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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…

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