16 Jan 2013

Well, it has been an awfully long time between my blogs! have read many friends' blogs and felt very guilty at my lack of "blogging effort".  I refuse to acknowledge the date of my last blog...so I shall not look!

It "hit me" as I sat watching snippets of the Australian Open (my 5yo son who is home sick is insistent on watching cartoons - bleccch!! Stupid Sponge Bob I say!!) that we have survived an entire, whole year here in the "megalopolis" of Jakarta! I was remembering about how I would sit and watch last year's Australian Open while we were still living at the hotel.  How things have changed...mostly thankfully for the better.

Currently Jakarta is in the grip of the wet season.  There has been non-stop rain - and by that I mean "jungle-strength" rain - solidly for the last week.  Our yard is mud, the chooks are paddling (poor bedraggled things), the pool nearly overflowing and no doubt any second will be green and swamp-like, but our problems of course really are inconsequential.  We still have a substantial roof over our head, running water, power and we are dry. Roads are flooded...mainly in North Jakarta apparently, houses and businesses inundated and there have been at least 10 fatalities reported.  Knowing how poorly records are kept here, and how "reporting" doesn't really happen at all, I am sure that the fatalities from this will in reality be certainly far, far higher - and sadly no doubt be mainly the vulnerable...elderly and the young.

A big thunderstorm came through this morning at around 2.30am our time, and had me awake for over an hour.  The thunder here is mega-mega-loud...the loudest I have ever heard in my life! The huge noisy storm that came through a coupe of early mornings ago was so loud it set the car alarm off and gave everyone a massive scare...picture many crying children in bedroom then in bed with parents...groan!! (Bing moment: That is why I am so tired this week!!) 

The storms here are quite different to home.  Here there is much thunder and lightning but not obviously so much in the way of wind and blusteriness.  No one here has ever heard of hail, and trees generally only fall over because the ground becomes so saturated.  Many "houses" here are very poorly built with corrugated iron sheeting lust laid one on top of the other with tarps and similar things layered over and just loosely secured. These still seem to stay in place even after huge storms and downpours, unless of course they are washed away in floods.

Traffic here becomes even worse when it rains (is that possible!?...YES!!).  It was so bad one night last year that it took me 4 hours to get home from work...a journey of only 20-28km (depending on the route taken)...normally a journey that takes about 45 minutes! Very frustrating and a total waste of time.

School have just cancelled all sport and activities this afternoon because there has been so much rain...

Stay safe and well everyone...

1 Jul 2012


I know life is all about balance, but nowhere have I ever felt that it is more true than here Indonesia!  As a Westerner, when “balance” is mentioned in related to us as humans, I would tend to immediately think of life/home/work balance, but here, I think it is that and more - even more literal and basic than that at times.

When being driven around the streets of Jakarta (as one does when one has a driver), there really is ample opportunity to just sit back and observe.  I get carsick if I look down to do anything too much like reading or texting on the phone, so I have done a lot of observing while driving to and from school and running errands in the last 4 or 5 months since we arrived.

I have come to appreciate that the art of riding the motorbike is an amazing feat of skill “thing”, and that most here make it look truly effortless.  You will regularly see children that can be no older than 9 or 10 driving the motorbike themselves, with or without friends piled high on the back, no helmets, wending their way easily and “care-free-ly” through the bustling streets with the everyday and unforgiving traffic of trucks and buses and other millions of motorbikes! Watching them can sometimes almost result in palpitations for the observer!! Individually the motorbike riders can actually be quite useful, allowing the car driver to sneak into a gap, and “break up” the traffic…very convenient for allowing the car drivers to get a “nose” in!  But, en masse the motorbikes really can be quite intimidating and an incredibly formidable force to be reckoned with!

In Indonesia, motorbikes can be hired for individual transport, similar to hiring a taxi elsewhere.  This is the “ojek”.  They are very cheap, and very convenient in the ever-increasing crazy traffic that plagues Jakarta.  Motorbikes can of course sidestep these jams and easily weave in and out of the smaller spaces!! There are taxis here, not all of them are above board or trustworthy, but they too are cheap, but of course in the traffic, they’re slow. With the Ojek, one just hops on the back and holds on, and away they go!

Also, as well as human cargo, it will never cease to amaze me what other things can be carried on a single motorbike…along with of course the rider/driver.  We have seen enormous boxes full of innumerable goods – loose eggs (I regularly break eggs in their cartons just getting from the supermarket to home!), live chickens, computer printers, donuts, lunches, vegetables, numerous bales of hay type-stuff, seven 19 litre water bottles…full – all at once on the same bike, and the prize winner is a full sized fridge.  Yep, that says, “fridge”!! All things are tied on with raffia-type string/tape…which has to be the “gaffa tape” of Indonesia…can aff-ix anything!!

Compared to those who are actually in charge and driving/riding the bike proficiently, being a passenger is a whole other ball game! It is again balance that one must possess though, to be able to master this art form of being the motorbike passenger.

I have observed that motorbike passengers do tend to fall into a certain few categories…

1.             The “relax-look-no-hands-at-all” group. This group must have core strength and balance like no one else on Earth!! With chaotic traffic surrounding them, and the weaving in and out of this traffic, constantly and stopping and starting regularly…the hands and arms never move from their sides.  They are supremely balanced and seemingly calm human beings. 
2.             The “look-no-hands-but-I-can-also-multi-task” passenger.  These people, as well as having great core strength and supreme balance have to contend for the title of “the great multi-taskers”!! I have seen people texting, reading, working on the computer (yep…kid you not…computer balanced on driver’s back/butt and passenger tapping away!!), eating, and even children I have seen doing homework while balancing on the back of a motorbike!
3.             The hold on to the driver casually. Appropriate, does the job but still looks cool.
4.             The “hold-on-as-tightly-as-I-can-so-the-driver-can’t-breathe” look. This would be me I must say.  I would be petrified to ride on the back of a motorbike, and really do not think I could do it! I am certain I would be unable to ride on the back of a motorbike because I would need a helmet at the bare minimum!  So few of these motorbike drivers and paassengers seem to wear helmets …it just terrifies me even to watch them sometimes.

Children on motorbikes are not something we are accustomed to seeing as urban Australians. Along with all the goods and chattels like fridges, here children also get piled onto motorbikes too!! In our Jakarta travels we have seen Mum, Dad and three or four children (including newborns strapped to their parent in a sling), no one wearing a helmet scooting and weaving effortlessly through the traffic too! (Sometimes with a chicken or two, or other goods piled on to boot!!) As well as the newborns who are physically tethered to a larger person, there are innumerable configurations for the positioning of children to ride on the motorbike – some are really quite inventive! They can stand in between an older person’s legs and face forwards, or backwards towards the driver, they can be seated on the front tip of the seat with the driver, or at the back of the seat perched precariously so that if a bump would ever be hit (literally every 5 minutes!), bouncing off would be a real possibility!  (and I’m not sure sometimes that the driver would even notice!!) Now, all of these combinations can be achieved either awake or asleep, and I have even seen children literally draped forwards over the handle bars sound asleep while the motorbike is traversing the incredibly noisy, dusty and frantic traffic!  The “Titanic” pose (i.e. standing in between the drivers legs facing forwards, with arms splayed out, wind in the hair type of look seems to be particularly popular with the 6-10 year old age group! Wedging children between adults, especially if the child is asleep, with an adult holding onto the child’s head or under their jaw to keep it steady and upright is commonly seen.  I do not know how these children sleep in this environment!

That brings me to another topic, of sleeping, and the Indonesians can really do it ANYWHERE!! A favourite position for them to sleep on their motorbike is to lay on their back, back on the motorbike seat with legs forward draped over the handle bars of the motorbike. How that can be comfortable, I will never know! Or how they are able to balance on such a narrow strip and not fall off once asleep is beyond me. Supreme balance.

People here also balance all sorts of bags and packages on their bodies…on their heads, akin to African tribes-people. They also balance their mobile food carts on their shoulders… a bit like the classical Chinese pictures balancing the baskets on their shoulders. These Indonesian mobile food vendors often lug around a gas cylinder under an oil-filled wok to fry whatever it is they are selling door-to-door on foot.  They then pick up and put down their self contained store to cook your goods, then hoist up the contraption to move on to the next customer.  How they don’t slosh that boiling hot oil around and burn themselves, is again, another amazing feat of balancing.

Construction workers here climb about quickly and nimbly at all sorts of terrifying heights, and balance on the beams…often in thongs or rubber boots, or no shoes, with no safety gear at all.  The bamboo scaffolding is there, but how useful it would be at preventing or lessening a fall I’m not sure.  Workers above roads hang out over the edge of structures to change signs or build things, and again, all about balance…no protective gear at all.  Neither group have safety harnesses.  Breath-taking stuff and more supreme balance.

Trucks are packed to the brim and above…with no “hungry-boards” so that the load will be at least a meter or so above the edge of the truck tray! It will be tied on with a tarp, and bound with  kilometres of rope…all balanced perfectly.  There is no way that a part-delivery could ever happen as the whole lot would just topple once any single part of it was disturbed!

And like “us” Westerners, the balance of work/life/family seems to be just as hard for everyone here in Jakarta as we find it at home (wherever that may be).  Admittedly, there is a lot more home help available to the people here, and especially to expats, as wages in Indonesia appear to be so comparatively cheap.  But, with the added burden of sometimes huge travel times due to Jakarta’s traffic woes, and children and school commitments, and work and leisure…it is still a juggle for all…just a different one.  It is still hard to find that balance. Indonesians too juggle their kids with nannies, maids, family etc, to manage to do the school, work and home-life thing…perhaps this is the one thing that they do actually truly struggle to balance…

28 Jun 2012

The end of an era.

Every education system is different.  That of course is a given.  No-one does it “right” according to everyone else, but in truth, surely, no-one does it “wrong” either.  All countries produce intellectuals and individuals of all levels and all professions, so of course there has to actually be “something right” that everyone does…it is just different! Part of our adventure to this part of the world is to expose ourselves and our children to these differences, and to try to encourage tolerance, understanding and flexibility in all.

While we are living here in Jakarta, our children are attending the British International School. We chose the school on its great reputation and strong swimming training programme.  It also seemed to be the most “similar” school to what the children were used to at home, in an attempt to try to keep the upheavals to a minimum, yet try something different.  
There are so many differences - some anticipated, some not!! The whole school year is different to Australia.  I hadn’t bargained on that.  Duh!! Our schools in Australia follow the standard calendar year with school beginning in January or early February, and finish at the end of the year in early December.  Our lovely long summer break of course coincides with the (Christian) celebration of Christmas, which we can all relax and savour slowly, and then, of course, the changing of the New Year.  Not so here.  Summer in the Northern Hemisphere of course is in the middle of the year, and the long “summer break” at this school is the same timing – so yes it makes perfect sense…but it just feels all wrong! Finishing the school year in June…well, that’s just “so out of whack” too to this Australian!!

Back home, primary school goes from Pre-School (or “Prep” as it is now known) up until Grade 7. High School is then Grade 8 to 12.  Kindergarten or Pre-Prep is an option that a good proportion of families choose to partake in too, and this year, as the name suggests is the year before Pre-School. Recent changes are afoot at home (Queensland) with High School to soon start from Grade 7 and the development of a “Middle School” concept also under way. None of this had actually been implemented when we left home, and our eldest daughter was going to just miss out on the new format. Our second daughter would have schooled under the new changes – so I was prepared for that, and knew I had a few years “up my sleeve”.  When it came to our eldest though, my mind was still in the “old fashioned” school model mode! Here they start at Foundation Stage 1 (Pre-Prep), FS 2 (Prep) then grade 1 through to Grade 13!!  

Starting a new school here then, my mind just again (you think I’d learn!) automatically applied the same “old fashioned” thoughts to this new school, and I just assumed that the same structure would apply here.  Wrong again!!! It hasn’t been until the last couple of weeks, as we have started to have orientation for high school and “swap days” where the children spend a couple of days in High School that it has really started to sink in that our eldest is in fact, really and truly, off to high school next year! (Cue the “now I feel old comments and thoughts loudly in my head”!)

I know it is really no different to just going up another year level at school…of course that was going to happen any way, but there is just “something” a bit more “heavy duty” about “going to High School”.  The uniform changes.  There are the connotations of the need for more “seriousness” about the education and the associated processes - the "buckling down".  There’s the importance of the student “succeeding” which then of course will reflect intensely on their future career choices, and these options of course have forever life changing impacts – for both student and parents.  The higher expectations from the children and of course the increased maturity of both my daughter and (more worryingly) the other students she will be able to mix with.  Her peers will now of course range in age up to 17 or 18…a whole new ball game with interests and habits and what they have access to! Eeeek!!  My “baby” is entering the “lion's pit” in many ways! (Big breaths, big breaths…)

The other night was the Grade 6 graduation party.  (Even that sounds wrong! To me…you don’t graduate in Grade 6!!)  Both parents and students attended.  The party really was incredibly well organized and a huge amount of thought was obviously put into it by the parent/s who organized it.  It was at a restaurant function room.  The decorations and ambience were perfect…nothing too over the top…just enough.  There were plain helium balloons, great lighting, great music with a DJ playing, a photo booth, huge lolly bowls, and even purpose made wall huge hangings declaring the “Class of 2012”.  There was a (soft) drinks bar where parents could also order a harder drink if they chose, and a simple but really good quality and beautiful tasting hot buffet for dinner.  There was even a graduation cake! There were a couple of simple games for the graduants, a few speeches, many “thank yous” then lots of dancing! Even the parents got into the dancing! An age-old favourite conga-line emerged, individuals shone, people sang loudly out loud and to themselves, got lost in the music and people just got down, boogied and had a lot of fun!  It really was a hoot!

I acquired a whole different view of my daughter at this event too.  She is normally such a serious soul, and is usually very guarded with me for some reason…not ever really keen to share her real thoughts or have a chat, or just relax with me sadly. (Teenagers...) But, on this night she really let her hair down – and I sat and just watched her and her friends in awe.  It was just so lovely to see her mixing with her friends, she relaxed and danced a lot, and she seemed to be just so accepted and respected by her friends and peers, and she seemed so totally comfortable with her friends of only a few months, and they with her. To me that just spoke volumes, about, not only my daughter’s incredible self-confidence, amazing resilience and ability to adapt to new environments, but also as a testament to her friends that she has chosen, that they obviously have the very same qualities. 

I know there will be further struggles and issues (oh, there will be some doozies for sure…don’t you worry!!), but this night just really reassured me that we as parents, have obviously managed to instill some very desired qualities in our very capable daughter, and that she is using them very wisely indeed!

Bring on High school – she (we) will tackle the “lion pit” head on and very well armed!

30 Apr 2012

It all started with hamburgers. I thought it was a simple enough meal to try to prepare for tea last night (Monday night). Mmm...not so sure now.

I did the grocery shopping during the morning at a large-ish chain of grocery stores that generally and  reliably have a lot of imported stuff and Western foods for us "delicate" and "fussy" expats!  This day...no bread rolls or hamburger buns.  (all were the sweetened Asian bread...yecch!!) Great start (not!!) for our hamburgers, that by now I had my heart (or rather stomach!!) set on (and I'd told the children, so HAD to happen!!). So, I peeled back and grabbed some breadmix. Easy...I'll chuck it in the breadmaker while making the other components of the burgers...too easy.

Raced around during the day, went out to collect cherubs from school and attend a work meeting...and bammo, one Mother of a thunderstorm just as we were all leaving my meeting at round 3.45pm.  Yay. Chaos on the roads, localised flooding everywhere, very hairy driving conditions, and everyone was a bit frazzled when we got home. Made it safely though.

Still pouring rain.

After we unloaded everything, and by the time I came back from the bathroom, D1 & D2 had spread themselves out in the kitchen AGAIN...and have icing and cake EVERYWHERE!!!! Arrrrgggghhhh!!! We had all this on Sunday, and it drove me nuts!! It was lovely that they want to cook, but the mess that they generate is enormously exponentially larger than the end results!! (And on Sunday...our house helper has they day off...great!!) And, of course, D1 and D2 do not "see" cleaning up as part of the deal.

Still pouring rain. Road at front of our house - flooding.

I elbowed my way in to the kitchen, and at least put the bread mixer on to start making the dough.  And left the kitchen...with instructions that they hurry up and finish what they're doing and CLEAN UP!!!  (At  least our home helper was there to help with cleaning up...phew...some sanity preserved!!)

Still pouring rain. Road at front of our house - flooding. Yard flooding, pool filling up...

I eventually got back into a clean-ish kitchen, and mixed the mince for the rissoles/patties, chucked the fresh beetroot in the microwave to steam, cut up the onions and mushrooms and put them on low to cook and caramelize, cut up the tomato and lettuce...and tried to dodge three other people in the kitchen.

Still pouring rain. Road at front of our house - flooding. Yard flooding, pool filling up... Thunder and lightning...

D1 comes out with attitude to boot saying her shower is not working properly, and that her shower has no hot water.

Pouring rain. Road at front of our house - flooding. Yard flooding, pool filling up... Thunder and lightning... Noisy, noisy with rain so heavy!

I decided to let our gardener/guard/home handy person know there was potentially a problem with the hot water.  I checked the circuit board...all OK. The circuit board decided to spectacularly fry itself on Thursday last week, and burnt through a safety switch...all very dramatic stuff.  Thankfully we were home and our  gardener/guard/home handy person rapidly shut the main switch off averting most probably a house fire.  I shudder to think.  Anyhow, this was not the current problem.  Thankfully our gardener/guard/home handy person went to investigate and realised that the hot water system that supplies D1's bathroom (and D2's/S1's bathroom and laundry) had blown a hose! So, in fact the water dripping down all over the windows of the laundry was water from the hot water system...not the pelting down noisy rain! I think I probably would have even missed that that what it was...but thank goodness gardener/guard/home handy person didn't! He checked that the pipes etc were not live (by touching them!!! Aaaaaarrrggghh!!!) then turned the power off.  Then he tried to tackle the hose pipe spraying hot water everywhere full bore.  No taps to turn it off, water spraying into the laundry now.  At least he managed to redirect the water to the garden.  I'm not sure how long it had been spraying water everywhere, but all the laundry hanging out under cover to dry was now drenched, and so were the gardener/guard/home handy person and his wife.

Still pouring rain. Road at front of our house - flooding. Yard flooding, pool filling up... Thunder and lightning... Noisy, noisy with rain so heavy! Now people talking loudly, children asking a million questions loudly...

At this point, I poured myself a glass of wine.

That didn't fix the problem surprisingly...the water was still gushing.  Full bore. More wine...

Our gardener/guard/home handy person was now doing his impression of the boy and his finger and a dyke...

I tried to call the number we have for house maintenance and problems.  No English.  Get desperate and ring real estate agent.  He gave me the home owner's mobile number...call them. 5.30-6 pm. She is not impressed...tough.  She agrees to send someone...TOMORROW!!!!! No, no, no...not good enough sorry.  She agrees to send someone tonight...much better thank you very much.

Burgers are burning...

Wine still not fixing problem.

Staff getting panicky.

Call my husband...making staff much happier.  Of course...a man will fix it and know what to do...although I admit in this case, they're probably right...but, he's still yet to arrive home!  Finally husband and driver arrive home and driver is amazing and knows where and how to shut off all water to house.  Phew!! Temporary relief of crisis.  The men manage to isolate water and just shut off water to that part of the house that is affected. Phew!! We rang owner back to apologise, and say we would be ok until tomorrow if needed, but by now of course, repairman has arrived.  Problem inspected and they will return to fix tomorrow. (I think.)

Onions and mushrooms and burgers now burning...

At 6.30pm we all sat down to a hamburger each, homemade buns, homemade meat pattie, fresh steamed beetroot and salad with caramelized onions and mushrooms....not bad if I do say so myself.

What a day!!

Life in Jakarta continues to be a challenge!!!

31 Mar 2012

Finally, the school holidays are here!! Two weeks of no school! There is now a chance for us to have a bit of a catch up, a relax and actually get out to do some sight seeing in Jakarta!!

When we first arrived here we flew in on the Thursday, went and bought uniforms and essentials on the Friday then packed everyone off to school on the Monday...and with 3 kids' school/sports/birthday parties/other social calendars, we have not really had a chance to catch our breaths since!  Phew!!! But, we made it through the 12 week long term!

Today is Sunday, and the kids are frolicking in the pool.  We are relaxing by the pool, watching the children while on our computers (wasting time I am, while MOTH does bill sorting...did I say I love you lots and lots honey!?!?!), temperature is bearable...just need a cold wine...soon. Wi-fi is grand!

Our holidays will not quite be our own, as we are "blessed/cursed" to have a very talented swimmer on our hands. (I do not know where the sporting prowess comes from, as neither MOTH or I are at all sporty!) Daughter 1 (D1) has been selected to compete in the Asian All Stars Swimming tournament in Perth in the second week of the holidays. So, it is training as normal for her poor thing through the first week. 6.30-8.30am M,T,W,Th (Good Friday - none), then back on the Monday for another session.  We fly out on the Tuesday via Bali to Perth.  We had to cancel our "Bali by the pool" holiday - damn!! We are staying at Scarborough, by the beach.  The hotel we are staying at looks lovely.  It will be so, so,so  nice to go "home" even if only for a short break.  To breathe in some fresh air, suck in some blue sky and stock up on some Australian essentials will be lovely!!

It will be divine just to enjoy the open spaces again that we take so for granted, and to go for a walk!! Jakarta is incredibly disabled "unfriendly".  Having initially arrived here on crutches due to an ankle/foot injury, I have become acutely aware of this fact!  Even for the able bodied it is perilous at times to just get around on foot. There really are very few footpaths - so you tend not to walk anywhere!  (It is also so hot!!)  If you do walk you have to take your life in your hands and walk on the side of the road! (Not a great idea - especially with three kids who are not "Jakarta-traffic-savvy"- in tow!)  Then, if there is a foot path, or "flat area", the concrete will often be all broken and uneven, or rocky and gravelly.  The whole place is built full of stairs.  Sometimes there will be lifts or escalator, but not reliably, and then they'll often be out of order...tough! Everything is tiled in marble (even around pools) , so then of course with the frequent downpours that comes with the monsoonal climate, the floor/stairs will be as slippery as glass...just lethal!

Life is good though...I might just go and open that bottle of cold wine. Oh bugger...that's right I'm here...no wine for me today!! (Had limited supplies but shared them on Friday night! Man - I am a good friend!!!)