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More good times than bad times

Monday, February 28th, 2005

I still think of the old days occasionally. There were, thankfully, more good times than bad times. I realize that’s almost an Edie Brickell song.

The Old Days There have been a few changes in mine. The November before last, I changed jobs. The December before last, Dec 14,1997, I got married. Her name is Emily. She’s beautiful. She’s quite smart. Which begs the obvious question. She’s Chinese, and that has led to some tense moments here. I’ve not been in touch with many people … how about you? During the riots: 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 trowled on, and tiles replaced and buffed even as news reports of burnings, riots and lootings 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. 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, except by way of explanations, 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. Daily life, family and religion; three shows daily under one roof. Faith and Change 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. 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 sole practitioner of a splinter religion. I’m the quiet, uncomfortable one.

The kids had never had a traditional Christmas dinner until this past Christmas. Emily had her first turkey dinner on our honeymoon in Singapore last year. She also saw her first Lion dance when we visited a cultural expo in Singapore. 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 just leaves me cold. 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 its somehow encouraging, seeing 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. Fire is a large part of Bali’s Hindu community. The funeral processions are solemn, but I have no idea of the final stop. Unlike other tourists, I have 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 …”

Hinduism has probably survived because Bali isn’t physically connected to Java. It also helps that Bali brings in the tourists. Have you visited Bali yet? I can forward some addresses for some decent places. They’re clean, and they’re cheap. We had been hoping to get to Canada last Christmas, but it appears we’ll wait until late October or early November. We had an incident here … We had an incident here that may have made the international news. A couple of locals broke into a ruko (a private office). They were caught and handed over to the police. The police may, or may not have, beaten them up. A local ‘leader’ decided to organize a rescue. They stormed the station. The police rallied their courage, and ran away. The station was set ablaze. The prisoner died. I’m trying not to be a workaholic. 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.
Other than that, it’s been pretty quiet here. How did you spend the Holidays? It was a green, and very wet, Christmas. Today we almost had a flood. We actually had quite the downpour inside the house. It seems the servants were not cleaning upstairs (why doesn’t that surprise me?)and the resulting litter blocked the normal flow of water. Things are dry now. On the upside; I don’t think the floors have ever been this clean. What’s the weather like there? Work here is tiring? What passes for organization here is beginning to wear on me.

Before the flood: We had an amazing dinner at Cafe Bromo, in the Sheraton. Turkey, baked potatoes, roast beast,Five kinds of gravy,lamb,seafood,cranberry sauce,salads and even tea. I did not touch a single drop of alcohol. I may have a beer tomorrow. I may not. Emily’s mother did not join us as she had other plans. They also had some incredible desserts. They now have a few less. I will need more exercise. We were entertained by a pseudo-latino quartet. They serenaded Emily,Grace, Adryan, Grace’s boyfriend Arthur and I with some decent guitar playing and a selection of Christmas songs and the latest from the top 40(Indonesian top 40). When we arrived home our nephews, Jang Jang and Chong, were here with their parents. It is good to have kids around at Christmas. Jang is seven and Chong is five.
I hope you had a decent dinner. Whether it’s kimbap or sushi, it doesn’t make for a very appetizing Christmas meal. A belated Merry Christmas,Selemat Natal, Joyeaux Noel, Feliz Navidad, and such like that. We headed to Bali after Christmas. I’ve been teaching 40hrs a week. It’s about twice as much as anyone would want to attempt for any extended period. How are things with you? We’re doing okay here. Things are a bit uncertain at times. Living in Asia is sometimes like being under a microscope. Everything you do is examined, talked about and then embroidered. As I’m not known for my patience with gossips at the best of times, Asia can be stressful. Emily’s business is going well. Work is going well. I think about Canada as we prepare to leave for Bali. Some perverse part of me is actually nostalgic as I read various descriptions of snow. I think I’ll try to bake that part away in the Balinese sun.
As a family, we have made two trips to Bali. It’s a 12 hour drive, then an hour long ferry crossing, and then another three hours. This country may look small, until you drive through it. As Steven Wright said, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.” We returned from Bali early Saturday morning. It is a long drive, and because of holiday traffic and ferry delays; it was even worse. We spent nine hours waiting for the ferry. Bali was nice, but it’s good to be home.
How are things there? Tomorrow it’s back to work. I’ll try to be happy, but I really need some more time. Ah well. (big sigh) What about these kids? Grace is 19, and Adryan is 17. Grace is in her second year at Petra Christian University, and Adryan is in his second year of high school. We had a large demo on Mayjen Sukorno today. Seems Megawati’s faction has some beef with the Dharmala group. Chris and I waited for the ILS driver at Ciputra for an hour.
Work is okay. I was out at Colors last night. I came home quite drunk, but relatively early. We have also had a rise in Demam Berdarah (Dengue Fever) Two of our neighbors went to hospital. There back home now. Suluwesi was hit pretty hard. The rains have been quite heavy this year.
I have some news. Grace has gotten married. She tied the knot on March 28. She is under strict orders to finish college. I’m not crazy about it, but the guy is a decent enough sort. He treats her well.
Have you seen any good movies lately? Emily and I just saw Lost in Space. Before I left for Singapore, we saw Zorro. When I returned, we saw Mulan. Saturdays are movie days for us. We see a movie, and then we eat at the mall. Sometimes Emily(Suk Mey) goes shopping with her sisters Suk Ling(Suzy) and Suk Hwa(Ratna). I hate shopping, so while they scurry about the stores, I go skating. The largest mall in Surabaya has an indoor skating rink. Indonesians are dangerous people to skate with. They have no sense of the world around them. People are constantly stopping in front of you, or bumping into you. Skating is sometimes fun, and sometimes frustrating. Before I left Canada for Asia, friends and relatives were unanimous in their assertion that I would come back married. Well now they can say, “Sokor.” There’s an Indonesian word for ‘I told you so’ Sokor. When you give advice that no one takes … Sokor. When someone does something stupid, and gets hurt … Sokor. It’s a pretty good word. Of course when you make a prediction of marriage, and children and it happens … Sokor is said softly. This is basically an update. How’s work? Here, things are going well. the business is beginning to grow. 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 was also thinking about Byron. My brother Byron passed away nearly three years ago. It happened while I was in Pusan, South Korea. His birthday has come and gone again. I look forward to rediscovering the colors and smells of a September morning. I’ve told Emily, the kids and my students about the long walks. How difficult to communicate the long moments spent admiring the golds, reds and greens and browns. To feel the last warmth of the year on your face. To stare unashamedly into clear autumn skies. To breathe 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 Canadian nephew, it looks as if it won’t happen for awhile. We’re looking at October at the earliest. We could be coming as late as December. 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 has happened 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. Growing up as 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 apatheic sadism. I tolerated the hour-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, and then we have lunch. Saturdays are mall days. They window shop, I skate; we see a movie, then we eat. 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. Many westerners seem to know just enough to begin an argument. 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. Last August/ September 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.

Work 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 only 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. Have you been following the news from home? What’s up with this new territory? Are there any Practical benefits to Toronto’s amalgamation?

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. Have you found someone for a decent massage? Is that too much of a personal question? 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 want to send photos, but for whatever reason, letters containing photos keep disappearing. It doesn’t matter if they’re coming or going, they just vanish. What is happening in your life? It’s always great to regain contact. It’s been quiet here, thankfully. There is a political convention this week, so we’re a bit concerned about possible violence. I’ll write more later. You can see some photos at Last October, Emily spent two weeks in Hong Kong and China with her sister and mother. We’re looking for more business in Hong Kong and China. I was home here with the kids. I hope to visit Canada next year. It’s all dependent on business now. I’ve been busy helping Emily to prepare for her trip. She left this morning with her mother and her sister. They’re meeting with customers. They’re also going to learn the do’s and don’ts of packing fish for export. We’re not exporting many Crabs right now. We have small interests 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 fear I may be party to ecological rape, and economic suicide. For us it’s been, at best, an ambiguous 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 trip was an effort to find new markets. Emily was in China right now. She make some contacts for our business.

It was very lonely, and very hectic. In terms of stress, nothing quite equals parenthood. I haven’t had the breaking-in period. The hardest thing with teenagers is to convince them their not invulnerable. I imagine that’s an ongoing lesson. Work is going well. Do I write that too often? I still teach three nights a week at the university, and my students there are showing signs of stress. As for younger students, I still teach classes at my company’s school and also in a housing complex, stress isn’t really an issue. Thank God for well-adjusted rug rats. No matter what you may hear on the news, be reassured that we’re taking precautions. March 28 arrives Well, today’s the day. Our daughter Grace just got married. We’ll be heading to the reception in a couple of hours. I don’t remember my own wedding being half as stressful as this one has been. Stress and Relaxation I’ve been home today with a damn flu. Come to the tropics and get sick. Actually, it hasn’t been that bad. I needed the rest, and it gave Emily and I a chance to finish the wedding invitations. I had worked with an Australian teacher for a short while. She was always visibly stressed, and actually stressful to be near. From what my friend Geoff tells me, her exit was somewhat explosive. She had went through a string of servants, and eventually she bodily tossed her last employee through the front door. This dismissal did not go well with the usual assortment of becak drivers, servants and other street types. They barged into her home. Whatever happened, completely unhinged this teacher. She’s back in Oz now. Life goes on here.

In spite of election fears, and an increase in petty crimes; Surabaya is quiet. A trip to the plaza, especially TP, is now a tricky proposition. Kids and old ladies have become increasingly persistent. I had two old ladies following me all the way to my car one night.

Thankfully my driver shooed them away. The number of teenage punks inside the plazas has also increased. They try to cut between groups. They sit on the escalator.

Emily and I were hanging back a little after a family dinner at Fajar(a local Chinese restaurant in Tunjungan Plaza), and saw something that scared the hell out of me. Our son Adryan, who’s not unlike his peer group, was walking around in an after-dinner daze. These two started following him. I asked Emily to wait and walked in-between them. If I had thought about it, I might have considered that they were both larger than me. I have the advantage that I knew what they were, and they didn’t know me.

They obviously weren’t interested in pressing the point. They stopped cold. I noticed two guys just hanging out. They were lurking, as only Indonesians can lurk.

I had a talk with Adryan. I think it began, “Wake up!”.

I’ve had a couple of occasions where I’ve kicked open bathroom doors. I haven’t gone nuts. I don’t like lurkers. What is this compulsion to hang out in washrooms? If their name were George Michael, I might understand it. The first time it happened, I was in the john after seeing a movie with Emily. There had been a couple of people. Then it was empty. I had the strangest feeling. I looked behind me and noticed that one of the stalls was partially open. I kept an eye on it as I finished and washed my hands. Sure enough the door was opening, and then closing again. The movements were small, and I thought, ‘relax, it’s the wind.’ I looked up and saw the window behind the stall was closed. Ergo, no wind. I walked over to the door and slammed my foot into it. I heard a grunt, but no one came out. I walked out. As I stood waiting for Emily, a punk came out of the washroom. He was quickly met by his friends. They slunk off together.

The second time I was out with Chris. The incident was similar, but this time I kept quiet. I made it obvious that I’d seen them. This time the lurker had company. Two punks came in just to stand in the washroom. It’s interesting watching them puff up their chests as you walk by. Chris has started to carry a small aluminum bat in his car, or in his bag when he walks. I generally prefer to keep my eyes open.

We have bought spray for Emily, Grace my mother-in-law to carry. The only lurkers I want to see are on Babylon 5.

Have you seen any decent TV lately? Can you walk at night? Do you generally feel safe? I’ve just returned from walking the dogs. Rocky and Sasa are a lot of fun, but they can be major pains in the ass. Sasa was originally named Fanda, but she looks so much like the puppy we lost last year, that everyone started calling her Sasa. They’re both Chow Chows. They eat three times a day, and get out at least that much. Although we have so many guests that are afraid of animals, and they also frighten the workers, I will not have an animal in a cage. One of the guys used to raise his hand as if to strike Rocky. He’s since sought other employment.

Good thing, ’cause Rocky and I had a bet going on who’d toast him first. We just need to be careful when they go outside. No, they never leave the yard. We had the garden landscaped last year.

There’s a wide assortment of trees, and hiding places for them. It’s a pleasant place to be. Our patio is large enough for chairs and a small table. It’s a nice place to relax. We’re reasonably screened from the street. We generally don’t get annoyed. We have one extra room, with a private bath. Yes, we do have hot water. Well, that’s my life. I have to get to bed. Wish us luck.

Before China

Monday, February 28th, 2005

Where have you been?
[read on]

What I do

Monday, February 28th, 2005
What I do(and did) For those who care here's what I do … I teach Here’s what I did I was the Director of Studies for EF English First Changsha in Hunan province That means I was the academic coordinator, marketing manager, personnel ... [Continue reading this entry]

Great Wall

Saturday, February 26th, 2005
About two hours north of Beijing there is a very old section of the Great Wall It's a Great Wall,eh

Wyatt and Jiji

Saturday, February 26th, 2005
Wyatt and Jiji Wyatt is our son and Jiji is our granddaughter Jiji is four and a half years older than her uncle Our son and our granddaughter wyattjijji1.jpg


Saturday, February 26th, 2005
mess.gif A startling testimony to the power of confusion A startling testimony to the power of confusion My life is a mess. Now before you start recommending therapy, self-help, medication, or herbal enemas; I'd better explain ... [Continue reading this entry]

Grace and Jiji

Saturday, February 26th, 2005
girlsgreatwall.jpg Grace and Jiji take on the wall
Last summer we took a trip to Phoenix This area of the Great Wall is quite steep. Jiji managed to get to the top,but needed some coaxing to climb ... [Continue reading this entry]

Emily and Wyatt

Saturday, February 26th, 2005
My wife Emily and our son Wyatt My wife Emily and our little boy Wyatt. It's hard to believe he's almost a year old.. He's also four and a half years younger than his niece Jiji. wyattmom.jpg
emilywayne.jpg[Continue reading this entry]


Saturday, February 26th, 2005
A montage of family Family is the one constant in my life As stressful as family can be it is also embracing and rejuvenating Jiji is a gem. Although she can be a loud and stubborn little gem. Wyatt is great but may be ... [Continue reading this entry]

Just returned

Saturday, February 26th, 2005
After the Winter Course 2005
We'd just finished winter course and had some travel arranged ... we took off for Hainan.
Hainan is in the south of China. Actually a tropical island.
... [Continue reading this entry]