A Few Nights Later

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

Teachers from three of Surabaya’s largest schools met a few months ago. This wasn’t a summit on education, or on international relations, just early parole.

For many of us, it was our first night out in a week. The early part of May in Indonesia had been marred by riots, and rumours of riots. The streets were not safe. Many people had left. (A Husband’s Perspective)

We met, as we had met so many times before, in The Tavern. The Tavern is a small, fairly intimate pub in the Hyatt Hotel(Now the Hotel Bumi). At that time Thursday nights were half price, and affordable. The week before the meeting had been spent incognito and effectively isolated. Ten teachers, a visiting friend, two girlfriends and Emily, my wife. Also present, in an unsupporting role, was a motley assortment of Bules (foreigners)

In the back of the Tavern, where the more clandestine meetings usually take place, a group of young Chinese were enjoying a night of freedom. Perhaps enjoying isn’t the right word. They were almost motionless.

The Bules gained motion as soon as the next group appeared. A television crew from one of the local stations had entered the bar. Suharto had resigned the day before and they were looking for reaction shots. Pak Suharto Keluar (Suharto has left)…. Where were you?

The reaction was forthcoming. One Bule pried himself up from his barstool and stormed over to the crew. His basic problem was a belief that this was a foreigner’s bar and these guys weren’t allowed in here. Well, their presence was unusual, but the presence of a number of local ladies would seem to dispute The Tavern’s Foreigners Only status.

The ladies are a permanent fixture of the Tavern. You can’t go into any bar, disco, or nightclub without seeing a few Chickens. Locals call them Ayam Kampung, Ayam Kampus, or Ayam Malam, or village chickens, high-class chickens, and night chickens. The number of young women making themselves available has increased since the crisis.
As for the Bule’s reaction: his statements were loud, laced with profanity and mercifully brief. The television crew left, the Bule fumed for a bit then resumed his chair and his conversation. His gathering of four had increased by one. One of the previously mentioned ladies had added herself to the group.

For everyone, it was business as usual. A quiet couple of hours, a few beers, some excellent hot pretzels, and a few rounds of cards. As I am perhaps the world’s worst card player, I sat out the game. Most of the conversation was about the previous week. Who had stayed, who had left, who was about to leave – three more teachers left that weekend – and what was going to happen.

Most of the people that stayed have been here for awhile. I’ve been here for nearly two years. Geoff has been here for three years, and Chris a bit longer than that.
There are no absolutes in this situation. John Koeman, a teacher from Holland, had been in Surabaya for seven years. He decided it was time to go. He’s in Taiwan now, as are Marcus and Allison, and Jo and Paul.

Probably the main reason that teachers stay is that they become integrated into the community. Unlike the engineers and hotel managers who come here and are effectively isolated, a teacher is effectively mixed with the population. Some teachers are more mixed than others.

People react positively or negatively to the mixing. Their reaction may be based on their reason for being here. If they’ve come for the money, they’re just here to do a job – and then leave. Anything that interferes with that purpose is a nuisance.
Many teachers are here for the experience. They’re geared up to live in another country, to experience a different culture, to try new foods, or just to learn the language. They’re generally disposed to mixing.

Mixers and non-mixers alike come from every social, ethnic and geographical grouping. The experience we all shared was the temporary release from the unique blend of cabin fever and stress that is Surabaya.

For me; a good remedy for stress is stepping away, physically and mentally. When I take a few moments to relax with friends and family I can then re-enter the fray with a clearer, calmer perspective.

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One of the most important days of my life.

Bright sunlight and a bad breakfast were two elements of one of the most important days of my life.

A day with equal parts fear, anticipation and confused pride was about to begin.
Emily was already at Hospital Number Three in Changsha. Changsha is Hunan’s capital and Hospital Number Three is an appropriately modern hospital, at least by Chinese standards. Emily’s operation was scheduled for nine o’clock that morning. Any surgery is worrying, but this was a Chinese hospital, my wife and our child. Tense would hardly describe my emotions. Emily would deliver the baby by caesarian, due to her age and the estimated size of the baby. Hospital policy forbade me from being in the room during the operation. So I waited outside with our friend Nancy, our school accountant. Tense would hardly describe my emotions. A doctor came out about nine-thirty and I almost jumped out of my skin.
When he proceeded to lean against the door of the operating room and light up a cigarette I almost throttled the insensitive bastard. Walking, sitting and nervously jumping at every noise occupied the better part of the eternity that was the next quarter hour. Then a nurse came out.
“It’s a boy,” she said.
“No, a girl,” I replied.
“Boy,” she insisted.

We had been told it was going to be a girl a few months before and we were quite happy with that. We had chosen to name her after my father’s mother and had taken to calling the baby Catherine. Dutifully following the nurse down a couple of flights of stairs, and towards a small room I stood and watched as she prepared warm water for the baby’s first bath. The blanket was removed and Catherine was revealed to be “a boy!?!”
I was shocked, proud, and no more delighted by being Daddy to a boy, but I was mightily confused.
Our little boy, born at 9:48 Beijing time on 29/03/2004, weighing 3.9 kg, and measuring 58 cm was here and being cleaned and polished. He had all his toes, and fingers, brown eyes and pointed ears. My pride was somewhat checked by the fact that I now had to come up with a name.
The months of preparation gave way to the concern for Emily’s recovery and the baby’s health. Anticipation gave way to joy and responsibility, as a new child became part of our lives. Confused pride remains.

Oh yes, the boy’s name is Wyatt Alexis.