Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Working in a foreign country is difficult and can be frustrating. Working with Indonesians in Indonesia as an American is a practice in patience and adaptability. One must learn to mosey not speed walk, to expect that anything you need done post haste will take twice as long as if you don't care when it's accomplished, to know that traffic and/or weather are excuses for anything from late arrive to a task not being completed, and understand that anything worth having done will require multiple requests and follow up.

That all being taken into consideration, now add another layer of confusion.  I work at a Korean school.  The misconception, or at least my preconceived notion, was that Koreans are much like the Japanese. Organized to a fault, businesses that run like well oiled machines, on time and above all efficient. That may be the case IN KOREA but it couldn't be farther from the truth here.  As an example, when I tell people I work with Koreans they expect that the kids are quiet and orderly and attentive.  
courtesy of

If only.  The kids mostly grew up here and are firmly entrenched in Indonesian nanny society.

But I stray, back to chaos and frustration at work. I started in August and never got a contract.  I asked, I inquired, I queried, I even investigated. Anyone is a position higher than mine was subject to questioning.  In the end I was told that Koreans don't really believe in contracts, but they are required by the Indonesian government.  Since I was showing up and getting paid, I really shouldn't worry about anything.  Other than getting 1/2 the medical reimbursement since I was only there half the year, I was a regular member of staff.

Uuunnnntttttiiiiiilllllllllll January. We'd all been notified before holidays that we would be getting a raise when our new contracts came out in February.  Great! Merry Christmas!  It wasn't enough to keep up with inflation but it was something. Of course, what you say or do at one point has little to no bearing on any point in the future.  Upon return to class (which was still the end of 2nd semester 2010, not 1st semester 2011 which would start in February) we were told contracts were still in negotiations.  The teachers were standing together and either we all signed or no one did.  Unionization in a bastardized way.  I'm still in support of it.

February, the new school year.  And now the story has changed.
The conversation between the "Head of International Teaching" who is Korean, and I went a little like this:
Korean HoD: When you sign your contract you'll only get half the raise everyone else gets because you've only been here one term.
You did pass your probation without incident but . .   
What probation? 
It's in your contract.
I've never seen or signed a contract.
You what?
I asked and asked for a contract and never got one.
Ohhhh, hmmmm.
I show up and get paid but I've never even seen a contract.
Well, when you get this one it will only be for half the raise.
I'll talk to the native teacher head of English.

At which point we broke off because it was pointless.  Needless to say, after a week of negotiating, "mafia thug tactics" (not my term), passive aggressive threatening of my work visa and hours of waiting, I ended up signing, at half the pay raise because I needed to get my visa renewed, had just confirmed my apartment for six months and mostly I needed to be able to plan my life.

Last week and this week the issue has been meetings.  We had a meeting last Friday that ran and hour and a half and should have been sorted in 30-40 minutes.  Today we had a meeting to go over what the meeting next week will cover and to advise of a meeting on March 14th. In addition to being mostly useless, now they are redundant.

Deep breath, just accept the things I can not change and don't let them drive me mad.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A potential reason, or cause of, dating frustration in Jakarta

I have resisted, and had to work hard to do so, writing much about dating, personally or generally, in Indonesia.  I think, after finding this article, I can no longer keep silent.
Please read this article from Java Javakini paper.  It is available in paper and e-copies.  I have added a link here:

If you read this article and find that it is all logical and you will put them into use starting tomorrow, then stop reading now.  I have given you useful information and you can be on your way.

If you read that article and found yourself shaking your head, giggling or muttering "HUH?"  or "What the heck?", please read on.

Let me start with a quick explanation of my situation here.  I have many friends who are covered under the same umbrella.  Unfortunately, I have realized, only after moving here, that Asian men aren't my cup of tea.  I know ladies from many a Western land that have Indonesian or Asian boyfriends and are content.  I find that on many levels, I am not drawn to them.  Physical attraction to Asian men is rare for me, and even when it does occur I find we lack a common language.  Difficulties in communicating, differences in religion, upbringing and expectations provide more enough hurdles and I'm tired and skeptical before I've even started the race.  That leaves Western men.  Here's my break down.  Of the relatively few "white" guys who make it to Jakarta:
40% come with a wife/girlfriend/family as they were moved here by their company or
of the remaining 60%:
85% are into Asian women for a whole host of reasons that could be it's own blog entry.
5% are gay and 
10% are into Western women.
So if we use a sample of 1000 men, that's 400 are spoken for, 510 are not interested in me, 20 are headed to Thailand and 40 are into "my kind". That makes for slim pickins. Plus you have to weed out the jerks, liars, assholes and losers. When you get to the few that might be remaining, they have their pick of the litter, as there seem to be more bule (foreign) women that want bule guys than vice versa.

That being said, my girlfriends and I spend a inordinate amount (compared to what or who I do not know) of time talking about and looking for men.  I stumbled upon the above article this week, otherwise it would have provided for hilarious reading while sharing a drink with my girls on Valentine's Day.

Whether its PC or not, I believe much of my ridicule of this article stems from the fact that, based on the names, it was written by two Indonesians.  If you don't live here, you won't get why that's important but nonetheless my issues with this article are as follows: 
#1 - Make sure you smell good - this really deserves to be first?
#2 - Go on an alternative date -  Taman mini is about the only alternative date available.  It's an "amusement park" and I use that term loosely, that showcases all the parts of Indonesia on one grounds.  I'd love to go bowling (the alley in Senayan closed recently), play mini golf or twelve other things I could do in other places.  Give me more than two suggestions and I might make it work.
#4 - Stay in Shape -Basic enough that it doesn't really need a mention
#5 - wear shag shoes (for women) - why is this only for women?  And while not obligatory, 99% of Jakarta does anyway.
courtesy of  Do they count as shag?
#7 - Master the Kama Sutra - Is this really something one should attempt alone?
#8 - stock blue pills - Unless my date is 50 - 60+ (which he shouldn't be), hopefully this wouldn't be necessary and if it is, it's that a red flag?
#9 - go on a weekend away - this would work if you are in a relationship, not looking for one.
#10 - Learn from romantic films - THIS IS THE ONE I TAKE MOST ISSUE WITH!!!  No one, anywhere, ever, should watch a rom-com and "learn" something from it.  What is there to take away from Casablanca? Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl, and loses her again? Or Love Actually which tracks about six different relationships with all kinds of issues.  Life does not end happily ever after or wrap up in 90 minutes.
courtesy of
#11 - get the latest gadgets - If someone hits on you because of the phone you have, it's probably not going to be a meaningful relationship.
#13 - learn a foreign language -  In a country where almost everyone speaks at least two if not three or more languages, I think this was more a reason to use "cunning linguist" in the article.
#14 - Pimp your ride - see #11
courtesy of
#19 - Moustache Poeticque - This is misspelled as there shouldn't be a c in Poetique. There is no explanation and since the google lead me to photos like this one. I am still confused.
courtesy of
#20 - Get Drunk - because this always improves your judgment and appeal. Notice it doesn't say "have a drink or two" but get DRUNK!
courtesy of  SOOOO SEXYYYY!
 The next 3 aren't so much an issue as the order they are in that cracks me up:
#21 - Crash a high society gathering (WWJD?) then #22 - Go to Church (ahh, that's WWJD) and #23 Try speed dating.   These are all on the heels of #20 above (me shaking my head in disbelief).
#28 - Get a new job - Looking for love is a great reason to leave the stability of employment for the unknown.
#31 - Be an instant celebrity - If deciding to be one were all that was necessary, wouldn't we all be famous and getting laid?
#34 - Join a dating site - I have done this before, with moderate success.  I find it pointless here as all the men are white and all the women are Asian and they are all looking for the other and not me (white female). There are some Indonesian men looking for white women, but again - not what I'm looking for.

#35 - Collect great pickup lines - This may often work but what gets me is the example they give :Do you like pizza?" immediately after saying the pickup lines should be witty and subtle.  HAHA, doesn't get wittier than that!
#36 - Don't give mixed signals and #37 - Move on - are much easier said than done.
#39 - Avoid Malls - I rant on a regular basis that all there is to do in this bloody city is go to the mall, or go eat and drink.  If not the malls, then where?
courtesy of

#42 - Be a poet - The rest of the rationale is where I get lost. Its odd and ridiculous.
#44 - Be generous - Because people will only date you if you give them things and you should only date someone if they do.
#46 - Learn how to juggle - after the rest of this list I thought they meant literally.  No, instead you need to learn to have many lovers and consider polygamy.
#47 - Get inked  - The dumbest reason ever to get a tat.
courtesy of  DOUBLE SUPER SEXY!
#49 - Nick someone else's lover - I can't wait until Karma comes back around.  If you are considering this, go back to #22.
And lastly #50 - Read this list.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry as this may be more indicative of the dating scene here than I want.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Back to the grind(ing) stone

After weeks of holidays that took me to new, fun, fantastic interesting places, I've had to settle back into life in Jakarta. I think my culture shock was almost greater coming back than when I first arrived.  During my first year here, I learned to put up with the flooding, the lack of dependability and reliability, the overpriced "american" foods and _________ (fill in the blank there's lots of options, horrendous traffic, torrential rains, etc, etc).  I went home and things worked as they were supposed to.  People drive between the lane markers and stop at red lights,  they don't push and shove, the lines at the market move quickly and orderly, and there's not a choking level of pollution in the air (For more information on pollution in Jakarta, see this detailed blog post) . Coming back and dealing with the city that can frustrate more often than it can soothe is a difficult transition.

The good news is that my new apartment makes life much more enjoyable.  I am paying slightly more than twice than I was before and it's worth every penny.  I am in a 33.5 sq. meter studio.  It's cute and well organized.  My apartment building has tennis and badminton courts, a huge pool, and a 24-hour grocery store. The best news is that it reduced my ojek time from 45 minutes each way to about 25.  It's also loads closer to Kemang, an area of the city which is great for going out.  AAANNNDDD Carla is my building mate.  We get to see each other everyday but still have our own apartments and our own spaces.

Coming back to Jakarta meant starting a new school year.  Most schools run their year September to June (or so).  JIKS starts in February and runs until December with a six week break in the summer.  It feels very different to have new kids at this time of the year, but the timing with the new calendar year, and coming off Christmas holidays seems to make sense. Last year I started mid year, after summer holidays at the beginning of the second semester.  It was a difficult start for many reasons and not the least of which was starting in the middle of the year.  With all new kids I have been able to set my rules and my classes the way want them. Now, just two weeks in to the year, they know the routine and the rules. I've set up a yellow card/ red card system like in football/futbol/soccer.  If they are breaking a rule they get a yellow card which is just a warning.  If they do it again they get a red card and that can mean lines or losing a sticker (which they can collect for privileges or prizes).  Don't write and tell me that footballers get TWO yellow cards, I know. For a 40 minute class they don't need two warnings. It's not perfect but it's much much much better than last year.

I also know better what to expect, how to handle the kids and also, retraining myself.  I have gotten accustomed to shouting to get their attention.  The combination of loud smokey bars, polluted air and going into both regularly has done a number on my voice.  My voice seems to fall between a husky phone-sex operator and a Phyllis Diller-style lifetime smoker. I drink tea, sometimes with lemon or honey, or Lo-Han-Kuo (a herbal Chinese concoction), I suck on vocalzone lozenges and drinks tons of water, yet I was still hoarse all day today.  Suggestions welcome as to the cause or the cure.  Part of my new school year plan has been to limit the amount of shouting I do.  Part of the problem is that I yell for fun and to get the kids hyped up, not just when they're too loud or in trouble.  I am getting better, but it's not a change that has been made automatic yet.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


After spending three weeks at home and ten days in Hong Kong and Macau, I headed back "home" to Jakarta.  I arrived late Sunday night, worked Tuesday through Friday and at 03:00 on Saturday I was on my way to the airport again. By 07:00 I was heading toward Penang, Malaysia after a whopping hour of sleep.  I had planned a trip to Penang, through Krabi too Phiphi island and then out of Phuket but after the ramblings of the previous four weeks, I trimmed the trip and was happy for it.

I went to Penang after rave reviews from my friend Donna.  She's been there multiple times of the years and always enjoys it. It was nice and quiet in comparison to everywhere else I had been.  The weather was nice as it was cooler than Jakarta while not cold; it only rained twice - once for about five minutes and once for an hour.  There is a "downtown" central area called Georgetown and, like Macau, was built by and influenced by Europeans.  The buildings have been well maintained over the years and it makes for an aesthetically pleasing town.  I spent a lot of time walking around the Chinatown and Little India areas of Georgetown.  Roti Cani is always my favorite food in Malaysia.  It's an Indian flat bread (less bready that naan bread) served with curry sauce.  At between 0.80 and 1.00 MYR (Malaysian Riggits, running about three Ringgits to one USD), they make a fantastic and fantastically cheap snack.  I must have had close to a dozen.  By the end I was known at a little restaurant where I'd been several times.  Their tea tarik (or pulled tea, it's the color of red clay,  poured from arms length after adding condensed milk) was worth the trip too.
These were around town as explanations, put up when Georgetown because a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Penang, again like Macau, is a great example of a mixed society living harmoniously. Culturally and religiously, there are many factions on this small island.   I know it hasn't always been that way.  There was a monument to the war dead that included the Indo-Malay conflict. Now, the city's Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists all co-exist in very close proximity.  I saw temples for all those religions plus Christian and Catholic churches.  All the building were beautiful and impressive and only blocks apart. If there is tension between the groups, I didn't feel or notice it while I was there traipsing amongst them.
I found yet another cemetery, this one truly looking like it was being reclaimed by the jungle.  A couple of building in the middle of street blocks were also heavily hung in vines and plants whose roots had begun to break them apart. It was probably the smallest of those I'd seen in Asia but interesting in its variety.
Near the end I was definitely getting templed out and I'm not anxious to run out and find any more any time soon.  Bar none, the temples/churches/clan houses were beautiful but started to all look the same, much as Churches in Italy did after days and days of looking at them.  There were two the last day, a Burmese Buddhist Temple and a Thai Buddhist temple that looked different.  It was a beautiful sunny day and after weeks of being surrounded by people and having a travel buddy, I was happy for the solitude. 
This is on the Burmese Temple grounds (I think).
I hope to head to Penang again.  Nice smooth sidewalks, a decided lack of crowds and comfortable weather all appeal to me.  Not to mention I got to the temples but not the national parks or botanical gardens. The people were friendly without being rude or overbearing. The food was excellent and cheap.  In my time there I moved at my own pace, to my own tune and enjoyed it immensely.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Macau or Macao? Mancanese!!

Macau was fantastic.  I loved Macau. I said that I wouldn't go back to Hong Kong in my past post but Macau I'd go back to in a heartbeat.  It's a small island that has the same protectorate status as Hong Kong. Meaning, it's technically part of China but it's still very different and has a higher degree of autonomy.

There is a lot of residual European presence, if not in the population then in the environment. About 200,000 Portuguese live in Macau as it was once a Portuguese colony. The portion of the population that are of Portuguese and Chinese descent are called Macanese (which I find fun to say), as is the food that was influenced by both styles.  It's a small in area, only 11 square miles, but rich in culture. 
beautiful buildings in the town square
In two days we saw nearly all the sites there were to see, whether we were really keen to see them or not.  The big draw in Macau are the casinos.  They seemed to loom over the entire island. While interesting at night when lit up, I am not sad to say I didn't go in and gamble.

The blending of old and new, European and Chinese was fascinating to me. The signs in Hong Kong were in Chinese (usually Cantonese) and English.  In Macau they were in Cantonese and Portuguese. The architecture was reminiscent of Lisbon but the colors were brighter than I remember.  Several Jesuit and Catholic churches, a big Jesuit school which was the first European approved college in Asia, all with arches and detailed facades. St. Paul's is only a facade now as the church burned down in a fire, during a monsoon. The facade was all that was left and it deteriorated until most of the island was declared a UNESCO Heritage site.
The crane on the loop is Chinese symbol but the building on the right, and St. Paul's through the middle are definitely Portuguese.
The food was excellent.  I ate, let just say many, egg tarts while in Macau.  Most are comparable to the pasteis de Belem from Lisbon.  There is a local version called a butter tart that isn't nearly as good.  For five to seven pataca (they are about one for one with the Hong Kong dollar, which is tied to the USD at 7.77HKD/1$) each, the tarts were a steal.  Really all the food we had while in Macau and even in Hong Kong was good. I don't think there was anything I wouldn't have again.  There were something we did eat again, like the tarts and Dim Sum in Kowloon.
Macau was full of temples and juxtaposition. There was a cemetery too. I didn't realize I was such a fan but I am.  They interest me for a variety of reasons.  Churches, temples and cemeteries I guess.  I did note in all the cemeteries in this trip, how short the life span then was.  There were quite a few children and lots of folks under 35.  I was also struck by one headstone that said "aged 22 (about)" and by the one below.  No cause of death, as some gave illness or accident at sea.  This one just states "Fell Asleep". I never thought of sleep as a permanent condition but it probably explained many deaths that they couldn't explain any other way.

The Chinese cemeteries were unlike any others I'd ever seen.
A few more photos and then I'll bid you adeus.
A big temple on the southern tip of the island where people used to pray to the goddess of the sea for safe return of their sailor family members.
This is the Dom Pedro theater. One of the first in Asia that hosted many kinds of performances.
One last note; we stayed at a hostel in Macau.  Hostels were difficult to pre-book as there aren't many on Macau, most lodging is fancy hotels for business men.  We found one that was quite old and booked for one night.  A horror movie was shot there some twenty or thirty years ago. Tell me what you think of the place:

Eerie, no?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hong Kongers or Hong Kongese?

I believe I left you at the cusp of my trip to Hong Kong the other day.  Hong Kong is known worldwide as an international hub of business and travel. I never had a particular fascination with Hong Kong but when a friend contacted me and suggested it I figured "why not?".

My friend Veronica, who is Aussie, flew from Madrid to meet me in Hong Kong on her way to Sydney.  I flew from Home in Seattle to Hong Kong on my way to Jakarta.  Amazing the age we live in.  After some nerves about finding each other in an airport neither of us had seen, without cell phones, Veronica popped up at my side.  Both our flights were delayed and I thought there was a high probability we would have trouble but that wasn't the case.

We stayed on the mainland in Kowloon at a clean hostel with tiny, TINY rooms. Small rooms plus the amount of luggage we had meant we spent lots of time moving things about.  Kowloon felt very commercial with residential bits mixed in above. The word I keep coming back to for Hong Kong is jostling. The volume of people and the people per square meter was astounding. When walking down the sidewalk you have to constantly pay attention to where your walking, the route between people and to your location.  It is a nice walkable city in the sense that the sidewalks are wide and on nearly every street, even small ones. The subway and bus system run well, are cheap and timely.  I would kill to have that system here in Jakarta, but alas, we are stuck with one insufficient public busway system that closes when a bus accidentally hits a kid.  The octopus transport card that works for buses, subway and ferries was brilliant.  The best parts of Kowloon were the ones we saw late in the trip, the botanical garden and a temple relatively close to it. It was nice to get away from the commercialism and hordes of people.
Waiting to cross a main street near the hostel.
Hong Kong island is just across a small straight, a ten minute slow ferry ride.  It has an older downtown, some colonial looking buildings, the financial district and antiques area.  It's hard to walk and the roads begin to head uphill as you move away from the waterfront.  I was fond of an area with loads of restaurants and shops near Hollywood Road.  Hong Kong island is where I went to my first horse races at Happy Valley Racetrack too.  Veronica schooled me through the basics of betting and off we went.  We won about as much as we'd bet but not enough to cover the beer.  Across the street from the racetrack I visited two very interesting cemeteries, one Catholic and the other Muslim.  Existing side by side, as do the temples, mosques and churches in both Hong Kong and Macau.
Looking from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island at night. The night lights/laser show started here and included these buildings.
I really really liked Lamma Island.  It is so small we walked most of its length in about an hour and a half.  The "downtown" area has a small hippie commune kind of feel in a way.  I'd definitely go back for the hiking, the beaches and the solitude.
Lamma Island part way between the two towns.
Lantau Island was brilliant.  It's where the international airport is, Hong Kong Disneyland and most importantly the big Buddha. It's 252 stairs up and worth every one (actually it's worth double that since I had to climb them twice). I guess my religious views are hard to pin down but I do always feel a sense of peace in Buddhist Temples and even amongst throngs of tourists this was true. There was a little walk, The Wisdom Path, that was nice and quiet.
Big Buddha on Lantau Island
Beautiful scenery and a long funicular ride (What is a funicular call in English? An aerial cable car I suppose) was part of the fun.  This is it:
I'm trying to sum up 8 days of travel in a short blog but I'm going to let it spill over to tomorrow.  Tomorrow will be the last of Hong Kong and a review of two days in Macau which were among my favorite days of the trip.  I loved Macau.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

After Hiatus

Immense apologies to assuage my guilt. I knew I would probably blog little over the Christmas holiday, and that was the case.  What I didn't expect, and now feel slightly guilty for, was the nearly month and a half after Christmas in which I blogged once. A quick recap with other bits to follow later.

I arrived in Seattle in the evening of the 22nd of December.  It never really felt like Christmas in the earlier parts of December here because it's just too warm. I was also so busy doing all the same things I always do that it didn't feel particularly holiday-y. We went from the airport to my favorite Mexican food restaurant, La Bamba. I had craved their enchiladas for months and they did not disappoint. The next two days were filled with last minute shopping and wrapping. Christmas was just as it should be with stockings as my favorite part.  I received gifts from my mom and sister that were more perfect than if I had picked them out myself.  They got me things i hadn't even thought to ask for!  The most used item so far is a fantastic Marmot windbreaker.  I've probably worn it 90% of the days since I left Seattle. Nearly every photo of me from my holidays after Seattle have that jacket in them.  The most "me" gift is probably the Grape Ne-Hi bottle cap necklace from Jen.  It's a reference to my inane worship of the TV series M*A*S*H.

New Year's Eve in my family has always been a mellow affair.  It's usually watching TV or a movie until close to midnight, then watching the Space Needle fireworks show on TV and crashing out about 1230 or 1am.  I can count on one hand the number of NYE parties I've ever been to.  This year my sister and I went to her friends house.  We hung out there, talking and drinking until about 11pm.  Then a drive up to her place on Cap Hill to arrive just in time to stand outside with a fantastic view of the fireworks live.  The only thing missing was that when they show the fireworks on TV they are synchronized to music and we didn't have the music.  Instead we were freezing, surrounded by two dozen people who were undoubtedly drunker than we were.  After the show a guy standing next to me wished me happy New Year and mentioned that he'd always wanted to burst into a round of Auld Lang Syne, so I did.  We laughed and hummed through most of it because who really knows more than "should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind. . . . . . .Auld Lang Syne". (for history and lyrics  Looking back, I am happy to report that I can cross "spontaneously into song with group of strangers" off my bucket list (I should make one of those one of these days).  Memorable moments are never regrettable.

January was nice and quiet.  I shopped, ate, spent lots of time with my family, saw people who mean a lot to me, hung out with my dog, general normal nothingness. I have few friends that are still in the Seattle area, or few I'm still in touch with. I saw even fewer of those, but enjoyed it all the same. I lost track of the days and was not at all fussed about it.  After exactly three weeks at home, I packed and headed to Hong Kong via Vancouver.  The flight was quite nice surprisingly. We were delayed leaving Vancouver and I was dismayed at my middle seat assignment.  After I'd made a request for a window seat and received a "we'll see what we can do" response I wasn't hopeful.  I ate my lunch and then found out there were vouchers because of the delay.  Shaping up to be one of those days.  BUT WAIT!!  It was near boarding time and I heard the agent tell a man they were moving him to another seat because the electronics in that seat were broken (no headphones, no reading light).  I piped up and said I'd take his seat (a window) since I had my own ipod and reading light.  Little did I know until I boarded, that it was also an emergency row/bulkhead seat.  I had the window with about three feet of open space in front of me!!  AAANNNDDDD there wasn't anyone in the middle seat!  I could've waltzed in the space available!  The flight attendants apologized and showed me how to work the lights above that were mean for them but once redirected were perfect for reading.  Almost as good as an upgrade to business class. Almost.

In the spirit of keeping these blogs a reasonable length, and so I will have lots to write about over the next weeks, I will stop here.  Tomorrow's episode will be Hong Kong hijinks. Stay tuned or get re-tuned I suppose.