Living in Indonesia: A Husband’s Perspective

This was originally written in 1998 … I haven’t changed much, other than punctuation.

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For me, the stress of this crisis began on Monday, May 18th.

“You’ve been ordered to leave.” Dini’s voice was rapid and strained.

“When?’ I asked as if someone was telling me the bar was about to close.

“This afternoon. Everyone’s meeting at the Shangri-La hotel.”

Dini, from the Canadian consulate, has been a great help. She’s helped with paperwork for our marriage; she intervened with an employer, and she has been a conduit for official information. Dini is also a very professional and pleasant person. Her clipped speech and frantic tone were completely out of character.

Basically, here was the situation. The Canadian Embassy and the US Consulate General Surabaya had chartered a flight. Canadians, Americans, Germans, Dutch and a couple of Turkish nationals were going to fly to Singapore.

For this excursion, they would pay the bargain price of $500 USD. Now, if you’re a businessman or an engineer – no problem. Teachers in Indonesia make between $300 and $450 USD per month. When you have a family, with children in school, you don’t have an excess of cash. My wife Emily and I have two children, Emily’s from a previous marriage, but nonetheless – our children. The wolf may indeed have been at the door, but that sucker was going hungry tonight. My family is my life and no crisis will change that.

On Sunday night we had a family meeting. I outlined the options.

Canada: We could spend everything we have and take the family to Canada. Canada is where I have family and friends, but no job to go back to. More importantly, I don’t have a place to stay, at least for any extended period.

America: I have friends there. Emily, my wife, has a visa. I love the country. It’s a damn expensive trip, and again I don’t have a home or a job there.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is a big, beautiful and exciting city. Emily speaks passable Mandarin and her mother is fluent in Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese. The children’s Chinese is like my Indonesian: pathetic but earnest. Emily has family there. Hong Kong is impossible without money. Finding a job could be next to impossible. I want to see Hong Kong, but I’d prefer the experience to be a positive one.

Taiwan: The jobs are there in Taiwan. Many teachers have left for Taiwan. Would my family be allowed in? I can’t take the chance.

In the end, we decided to wait it out here.

With Wednesday’s impending madness (see story) almost upon us we discussed hiding out in one of Surabaya’s hotels or going out of town. We decided to wait on developments.

No one could give me a clear answer about the family. They’re Indonesian citizens, but they’re also Chinese. Even if Emily could come – as she’s my wife – what about the kids? Even if Emily and the kids were allowed, what about Emily’s mum? their Grandmother? my mother-in-law?

Do in-laws count as carry-on luggage? Don’t freak gentle reader – I love my mother-in-law. She’s a great lady. The bottom line is; I’m not leaving my family.

Norm Mcdonald from the Canadian Embassy said later that my family might be able to come out with me. On their own, Canadians have returned home. Some remain in Singapore waiting out the crisis.

Some will undoubtedly go to Taiwan or Thailand. Some will even go to Bali.

Some American friends are now in Bali, waiting.

We are now at home waiting for the situation to return to normal. Here we sit, packed suitcases and documents at the ready.

Local children are in the street. They’re playing volleyball. The ball makes a dull thud when they hit it. The balls here never seem to have enough air. They’re having fun.

Meanwhile, we sit behind our seven-foot iron fence – waiting.

Some streets, like the one directly in front of our house, are blocked by rusting cars and vans, while other streets are occupied by soldiers. The men seem decidedly less rusty than the cars and vans. The men seem to be having less fun than the children. The men are waiting.

People sit in small groups, talk, drinking and eating. Kaki Limas (five-legged men) the street merchants with their pushcarts, sell food and drink. The voices on the street are uncharacteristically low.

Sharing quick smiles, and nervous glances, hands together or resting on knees – they wait.

A young woman, eating food from a Kaki Lima, shakes her hips slowly and seductively to Ricky Martin’s ‘Maria‘. A large black rooster intrudes on the volleyball game. He exits quickly as the ball narrowly misses him. Too bad. He’s probably the noisy bugger who woke me up this morning, at three o’clock. The dancer has finished her meal and joined the game.

Young men, previously content to watch, have now joined the game. For now, they are moving, playing, and laughing. The waiting may come later.

Part Two fewnights2

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Disturbing and Familiar

Watching the president elect’s inaugural address last Friday I was struck by two things; one that this was a remarkably coherent speech and two that bits of the address were eerily and disturbingly familiar.

The coherence was not expected as the President’s streams of consciousness, ramped up by contempt and vitriol, rarely are focused or logically ordered. A recent speech at CIA headquarters supports this opinion.

The president started off well. His respectful tone towards Chief Justice Roberts, Presidents Obama, Clinton, Bush, and Carter were appropriate and dignified. His exclusion of Mrs. Clinton was perhaps not nice, but one wonders if ‘President’ Clinton would have mentioned Trump or Bernie Saunders. Trump then got to the meat of his discourse. In a movie-trailer worthy synopsis, he pointed out the perceived problems with the ‘carnage’ happening in the United States.

He proceeded to isolate the USA, on the way to making it great again. ‘From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.’

The familiar echoes were the ‘giving power back to the people’ and ‘building with American hands’. And then there was the Charlie Sheen moment, when ‘America will start winning again, winning like never before.’ The echoes of Bane, of John Frederick Paxton, and oddly of Bernie Sanders seem at odds with a speaker, who rarely evokes anyone but himself.

The imagery of an American heartland littered with broken people, rusting dreams, and crumbling infrastructure is not altogether untrue. Coming from the newest resident of the White House, the statements seem a tad ingenuous. To be fair, the image of the 45th president striving mightily to protect people, and using every breath in his body to change the course of mighty rivers may fill some with hope.

Now comes the big moment. ‘Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving. We will no longer accept politicians who ‘are all talk’ and no action, constantly complaining, but never doing anything about it.’ I am reminded of the scene in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian where the talk is all of ‘not just talking’.

‘The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.’ As if the point needed to be underscored.

That this individual, so long divisive, so long derisive and so often disinterested in anyone but himself, could talk of healing, of racial harmony, of a shared creator. That he could speak of caring what happens to a child in Detroit or Nebraska under whatever sheltering skies he may see in his mind’s eye. These statements can only bring back the impassioned question of Joseph Nye Welch, “Have You Left No Sense of Decency?”.