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Entries in Indonesia (22)


Merry Indonesian Christmas! 

You know that banality of new parenthood? The one when you walk out of the hospital cradling the new baby. You’re all uncertainty and excitement. Then, you get in the car and find yourself wondering when the real grown-ups are going to arrive and take over this whole being an adult thing.  

I kind of feel like that about cultural high holidays.


Like, someone just handed me a bundle of Christmas and expects me to know what to do. Here! Here’s a holiday! Make it magic! Your child’s future memories depend on it! And, oh, PS, there’s no snow! Have fun!!!!


I always feel totally out of my depth. Here I am, in tropical Indonesia, with a three year old who is starting to ‘get’ Christmas, and there are no real grown ups in sight. 


But this year, somehow we pulled it off. 


Stella and I shared a quiet candle-lit dinner on Christmas eve, catered personally by Mr. Chef who was stuck at work. 


Then we headed out to watch a children’s choir sing Christmas carols, just like we did last year. TAnd of course they sang about five numbers from the Sound of Music, because Stella lives for the TSoM, and it’s Christmas and magic, and nothing could have been more perfect.

When we woke up on Christmas morning, and delighted at the stockings waiting for us at the breakfast table.  Although Stella was quite insistent that stockings are for FEET and NOT for presents. We whipped up a batch of cinnamon rolls, along with a few other treats courtesy of Mr. Chef’s kitchen, and slowly opened presents.


Stella was not really that into presents this year, more interested in pancakes, orange juice, and the fact that we were headed out to her friend’s house later. Eventually we enticed her with the promise of a really, really big present. When she discovered a scooter inside, all was lost. She had no more need for any other wrapped parcels. A SCOOTER!! She declared, “Father Christmas is very clever!” English accent and all, because (??????!!!!???)

Unfortunately Mr. Chef was not able to really enjoy all the Christmas the fun. He was taken down by a terrible bout of something nasty and tropical, and was too sick to even eat a piece of toast. Which is really a shame, because he went all out in the Christmas department this year, and deserved more than ever to take part in the festivities.

Stella and I left him at home to recover while we partook in all the Christmas merriment. Believe me, I felt kind of conflicted about abandoning our valiant Chef.

We joined some friends for a massive Christmas lunch complete with eggnog, Christmas crackers and flambéed Christmas pudding. There were a million children, old fiends and new, all gathered together running wild like cousins they'd known since birth. And adults sitting around tables in the back garden sipping on festive drinks. I felt just like all the aunites and uncles gathered together in a farm house kitchen somewhere in Eastern Ontario. Except with a pool. And palm trees. 

And so, I declared all of us all very clever because somehow, against the odds, we created for ourselves the most christmassy of Christmases right here in topical Indonesia. Really. This year was one of the best. 

Annnd, here's Christmas last year, our first one in the tropics. 

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"a portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2013"

Stella: She spent almost the entire weekend running off, exploring the "crunchry side" with her friend.

Stella and I are back from a much-needed respite in country where we spent a three-day weekend with some of the very best people in Jakarta. It's amazing what some fresh air and dirty feet can do for the soul. I'm feeling clarity and direction like I haven't in months, and am determined to make regular trips outside of the big city.


My Blueprint for Taxi Drivers Makes Me Unhappy And Other Tales of Expat Woe.




Yesterday was one of those days. Call them China days, or Indo days, expat days, or HULKSMASH EVERYDAMNTHIGN days, whatever. It was one. And tt started, as these days often do, in the back of a taxi. 


I was taking Stella to school. I gave the driver the street name and neighbourhood, and asked him if he knew it. I took his noncommittal silence as an affirmation, that yes, he did indeed know know the place and would guide us there directly. But it wasn't long before I resized, by way of a series of turns in random directions, that he had know idea where our destination was in relation to where we were, but didn't feel like it would be appropriate to, you know, ask me if he should turn left or right at the next intersection.


ARRGGGG! SO ANNOYING! Why wouldn't he TELL me if he didn't know the place? Why wouldn't he ask me where to turn? Why did he just turn left there???? Geeze! Taxi drivers are the worst!  So leotarded!!!! 


Not long after, we hit traffic. Because of course we did. A tiny crossing had the whole road tied up in knots, and we were stuck for twenty minutes. As the stoplight flashed red, drivers raced forward, hopping to make it across the three lanes of poorly designed intersection before traffic started flowing in the other direction. The result? Traffic locked down. Cars facing each of the four compass points jammed in the middle of an intersection and no one able to move anywhere. 


COME ON, you guys. This is basic. Even someone who bought their licence knows red means stop and green means go. If you'd just follow THE RULES, this wouldn't happen. Only jerks stop their cars in the middle of an intersection. You're making me late for all important outside time at preschool , I'm missing mom chat time, and this is obviously a super important, really critical, total big deal problem.


So yea. Two internal tantrums even before nine o'clock in the morning.  


Tony Robbins has this concept about blueprints. Your blueprint is your worldview. It's your understanding of how you, should be, how others should act, and how the world should function. If you think people should hold doors open for you, that's part of your blueprint. If you think that the work day should start at 9 AM and finish at 5 PM, that's part of your blueprint.

When you encounter situations that contradict your blueprint, you feel negative emotions: frustrationation, anger, annoyance, unhappiness.  


My blueprint about the flow of vehicles in an intersection is based entirely upon my North American understudying of traffic. And guess what? That blueprint is totally invalid in Indonesia. (...Duh...)


I can't change the way traffic flows in this country (although don't think for a moment I haven't considered jumping out of the taxi and directing cars at that particular intersection, with extra special vitriol saved for those GD motorcycles, who are like TOTALLY THE WORST at following traffic rules. Because I have. Obviously. A lot. I even have ideas about what I should wear, and where I might find a traffic directing wand.)


The only thing I can change is my idea about how traffic flows. (Hint: IT DOESNT!!!!!) I can only change my blueprint.


But that's kind of a hard thing to do. Like, uhhhhhh, where do I start?


Do any of you have stories about blueprints contradicting reality, be they expat-related or otherwise? Have any of you successfully changed your blueprint? Tips? Ideas? Suggestions? Rants? Let me have them!


Idul Adha in Jakarta

Selamat Idul Adha! 

Yesterday we celebrated Eid al-Adha, (or Idul Adha as it's known here in Indoneisa.) 

Idul Adha in Jakarta is a big deal, second only to Eid al-Fitr (Idul Fitri), which marks the end of Ramadan (Lebaran), as a major religious holiday. Idul Adha commemorates the willingness of Ibrihim to sacrifice his own son in obedience to God. Traditionally men and women dress in white, and cows, goats or sheep are sacrificed. The meat is then butchered and given to the poor. 

Admittedly, our celebration was non-traditional in the sense that it involved neither sacrifice of domestic animals nor any ritual prayers, but instead, a trip to the newly opened H&M and lunch at a Japanese restaurant. But still.  

But the night before the big holiday, well that was something. Jalan Sudirman, the main thoroughfare that cuts through the city was closed to traffic late Monday afternoon, as thousands of drummers gathered to welcome nightfall and the beginning of Idul Adha. 

Of course Stella and I wanted to be part of the action, so out we went!

The mood was buoyant, and we got lots of high fives and "Hello Misters!" We stayed out till dark, taking advantage of a rare opportunity for an evening stroll. Then we came home and watched as a parade of thousands of torches and the occasional fire breather passed along the street below our building. 

Prayer songs rang out all night long, and we slept fitfully but happily. 

Jakarta, sometimes you just kill it. 



Carita, West Java, A trip with my pops, and a surprising cure for toddlers who just will not nap.

As you may recall, my dad, the gluten-free hiker, came to visit us here in Indo. You may also recall that I was terrifically excited about this fact (and not just because he came laden with a suitcase full of American retail goodness.) For, along with my dad comes adventure! And you all know I'm a sucker for a treacherous bus ride to some far-flung corner of the jungle. Having my dad around gave me just another excuse to pack up my kid and hit the road.

Off we went to Carita, on the West cost of Java.

I will admit that I did not go easy on my poor ol' pops. Less than 18 hours after hitting the Southern Hemisphere, I had him standing in rush-hour traffic, hailing down a long-distance bus for a several-hours-long journey wedged into the middle seat of a sardine can vehicle piloted by a driver who may or may not have had a death wish, but certainly had very little knowledge of road safety for somone responsible for the lives of several dozen people. 

PS, my father is a heavy vehicle safety expert. So. 

Still, we all made it to Carita at this unreasonably charming Airbnb where we were welcomed with fresh coconuts, sea breezes, and ummmm, hi. the Strait of Sumatra. 

Can we talk for a moment about the food at Rumah Joglo? Because Pak Hadi and his family, who look after Rumah Joglo, cooked us some of the most delicious, meals I've had since coming to Indonesia. Let's just say that if you haven't had urap packed up in banana leaves and brown paper and eaten on the side of a volcano, you just really don't know anything about epicurean pleasure. 

Anyway, Carita. Adorable. A quiet little seaside town with a charming harbour, hiking trails, surfing, and views to Mt. Krakatau. You know. No biggie. (TOTAL BIGGIE.)

 One morning we decided, hey, it's a great day for a walk in the jungle. So we set off with Pak Hadi as our guide for short jaunt through the forest. Shod in wholly inappropriate footwear, with a small bottle of water between four people, and nothing but a wayward box of rasins and a snake fruit or to to sustain us, we were all, yeah, we'll be to the top of this waterfall in no time. 

Right. Ten kilometers, one salandang nap, and several blisters later, we had returned from our epic trek through the jungle. And, BTW, I mean jungle. 

Like, if you have never carried your toddler on your hip while fording waterfalls, spotting monkeys, avoiding TWELVE INCH CENTIPEDES and navigating narrow cliff-side paths, you know nothing of jungle adventure. Or stupidity and ill-preparedness. 

Regardless, it was amazing. My kid was a trooper. And I was sure glad that our superstar nanny / friend came along and helped me carry my daughter for a bit. 

Oh, and by the way, in case you were wondering what tumeric looks like goriwng in the wild, well, here you go.

(WHAT??? Tumeric plants? I just can't even!!)

And then on the way back, a monsoon rainstorm opened above us, unleashing more rain than I ever knew could call from the heavens, and capping off our accidental adventure in the best possible way. Can I also just stop here to say, once again, my kid is a total lionheart, because there was not one tear nor even one whinge, despite the fact that we ended an epic trek drenched to our very core, and it was two hours past lunch time.  

One of the main draws of Carita is it's proximity to Mt. Krakatau, an allegedly dormant volcano that blew it's lid in 1883 in one of the most totally major eruptions in history. So of course we had to go visit. Despite the fact that it lies 40 km out in the middle of the ocean, and it's rainy season, and 10 foot waves, and well, let's just bring the two-year-old along, shall we???


So, if you've never found yourself covered in toddler vomit, immobilized on a 25 foot boat in the blinding sun by a child who is so seasick that she barfed down your front four times and then passed out for two solid hours which, if you know anything about my child, is basically a miracle, because to her, sleep = no., well, then my friends, you know nothing of unbelievable sunburns that peal for weeks. And weeks. And, PS, sunscreen works a lot better when you remember to pack it.

Related: the Jakarta pollution is good for one thing: blocking those asshole UV rays. 

Still, I'd do it all again. Because look at this. Just LOOK!


So, we landed on Krakatau, recovered our land legs, ate an amazing lunch, and then frolicked on the beach. Let's just stop for a moment to talk about rolling waves, secluded, unoccupied beaches, sand so black and so fine it's like walking on espresso grinds, volcanic rock, and real life pumice stones that float. FLOAT in water. The two hours we spent here were probably the greatest two hours of my child's life, and they totally made up for all that vomit.

We hopped back into our boat for a spot of snorkeling on a real coral reef. Have you ever done that? Because, um, whoa. I'm pretty sure I saw Nemo. Also, why did no one ever tell me that you salt water is so buoyant that you don't even have to move your body to stay afloat??! Could there be anything more relaxing than floating above an undersea universe? The answer is no, PS.

This vacation may or may not have also included more massages than are really necessary to induce total relaxation, more tempeh than is reasonable for one human to consume (hi, that's me), and a sighting of a suspected monitor lizard. 

Anyway, Carita. Go. Stay at Rumah Joglo. Eat urap. Bring sunscreen. And gravol. Visit Krakatau. Go by way of Merak, and NOT via Labuhan as Lonely Planet advises, and escape the jungle of Jakarta streets for the actual jungle. Totally. Go. Now. Do it. You won't be sorry.


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"a portrait of my child once a week, every week in 2013."

Stella: Sound asleep in the jungle.

Okay, I may be cheating a bit with this one. I mean I did not actually take the picture. I handed my camera off to my dad, who silently snapped while my girl slept. But. Still. I feel justified. Totally justified in using this image. This was one of my favourite moments of our recent trip. A walk up to a waterfall turned into a real, proper, 10 KM hike up a mountain and through a jungle. It also happened to correspond in with nap time, and so my girl feel asleep in her salenang. I lagged behind the group, looked down at the curve of my girl's cheek and thought for a moment that I could see right back in time to quiet solitude of infancy. 

I would also like to point out that the jungle did wonderful things to my girl's already remarkable hair.

And, further, this little person is a champion. A real champion. I dragged her all over the place and she offered only minimal whining, general congeniality, and patience for days.


Baturaden, Central Java

Remember that time I took a long train journey with my two-year-old and her nanny / my friend and it was about the most exciting thing to happen in my little life in, ummmmm, forever? Yeah. So, you'll have to excuse me while I relive this trip, because it was a total big deal.

When we last left off, our little traveling band had just experienced some amazing jungley-waterfall-hot-spring fun in Guci and Tegal

We woke up on our second morning, hot and kind of tired from a restless night's sleep in a sub-awesome (read windowless + gecko-poop-ful) hotel room. I decided that we should hit the road again. So, out came the Lonely Planetand AH HA!!, we would head to Porwokato via train, and then to Baturaden from there by taxi.

So we packed up our bags, hopped into a becak (a bicycle taxi) and took off for the train station arriving just in time to catch our train. Or so we thought....

Turns out we bought tickets to the wrong city. Ummmm. Yeah. So, back to the ticket counter for a refund. Consoling a wee little girl who was so upset that she would not, in fact, get to ride a choo-choo that day, and back into a pair of becaks (we had seen the sweat on the guy's brow as he peddled us all on the trip to the station), and headed out to a random road-side to flag down a bus that would take us to Porwokato.

 This little lady is staring longingly at the choo-choo tracks. 

Ta! DA!  Travel adventure here we come!

I can tell you that the bus we took was just all shades of sketchy: a driver who thought stopping for passenger while they embarked was optional, but, hey, he would slow down as they jumped on; dudes hanging out smoking everywhere, but at least the door wouldn't close so there was lots of ventilation; also holes in the ground (see above re. ventilation); a rain storm (wheeeee open door). Still, the scenery was amazing, the cost was low (less than 5 dollars for the three of us!) and it got us where we wanted to go.  

Sketchiest bus in the history of busses.


We arrived in Powokato mid-afternoon and then headed up the mountain to the hill station of Baturaden. And after a long, hot, smokey and sometimes rainy journey, Baturaden was just the ticket. Peaceful, a solid 5 or 7 degrees cooler, so lush and green, it was heaven. For about 12 hours the only sound we heard was the rush of a mountain stream and a the occasional gecko call. 

We stayed at Hotel Rosenda (great location, fairly comfortable, but breakfast is kind of terrible in low season. Good value if you don't mind geckos, and okay, the biggest cockroach I've ever seen, but it's the tropics, so...) But the best part? Our view! Look! This is what we saw when we first arrived!


And it only got better in the morning. Hey, tropical paradise. I like you.


 There was some pool swimming, some nature viewing, and general kid-friendly fun. 

Oh, and like one of the best meals I've even had in Indonesia at Pringsewu, complete with a private gazebo strung with Chinese lantern. And a playground. And geckos. I can't rave enough about this place. For about $20 we ate like kings, enjoying the freshest, most delicious Indonesian food (they're super into healthy, organic, local produce and all round general yummyness.) Best? It was a five minute walk from our hotel. We ate there both nights we stayed in Baturaden and wish we could go back. 

 As we got up the next morning to explore, we didn't really have much of a plan. But we stumbled across a hot spring park, which, actually we didn't get to see much of, because there were more exciting things like a gorup of school children on a field trip! Horary! Kids! So, basically we just played the morning away, walked around the park, fed fishies, and had a swim in a pool of questionable cleanliness.  





I understand there's lots more to do in Baturaden, but I guess we'll have to go back when Mr. Chef can join us. This was a lovely little place. A perfect getaway from the hot crazy that is Jakarta. I think we may end up back here. 

For previous peeks into our trip to Central Java see these:

Project Life: Week Two

Tegal + Guci 

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