Originally posted in 1998
So, last episode we left for Lovina to see the dolphins.
Along the way we pass the site of Gunung Agung’s 1963 eruption.The devastation was massive and thousands died. The Balinese believe that this was because prayers had been interrupted.Now the boulders, once part of Gunung Agung’s crown, are strewn about,but they are covered with lush vegetation. It was another example of nature’s power to repair itself.
I was reminded of a walk through Canada’s Algonquin park.
Granted, it probably doesn’t need to be said that it certainly wasn’t similar terrain.A picture from the early years of the last century showed a devastated mountain, trees and earth torn away to run a rail line through.
Then in the fall 0f 1995 I walked down that same path and tall, healthy trees shaded me. Waist high grass surrounded me, and I was shade by mature pines. Nature will right itself given a chance.
Now I stood in the lushness of Gunung Agung revival. Gunung is the Indonesian word for mountain, and the center of Bali is a spine of mountains. Many of them are still active volcanoes. As late as 1994 there have been eruptions. They don’t call the Indonesian archipelago the Ring of Fire because of the hot food.We arrived in Lovina. We looked at one place. They wanted RP 300,000 a night. That’s the price of a luxury hotel in Surabaya.
We found the Hotel Padma. We paid Rp 120,000 for each of two rooms. Myself, Emily, her sister Susy, our son Adryan, Susy’s three kids and a family friend. Guys in one room, women in the other.The pool was clean large and warmed by the sun.We ate a large dinner and turned in. At 5:00 a.m. we were up and by six o’clock, we were in two traditional boats heading out to see the dolphins. We were about 20 minutes out when the first small pod appeared.
They surfaced, played about and were gone – only to reappear in another area. This went on for half an hour or so. Then a larger group appeared. The two groups surfaced, dived, disappeared, raced the boats and delighted their audience.It is impossible not to feel a little like an alien watcher, privileged to witness a very personal kinship with nature.
The surrounding mountains were mist-cloaked shadows at the water’s edge. The water was black in the pale early morning light, briefly disturbed by our bright colored boats and the sleek gray bodies that danced and dived around us.
Then it ended. We had spent almost two hours watching. It was impossible to tell who was more excited, the adults or the children.
After breakfast, Adryan and I went snorkeling. A reef lay about halfway between the shore and where we watched the dolphins. Again, we were in a traditional boat. A narrow canoe like craft with twin outriggers, a small (5.5 horsepower) outboard motor and an inverted, triangular-shaped, lanteen sail that also serves to shade our driver/guide as he naps.We don mask and flippers and enter the now blue waters. Colors explode around us. Angelfish, rainbow hued fish, blue neon tetras and unfortunately a few too many jelly fish. We moved location twice.Adryan managed to find a French coin. Once cleaned, it was revealed as a 1995 coin, but still a find. I had to rescue it from the pool bottom later that evening, so the excitement of discovery was obviously short-lived.We stayed two days then headed back to Denpasar.
We flew home that Saturday.
We just returned from Tretes.
Tretes is a small vacation village, an hour outside of Surabaya, and is built on and around the mountain. We stayed at a very nice hotel, the Surya, that’s a bit rundown but has excellent service.
This morning I hiked for two hours in the mountains.
A friend owns one of the larger health clubs in Surabaya, and had invited us to join the hike. Thank God I’ve been running regularly at the gym.
Do you hike?
Man, there’s a big difference between 5 km on a treadmill and two hours trekking over a mountain.
After the hike I had a massage back at the hotel and I’m ready to take on the world … right after my nap.
May all your wishes come true, and may your stockings be free of coal. We’ll have Christmas dinner at one of the hotels. It’s well nigh impossible to find a turkey in a local supermarket, so we have to depend on the International hotels.
On Tuesday December 14th we’ll celebrate our 2nd anniversary. I think it’ll be a quiet evening for two. On Saturday, December 19. At 7:00pm. We’ll celebrate Momma’s birthday.
Our plans have changed so many times this year, I’ve lost count. I think we’ve pretty much settled on a game plan but I wouldn’t bet any money on it. First we were going home, then to Bali, then it was Jakarta, then Hong Kong … and now who knows?
We’re safe and we hope to enjoy our Christmas in a more or less Traditional manner. We’ll have Christmas dinner at one of the hotels. It’s well nigh impossible to find a turkey in a local supermarket, so we have to depend on the International hotels.
We’re safe and we hope to enjoy our Christmas in a more or less traditional manner. It is the middle of Ramadan here. This is supposed to be a time of quiet reflection but somehow it’s a time of petty theft and small explosions. Starting at four in the morning, the teenagers begin exploding firecrackers that have enough powder to sound like blasting caps. And I thought Duplessis family holidays used to be a bit too loud.
Sheesh, appreciate what you’ve got.
Indonesia is going through some growing pains, which the IMF is complicating, bit things are relatively stable here.
The IMF is still pushing for an end to fuel and energy subsidies, as it seems that they haven’t clued in to the fact that this isn’t a developed country with an adequate social net and most of these folks can pay the local prices. Local salaries work well enough in this economy. Labor and production costs reflect the awesome imbalance of a largely agrarian society with a marginal industrial base trying to struggle in a world economy.
Imagine the kid with the lemonade stand being told he has to pay taxes and employee benefits, and then being further taxed on his product. These people need a guided economy, not an enforced one.
There are a number of local monopolies here, that create market instability and there are a number of local industries – lumber and mining being the major ones, which are largely foreign controlled. They bring in money for a handful of govt. types bit none of the profits circulate. The money is sucked out. Foreigners love to talk about local corruption here, But who’s the crook? … the guy that takes the money or the jokers that egg him on and then share the pot with him. Once he’s caught, they conveniently forget their role. There you have it; my simplistic world view. Hopeful holiday sentiment will now be administered to your dazed and addled spirit.
I hope things are going well for you.
We’re doing okay here.
This is basically an update.
Here, things are going well. The business is beginning to grow.
I thought I’d better drop you a short note and say hi.
How is everything?
Except for a couple of riots, Surabaya, at least, has been quiet.On Monday, Tuesday, and especially during Habibie’s visit on Wednesday, traffic was nuts. Most of the so-called rioting was done by high school students. The action consisted of stone throwing, jumping into and out of trucks, running in the street and shouting obscenities at the passing army convoys. Basically it was a field trip for students in the Stupidity 101 program.
I was just remembering how beautiful a Canadian autumn can be.
I look forward to rediscovering the colors and smells of a September morning.
I’ve tried to tell Emily, the kids and my students about the long walks. How difficult to communicate the long moments spent admiring the golds, reds greens and browns. To feel the last warmth of the year on your face. To stare unashamedly into clear autumn skies. To breath deep of the cooling breeze. To taste greedily of the clean air. How to explain looking up at the sky and knowing that this brief, transitory experience has to be embraced and then tucked safely away as winter’s approach is heralded in the ever-darkening skies.
I’ve been keeping up on some important news from home.
My brother’s wife just had a baby boy. As far as seeing my first nephew, it looks as if it won’t happen for awhile. We’re looking at March at the earliest. We could be coming as late as September. Emily may be going to Hong Kong in a couple of weeks. We’re hoping to make some new contacts. I’ll keep you posted.
I’ve actually gained an incredibly large family here. Our niece Yay Jen had a birthday last night. I was working late, so I missed the party. This happens a bit too often, unfortunately. I either miss things, or show up late and overdressed. Men here generally favor Batik dress shirts. Batik is a tasteful Hawaiian shirt. Is tasteful stretching the point?
I have yet to ‘go native’. When I go to a wedding, funeral or to work, I wear a tie. I do not wear sandals, and I still don’t smoke. Being the only abstainer in a family of chain-smokers you can imagine what I feel about this delightful pastime.
I awoke at 4:00am with a major sinus headache. Emily spent two hours wrapping my face with hot towels. This helped a lot. We waited until 9:00am and made our way to Adi Husada. Loosely translated as Hussein’s House of Apathetic Sadism.
I tolerated the hours-long wait. I tolerated the idiot questions. I tolerated the two-hour wait for results. Then my patience paid off. I was afforded the wondrous opportunity to witness a crowd of these caring souls gathering around a little old lady on a stretcher, and lighting up. There must have been eight or nine of these knights in shining ignorance.
Well, I lost it. Whether it was the elegant way I enunciated the ‘F’ word or my suggestions of their doubtful parentage, the crowd dispersed. Emily was not impressed. She’s right. I don’t like it, but she’s right. I now reserve my anger, albeit subdued, for the guitar carrying miscreants who assemble at our gate.
It’s bad enough on the street, but they’ve gone too far when they come to my home. One of the buggers had the nerve to ring the bell the other night. The servants also know not to give money to anyone at the door. This has been my rant for the day.
I’ve just signed to teach a few extra hours at one of the ritziest schools in Indonesia. It’s smack dab in the middle of one of the swankest housing developments you could imagine. Do you know about Ciputraland This place looks like the set of Miami Vice. Pastel colors, and beach house motifs abound. You throw in a couple of Batik shirts and Don Johnson or Tom Selleck would feel right at home.
The school has facilities that I have rarely seen in Canada. Large classrooms, air-conditioning, well-stocked libraries, a video library, a computer lab, an art room, a large cafeteria, a wealth of teaching materials, and most surprisingly … a playground.
This is a culture that treats physical exertion as a strange phenomenon. Ice-skating is still amazingly popular here. You’d be shocked how good some of the kids are. The one big problem with being on the ice with them; is their complete lack of awareness. In the middle of a group someone will kick out, do a spin or rush in for the sole purpose of stopping suddenly and causing a spray of ice.
I enjoy skating. I avail myself of the opportunity whenever Emily and her sisters decide to shop. We arrive at the mall together. They shop. I skate. Then we have lunch. Saturdays are mall days. They window-shop, I skate, we see a movie, then we eat.
I’ll write more later. My company is having an Anniversary bash, and I’ve been suckered into the MC position. I think I need my sleep.
I’m trying hard to be more Zen … whatever the heck that means. It occasionally works. I haven’t been bit, scratched or swore at by any of my students. Taxi drivers do, on occasion, swear at me. It’s amazing how selectively some people learn a language.
I have letters all ready to mail to family and friends, now I have to find a working post office. The regular postal service is a nightmare here. We visited the central post office in hopes of tracking some missing mail, both coming and going, but we ended up almost as lost as the mail. Hundreds of people, thousands of letters, and none of it in any obvious order. Ah well, that’s Indonesia.
We’re okay here. Both the kids are back at school, and Emily and I are too busy … as usual. Work is going well. The business has been a bit shaky due to the rupiah’s fluctuations, and also because of Hungry Ghost month in Hong Kong. During august the Chinese have to appease their ancestors with offerings of foods, gifts, and the burning of money … usually a symbolic representation is used. It’s very upsetting to the normal flow of business. The new airport in Hong Kong is also incredibly disorganized.
Well, that’s life in Asia. The teaching is going well.
Emily and I just returned from Tretes, a mountain village, a few minutes ago. We were actually at a church retreat. I didn’t burst into flames as I entered church property so I suppose my soul is safe for the moment. It was nice. It was quite relaxing. By some miracle of divine intervention, or just dumb luck, the God Squad didn’t attempt to lure me into their ranks. Emily has been very understanding about my quiet time. She knows that I believe. She doesn’t understand why I feel no overwhelming need to wave my hands in the air and scream “GOD IS GREAT!”
Personally, I think the big guy knows the score, and flattery ain’t gonna help if you screw up.
Life is going well.
I would like to return to doing some design work, but right now, and right here, I can provide for my family by teaching. It’s not so bad. I enjoy teaching, and I’m good at it.
How’s the gig?
I call home once a month.
We hope to be home by next October.
We just celebrated Year One.
On Saturday, December 19. At 7:00pm. We celebrated our 1st anniversary with a fish and lobster BBQ. Didn’t you get your invitation? It would have been nice to have you there.
I was in Singapore for a couple of nights. I’m quite happy to be home. I stayed in a little hotel near Chinatown. Monday was the Hindu festival, Deepavali … the victory of good over evil. Boy, are they optimistic. Most of the city was as boring as ever. After this last trip, I don’t think I’ll think of Singapore in quite the same way as I used to.
A visit to the noodle house near the hotel quickly dispelled any lingering notions of Singapore’s sterility. The midnight crowd consisted of three very mean looking Chinese men, four intoxicated Indians, and three of the ugliest, toughest looking hookers this side of a biker movie. I spent most of my time just walking around in Singapore. I hate shopping malls, so Singapore quickly grates on me. It is nice just to pick a direction and stroll for a few hours.
With the current situation here, walking around isn’t really advisable. When I first came here I walked everywhere, and at anytime. Now we have daylight robberies, and midnight decapitations. All this for just pennies a day.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch …
We just went through some minor renovations on the house. Most of the major work had been done at the same time as the rioting. If you can imagine watching coats of white paint being applied, plaster slapped on, and tiles replaced and buffed even as news reports of burning, riots and looting filled the airwaves; you can begin imagine the admixture of shock, anger, fear, fits of lunatic humor, cabin fever and darn fool stubbornness that gripped this household for a few weeks.
We’re exporting crabs right now. We have a small interest in lobster exports as well.
Since we only started last January, we still have a lot to learn. Most business here has a shelf life of a few months. Suppliers have no customer loyalty, and the concept of taking less hasn’t sunk into fishermen, exporters or buyers. I sometimes fear I may be party to ecological rape, and economic suicide.
For us it’s been a good experience. We made a good profit at the start, and then the bottom fell out of the market. We stopped exporting for a month. Emily’s business was on hiatus. We’ve been up again for a couple of weeks.
My own job goes merrily along
I’ve just taken a few more hours, for a few more Rupiah. I’m still studying Bahasa Indonesian. It’s coming along. It’s stressful, but it’s a great feeling to be able to throw a phrase together. I’m also better able to explain things to students, and that makes a world of difference. I still avoid speaking anything but English in class, since the students are quite ready and willing to take the cue to waste on hour while you steer them back to English. Everything is a balancing act here. Well, that’s teaching.
Daily life, family and religion; three shows daily under one roof. Emily and the kids were Buddhist up until a few years ago. After Emily’s father died, she converted. The Christian religion here is probably closest to Baptist. Ain’t that a frightening thought. Hey, I’m Catholic. Our idea of faith is a quick confession, three Hail Mary’s and call me next Sunday. The churches here all seem to be of the charismatic variety. Which means, of course, that you’ve got your shouters, your shakers, your dancers, your prancers, your enthusiastic wavers and your quiet and composed prayers. I’m the quiet, uncomfortable one. I’m the sole practitioner of a splinter religion.
The kids have never had a traditional Christmas dinner. Emily had her first turkey dinner on our honeymoon in Singapore last year. She also saw her first Lion dance. We visited a cultural exposition.
I’ve made some changes in my life. I’ve actually attended church a few times. Emily and the kids go every Sunday. I’m trying to adjust, but I have to be honest; traditional Christianity still confuses me. I’ve also been able to witness the Buddhism that’s practiced here. We’ve attended a few weddings, and a few too many funerals.
Emily’s Mom, who lives with us, is Buddhist. The adjustment to such a close-knit family has been rewarding, irritating, incredible, frustrating, and ultimately highly recommended. Emily’s two sisters and her brother are also Buddhist.
Indonesia’s Buddhism is probably as fetish oriented as Korean Buddhism, with its chants, incense and rituals, but it’s somehow encouraging to see any culture survive under such adverse conditions. A full blown Buddhist funeral is quite interesting. From the chanting, to the pacing of the maidens(no I’m not kidding), to the burning of the house, money, major appliances, cars and servants. These flammable offering are, thankfully, all paper representations.
Although I’m interested in knowing more about everything, unlike other tourists in Bali I had no wish to intrude on such a personal time. I can only imagine how these ‘Gomers’ would feel if a crowd showed up at ol’ Aunt Tilly’s sendoff.
“Don’t mind us folks, we’re just here to soak up the culture.” “Could you lift up Aunt Tilly’s chin a bit more. Now put this wine glass …”
And Then …
We had been hoping to get to Canada at Christmas, but it appears we’ll wait until late September,1999. My teaching schedule keeps expanding, and while that may be good for our bank account it doesn’t leave much free time. My wife has just returned from China, and we’ve been catching up. Between work and family I haven’t had much time to even open my mail, much less reply to it. I’m currently dealing with a sinus infection. Emily has been great about preparing hot towels for me. Twenty minutes with those, and I can face the day.
Just so you don’t think I’ve married some weak-willed Geisha, this helping works both ways. I’ve actually found a way to help Emily with her occasional migraines. I paid close attention to the old woman that gives us massages. I can now give a pretty decent foot massage. This has helped relieve Emily’s pain to the point that she can sleep. She only has one or two migraines a month, but I know it hurts like hell.
Things are calm here now.
My friend Chris is also working at Ciputra. He and I have been teaching elementary school classes. Try to picture the two of us surrounded by rabid toddlers. Kind of scary, uh?
I hope Christmas finds you and your family safe and together. We’ll have Christmas dinner at one of the hotels. It’s well nigh impossible to find a turkey in a local supermarket, so we have to depend on the International hotels. We’re safe and we hope to enjoy our Christmas in a more or less Traditional manner.
On Saturday, December 19. At 7:00pm. We celebrated our 1st anniversary with a fish and lobster BBQ. Didn’t you get your invitation? It would have been nice to have you there.
I’ll write more later.
Hello again I haven’t heard from anyone for awhile.
Adryan has been helping more with the business lately.I suppose we have the beginning of a family legacy.
I’m up late because our dogs are indulging in their two favorite sports; chasing rats and pissing off Wayne.Rocky is the silent and resourceful hunter.He stakes out a spot; waits for the first signs of movement; then pounces.
He has also learned to pry the kitchen door open. In itself this isn’t a problem, and would be a good reason to cheer his innovation and intelligence. It’s just that this allows cats, and a particular gray bastard, to enter the house.
These cats, and certainly my particular favorite, has delighted in climbing atop the kitchen table and partaking of the assorted bounty. In the process they have broken plates, glasses, and God knows how many bowls.Aside from having almost no sleep for three months, life is going well.
Work is good, the business is good, and Surabaya is quiet.I think Emily and I will be back in Canada by October. We hope to stay for four or five weeks. We’ll probably be joined by Emily’s mom and her sisters.I’m working too many damn hours.I’m trying not to be a workaholic.
I avoid alcohol enough now, so that’s not the worry it was.I find it difficult to turn away hours, but it has become a bit much.Life here is going well.
Occasionally there are bumps.We have a good life here, but I miss family, friends and a familiar landscape. I would love to return to Canada. There would be two conditions though:Could I find a decent job, and could Emily find work.Indonesia, or perhaps it’s just teaching, is stressing me out right now, but it’s the only viable gig I have.
I’m qualified to do other things.I’d like to write, I’d love to design, and it would be great to feel creative again … but will it pay?I’d love to just teach computers, or writing again.
My buddy Chris and I have been talking about a couple of scripts. I know I can write, but I don’t know thing one about marketing a script.The idea that keeps cropping up when you talk to people is a story about this life.There are eight million stories in the naked city, as the narrator said.
Maybe there are 10 or 15 really decent stories.