for shirts. I’ve never had a shirt made for me and I must admit I don’t really know why. Possibly just the hassle of it all. But this time I figured I’d take advantage of the fact that we are leaving soon and had decided to make some before we go. I had a vague idea that the cost factor was around Rp70, 000 for the tailor but didn’t know what the fabric would cost. I was soon to find out.

Passing one low end stall displaying swatches of cloth, they drew me in. I hadn’t really intended to buy fabric for trousers but the stuff was just so nice. Everything was prepacked in a packet, 1.25 metres by 1.5 metres, enough for trousers I’m assured, so I had great fun going through the swatches and impulsively bought 8 packs. Lovely stuff, I can already see myself draped in Armani style pants as I stride confidently around my new school. The packets cost RP50,000 each, a bargain as far as I was concerned. We are talking Italian wool, or so they said, and various other types of material that I had no idea what they were but looked and felt classy. Good enough for me.

I happened to mention to the woman that I was really looking for material for shirts and she brightened even more (she was already very cheery given the business she was getting from me) and told me she actually worked for a fabric shop and would get her assistant to take me there. I figured why not and followed the young chap through the mall, out onto the side street then into a large, brightly lit and spotlessly clean fabric shop, a true Aladdin’s cave this place, piled high with every conceivable fabric you could want.

The salesman there seemed a bit unsure as to me buying the stuff but he soon got into the spirit of things after I had said yes to about 3 different materials and soon I was being presented with bolt after bolt of cloth to handle, touch, rub and generally do all those things I guessed one should do when buying material.

He was delighted as the bolts of cloth started to climb up beside him as we agreed on them, and in the end, he started getting out the really good stuff. These were spectacular to my untrained eye and in the end I had bought enough material for 24 shirts. Somewhat giddy from the experience of buying without thinking of the cost, I pushed financial thoughts aside and focussed on the collection being sized up and cut before me.

Have to admit, it was fun. And the cost? Just over a million rupiahs, about US$120.

With the shirts costing another Rp70, 000 each at a tailor some friends use, I worked out in the end each shirt would cost me around US$15.00 each. Absolute bargain as far as I’m concerned.

Then they offered me the services of their tailor and quoted me a price of Rp50,000 per shirt so I said I would come back the following week (the tailor had already gone home) and get him to make one to see his quality.

They also offered complete suits for US$100.00 including material (and the stuff they showed me was excellent) made to my specs and again I couldn’t fault the cost.

Had a good chat to the store owner who came over to see what all the fuss was about (at one stage I had four people measuring and cutting the cloth for me) and made himself known. Nice old chap, has a daughter who had gone to uni in Melbourne and has her PR (permanent residency- highly prized) he proudly told me. Still owns an apartment a stones throw from crown casino but rents it out these days. We got to talking and he told me he travelled a lot, Thailand, China, Malaysia, Dubai and so on, anywhere to buy material which he buys in bulk then ships back to Indonesia. He must be doing well as he has two shops and is going for a vacation this year to New Zealand. Good on him.

I headed home, quite pleased with myself. Next week the mission is to choose style and tailor. The fella friends use has a good name, designed to provide confidence in their customers. We shall see.

His name? Fit Tailor. Let’s hope he lives up to it.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Some pictures taken recently. A house in my area, big thing that looks like it belongs in "Gone with the Wind", TP- one of the oldest and biggest malls in Surabaya, a street shot and two men getting ready at their roadside food stall for the evening.


A couple of weekends ago we had an early morning fun run starting at my school, invited parents and the community to join in. All for a good cause. It was a good run, everyone enjoyed it!


The lil ones...
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This is the Majapahit Hotel, an old Dutch building that has been lovingly restored.
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Monday, May 05, 2008


One wonders where the days and weeks are going. Every now and then I guiltily look at this blog and think, yep, tomorrow I’ll get onto it but instead something takes me away. Anyways, life here in good ol Boyo as the locals call it (no, not good ol’ but they do regard it affectionately as Boyo) has been hectic but fine.

We had a lovely visit from old friends who live in Perth, Lil C’s godfather and his partner and it was wonderful to be able show them around and catch up.

Dinners, parties, quiz nights, sports days, and more dinners have been happening with increasing intensity over the past couple of months and we have enjoyed it all.

Work is charging along and we are now in the final phase of our first group of Diploma students sitting their exams which started today. Regulations must be followed, paperwork done and then an eerie silence falls upon the section of the school where the students are sequestered for the daily attack on papers that arrive in the distinctive blue envelopes.

So, it’s almost over. I’ve seen and taught this group of students since year ten, watched them become mature young adults, followed their progress as their eyes turn out to the world and they start to talk about life in LA or Sydney or London as their plans start to crystallise for next year.

They are a charming and earnest lot, friendly and gracious to a fault, keen to just get on with it and do what they have to do to get through the exams and emerge blinking in the sunshine of a finished school life and ready to encounter the world. I’m going to miss them, and I know I always say this every year when my year twelves finish and head off into the wide blue yonder.

I sometimes wonder where they have gone, what they are doing, and if I’m lucky, sometimes they will drop in and say ‘Hey Mr D, how are you?’ And I know that they have forgiven me for being a hard task master in their studies, hitting them with assessment sheets with the dreaded words “essay” at the top, chasing them for homework and assignments, sitting them down to chat about a perceived lack of attention to their work and so on. Yes, they are a forgiving lot and its when they come back and visit, secure in their newly found adulthood, yet still tentative in their approach to life, that I know the job has been well done. They will sit down and tell me about their studies at uni, their lives in some foreign city, and in some cases they appear almost wistful for the now seemingly uncomplicated school lives they have left far behind.

There is nothing as rewarding as being a teacher, both personally and professionally. You get to participate in their development, watch them grow, take on new ideas and values, and yet you are spared most of the agonies parents suffer through.

So, soon this lot will move on, and I wish I could say that next year I’ll have my year 11’s to see through, another group that I have watched and cared for over the past 3 years but this is not to be. It’s time to move on.

We have been in Indonesia for 5 years now, 2 in Jakarta and 3 in Surabaya. And as with all good things, there comes a point when you know that while it’s all good, there is more out there.

In January I attended the Sydney Search Associates job fair, an interesting experience for those uninitiated in its mysteries. Basically, you have a large group of schools represented usually by the principal, and you have on the other side a large group of teachers looking for their next overseas job or in lot of cases at this fair, first overseas postings. It’s a rush to meet and greet, pass along resumes, hit the interview trail and basically find that perfect job. I was lucky. I had a list of school I was interested in, not many but enough to give us a selection of countries. At the end of 3 days, I thought I had found the next job, and within a month or so after the fair, this was confirmed.

We are off to lands distant in some ways, yet similar in others. It’s an Islamic country, developing a fast rate with the biggest and best of everything. The tallest building, the largest amusement park, manmade islands and so on. Yep, it’s Dubai. Now, I haven’t been to Dubai as yet, just passed though the airport so I have little base knowledge to go on. Thus, I think its going to be interesting. New place, new experiences and a new suburb to call home.

Some may wonder at this need of ours to keep moving when we have a lovely house back in Perth, and it’s certainly easy enough to get jobs given the current climate but moving country is not that difficult. If you think of moving as merely a shift from one suburb to another, albeit with differences inherent in the new suburb, you’re half way home. It’s fairly easy to get settled and begin to appreciate the differences of a new life. All it takes is some patience, a liberal dose of acceptance for things done differently, and a place to call home.

C will be teaching as well, in the primary school as a newly qualified teacher, while I’m up the road a bit at the high school. She is looking forward to it, though obviously with some trepidation at taking on a new career fulltime, but I know she will cope and do well. The children will be in the same school as her and so will have an easier time of it knowing Mum is around in case they get a bit lost amongst the new setting.

I have few expectations of what life will be like in Dubai, and instead am looking forward to experiencing it. We know it will be different from Boyo, yet we also know that there are similarities which will make the transition easier than if we were to land in a totally foreign country.

So, what am I looking forward to? The challenges of a new job, new people to meet, new things to do, and I expect life will sort its self out as we go along.

In the meantime, I still have 5 weeks of school left, another 2 weeks in Boyo, then we are off to KL for a quick holiday before heading back to Bali for a lengthy holiday in a friends villa. We plan on relaxing, enjoying the time spent with children, and organising whatever we need to organise for the new jobs. We don’t have to be in Dubai until mid August, so we have plenty of time to unwind after what I expect will be a mad dash over the coming weeks.

Not that we should complain. One of the mothers to a student of mine is moving house to a new country in two weeks time so organising packers and movers, dealing with her daughter who is currently sitting the Diploma exams and waves goodbye to her husband on Wednesday who is headed to Iraq for 3 months. Now that is tough, we have it much easier by comparison!

Life is a wonderful thing, all it takes is a step off the cliff and then sails open and you are able to go where the wind takes you. I’ll keep you informed as to how the landing goes!


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