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Wednesday, July 21, 2010
It Could Be Worst

"Think of it this way," I said to Hill one afternoon under the swaying tree. "It could be worst..."

I lived here with Mr. Husband and baby (plus domestic wife, whom I fly back and forth along with me) since February this year. Hill lived for the past 2 months, so it was a good time to discuss our experiences. Our husbands are both working as expatriates in the engineering field and it is fair for the two of us to expect some amount of traveling and living abroad. We are now officially expatriate wives.

"Remember this, Hill." I said, "It could be worst. It could be Azerbaijan..."


Indonesia is a weird place to be. I don’t mean it in a bad way. It is weird simply because it is not what you would expect it to be. Take shopping in Semarang for example. Did you know that you cannot find a tampon to save your life? But you can buy two pairs of Guess shoes. I know this because I am still flying my tampons to Indonesia and I am now the owner of two pretty new pairs of shoes sitting on what used to be the fish pond. (I will get to the fish pond turn shoe rack story soon).

It is an adventure trying to find fresh chicken but heck, you can find plenty of Chicken Cordon Bleu or Chicken Picatta (my favouite!) in the restaurant by the sea. They even have a fridge for the restaurant! I seriously considered the option of bringing the damn pepper mill because I love freshly ground pepper in my cooking. You cannot find any – pepper or mill - not even in Carre Four (the epicenter for grocery shopping). It’s shocking, I know!

This does not mean that Indonesia is a poor nation. I have not seen this much Louis Vuitton bags since Milan. There are many rich people living and working here. They are just discreet. You never know where they live though I suspect they are living along the hills of Semarang, where the houses are the size of office building. The sheer number of people living here means money is changing hands constantly. All restaurants are always busy, especially those without refrigerators. Bakeries are always zooming with customers buying ‘roti tawar’, which is sweet and not ‘tawar’ at all.

Maybe I should not use the word “Indonesia”. I should probably limit it to “Java” and “Semarang” to be more precise. We live 70km from Semarang and it takes us 1.5 hours to drive there. In a car, not a water buffalo. Perhaps if we rode a water buffalo, it’d be faster. Though we might have to hire more than one water buffalo to take the circus troupe that is my family. It would also be less expensive to repair if we knocked into another water buffalo along the way.


I am suspicious of our driver. He is terribly reliable and is there when we need him to be. He drives us in the morning at 4 a.m. when we need to get to Solo for our flight back to Malaysia and he drives us at 12 p.m. to lunch at the restaurant by the sea. He will be there, no questions asked. He reminds me of John Statham, a professional transporter from Transporter, the movie. They are identical twins if only John Statham had a moustache ala Burt Reynold’s.

I never had a driver before this, so it can be both liberating and confining to have one. For sure, most long drives are now much easier because Bambang (that’s his name) drives the car. We all sleep through the journey and arrive on location in good spirits. Then again, we realized how restricted our lives have been since moving here. We have to call him to take us to KFC whilst in Malaysia, we would have just driven ourselves. What is fast food if it isn’t instant, right?

If you are curious why we have a driver in Indonesia, the answer lies in the traffic rules here. There simply is none! And if they had a rule, it would be ‘just keep moving’. There is no rhyme or reason for why cars or buses or water buffalos start or stop. They just go along and move along and everything is fine. We suspect that one must possess a certain genetic material to survive driving in this chaotic calm. It is advantageous if some village folks doesn’t kill your driver when he runs over a suicidal chicken on the road.


Do not take what I am saying here as a complaint. They are not. Living on the Javanese island has been a wonderful experience thus far. I love the fact that we are away from our normal routines back in Malaysia. I work on my laptop only when something important cropped up at work. Otherwise my life is quite easy and relaxing, with my little boy being a great distraction. It is such a privilege to watch him grow and learn about his world!

Being away from the comfort of my home taught me many things. It showed me what I have been taking for granted and made me appreciate some other things. The whole experience breathes fresh life into my being. I have to make do without some things that I am used to having and stretch me to accept some other things that I never had in my life.

“There is a Body Shop in Paragon!” Hill said. “That is my best bet for some decent make up.”

“You mean we can’t get some Chanel eye liner?!” I asked, batting my eyes while smiling at her. Hill and I became close friends since her arrival in Java 2 months ago. We share similar kind of silly humor.

As a matter of fact, we are quite alike in many ways – we had a baby recently. Her daughter is 6 months. We met because our husbands are now working together in the same office. In our old lives back home, we were working too but over here, we are quite free to do as we please. So we usually meet up for lunch daily to catch some sunrays and to get out of the house.

“I wore high heels all through my pregnancy,” she said.

“Oh my goodness! I wore heels throughout my pregnancy too!” I screamed. We were behaving like two teenagers, giggling as we confessed our mommie crimes. Some women are born mother earth type – embracing motherhood and organic vegetables – and other women like Hill and I, are born to get out of the house, wear beautiful shoes and have Super Girl Fridays.


Many friends and not so close friends asked how I adjusted to life without rushing through the door for work each morning. Some women wear shorts and t-shirts, scrunch up their hair and walk around in slippers all day. I happen to be the one who wears proper day wear, light make up, proper coiffed hair and high heels at home. Being home is not sufficient reason to slack.

I might be an irresponsible shopper, buying 3 pairs of white shoes on the same day but I am very disciplined in other areas of my life. I have a timetable that I abide to daily. I might be messy with my things but I am not a slop. That’s just how I am built, I guess.

“That’s why you are the party pooper, my love…” Nikki said some time ago. She patted my head as she said it. We were discussing whether teenagers should be allowed to ‘party’ on weekends. My opinion was clear: there was no necessity for a 15 year old to disco dance or a 14 year old to have supper with friends at midnight. Nikki obviously felt otherwise, perhaps because she was from another culture altogether.

Oh I am diverging…


There is a Javanese version of Glastonbury Festival happening at the moment as I am typing this to you. A neighbor of ours is organizing a ‘keselamatan’, which I understand is something like a thanksgiving party. It lasts 3 days minimum with 7 days being its maximum. It is 9:30 a.m. in the morning. What the hell are the drum rolls for?

Oh my domestic wife just remarked that it is probably a dangdut festival. “Hopefully it is just for one night”. So who needs U2 for the Glastonbury? We have some Javanese pixie singing, “Ah Ah” while gyrating her hips seductively…


Thursday, July 15, 2010
If it takes you nine months to make a baby…

… it will take you a year to lose the fats.”

Those were the wise words from Mr. Husband. The problem is, it is now more than a year. Fourteen months, to be precise. It sounds strange calling him my husband, to be honest. “Boyfriend” sounds more attractive for very unknown reasons. At least to me. So does “girlfriend”.

I know many search for relationships and they dream of the day when they will feel complete. Usually it coincides with the day they marry. It is the same day they make a long list of loving commitments to each other. Somehow I have grown apathic and do not possess the butterflies that are tied to feeling of getting married.

Don’t get me wrong. I do get the butterflies in my stomach. I get them when I see him brush his teeth in his underwear. I often wonder why men have such beautiful bums (and beautiful, if not super hairy, legs). I get butterflies when we ride on the jet ski he bought last month. It isn’t motion sickness, I swear. I get them when we sit in the car on our way to dinner on weekends. The wonderful feeling of closeness and warmth of knowing someone deeply is all there. It is just not tied to a wedding or a marriage.

What most people didn’t know was, or rather is, we were not married when I was pregnant. The fact that we were not married made it easier for me to call him my husband. It sounds strange, I know. I am a strange woman. While most girls would prefer some form of ‘solid’ commitment, especially with a bun in the oven, I was actually very happy and relaxed without the need to rush a wedding. I felt secure in our relationship. We spoke about being pregnant for a few months before. Consequently we were ready and delighted when we were. Married or not, it did not add or subtract anything.

And if you are asking me, “how the hell did you register the birth?”, the answer is obvious. Many are led to believe you need a wedding certificate to register a birth. Even at the counter, the lady will ask for a wedding certificate. I don’t know which blue smurf started that rumor but that is definitely untrue. The birth certificate indicates “Father” and “Mother”, which means biological parents of the child. It does not say, “Husband” and “Wife”. (I can imagine a lightbulb moment a few seconds ago when you read the previous sentence.)

So all you need to do is to proof that you are the biological parents. It is easier for the woman to proof that she is the mother. It is a little more challenging to proof the father. Well, we solved that by presenting Mr. Husband, himself, at the birth registration counter during his paternity leave. Yes, he had 2 weeks of paternity leave, which sounds swell except for the bit that he had to travel back to Java once the 14 days was up.

You can imagine me with happy smiling baby at 3 a.m. for a couple of months. Note: Baby smiled, not I.


Now that is all history. It is amazing how something so profound and life changing, can and will, with time, become something of the past. You will forget about the tears, lack of sleep and feeling of terror as night falls. All that is left is a beautiful boy, trying to insert a DVD into the DVD player. That’s his favourite skill today. Yesterday he practiced opening the door. Mind you, he can’t reach for the keys. And the day before, he was pouring body lotion after bath. It’s all pretend play but he seems quite excited about everything.

Mr. Husband and I agreed that a little boy did not belong in the middle of nowhere. So we delegated our duties. Me with baby and work in Malaysia. Mr. Husband with work in Java. It went on for nine months due to the H1N1 flu yadda yadda yadda. But we finally made it here, to Java, two weeks before the Lunar New Year. We are now here for the fourth time this year alone. That is quite a lot of flying for the little boy, who turned one in May.

So where the hell are we? Well the nearest direct flight airport is Solo, which is a 2.5 hour flight from KL. And then it’s another 3 hours of driving to the little town where we are now living. It is by the sea and on most days, it feels like living in Phi Phi island. There is a pretty café bar next to the sea, a Japanese restaurant inland, a proper English pub and a few up and coming eateries and places to hang out.

Don’t be fooled by the description because this is a very strange land. It feels like island paradise as long as you walk within the perimeters of expatriate establishments. Outside those lines lie filth, dust and poverty. Children run without shoes in mud houses. Roof is nearly always leaking, even in the best houses. And the most amazing sight is of a river near Semarang, where the residents bath, wash dishes, throw their bodily waste and even brush their teeth next to each other.


Everything has changed yet everything still felt quite the same. It is an adventure, one that I had not imagined but am excited to embrace. I am like a duck that has never seen water. Now there is a pond in front of me and I will have to learn to wade in it. Hopefully I will be a happy duck. Those around me seem wade around quite easily. What is it with women and marriage anyway? Pfff...!

Like Eve. She has now three children, her third was born at the same week as my first. She is busy zipping around with her life and is now preparing to attend the French Independence party this weekend. She looks exactly the same but an improved version. Body fats do not bother her. (not that she has any) Neither does stretch marks nor dry skin. “Dress to your advantage,” she said the other day when I lifted my shirt to reveal a not so flat tummy. After giving birth, trust me, nothing shames you anymore. “I no longer think of my belly or thigh fats,” she shrugged and tucked merrily into her lunch. “You don’t even have stretch marks,” she blurted after a few seconds of, what I like to presume, thought.

“Madam,” said my domestic wife, “Think of it this way - you had your mojo and now you passed the mojo to your son…” Hmmm, it did not comfort me at all. While it is true that the little boy is a dashing boy (every mother thinks so), I would much prefer to share the mojo than to pass the mojo entirely.

I am happy to announce that there is wisdom in Mr. Husband’s words. The fats melted away as little boy blew one candle. Somehow everything just went ‘POOF!” over night and everything looks smaller in the mirror. Perhaps I have a magic mirror in Java! Even my hair looks lustrous as before. I had to chop off my locks, giving up the thought that it could resuscitate itself after the pregnancy.

“Why don’t you ask me to lose some weight?” I asked Mr. Husband once. A man of few words but he summarized everything succinctly. “Because you will never allow yourself to be fat.” He was still reading Finnish news online when he said that.


“Honey, we need to talk,” I said on one side of the bathroom door.

“Yes?” he asked. He was packing our bags for the first Singapore night race.

“I think I am pregnant,” I said, heart beating ever so fast, looking at the two stripes on the white pregnancy test kit.

“Honey, you can’t say that you are pregnant just because you feel fat….”


Yes, I married that man and this is the story of our lives.