Why can’t the world be more like Sydney Harbour?
When you’re floating upon the sapphire blue waters of Port Jackson (that’s the way we nautical folk refer to Sydney Harbour), you are obliged to give passing vessels a wave and are always given one in return. It’s so bizarre. It’s so friendly and cute. It’s the RULE.
Catching some waves, Sydney Harbour, New Years Day, 2009. No biggie.
I like to “get my Harbour wave on” as much as possible when I’m in Jakarta, where everyone is overly-familiar with strangers, and there is no such thing as TMI. As one of the great over-sharers, the J-town suits me very well – because here, we share everything!
On the crazy streets of Jakarta, we can sleep wherever we want (like my taxi driver, at the wheel, while we’re going at 60km/h). We can drive wherever we want…
Life’s a two-way street. Except on a two-way street in Jakarta.
Sell whatever we want…
My local “Macho Medicine” shop…now offering make-up and accessories in addition to erectile dysfunction drugs!
And absolutely, always, constantly, wave to whoever we want.
Imagine if the people on the London Tube behaved a little bit more like the people on the streets of Jakarta or the waterways of Sydney? Instead of staring into nothingness as if they were abandoned 1950s blind dementia patients on their deathbeds, commuters would share their ipads (“Check out page three. Messed UP innit…”). People would naturally befriend the folk who shared a similar schedule…and every day would be a lovely day, just like this!
It’s hardly a groundbreaking anthropological observation, but I felt a distinct lack of chirpiness when I rode the tube back in December 2011. I thought I was being jolly and Christmassy when I asked the guy pushing an empty pram/stroller if he’d, “lost something?” (and then made the proud chuckle of someone who thought they were the funniest human to walk the earth), but his stoney-faced insistence to ignore me (even after I repeated it more loudly a second time) told me that the spirit of alcoholic baby santa pudding was not so prevalent in the Tubes of London that day.
I turned to my bestie, a true veteran of the Sydney Harbour wave (pictured in the above photo as my co-capitano on the floating party of awesomeness) for some sympathy but found her incandescent with embarrassment. “Mate!” she hissed in that I-am-kidding-but-I’m-really-not-kidding voice, “you don’t make banter on the tube, mate.”
I promptly forgot these wise words of advice (17 blog posts later, I am sensing a pattern) and continued to terrify strangers with my ridiculous comments for the rest of that holiday in the delicious, cheesy, fried, cheesy, delicious, salty, cheesy states of America…
United Ates of America
There, I imposed my Sydney Harbour Jakarta manners upon the poor darl at the Washington Natural History Museum who was (unfortunate enough to be) standing next to me at the moment I first lay eyes on the Hope Diamond.
Isn’t it breathtaking?
I still maintain that my comment (“you’re gonna need a diamond encrusted neck-brace after wearing that, hey?!”) was an awesome opener for some GOLD STAR CHAT, but she was not impressed. Before I could try out my Plan B (“But I thought the old lady dropped it into the ocean in the end?!?!?”) she reeled back in horror and shot me glare of such repugnance, you’d think I was blocking her way while she was trying to park her enormous SUV, or something.
I recognised that look after I had received it from someone earlier that day.
THANKS FOR RUINING MY SHOT OF CAPITOL HILL, ASSHOLE!
It wasn’t until I was enjoying a spot of sub-zero frostbitten window shopping in New York’s Soho, of all places, that I had a real Jakarta-caliber tête-à-tête with a complete stranger.
In an moment which went at complete odds with those suggested by Mother Google…
I was pleasantly surprised when a passer-by screamed in my face, “It’s so fawkin’ cold! It’s fawkin cold man!”.
As we all know, the only thing more excellent than an unsolicited conversation is one which involves unnecessary swearing, so I rewarded him with my New York version of a Sydney Harbour wave–which took the form of a sympathetic nod–and continued down Broadway, moving briskly away from his bad jeans and awkward facial hair.
But Bad Jeans wanted to keep chatting.
Bad Jeans: “Ey!“
Sydney Harbour Waver: **Stops, turns, gives terrified but helpful look**
Bad Jeans: “Will you waaaahhm my baaaawls up faaaaw me?“.
Unfortunately, I had left my sidewalk sexual harassment repellant back in Jakarta. Shame.
To be fair, my footpath dialogue failures extend well beyond the United Bad Jeans of America and the London Attitube.
I mean, it was in the quaint and charming town of Luang Prabang, Laos last year that a seven-year-old girl approached me and my accommodation-seeking friends and sweetly inquired, “Want a f*cking room?”. We darn well did want a f*cking room, but not from a smooth-talking salesperson like her, thankyouverymuch!
I won’t get in to the nitty gritty of how Edith and I came to part ways, but let’s just say that I now possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the appropriate course of treatment for a domesticated river otter bite.
These are just some of the encounters which have made me truly appreciate the generous stranger love I am given in Jakarta.
But Sydney, my home town and the capital of Australia (sorry Canberra, you’re not fooling anyone. Go and hang out in the ‘Crapital’ corner with your friends Ottawa and Pretoria) remains my most favouritastic city in the whole wide nutty world.
Call me a tree-hugging, pro-marriage-equality, affordable-healthcare-dental-and-education-for-all, sanitation-saves-lives, why-the-f*ck-do-people-still-purchase-small-garbage-bags?-thinking idealist if you want (PLEASE CALL ME THAT)…but I like cruising streets, and floating on waters that are safe, friendly and faeces-free.
So, if this blog hasn’t made a very strong case for why it’s time for me to come home, then my Jakarta Waterways face surely will…
It’s been an quite a ride Jakarta, but it’s time to wave goodbye!
Today is International Women’s Day, but I dedicate this post to the man who s*xually assaulted me on the street this week…
This one’s going out to you, buddy!
Prior to moving to Asia, I don’t think I’d given much thought to the ways in which my ’femaleness’ determined my place in the world. As a girl lucky enough to be born into the right family, society, and era – I have enjoyed freedom and opportunities to pursue the ideas, lifestyles, and challenges that suit me, irrespective of my gender, rather than despite it.
Admittedly, I can and do play the ‘I Am Woman, Therefore I Am Correct’ card when it’s required. Like when I need to win a dispute with a straight man about upholstery (i.e. never) or when giving advice to a gal pal after a man made her cry (i.e. always). Obviously I’m reluctant to refer to myself as a feminist (mostly because I don’t really know what it means to be one) but generally, I prefer to see myself as a human who is female rather than a female human.
I guess it was inevitable that a move to Indonesia would challenge my broad, unabashed, and relatively uninformed perceptions on what it means that I AM A WOMAN.
Because it is a developing, predominantly Islamic, Southeast Asian nation, Indonesia is quite a conservative place. Even though Jakarta is the most diverse and internationalised of all Indonesian cities, half of the women here wear jilbab (a head scarf which covers all but their face) and the other half keep their shoulders, chest, upper arms and legs to themselves. Over half of Indonesian women who are my age (that’s 29 tomorrow!) have been married for around six years and have popped out at least two kids.
While I mustn’t bore you with my complaints about the long-running and endemic gender imbalances that exist within a society that I have actively chosen to make myself a part of, that is exactly what I am going to do.
Come on down, Negative Nancy!
Given my predilection for prancing around town like gold plated strumpet, I think I have adapted astonishingly well to the modest dress standards here. I genuinely adore the people of Indonesia, so when I first arrived in the Jak, I made a noble, respectful, and culturally sensitive effort to dress modestly. I do understand that I am very welcome to go wherever I like in this country, but my shoulders and decolletage are not.
These days, my (not one, not two, but THREE) leather mini skirts remain folded up, neglected, in tiny little squares at the back of my wardrobe, while my high-necked, mid-calf batik print atrocities are on a seemingly endless wash rotation. But now I don’t cover up to protect the people of Indonesia from my humps – I cover up to protect myself from them.
Wherever I go in this country, there are dozens, hundreds…MILLIONS of people to remind me that I am not only the whitest person on the street at any one time, but also I am the whitest s*x object on the street at that. I genuinely do love the language of Indonesia (for example, here speed humps are called “polisi tidur” which translates to “sleeping policeman” CUTE!)…I just wish I understood LESS of the adorable prose which fills the air as I go about my business.
“I love you”…”want a ride?”…”you beautiful”…*wolf whistle*…”susuuuu (milk)”…”look at that chicken”…”do you want an Indonesian boyfriend?”…or the one that really is funny in any language, “Hey look! (*nudges friend*) There goes your girlfriend!”
It’s not flattery. It’s not harmless. It’s harassment…and according to the Mayor of Jakarta, I bring it upon myself.
“If [a woman] wears short skirt…” he explains, “it could be inviting.”
Had I heeded these sage words of advice on Monday, perhaps I could have avoided “inviting” the passing motorcyclist to extend his revolting, sharply nailed hand and grabbing my boob. Had I been a good girl and listened to the Mayor, I would have known better than to wear a skirt above the knee. Had I been at home practicing my needlework and fluffing cushions, I wouldn’t have scratch marks on my chest.
So thank you mystery man on motorcycle (in Jl Kirai, Cipete Utara jam 7.43 malam, tanggall Maret 5, 2012). You reminded me why I brought those leather mini skirts in the first place…
Because of none of your gosh darn firetrucking business, that’s why.
*statement may be paraphrased
For dinner last night, I sat on a plastic stool on the side of the road and ate steamed crab brain-matter with my bare hands. What can I say? I am a lady.
A lady who likes to eat.
As a self-proclaimed adventurous eater, I will try just about anything once. I like to think that nothing is too rich, too salty, too alive, or too “on the floor” for me to give it a good seeing-to. I am that person who ruins the ornamental centerpieces in the middle of large hotel breakfast buffets (“Does anyone else think these sugared almonds kinda taste like styrofoam?“). In preschool, while all the other kids glued macaroni onto toilet rolls, I just sat there crunching the macaroni with my three teeth and eating the glue (mmmm….claaaaag).
I once dated a guy (I know, right?) who, after silently observing me over dinner, announced, “It’s such a shame you’re gluten-free. I mean, it’s obvious you really enjoy your food.”
To a woman such as I, who teeters precariously on the cusp of the slippery slopes of Definitely Not Skinny Land that lead straight down to Fatty Town, words like those are as volatile as, “I like having something to grab on to” or, “it’s what’s inside that counts” or, “should you be drinking in your condition?“. Fortunately, over the years, I have worked hard to be OK with myself…and I took his comment as an affirmation that, in moderation, greed is good.
(The same guy also told me, “you’re pretty funny, for a chick” and I actually tolerated his verbal back-handers for quite some time because he was pretty handsome, for a balding man).
So, yeah…as I was saying, “MODERATION”
No, I don’t have Tourettes. It’s just that my self-control does wane at times in Jakarta: The City that Deep Fried Built. Sometimes, this enthusiastic eater needs the occasional reminder to PUT DOWN THE FORK!
Sometimes I need reminding that eating half a watermelon is not ”basically the equivalent of drinking a glass of water” - particularly when said watermelon is deep fried.
I do need reminding that eating the entire leg of a duck, bones included (thanks to thirty minutes in the deep fryer) will not actually “make your bones stronger”
I need reminding that despite it being made from fresh vegetables, the fact that Gado-Gado is covered with five thousand litres of peanut sauce probably disqualifies it from the ”light snack” category of cuisine.
I need reminding that Soto Ayam (Indonesia’s own chicken soup) is actually a great healthy meal if you can handle the occasional mysterious stomach tubing and dead insect.
I even need reminding that most normal people travel to Central Java to see the ancient Borobudur temples and marvel at the stunning volcanoes…not to take photos of themselves in front of giant food parcels.
As my lovely grandma says, “thank heavens above” for the blessed warning signs which have guided me through Indonesia’s gastronomic wonderland these last 16 months.
Yes, thank goodness indeed, Ma. Thank good golly gosh for the July, August and October bouts of food poisoning, and the countless occasions on which Indonesian people have informed me that I am “much stronger and fatter” than they are. Without these reminders, I would be nowhere (and by “nowhere”, I mean “wearing stretchy waistband jeans”). Thank goodness gracious me for that time I realised a spell of light-headedness was being caused by a dress so tight it was restricting my breathing. And most of all, dear Keeper of Self Control, thank you for the Personal Trainer who approached me at the gym last week and said, “I can help you with that” as he gestured at…well, me.
So, I now find myself in the midst of yet another moderation frenzy.
The most awesome thing about about health-kicking in Jakarta: The City That Pretentious Wealth and Misappropriated Funds Built (apart from virtually nothing), is the opportunity it provides me to partake in a pastime I favour almost as much as eating MSG-salmonella-laden street food.
That’s right, I’m talking about supermarkets. It should come as no surprise to learn that I, a woman equally as interested in consuming materialistic goods as she is in consuming breakfast, gets a massive kick out of perusing heath-food aisles and spending stupid amounts of money on groceries.
Now, instead of going on a $1 Fried Tofu with sweetchilligarlicvinegarlicamazingsauce binge…
I go on an imported grocery binge which includes:
$30 bags of Cheddar Cheese…
Here, I shall quote my British/Indonesian friend, who beautifully surmised my own thoughts when she said (in one of those intimidating International School accents which makes the rest of us feel completely small-town), “I wouldn’t pay that much for a vegetable even if it was watered with beer, massaged by blind Swedish masseurs, and fertilised with diamonds!“
$6 Unidentified Animal Foetuses!
I never could relate to that woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. She crapped on and on (and ooooooon) as she ate her way through Italy, embraced her outer fatty, arrived in Indonesia and stumbled upon the Latino man of her dreams in the countryside. In real life, white women arrive in Indonesia, lose the battle with their inner fatty and watch Latino men meet the Indonesian women of their dreams in nightclubs.
While I do appreciate the concept of working hard to be OK with oneself (inside and out), I don’t have a $30,000 book advance, a daily ride through rice paddies, incidental exercise, skim flat whites or non-peanut-drenched salads with which to do it.
Instead, I have the power of moderation, and the supermarkets, bacteria, and personal trainers of Indonesia to remind me that what doesn’t kill me (assuming the roadside crab brains don’t) makes me…”stronger”.
Sorry about the blogging hiatus. Of course there’s been a lot to tell you…but as the diplomats among us say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, it’s best to say nothing at all.”
I guess August was a hard month for me. Were I to have written something during August, you (who constitutes one half of my readership, unless you are my mum in which case you constitute the other half) would not have been treated to the musings of the optimistic delusional Freya who has lovingly populated this blog every other month. Instead, you would have been forced to endure the bitter rantings of one of my grumpy alter-egos – a trio that I have affectionately named Debbie Downer, Negative Nancy and Sour Sally.
Had I blogged during August, Sour Sally would have written 5000 words about how Ramadan (which took up the entire month) made my life almost unbearable. “My fried tofu cart man went on holidays! The 24/7 calls to prayer kept me up all night! All the bars were shut so I had to go dancing in a hooker bar…A HOOKER BAR!” she would whine.
Negative Nancy would definitely have bombarded you with some self-indulgent diatribe about the multitude of reasons why I should not have “tried something new” by dying my hair brown (“It was actually more of a ‘pond scum green’ than a brown” – Nancy)…and that would have provoked Debbie Downer to chime in with the mother of all rants focused on the scary yet amusing satirical comedy that is my “love” life (I can’t publish what Debs would actually say here – she is not very PC).
Thankfully, neither Debbie, Nancy nor Sally wrote a blog – the internationally celebrated diplomat pictured below did!
I’m the one in the pink, in case you were having trouble distinguishing me from the locals
Indeed, my illustrious career as a Southeast Asian “nomad” did kick off at a very young age. Despite being quite small (in fact, I don’t think I have ever been that small since) when the above shot was taken some twenty-two years ago on a family holiday in Thailand, I think I was already developing characteristics of high diplomacy well beyond my six years.
I remember riding atop an elephant and pretending to look comfortable; I tried to act like I was interested in the process whereby you can boil silkworms to extract their silk, when really I was just super, super, super grossed out; I even vividly recall making an effort not to stare at the amputee who charged 10c at the door of the squat toilets at the Jade Buddha. Back then, as you can clearly see from the above photo, I was refined, gracious and impeccably dressed.
Sadly, the toothless diplomat of 1989 grew up to be the pushy, assertive, straight-talking woman that I am today. I am a nice lady, I promise! I love people! And things! It’s just that here, I am a part of the “bule” club and sometimes we struggle with the guiding principles of Southeast Asian manners;
- Smile through your rage – aggression earns you nothing but smiles of rage which will only enrage you further.
- Grin through your disappointment – if you cry, people will point and laugh at you.
- The more you offend someone (which, if you are a pushy bule, you always do) the less likely they are to tell you.
Ok, maybe that is a ridiculous over-generalisation. I’m actually not sure if the same rules apply throughout Asia as they do in Indonesia, but a cheeky google of the words “Western Vs Eastern Anger” would suggest that they do…
Needless to say, the “grin and bear it” concept continues to test my patience here in Indonesia (THAT’S BECAUSE SH*T IS ALWAYS GOING WRONG. ALWAYS. – Nancy) but of course I DO TRY to internalise my frustration as much as I can…
Unfortunately, last month I didn’t try very hard.
It’s hard to know the precise moment when (what will henceforth be known as) “The August of Anger” began for me, but I think it might have been around the time I was trying to buy a sweet faux ‘vintage cassette tape’ mobile phone cover at the market. It was pretty rad. I wanted it. Bad. But the lady in the shop was asking for $11. I’m like “Whatevers lady, I’ll give you five.” and she’s like “ONE PRICE!”
I’m sorry, but $11 is more than I paid for my amazing Marilyn Monroe wig from Paddies Markets…
and this was a rectangle fashioned from toxic rubber, so Sour Sally was not going to take this lying down (unlike Marilyn who would take anything lying down – Debbie). A simple transaction turned quickly to a high-voltage altercation, when phone lady refused to bargain with me. Nothing new. Definitely nothing important, but it was the August of Anger so I was all like…
The August of Anger progressed at top speed when my Indonesian dentist told me I was going to need to fork out $3000 to pay for his work on my chompers. Despite the fact that this is about half the price of Australian dental care; despite the fact that my insurance will foot the bill anyhoo and despite the fact that it is unfathomably rude to object to a medical professional’s billing rates, Debbie came out of nowhere and spewed forth with some…
Shamefully, as the weeks passed, the rage did not. When yet another creepy motorcyclist drove up onto the footpath in front of me and was getting all up in my grill nagging me to go for a ride, Nancy made him regret it. Normally, I just ignore these skeezoids, but it was (after all) the August of Anger and I was out to make some enemies so I marched up to guy, pointed my finger in his face, and bellowed a swift, perfunctory…
Unsurprisingly, as the month drew to a close I was growing weary of living in this heightened state of crankiness. My patience was wearing thin with the fact that my patience was wearing thin. However, on the last, fateful week of August, I decided to brave the 6pm traffic and take an ojek to meet some friends for dinner.
Thanks to the “design” of Jakarta’s road network which is based up on the assumption that we are all like Derek Zoolander and can only turn one way (in this case, left) my poor driver and I were forced to take the below route…
(I wish I were exaggerating)
Then the bike started backfiring. Then it started to rain (it never rains in August). Then Debbie, Sally and Nancy banded together and unleashed the fury…
When we finally arrived at our destination one hour later, the driver and I were both quite relieved to be parting ways. He laughed nervously and apologetically, as I took a deep breath, dismounted, and emptied the water out of my shoes. Within two squelchy steps I managed to tread on an innocent, unassuming feral cat (It was dark. It looked like garbage – Sally). The cat was like “WTF?”, the driver started apologising again and I was like…
The whole evening–no, actually the whole MONTH–was hopelessly undignified and pathetic and I only had myself to blame. I am not proud of this behavior or any of the other outbursts I inflicted upon Jakartans last month – but I also wouldn’t take them back. The August of Anger actually taught me why it’s important to keep my temper in check.
One of the reasons most Indonesians complain less than their Western friends may be, in part, due to that fact that they have bigger priorities than arriving to a meeting on time or eradicating the exploding feral cat population. If everyone here was as petty as I was during the August of Anger, then the country would self-destruct within seconds.
Yes, I am still happy living my delusional life as an exbrat. No, I am not coming home any time soon. Yes, I still have tantrums. No, I have not found anywhere that sells gluten free bread or cider but yes, I am ok with that…for today, at least.
I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t feel comfortable expressing anger, sadness, frustration–or my most common affliction, hunger rage–but a little bit of patience goes a long way here.
It needs to go a very, very long way if you need to make a right-hand turn.
While I was in Sydney last month, I ran into a guy I used to hang out with when I was an undergrad at uni. Apart from that time one of my friends pashed him at a toga party and the fact that we occasionally car-pooled to the glamourous bars in the shining metropolis of North Sydney on Thursday nights, we didn’t really have a whole lot bringing us together as friends. Over the years we’ve lost touch. It happens <gentle sob>. At least we’ll always have our 34 Facebook friends in common.
So, when I bumped into this guy at the pub (surprise, surprise, I was wearing my Miami Vice disaster at the time) there was a lot for us to catch up on. I can report that he’s now working at a large accounting firm in the city, lives in a sharehouse in the inner Eastern suburbs and is currently single (ladies, please read on before you start bombarding me with requests for his number). I, in turn, filled him in on what’s been going on my life, at which point the conversation went something like this…
Me: “Yeah, Jakarta, as in…Indonesia Jakarta.”
Him: “Dude! Why would you do that?”
Me: “Hahaha, why? Coz it’s fun dude! I love it!”
Him: “But do you? Really? Why would you live in Jakarta? I have absolutely no desire to go to Jakarta.”
Me: “Ah, Jaktown is the most underrated big city in South East Asia. It’s the place to be. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”
Him: “Better than Bangkok? Ho Chi Minh? Singapore? I doubt it.”
Me: “Oh look! <pointing at nothing>There’s Jaahermahayaaaahhh’ll see ya later, hey? Great running into you…”
What was I running away from? His dangerously well-maintained haircut? His constant glances over my shoulder every time a pretty lady walked past? His skin-tight mandigan?
No! I was running away from the truth. That truth being that I didn’t really know why I’d chosen to live here.
That’s because I myself am a highly skilled practitioner in the art of denial. Not in the self-sacrificial sense (Ha! God no.) but the delusional “let’s not think about that” sense. My hasty departure from that conversation serves as a perfect example of this…as does the fact that I have elected to stay in Jakarta for another two years instead of moving to New York and marrying into a rich leatherwear empire as was always my ‘plan’ for two hours back in 2004.
Some psychotherapists (in my family) suggest that one of the most effective coping mechanisms humans use for dealing with stressful situations is the act of denial. To get by day-to-day without having a mental breakdown, we deny the fact that we may be killed crossing the street. Deny that we wouldn’t mind having a boyfriend some Friday nights when we have no one to go to the movies with. Deny the fact that we do, actually, live in an unmanageable shithole.
Therefore, to feed my addiction to delusion, I spent several weeks recounting the story of the mandigan run-in for my Jakarta friends. I’d open with something like, “well, you wouldn’t believe what this guy said to me while I was in Sydney…” as I waved dengue mosquitoes away from my feet and picked the chicken skin out of my soup. Then we would pass around the hand sanitiser, shake our heads in disgust and make that smug, “oh how I pity they that are not as culturally enlightened as I” face that only expat aid workers living in a chronic state of denial are truly capable of.
Those chats and these people are always great for validating my decision to live here. The flaw in this formula is the fact that some things are simply impossible to deny.
Like, really, really bad diarrhoea.
Last week there was NO DENYING the fact that Jakarta had given me my first real, bad, aggressive bout of food poisoning since I got here (GODDAMMIT!). Lying there at 2am with a fever, staring up at the fan, surrounded by empty Pocari Sweat bottles and Gastrolyte sachets like some wack scene out of a Halal (that’s like the Islamic version of Kosher) David Lynch film, the rose-tint of my self-delusion faded away. It was then that I found the answers to some of life’s tough questions. Specifically:
1. Why did they invent the bedpan? I now know.
2. Why do you need to cook Indonesian tinned seafood prior to consumption? I now know <cue: gag/retching which accompanies this thought>.
3. Why would anyone choose to live in Jakarta? WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY HY HY HY HY HY? I now know.
And I’ll tell you why.
It has lots of Indonesian people
…and Indonesian people are great. I like the way people here almost never lose their temper despite how frustrating life can be and I love the influence that this attitude is having on me. I love that there is just one word for me, I, my, mine and I’m but four ways to say hi. I love that kids give you a kiss by placing the back of your hand on their tiny little foreheads. I am amazed when people from a culture which is over 3000 years old and invented the domestication of chickens, humbly seek to learn from and understand the people of a country that has been around 220 years and invented the Traveller Pie. Here, people giggle off a near-death experience several times a day…and now I do too (hi mum!). I love that most days a complete stranger will give me a generous, warm and selfless compliment. I love that people here who live in the most startling poverty will share all they have with me in exchange for a moment of my time, a conversation and a smile. I f*king love the fact that Indonesians enjoy sweetened condensed milk as much as I do.
It’s in the tropics
Jakarta greets me with a warm embrace every time I walk outside. I love that 80 minutes on a plane and $150 can get me to some of the most beautiful beaches, reefs, forests and mountains to be found anywhere (and I mean ANYWHERE) in the world. I like paying $1 a kilo for bananas, papayas and mangoes. I love the butterflies in my garden and the geckos in my kitchen. I love that you can wake up at 6am in Bali and be back at your desk in Jakarta by 9am. I love that my nextdoor neighbour is letting off fireworks as I type this, because he is a crazy man and he damn well wants to (good for you buddy!).
I enjoy living like a princess.
It’s true. I do. There’s no way I could live like this at home. Living in a sharehouse reaches a whole new level of awesome here, where (for a fraction of Sydney or London rent) I can have a big house with a lush garden with a swimming pool and can pay someone to look after it. My housemates and I don’t fight over changing the toilet roll; access to the washing machine; doing the dishes; throwing out old food in the fridge or popping down the road to buy a bag of ice for the esky when friends come round for a BBQ. We never hassle each other when we lock ourselves out of the house because, truth be told, we don’t even need house keys.
I take a lot of taxis, because they cost $2. I often spend an ENTIRE DAY at the beauty spa which sets me back about $20. I can have my clothes tailored to my physique, my shoes crafted bespoke and if I’m caught in the rain, I can pay an umbrella boy to walk me to my destination.
I’m no Varuca Salt but I do love a treat and I can be very lazy. There’s no denying the fact that I live a very nice life indeed.
Don’t hate. Contemplate.
I have a great job
You’ll soon tire of me talking about my job but I won’t. When some people start a new job they go out and buy a new briefcase, join a different gym and start collecting loyalty cards for the cafes near their new office. I’m buying an underwater camera, getting my open water dive certificate and signing up to three frequent flyer programs. A job working on the largest marine conservation program in the world? Across the six countries of the Coral Triangle region? That’s a job worth staying for. Did I mention that I get to work in Bali?
There are 13,466 islands in Indonesia. The diversity across the archipelago is so rich that a visit to another island can be akin to entering an entirely new country. I like my fruit salad with sweet chilli peanut sauce. I like my avocado served with chocolate and cheese. I love taking a motorcycle (Ojek) to work every day. I even enjoy it when my Ojek driver (who I have on a retainer) doesn’t put up with my shit when I try to break from our verbal contract and get him to pick me up from a third location (8am house-work/ 6pm work-house. That’s it.).
I love the audacity of the nightclubs here that request a $17 covercharge, insist that all ladies wear high heels to be “classy as can be”…
…but will offer patrons the chance to dance on the tabletops or better still, take advantage of one of the several super-elegant WHEELCHAIRS which are available for those who can no longer walk in their high heels due to being paralytically intoxicated. Please note that I do not speak from experience on this matter…I guess I’m not ”fancy” enough.
Because I live here.
This great book I’m reading (The Boat by Nam Le – I’m totally into ethnic writers now that I am ethnic myself) may provide the most honest answer to the question about why I choose to live here.
“…any place is beautiful if you treat it as the answer to a question you’re asking yourself every day, just by being there.”
Hey! Look over there! <pointing at nothing>
Who was the genius that came up with the idea that riding a bike is something you never really forget? What a load of nonsense. I have been riding bikes since I was four years old and remain the shittest bike rider, ever.
Anyone who has seen me riding a bike would have also seen me falling off a bike. I am such a crap cyclist that I have even wiped out (on a completely stationary bike) during a spin class.
(Sorry bike nerds, this post is not actually about cycling. I’ve read Lance Armstrong’s inspirational documentation of two testicles and seven le Tour wins. I dare not compete.)
As my visit to Australia comes to an end, I must admit that my ability to adjust to life ‘back home’ has been remarkably like my bike skills; Undignified. Awkward. Exhilarating. I’d only been absent for about ten months but that’s all it took for me to forget how to do many things - some important, some useful and some just plain stupid. Such as…
1. how to hold my booze.
The regular enjoyment of wine was a favourite past-time of mine before leaving Sydney. Cracking into a good ‘bots’ in the evening was as much a part of my routine as was walking out of a Les Mills fitness class halfway through the sit-up track or hearing/uttering the worlds, “well, it’s his loss” over poached eggs at Sunday brunch. It was an intrinsic part of my life.
The brutal combination of Indonesia’s 400% wine tax and my non-existent income have prevented me from upholding this tradition. Even if you are shaking with desperation and in a wine-starved panic as I often am, $65 really is a lot to pay for bottled urine. The result? It would appear that I am now a lightweight (not physically. Oh, that reminds me…stay tuned for the Fatness of Freya post which is a continuous work in progress).
During my first days back in Sydney, after a few quiet drinkies at the pub, I decided to stop off at my old Woollies to pick up some ‘essential gluten free supplies’. THIRTY MINUTES LATER, I emerged with only two bags of Allens strawberry&cream lollies (one bag of which I had already started eating prior to arriving at the checkout) and this photo.
This whole episode is highly disturbing because a) it was only about 10.30pm b) those lollies weren’t even gluten free and c) I have no recollection of taking this photo. I can only assume I was in a state of such horror and dismay at the fact that the health food aisle had been converted to the cleaning product aisle that I had to feed my face with sweeties to dull the pain. Coz that’s normal. “TRAINWRECK, AISLE FIVE”
In Melbourne, I drank three glasses of wine over a three-hour period and promptly walked straight into a glass door on the way to the toilet. I do tend to have mishaps such as this even when I am completely sober (see any one of my previous blogs for confirmation of that), but the Manager of the winebar-cum-tapasresto-cum-gastropub-cum-cafe-cum-wateringhole clearly knew I was just a cheap, two-bit drunk given the way he kept apologising for…um…the fact that I am me.
2. how to dress in winter…actually, how to dress full-stop.
Look at what I wore to the pub. Just look at it.
Blow that whistle, I am ‘fashion red card’-ing myself here.
This wasn’t taken on the night of the crazy supermarket abomination (although that would have almost made more sense). No, this was taken when I asked a large group of mates to meet me for drinks starting at 5pm at a local bar.
I can’t work out what’s worse; the white plastic pumps teamed with the grey shimmer tights? Or the leather micro-mini at 5pm on a 7 degree Winters eve?
What’s even more disturbing is the fact that Miami Vice on the left here was actually a vast improvement on my preferred attire for the majority of my time in Oz, which is pictured below.
This…how would you describe this?…eyesore below is the only outfit that, during the entire three-week visit, kept me genuinely warm. Those polartech socks were the most bitchin’ part of the outfit, because they allowed me to slide around the house like I was riding an invisble skateboard.
This was inflicted upon my parents quite frequently (in fact, I am wearing it right now) and its powers of repulsion stayed strong right to the end of my stay.
My dad is hardly in a position to be a fashion cop but even he couldn’t help himself from blurting, “What on earth are you wearing? I am going to take a photo and put it on facebook.”
They say the best way to prevent other people from defaming you is to take the wind out of their sails by defaming yourself constantly instead (and by “they” I mean “I”).
3. how to park
LEARN HOW TO USE A QUESTION MARK, WANKER!
4. that I am not a size XXXXXXXXXXL or a 98Z
If you want the laugh of your life, be me and attempt to go bra shopping in Indonesia. It’s a riot.
Thank you David Jones Intimate Apparel department for the support.
Apart from the hairy moment in which I almost purchased a box of laundry detergent instead of gluten free cornflakes, I can’t say that the above could be described as critical, life-altering failures. I’ve actually had a lot of fun bringing myself up to scratch.
Besides, I’m pleased to report that there are some things I will never forget, such as…
1. how to be shallow
Jakarta is like so totally awesome for buying stuff. This meant I was able to hit the ground consuming pretty much as soon as I landed in Sydney. In Jakarta there are like, seven Zaras, three Topshops and the largest Louis Vuitton store in South East Asia. The fakes are off the hook too. It is like, soooooooooo awesome for heaps. And things.
If you don’t believe me, refer to the below excerpt from a skype chat with a lovely Indo-dwelling friend, which took place while I was in Sydney.
[6/14/2011 8:50:25 AM] Friend living in Ubud, the spiritual centre of Bali: how is oz, are you having post-ayad “you are all so commercial and shallow” blues?
[6/14/2011 8:51:02 AM] Me: It’s freezing…and I am still commercial, materialistic and shallow myself. but I find people here are very grumpy and uptight. It’s nice to see I’ve chilled out a bit
[6/14/2011 8:51:33 AM] Friend living in Ubud, the spiritual centre of Bali: yes, i forgot you were in jakarta.
2. how lucky I am
According to the 2010 Human Development Index, which compares life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living, Indonesia is the 111th least shit country in the world.
Australia is the second (after Norway, wherever that is).
I hope I don’t forget how blessed I am to have been provided with such rich opportunities, choices and support for my (often stupid) ideas throughout my life. We have it so good here. So. F*cking. Great. Don’t you go forgetting that either.
3. how many wonderful people I have in my life
I caught up with a stupid number of lovely people while I was in Oz. In fact, it was kind of nuts how many catch-ups I had, some planned, some completely f*cking random. So, I made a list (spot the anomalies!).
In alphabetical order…
Abs, Abbie, AC, AD, Alekzandra, Amber, Annaloise, Arseman, Baker’s Delight, Ben, Boundtown, Cal, Calli, Cam, Cass, Mrs Catts, Chris, Chris Tina, Cristina, Cleo, Dad, Dan, Dan, Dan, Dave, Duncs, Dustin, The East Sydney Roosters, Esjay, Ewan, Grellman, Gus, Guy, Guy Pearse, Haz, Hutcho, Ishman, Jaarn, Jase, JC, Jeremiah, Jimmy, Jono, Joshua, Jules, June Justin Hemmes, Kate, Kate, Kaz, Kilton, Kris, KTG, La Fou Fou, Lara, Lauren, Leelee, Louis, Louis, Luce da luce, Ma, Maddy, Marc, Marina, Mark, Mark, Matt, Matt, Michael, Michigan, Mittens, Mum, Muzzbuzz, Orlando Bloom, Oolie, Oscie, Pablo, Pat, Poyta, Q, Quent, Rani, Richness, Rick, Rosie, Roxy, Sarie, Simon the Stingray, Soph, Square Bourquoise, T, Taaarsh, Tim, Tom, Tom, Tones, Tones G, Tori, Valeska, Vanessa, Vivvy, Whingey Whinge, Will and Zali.
4. Avalon Beach
5. how I ride a bike
Maybe it isn’t such nonsense to say, “you never forget how to ride a bike”.
After all, during my three weeks here, I crashed three different bikes on three separate occasions…but that’s the way I’ve always (not) rolled.
It’s good to know some things never change.
Kermit the Frog – what a champ!
He’s chilled without being lazy. He’s funny without being cheesy and he doesn’t dumb himself down just so people like him, unlike some Muppets we know **cough Elmo**. He really is the Thinking Person’s Muppet.
I’m not sure Jakarta would make the ideal home for our singing, amphibious puppet friend, given the fact that he is one of the most environmentally sensitive animals on the planet. Then again, it’s working out for me and I like to think of myself as the Thinking Man’s Crumpet, so you never know.
Because I’ve decided to make this garbage dump my home for a little while longer I’ll continue to do what I can to make it a bit cleaner. Yes, I can smell the rancid open sewers and the incomprehensibly bad waste-management system (Who am I kidding? There is no system) but I will keep separating my recycleables in the hope that one day my shampoo bottles won’t end up in the open sewer which runs alongside our house.
Yes, I know Indonesia is the third-largest carbon emitter in the world after China and the USA (80% of which is result of deforestation) but I continue to walk from A to B despite the absence of footpaths and the presence of highly toxic fumes produced by people burning off my recycleables…
This is because I refuse to become jaded by the enormity of the environmental problems Indonesia faces. I’m striving for a different shade of green: the positive, optimistic (and some may argue naive) kind.
I guess I was raised that way. That’s right, reared by a man and a woman who wore pastel blue flares with ruffle shirt and a hippie floralprint mumu (respectively) on their wedding day and who named their offspring Cal, Sophie and Freya when everyone else was going for Andrew, Kate and Sarah. My environmental parentals went that extra green mile in a time and place where being a Greenie meant you purchased your Christmas stocking fillers from the Community Aid Abroad (now known as Oxfam) catalogue and shook your head with concern whenever anyone mentioned “the hole in the ozone layer”.
We didn’t conform to the norm and growing up, our family home featured ecofittings long before they were cool. Our water-saving shower heads allowed us to luxuriate in the 20 mL per hr flow which was delivered with excruciating bullet-like “massage” pressure. If you don’t believe me, I still have the physical scars to prove it. To save energy, they had skylights installed in just about every room (rise and shine, it’s 5am!) which were particularly awesome during winter when the “no heating unless you can see your breath and you have three layers of clothing on and still can’t feel your toes” policy kicked in.
Oh, and let’s not forget the aroma of the compost bin after a curious Ringtail Possum became trapped in there for several days.
Many of you who grew up in remote or rural settings may want to tell me to shut my face and take my first world problems elsewhere. To those people I would say, “you shut YOUR face, redneck!” because growing up in suburban Killara in the 90’s, I don’t recall many other families living like mine.
Where was I? Oh yes, my traumatically sustainable childhood.
I like to remember my mum as a legend in my own lunchtime. She famously campaigned against waste and landfill by denying her children any pre-packaged snacks in the (brown paper) lunch bag and banned cling-wrap in favour of brown greaseproof paper (more like deliciousproof, if you ask me). I vividly recall throwing a tantrum in the aisle of Macquarie Centre Woolworths after mum refused to buy us Spacefood Sticks OR Roll-ups claiming they were, “plastic food in plastic wrapping which is a complete waste. The best way for us to stop global consumption is to reduce our personal consumption.” I’m pretty sure this only made me kick and scream louder but we were allowed those little cardboard boxes of raisins instead. Good onya mum!
Sure, I was bullied a bit when we were dragged through the low-joule cordial instead of a poppa/juicebox phase but on the upside I never had to worry about the other students stealing my lunch and it took the focus off my shaved undercut hairstyle (well, at least they let me be who I wanted to be…which at the age of eight was apparently an emo teenage boy).
These days, the oldies have modernised and have rainwater tanks, solar panels and hybrid vehicles emblazoned with “Vote Green” bumper stickers. They’re still green living pioneers, finding fresh, new and individual ways to have an impact on the future of our planet and to their credit also finding fresh, new ways to embarrass their children.
I’ve also modernised a bit and only have tantrums in the supermarket aisle very occasionally. I’m also developing some gratitude for the effort my parents went to, in order to instill values of sustainability and environmental consciousness in their children. Along with my small carny hands and my inability to sneeze less than four times in a row, I think I also inherited their strong sense of environmental optimism.
So when I look out the window of the WWF Indonesia offices and see this…
I don’t see a grim cityscape blanketed in polusi…I see a world of inspirasi and motivasi and opportunitasi!
And when I stumbled upon this (somewhat unfortunate) amphibian halfway through writing this very blog, I saw it not as a tragedy, but a beacon of hope!
I really, really empathise with Kermit when he sings about that fact that he was green when nobody else was…
but the right way isn’t always the easy way (and it deffos isn’t an undercut).
As far as I’m concerned, being a little green is really the only way I can be sure that there’s a healthy planet on which my children’s children can embarrass their children with enviro-rants…just like this one.