|Jakarta (with a bit of Cirebon thrown in)
A month behind and there’s ever-so-much to talk about; one just doesn’t know
where to begin. Here — you choose. If you’re interested in reading about
Christopher’s train trip to Cirebon, press 1. If you’d like to learn of Arianna’s
addiction to speed, press 2. If you’d like to know about Annaliese’s progress in the
second grade, press 3. If you’d like to hear about Alissa’s remarkable restraint
when she thought her husband and driver were going to be abducted and executed,
press 4. If you’d like to hear about my falling out with Cousin Billy, you’ll just have
to keep wondering. If you’d like to hear about our Halloween party, press 5.
Okay… just to give it some order, we’ll go oldest to youngest (Alissa’s birthday is
in January, mine is in November). Actually, this is a cheap trick, because the story is
really about Bachtiar and me.
Their Green Berets vs. Our Men in Black
Thursday morning as I was waiting for Bachtiar to return from taking Alissa to
work, he called to say he’d been in a minor traffic accident and that he’d be delayed
a bit until he could get the matter straightened up. (This is about three hours before
he showed up at the house with the two well-armed military policemen.) He
assured me in that first call that neither he nor the car were in any way damaged,
but he tossed in the curious fact that he’d been taken to the military hospital, since
that’s where the driver of the other car worked. Through the course of the morning
I tried to learn a bit more, and Alissa also had the security team from the company
call and talk to him, since we grew less sure what was going on. He told them that
everything was fine and was being taken care of. (This was a couple of minutes
after he had been slapped in the head and verbally abused by one of the driver-
captain’s subordinates.) He then called and said he needed to come to the house to
borrow a million rupiah from me so he could pay for the estimated damage to the
other car. Uhhhh, okay, says I. (This is when the two uniformed marines and their
sidearms were riding along to the house with him.)
Call me trusting, call me intrepid, call me naïve, call me on the carpet, but yes, I
actually got into the car with the tough-ass army guys to be taken to some ill-
defined destination. (I needn’t tell you what Alissa called me.)
I spent much of the 30-minute drive sending SMS phone-text messages back and
forth with Alissa, telling her where we supposedly heading, making sure one of the
company’s mobile security teams was en route to meet us there, telling her where,
exactly, we were at the time in case the military guys suggested a diversion from
the route. I also launched into an upbeat and warm conversation with the two
gentlemen in the back seat, hoping that, at best, they’d view me as a blathering fool
more worthy of sympathy than abuse. We pulled into the naval hospital, as
planned, and the two marines got out to inform their superior that we had arrived.
Bachtiar and I immediately got on our phones to make sure Alissa and the security
team knew where we were. That’s also when I first learned that Bachtiar had been
cuffed about the head. I also found out that every time someone on the phone had
asked him whether the situation was under control and was he okay, he had been
standing in the middle of a threatening pack of armed toughs.
Two minutes later, and at the same moment, the marines returned and our men in
black arrived. Without a word spoken, what tension there was in the situation
instantly ebbed away. It was a simple and unstated fact and everyone went about
their business with the nonchalance of a video game ending; “game over.” Bachtiar
handed one of the marines the envelope containing the million rupiah (about
US$100) and in another minute we all parted ways.
Among the disturbing aspects of the whole episode is that there is simply nothing to
be done about it. Because they have our detailed information, it would be ill-
advised to go register a complaint (not that I know with whom such a complaint
should be lodged). The only logical thing to do is to be glad there was no detour
and that we’re only out a mere $100.00. I eventually learned that Bachtiar had
hoped I could see for myself that the damage done to the other car was less than
minimal — he says the scratch was on the side fender when he had bumped her in
We course through our days here, going about the business of living, just like
everyone else on the planet. But every now and again I turn my head and am
reminded that this is the “developing nation” (“third world” is passé terminology).
Here a man can commit a minor — possibly imagined — infraction, get brow-
beaten, physically beaten, and have nearly ten day’s wages extorted from him (of
course, we paid it ourselves), and the only recourse is to be glad it’s over.
Have I mentioned that I volunteered months ago to help the company organize a
special training seminar for the spouses’ drivers? The planning for that task had
been languishing, but the need is rather more evident to me now.
But who will teach me not to get into cars with pistoleros in fatigues?
Oh wait, I think I learned that lesson.
I was at the train station by 5:30am on Monday the 17th and was only slightly
disappointed to learn that we would actually be sitting inside the train rather than
on top. The self-appointed leader of our expedition to Cirebon had taken it upon
herself to upgrade our tickets to “Eksekutif Klass” (meaning the tickets cost about
$12 rather than $10). I didn’t see any evidence of riders atop our train — it was an
express, after all — but I did see folks riding the roof on one train we passed.
There’s that “developing nation” thing again.
I was traveling with eight ibu-ibu (ladies) from the Indonesian Heritage Society and
we saw the following: a nasty wharf where an officious security guard prohibited us
from taking pictures of things that weren’t particularly picturesque anyway; a 300-
year-old temple shared among Buddhists, Taoists, and Hindus; two of the three
celebrated kraton (sultan’s palaces) of Cirebon; the town’s (very) little China area,
featuring the workshop where huge “dream houses” of paper are made to be burnt,
so that the souls of the dead will have a sumptuous place to reside hereafter; a
colorful, lively, and only occasionally pungent street market; a couple of Muslim
masjid (mosque); the tomb of one of the nine wali songo (savvy priests who
employed existing animist and Hindu religious tenets and stories to introduce Islam
to the island of Java in the 1500s); a much more attractive little port filled with
small, brightly painted fishing boats (Cirebon is known for its seafood and, as
several statues and signs attested, is known as Kota Udang or Shrimp City); a
village where much of the world’s rattan goods have been made (changing export
rules now threaten Indonesia’s finished-rattan industry); another village famous for
its batik workshops and stores; a traditional arts “studio” for the preservation of
dance as well as a unique glass-painting process (the glass is painted on the back so
what is in the foreground of the finished piece is actually the first thing painted);
and a strange complex of man-made caves, pools, and platforms that served as a
retreat for some of the sultans of old. The expedition lasted from our arrival on
Monday at about 9:30am until we got back on the train at 6:00pm Tuesday. We had
about ten extra minutes to spare before the train pulled out and some of the ladies
sought the quick purchase of oleh-oleh (any very small gift brought back to family
or staff) there on the platform. The obliging vendors gradually began to swarm
outside our train car and then pursued the potential customers to our seats. Soon a
dozen vendors were hawking their wares down the middle of the aisle — to the
chagrin/amusement of our fellow passengers — and we completed several
transactions from the comfort of our seats. On the ride back I ended up sitting
beside Kelly, who, as some of you might have heard, is a children’s-book writer I
knew back in Houston and who moved to Jakarta about three months before us. It
was, all told, a very pleasant trip with very companionable group of travelers.
Halloween Comes Much Earlier On This Side of International Date Line
On Monday morning, the 24th, Alissa sent out an e-mail to many of our friends
here. It said, “Dear All; I have heard of two people who became rather ill after the
party Saturday night, so I wanted to see if anyone else did. I need to let the caterer
know.” Naturally, regardless of when they got the message, the bowels of
everyone who had been to our first big party gurgled involuntarily upon reading
that line. Mine included. But so far, only those two poor souls reported any real
difficulty, so we’ll chalk it up to coincidence rather than implication.
That business aside, we believe everyone had a fine time.
We had about 70 people in the house and most of them arrived in costume, as
requested. Although we think of ourselves as fairly progressive individuals, there
was considerable segregation at this gathering. The kids’ friends for the most part
stayed upstairs and the adults downstairs. Keep in mind that the “cathedral”
design of the living room allows us to look up and down from floor to floor and
noise flows freely betwixt. As such, though the party was bifurcated (trifurcated,
actually, since the sixth-graders kept themselves removed from the high-schoolers),
everyone was fully supervised. (I add this for the benefit of any Jakarta-based
families who may be browsing the site to evaluate our parenting skills.)
The unusual part of party-planning in this city involves what goes on outside of the
house. In the week leading up to the party we had to inform the RT — the
neighborhood supervisors; sort of a cross between a civic association and the civil
police — and also request extra security from the company for our guests’ cars, as
well as planning the buka puasa (the first meal following each day’s fasting) for all
of our guests’ drivers. I am told that the drivers all enjoyed themselves and were
pleased and satisfied with what we provided.
No word yet on whether any of them got amoebic dysentery.
Annaliese Goes Back to Second Grade
We’re told that some kids do better than others in the transition to a new school in
a new country in a new culture. Others may regress somewhat, falling back on
habits or reenacting familiar episodes from a simpler, more predictable period in
their lives. And as much as we have touted Annaliese’s maturity — many is the time
she’s even been called an “old soul” — we recognize that she’s doing the right
thing, for her, by returning to a second-grade setting. We really think everyone
gains by it; the youngsters in her class get an excellent role model and Annaliese
will continue to develop her award-winning leadership qualities. Tuition is probably
less at the elementary school, too. If anyone asks, just tell them she's tutoring.
Arianna Breaks Things
Then there’s our other child, and we’ve always remarked on how different they are
from one another. Each person reacts to the stresses of a new environment in
different ways. Arianna has been written up repeatedly for breaking things on
campus, and now she’s been caught doing the same while visiting the British
International School. It becomes embarrassing after a point. Her most egregious
actions came in the 100-meter dash (14.28) and in the long jump (4.29 meters).
School officials are beside themselves and we fear they intend to make an example
of her. For better or worse, track season is over and now she’s begun to kick things.