We flew alone all the way around the world. And we were fine.

So, we’ve officially been in the US for a week. We’re settled, we’ve unpacked our suitcases. We’ve visited Target and eaten more tacos than you can shake a stick at. 

 

With a week behind us, I’m sure you’re dying to hear the gory and sordid details of my heroic trip across the world with two children in my sole and solitary care, right? Every tantrum, every diaper blowout, every eye-stinging hour of exhaustion.

 

Well, actually the trip was fine. Totally fine. No big deal (okay, sort of a big deal, but still completely okay.)

 

Stella and Hugo and I flew together with Mr. Chef to Singapore the day before our big flight. We were looking at a 6 hour layover in Changi, a prospect that filled me with all sorts of nope. So we decided to go a day ahead and make a little mini pre-vacation vacation out of it. 

 

We enjoyed an extraordinarily over-priced but nonetheless delicious dinner (Singapore, why do you eat all my dollars??) I had a sleep-in in a gigantic hotel bed (my last for months!) and we went down to Gardens by The Bay for some pre-flight splash pad fun.  

 

Mr. Chef headed back to the airport to catch his flight home, and the three of us gulped some big gulps omg are we gonna be okay alone? 

 

I was mildly terrified at the prospect of flying alone with two kids. I wondered how I’d stay awake and functioning for 36+ hours. How I’d handle Hugo’s morning all over everything diaper bomb. How I’d manage Stella’s need for constant motion, unending pretend play, and never never never sleeping.

 

It turns out we were totally fine. More than fine. Just great.

 

Both of our long flights (12 hours and 8 hours) more or less corresponded with our body clock night time which meant the kids slept. The long layover in Frankfurt airport meant that we could stretch our legs, play a bit, and eat a pizza. 

 

It turns out that you actually CAN carry a diaper bag, a backpack, pull a carry on suitcase, and your child’s carry on suitcase, while wearing a baby and pushing a four year old in a stroller. It’s a little hot and sweaty, but totally doable. 

 

Also, babies who actually sleep also sleep on the airplane which is a major win in my books.  

 

And, lo, with the passage of time kids grow up and become more capable of sitting in a seat for an extended period of time. A four-year-old traveling companion is so much more relaxed than a three-year-old, which again is infinitely easier than traveling together with a two year old.

 

And so, as is almost always the case, a lot of worry for naught. We were totally okay. And everything worked out. (Expect for day two jet lag which was a total and utter shit show, the likes of which I never want to relive. Ever. More on that later. Maybe?) 

Annnnnd, We're OFF!

 

We're embarking on our grand summer adventure first thing this morning. We've been looking forward to this trip for months (slash, I'm also terrified because jet lag and solo parenting and did I mention six countries, three continents, and so many airports?)

Anyway, I really want to be a good blogger and document this trip for my own memory keeping purposes, buuuut, generally I'm terrible at keeping up with the internet while I'm away from home. I will likely, however, do a slightly better job at Instagramming (okay, bragstagramming) my adventures in trying not to lose my mind on negative 18 hours sleep in airport number four, while carrying twice my weight in children and luggage. So you can find me there @expatriababy if you're into that sort of thing.  

Next stop, SINGAPORE! (Wish us luck.)

 

The Pre-Trip Jitters

 

Summer is here. School is out. And, in expat circles, it’s that season again. Time to make the yearly pilgrimage home. It’s that trip to reconnect with family and friends, visit beloved childhood landscapes, eat all those familiar delicacies unavailable in your home across the ocean, and give our children a taste of what life in their passport country is all about.

We’re about to depart on our own Odysseus journey. But this is no mere jaunt across the Pacific. No, we’ll be gone on a two-month, three-continent, six-country adventure. And, PS, I’ll be doing the majority of this trip as a solo traveling parent.

 

To say that I’m thrilled and excited and totally thankful is somewhat of an understatement. But to say that I’m also not crapping my pasts would be a total and utter boldface lie. 

 

I’m not particularly worried about the flights. This is not our first time at the long-haul trans-continental rodeo. I know flights are generally long, boring, uncomfortable, and sleepless. But there are good parts. But they end.  

 

I am worried about jet lag, but I’m not ready to talk about that because holy crapballs, I just can’t even think about the weight of two jet lagged children at three am when all I want to do is zzzzzz. 

 

I’m going to focus my anxieties on the logistics and the practicalities. Like, exactly how many shirts are enough shirts? I want to avoid having to stretch that baby-barf covered, ice-cream-smeared, snot-stained tee just ooooooone more day until we reach laundry facilities while not bringing everything everything everything because I’m a little worried about how I’m going to manoeuvre everything everything everything through an airport along with two exhausted but nonetheless adorable ratbags.

 

And how, exactly, do I pack for three different climates? Especially since a certain baby I know owns nothing warm and the polar vortex is descending on the great lakes region, and hi, that’s where I’m headed.

 

And what will I need in the overnight bag / carry-on bag? What if my milk peaces out mid-flight (I’ve been having supply issues after food poisoning round deux)? And why do bottles take up so much room? Do you have to sterilise bottles when your baby is five months old? How do you transport formula?

 

I’m finding myself up at night fretting about such critical issues as, “Um, how do I carry one baby, a diaper bag, a backpack, the carry-on suitcase containing all the diapers, and my child’s carry-on (of which she will no doubt tire of pulling) my camera, my computer, annnnnnd a stroller through Frankfurt airport when it's like, five AM body clock time? By my self? Anyone?

 

So, obviously I’m channeling all of my anxiety and nervous energy into online shopping. Because buying ALL THE THINGS will obviously solve my packing problems, right? RIGHT? (Don’t argue with me.)

 

PS, if you have any great tips about packing and traveling with bottles and what is critical inside the airplane and what can go in the hold, I’d love to hear them.

 

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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Cribs and Culture Shock

We set up our crib last weekend. It was a significant milestone in Project Baby Preparedness, one about which both Stella and I were pretty excited.

 

This crib, the first of many things which Stella will pass down to her baby brother, is not in pristine condition. It bears scratch marks left by our cats who tried to stake their claim on this new sleeping surface. Embedded in the rails are marks made by Stella's first teeth. 

 

The crib, tells a story. Blemishes and all, is a bitter sweet remembrance of the early years of our family. The bite marks speak of endless sleepless nights, and the excitement of learning to stand. The scratches remind us of our cats who could not come along with us to Jakarta. And the story behind the crib reminds me both of how lovely and how hard those early months were.

I got pregnant the week we moved to Japan from China. Literally. New home, new country, new language. And, hello, new baby.

I sailed through the first six weeks of my pregnancy on a high of gleeful anticipation and phase one culture shock. By week nine, however, I crashed. The culture shock u-curve and pregnancy hormones converged, and I found myself desperately homesick. I craved familiarity and predictability. I pined for a perfect North American pregnancy, wanting to experience the traditions and cultural markers that I would have experienced “at home.” The prospect of having a baby in a foreign language, in a strange country, in a culture about which I knew very little terrified me. And so, I focused my energies on making my pregnancy as North American as possible. 

 

I was also, frankly, freaked out by how much my life had changed in a few short months. In addition to adapting to my new role as Pregnant Lady, I was also figuring out who I was in my new country, in my new position as stay-at-home wife.  

 

So, I put off looking for baby products as long as I could. If I DID happen to step into an international box-type baby store, I’d emerge in a puddle of hormonal, homesick tears. Everything was so different! And so Japanese! Where were all the North American brands with their North American aesthetic and North American safety standards? Where were the wooden toys, glass bottles and organic cotton onesies? How on earth could I protect my child against harmful BPA monsters if I couldn't read labels? 

 

Despite my procrastination, we soon reached that critical point where we had to face the question of The Crib. We needed one. And I, no surprise, wanted one that was perfectly compliant with all Western safety standards. As hard as I looked (and believe me, I looked hard!) I could not find a baby crib in our corner of Japan that fit the bill.

 

So, after much obsessive shopping, and a not just a few pregnant tears, I ordered one. From Canada. At great, great, great expense. 

 

In retrospect, this was kind of a foolish thing to do. I mean, a Japanese crib probably would have been fine (but they are all drop-sided! And the slats too wide! And the gap between the crib mattress and the rail a centimetre too big!) I probably should have looked to Australia as a viable crib import market (Safety 1st makes great ones!) Realistically, it probably would have been cheaper to travel 1000 KM up to Tokyo and buy a crib from Ikea, and ship it down South. 

 

But I had my heart set on something from home. I wanted a piece of North America in my little nursery. I wanted a big, solid piece of my home country, something distinctly un-Japanese.  

 

Of course the irony of this whole story is that Stella barely slept in her super-expensive import crib, preferring the comfort of my bed for the better part of a year, and then shuffling between my bed, her port-a-crib, and her actual baby bed, until finally graduating to a big-girl bed.  

 

Now, three years later, we have that same crib set up in a little corner of our bedroom. This time around I’m more settled in our home, in our new country, and in my role as a parent. Everything feels much less urgent and much less fraught. I could do just fine with a crib bought in Indonesia. And yet, I’m  happy to have this cat-scratched and baby-bitten bed we bought in anticipation of our first baby. It does bring me a certain sense of home. It was bought in my home country, shipped to Japan, our girl’s first ever home, and then shipped again to Indonesia which will be the first home our little boy will know. 

 

And here's miss Stella, testing out the new/old crib. As you can see, she's pretty excited about it! 

 

 

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

 

 

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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!

Canadian Thanksgiving Comes to Jakarta

Holiday season is here, guys! Like, for real! Idul Adha is just behind us, and Halloween is just ahead, and over the weekend, the Expatria household celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving (alternately known as regular old Thanksgiving. And it should probably be noted that it wasn't until I was, like, legally drinking mulled wine that I realized there was a non-October option for Turkey Day.)

For most of my expat career, I've been all, "meh, holidays, I guess we should celebrate, maybe we'll roast a chicken, oh wait, thanksgiving is tomorrow, okay, festive pizza in a box?" But now that Stella is getting to that age where concrete memories are forming, I feel more of a duty to give her a taste of our native culture, however small that may be. So, Canadian Thanksgiving. (Also, it should be noted that a fair degree of nationalism, cultural obligation along side some preg cravings for pumpkin pie went into this decision.)

So, we invited some dear friends over, lured with the promise of roasted dead bird, and reassured that, yes, Canadian Thanksgiving is ACTUALLY A THING and then stuffed our mouths full of food. 

We cooked up a turkey (where "cooked" might more accurately be described as opening a hot box in a room service trolley and retrieving a juicy, steaming turkey.) There was also lots of other goodness that was actually cooked by us in the more literal sense.

In case you're wondering, rosemary and sea-salt flatbread (except I substituted kamut flour because that's how I roll), roasted root vegetables from this cookbook, salad that was supposed to be this one, but was instead an overdressed pile of lettuce leaves because time was ticking, and, uh, I dunno? Pumpkin pie, apple crostata with a spelt flour crust because I can't help myself!!!, ccinnamon ice cream, and apple compote. 

The evening was topped off with a dip in the pool, crank calls by three-year-olds, and a gaggle of children with questionable blood sugar levels racing through the halls. So basically, perfection.

And, while Canadian Thanksgiving (OMG, why do I keep saying that? It's just Thanksgiving!!!) certainly does have it's charms when celebrated in situ, I am not going to pretend that lounging poolside before filling your belly with turkey with nary a fear of frostbite of polar bears isn't totally amazing.   

I kinda sorta forgot to take pictures, but here are a few? Question mark?




Oh, here's a peek at the turkey

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Homesickness is a dish best served with salt and vinegar chips.

 

So, I may or may not have thrown minor temper tantrum at the grocery store the other day. 

You see, after week of tiny catastrophes, general inconveniences, and disappointments varied and sundry (oh, yeah! the sidewalks here are filled with gaping holes that lead directly into the sewers!! I had totally forgotten about that little gemstone!) I was on edge, and not feeling very charitable towards the minor bothers that life in Indonesia entails (i.e. huh, so, what you're telling me is the ATMs just DON'T WORK? Just because? And the bank is, like, totally fine with this situation? So, okay. {HULKSMASHALLTHETHINGS!!!})

The poor girl at the iPhone service center bore the brunt of my eyerolls and exasperated sighs (though, I will say, she kinda deserved some of it? Maybe?? Yes?) Facebook got the rest.

Apparently our return from Canada prompted a Indo-crash, wherein wave of culture shock engulfed me. (In my defence, jet lag, exhaustion, and pregnancy cary-cray did nothing to mitigate this situation.) 

 

So I did what I usually do in these circumstances: I took myself to the grocery store, and rage-shopped all over the place. Oh yeah, Indonesia, you're going to be like that? Well take this 20 dollar bag of quinoa! And Bam! Here's an overpriced block goats cheese while we're at it! And a five dollar box of Kraft Dinner! How do you like them apples!!! 

 

 

Back in China, in the early days of our expat sojourn, when import products were harder to come by (and also bank-breakingly ridiculous), I would go into a local Carrefour and feel a wave of depression as I surveyed the unfamiliar packages, strange flavour combinations, and odd smelling fruits (durian!!!)

And then, maybe 18 months into our China stay, to my great glee, (I mean Marks & Spencer birthday cake level excited) Marks & Spencer opened in Shanghai. It was not the Western-sized clothing that had me excited (though that was what most people were hyping), but the M&S food hall. Suddenly old favourites like salt and vinegar chips were again at my disposal. And good value wine! And smoked paprika! It was like a major deal, and kind of a sign of tide-shift during that posting. Familiar flavours became easier to find and then life kinda got a bit easier, too. 

 

Food is a total big deal when you're an expat. It's a quiet comfort, a familiar call back to the home culture. Staying in touch with foodways of my home is a priority for me. And thus, I'll spend 20 dollars on a bag of quinoa, or travel half-way across the city, visiting four different grocery stores to stock up on cured meats, decent cheeses, and hard to find spices. I spend hours trolling the internet to find companies that will deliver kamut flour to Indonesia, or places where I might order a komboucha SCOBY (found one!!!). It's why I gave over so much space (and weight!!!) in my suitcase for six massive packages of corn tortillas and seven jars of all natural peanut butter. I need that connection to home, the comfort of familiar tastes, and the simple ease of foods I know. 

It's been a rough two weeks settling back into life here. But things are looking up. 

This weekend I have plans for a visit with a fellow Canadian, a meal of good Turkish food, and a coffee date with my shopping list and a stack of cookbooks. Throw in a little pool time, and all will be well. Come Monday, I'll be ready to hit the Jakarta streets with patience and acceptance (mostly.)

 

Until then, can I ask for some help? I'd love to hear your suggestions for favourite comfort foods, expat-friendly recipes, and must-visit cooking blogs.

 

Disclosure: This post was wrtten on behalf of a clinet, however all content and ideas herein are mine alone.  

Hi. We're back. (zzzzzzzz jet lag)

 

 

 

So, here we are, back on the other hemisphere, on the other side of the equator. It's both good and bad, as it usually is, coming "home" after being away at "home". Even after almost eight years away, I don't think it will ever get easier to say good bye.

 

We left Canadia early Monday morning (like really early: 1:30 AM early, which, surprisingly was not nearly as painful as I had imagined. But more on that later.) Despite getting barfed on (TWICE!) before we had even checked into our flight, and getting my iPad stolen (more on that later too…because OMG so mad), the flight was infinitely easier than usual. 

 

For the first time in about 20 flights, Mr. Chef was with us, proving that flying as a parenting duo is infinitely easier than flying solo (um, surprise?) I revelled in heretofore unknown pleasures such as going to the bathroom by myself! And watching movies! And eating a semi-edible meal with minimal interruption. And catching some solid naps, crammed into a pretzel and wedged into an economy sardine can. It was fantastic, I tell you. (Oh boy. I sure know how to live.) 

 

Even as I crawl my way through the fog of jet lag, I'm looking forward to getting back to my blog. I've missed this place. I've missed you guys!

 

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Happiness is a roast chicken.

Today I'm thrilled to be guest posting on Liz's blog, Yellow Finch. Liz is a mum of three, a fellow chef wife, and an all-round stand-up human. While she's off on a grand adventure, contemplating life's big questions with her three kiddos, she asked me to post on happiness. And of course, I happily obliged. I'd love for you to go read my take on happiness and the expat life. Here's a taste: 
After eight years living aboard, and being varying degrees of happy, I've got a pretty good idea about the ingredients for a happy life. And it's not what I had imagined. It's not gobs of money (btw, still waiting for that), it's not domestic help and never scrubbing my own toilets (though that does have a certain charm, let me tell you), or fancy parties, or days free to do nothing but go shopping, drink gin and tonics, and have my nails done.
It's much simpler than that.
To read more, go here!

 

Parenting as a Westie in the East is hard, dear internet diary.

The other day, my daughter's nanny came back to work after a few days off. She asked me, "What happened with Stella on Monday morning? Why was she crying?"

 

Monday morning was totally unremarkable. We went through our usual routine of tidying up the detritus left by the weekend weekend (me), and tantrum-ing over the injustice of being forced to play alone with a room full of educational and aesthetically pleasing wooden toys (not me. Two guesses.)

 

"I don't remember….ummm, I guess she was crying because I was doing dishes?" I answered. "Or making the bed? Dunno. Why?"

 

It turns out that one of the hotel housekeepers had heard Stella screeching. She texted our nanny to find out why the child's incompetent mother was incapable of appeasing a innocent three-year-old. 

 

"I heard Stella crying. I felt so sad!" The housekeeper (who, btw, we love and adore), texted to Stella's nanny.

 

(Incidentally it's a good thing that the housekeeper in question wasn't around a few hours later when a certain small person was wailing in the hallway for a good 20  minutes because I asked her to walk 25 meters to our apartment door and therefore life is all bullshit.)

 

But still. COME ON!!! My kid was crying. What's so remarkable about that??? And PS, privacy is also a thing.

 

In  Indonesia, a screaming kid is kind of remarkable. The typical toddler does not tantrum. Or, at least, does not tantrum to the degree that Western kids do.

 

Kids here are cajoled and mollified. They are carried around by their caretakers, given sweets, spoon-fed and bottle-fed well into big-kid-dom. Their demands for attention are always acknowledged. Their requests for toys, playtime, or other sorts of entertainment are granted without question. Keep the kid happy. Don't let the kid cry. 

 

When faced with a crying child, the typical response is to give the kid whatever he wants: iPad? Here you go! Candy, Okay! No problem! All of my attention all of the time? YES! You can have it!

 

This sounds, on the surface of things, to be a recipe for a total parenting disaster. And were the children in question growing up in a Western context, I'd argue that it would be. But these kids are growing up in Indonesia where culture dictates that little kids can't be left to cry. And it works here. 

 

But I'm raising a kid according to Western parenting practices, and that means I keep running into cultural conflicts. People regularly question my competency and judging my parenting based on their cultural norms. 

 

For example, I recently got some serious attitude from my daughter's babysitter because I threw out a crappy, super branded plastic toy that just wasn't my aesthetic jam. My daughter's babysitter thought I was being recklessly wasteful, and mean in denying her access to a great (pirated!) mouse-shaped plaything! I thought I was controlling clutter and making good judgments about what type of toys come into our home.  

 

Or, when I shield my daughter from unwanted pictures, I think I'm protecting my kid, teaching her that she owns her image; would-be photags think I'm being an asshole, denying them an awesome photo op.

 

Or when I refuse my child ice cream at 3 PM, I think I'm making good choices about her nutrition; restaurant waiters think I'm being a grinchy miser.  

 

It all makes me want to announce to everyone,  Hey! Guys! I'm, like, dooin it rite here! Super A++ gold star glitter parenting! Look! It says so in this book!!!

 

Which is silly. And kind of useless.  

 

Still, the majority of Indonesians don't have any awareness about this vast parenting cultural chasm between East and West (and frankly, neither did I until I began parenting as a Westie in the East), and so they look at me (or listen at my door as the case may be) and assume that I'm a total parenting dummy, and my crying child is evidence of my cold, cold, bitter heart. And, dear internet diary, this bothers me way more than it should.  

currently

 

Omg! Hi internet! Hi! Where have I been? 

 

Ummmm, not here? I guess?

 

School's out, so that's left me with fewer hours to spend tooling around the vast ol' interwebz. And while I could dump my child on her nanny for 9 hours a day, I do feel some compulsive need to actually be a parent and spend time with my child. 

 

Also, evening 'puter time is not happening due to a raging case of  being three and thinking 4:30 AM is an acceptable time to start one's day. 

 

So, If you'll allow me to ease back into blogging with a total throw-away nonsense post? Because we need to take it slow, internet. We need to take it slow.

 

And in that light, as inspired by Danielle, here's a Currently post for you:

 

 

Watching: The Sound of Music. All the time. Over and over and over. It's Stella's current obsession. She knows all the songs, and is choreographing dance routines. She's learned to curtsey ℅ Maria von Trap et al. We've also discovered a new form or imaginative play: von Trapping. Whenever we come within 500 m of a set of stairs, we absolutely have to stop to re-enact the Good Bye song for SoM.  We recently put The Sound of Music on Stella's iPad which was either lunacy (all SoM all the time) or genius insofar as we no longer have to fastforward and rewind the DVD to watch and re-watch and re-watch Stella's favourite scenes.

 

Listening to: THE SOUND OF VON TAPPING MUSIC. I put the soundtrack on my "gym phone" (read iPod), and so when we are not watching the movie itself, we can re-create it's magical singing and dancing glitter sauce in the comfort of our living room. 

I'm also into two new-to-me podcasts: The Story by APM has a super fascinating series about wrongly-convicted Americans.  The History of The English Language is equally absorbing and also great for quelling my insomnia. And my god, you guys, those Early Germanic tribes? Who knew the were so interesting??? (Admit it, I just totally amazed you with my nerdpowers, didn't I?)

(Related: Now accepting suggestions for further geek-fodder podcasts)

Anticipating: A potential (probable?) trip to Canada in August. I was going back and forth on the idea of going back or not….somehow crossing the equator  with a three-year-old seems like a massive undertaking. But the allure of fresh corn on the cob, unlimited bacon, and visits with lovely friends and family has swayed me. Mr. Chef will also likely come along which will make this our first real family vacation since Stella was five months old!

 

Thinking About: Schools. I need to get Stella on the waiting list for school in the 2014/2015 academic year, which sounds like aeons away, but spots fill up fast here. And for the obvious choice, we may already be too late to get in. I'm thinking about where we should send her: to the main international school where everyone goes (which has a reputation for a kind of elitist attitude amongst the administration, and is chock full of rich kids which makes my commie heart cry red tears)? To the German school which, with Jakarta traffic is basically on the other side of the universe? To the school that's close by but has no outdoor play area, and is kind of Asian in it's methodology (which, PS is fine, but not in line with my own educational values)? To the small, cute, school where a bunch of our friends go, but is located inconveniently and due to traffic, could take 20 minutes or one hour++++infinity to reach? Or to her current school which continues to offer a program through senior kindy? Arrrg? Where's the adult to make these tough decisions for me?  

 

Eating: Not bacon. And also not well. My cooking juju has been lost, guys. I don't know what to do! Everthing I make turnes to gross. On Monday I invested big bucks in ingredients for a delicious dinner of chicken stew with dumplings and roast veggies. And lo, the chicken and dumplings came out inedible. My husband, who is usually quite complimentary re. my cooking (I think he's trying to encourage more of it???) asked me if I used urine as an ingredient. In seriousness. 

 

Wishing: That my high school friends lived closer. Three of the five of them just had babies. Babies whom I have not squished or hugged or pinched or cooed at. This is a prime motivator for getting over my fear of long flights and getting myself to Canada this summer. 

 

What's going on with you?

Expats and Homesickness

Could it be? Am I experiencing that long forgotten pang I once new as homesickness? Do I really miss North America in all her big box store, freezing cold winter, fast food glory?

 

Ummm, yeah. And it's kind of been brought on by dealings with doctors.

 

After a recent bout of culture shock (ongoing, btw. Almost had a rage attack this morning when 17 people barrelled into an elevator before I had a chance to exit), I'm actually feeling like blowing this Asian popsicle stand and heading back to North America for a big helping of lake swimming with a side of Forsty Waffle Cone, and Target shopping. 

 

I took Stella for a well child visit the other week (and despite enduring two shots, this little cucumber shed zero tears). The doctor visit was fine. She's healthy. NBD. But it was decidedly Asian ( mean, we live in Aisa, duh), but that puts it at odds with my Western overachieving, super involved, gold star glitter A+ parenting ethos.

 

You see, the normative condition over here is for Doctors to be the boss. You bring your kid, the doctor checks things out and then tells you what's up. The parent's role is to be a passive recipient of very little information. "You're kid's healthy. She's fine. The End." Or, "Your kid's sick. Take this medicine. And this one. And also this one. THank you. Good bye." 

 

This model clashes entirely with my desire to be The Most Informed, The Most Aware, The Best Question Asker and Advocate for My Child's Health Ever Ever Ever.

 

After Stella's well-child check up, I finally got a referral for a physiotherapist. I wanted support for an ongoing issue with torticollis (really NBD, but my precious glittery snowflake, so Total BIG DEAL) that was diagnosed in North America (surprise!) but for which I could not get any support here in Asia. We trundled off to the hospital, hopeful that we'd address the torticollis and get a general evaluation of her physical abilities. I would get information! and knowledge! a prognosis! a detailed plan! I did not get these things. 

 

It should surprise no one, that what we got instead was slightly modified version  of "you're kid's healthy. She's fine. Do these stretches. The end."

 

At the end of the day, she IS fine. In the grand scheme of health problems a child can face, torticollis is really not some thing to worry about. But still. I wanted my Asian doctor to be a North American.

 

When I visit the doctor in North America, my experience has been entirely different. The paediatrician is totally indulgent of my need to explore the minutia of my child's sleep patterns, the intricacies of her diet, my concerns about developmental issues. I leave a well-child appointment after a thorough discussion of her milestones, growth, behaviour and general wellness reassured and informed. The doctor plays into my notion that my child is a precious glittering snowflake of individuality. I leave an appointment in North America knowing where my child sits in relation to other children, how she's developing, and what I might need to keep an eye on. I leave an appointment here in Asia with the vague notion that I've totally annoyed the doctor, but that at least my kid's fine. She's healthy. The end. 

 

Which isn't to say that the Asian model is wrong, ineffective, or inferior to the North American model. It's just different. And I like the North American model better. 

 

This minor and totally insignificant complaint, I think, gets to the heart of expatdom, homesickness and culture shock: it's the conflicting desire to have both the adventure and exoticism of living abroad, along with the childish, foot stamping, temper tantruming need to have things be just as they are at home. We, as expats, know that we're not immigrants. We're not here forever. We want  the benefits of our foster country, but we don't want to abandon our long-held value systems. You see, I want the sun and banana leaves of South East Asia, but at the same time I want North American healthcare. (Also, please North American traffic. And elevator etiquette. And Forsty waffle cones.) 

 

So anyway, I think I'll I  go and cry some bitter homesick tears, because I want everything to be like it is at home! Wah!!!  

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Culture Shock came to Jakarta. Finally.

Several months back I was thinking about transitions and culture shock, wondering if I was really a robot because I had not yet experienced that all too familiar feeling of "OMG THIS COUNTRY! HULKSMASH EVERYTHING!!!"

Huh. Turns out I AM human.

(Hi, I'm Erica and I have culture shock.)

It wasn't the infernal traffic that got me. Or the poverty. Or even the sickening wealth. Not the pervasive stench of decay that lines Jakarta streets, nor the threat of falling through a broken sidewalk into the open sewer below.

It was the eyes, the looks, and the wolf-whistles that did me in. 

After several months of early morning ojek rides to CorssFit, Mr. Chef mentioned in passing that a few people had commented on my motorcycle taxi attire. I should be wearing shorts. It's indecent, apparently. Dudes would get the wrong impression. Too much leg. Inappropriate.

Mr. Chef was to educate me on the correct way of covering my body.

Naturally I was annoyed. I mean, I'm an independent actor. Certainly it's up to me to determine what is and isn't appropriate for my body. And further, we live in central Jakarta in the midst of luxury malls and fancy restaurant where I regularly see girls walk around in six inch heels with shorts so short that one false move and all is revealed. So, why then, is there one standard of dress for rich Jakartians and one for me?

Then, a few weeks later I was riding in the back of a taxi, absentmindedly trying to ignore the overly chatty driver. We went through the usual pleasantries, country of origin, length of time in Jakarta, the general awesomeness of Indonesians, the terrible traffic, my marital status (wait, what??) I buried myself deeper in my phone, earbuds on, and tried  to ward off any more unnecessarily personal questions. 

The car slowed, I looked up. There was the driver, arm extended over the back of his seat, taking pictures of me with his phone. 

I reacted in an instant. I grabbed his phone, and threw it.  Shrieking obscenities, I jumped of of the still-moving car, middle finger raised. 

Since then I've been on edge. I've noticed dudes giving me the long and lengthy stare. I'm quick with the eff-you eyes. And the occasional eff-you finger. And okay, I may or may not have thrown one or two sweary tantrums over inappropriate gestures in my direction.

My patience is thinner, my temper quicker. I'm irritated by the traffic, the stench, the garbage, the plodding pace of life in a way that I wasn't before. I'm burning mad, I'm taking it personally, and I'm assuming that it is because I'm a white-skinned bule that this attention comes to me (oaky, I may be right about that last bit, but that's a post for another day.)

It's classic culture shock.   

 

I'm unsure, exactly, of how far to bend. Do I cover up, sweltering in the morning sun? Do I acquiesce to this outdated notion of modesty thereby feeding the belief that a woman "deserves it" because how she chooses to dress? That Caucasian women are "easy" and therefore fair targets for sexual advances?

Certainly I can't "educate" local men on the "right" way of treating women. That's not my place. But I don't think in this case I can say that I'm okay with giving up on my shorts.

As respectful as I am of cultural difference and religious diversity, Indonesia is not Saudi Arabia. It is not a monocultural desert nation. These islands have a fantastic degree of diversity, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious. On Java alone, there are countless native ethnic groups, not to mention the substantial populations of  Indo-Indians and Indo-Chinese, for whom, PS, super-short-shorts are NBD.  I don't feel a strong obligation to conform to notions of modesty because this country is built upon coexistence, and dammit! I'm going to coexist in shorts, so STOP LOOKING AT ME!

I dunno. What's your take?   

 

 

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I'll probably feel better about culture shock if you send a vote my way. 

Tropical Living: Reality Check

Oh, hey. Hi. What's up. So, um, yeah. This is what's going on in our house today:

 

That would be a gigantic bead sheet tent erected not for the delight and enrichment of my toddler, but for the protection of the contents of my kitchen which are currently spread out on every available surface in my living room. So, that's not annoying or anything.

A few unwelcome guests of the entomological sort decided that my kitchen ceiling would make a cosy home and my pantry a scrumptious tbuffet. In turn, I decided that they needed to die in a cloud of napalm, but neurotoxins on my appliances, utensils, and pantry items is not really my bag. So. 

When Stella came home from school and saw the chaos in our front room, she declared, "I no wike dis", and honestly, I'd have to agree. I mean, I keep wandering into the kitchen only to be reminded that wine no longer lives on the pantry shelf, but is currently hanging out on the windowsill. Along with the pasta, some sea salt and approximately eleventy billion other culinary items, various and sundry.

The moral of this story, such as one exists, is as follows: friends envious of my tropical life of banana leaves and swimming pools in January must keep in mind that equatorial insects are a deathless scavengers and sometimes one discovers geckos under a pile of unwashed dishes.

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bunnies and other such nonsense.

Major religious / cultural holidays take on a different tone when you're living an ocean or two away from home. If you are the type to put a positive spin on things, you might say that living so far away from the Industrial Easter Complex distills the holiday down to it's true essence, without all the consumer trappings that go hand-in-hand with the holiday. Or, if you're a pragmatist, you might just say, meh, Easter.

We set up an Easter egg* hunt for our Bunny.

(*Side note: not too sure if this is a cultural thing, or just a difference in my family, but I'm pretty sure that Canadians do Easter egg hunts differently. We don't have candy-filled plastic eggs on the lawn {possibly because the lawn is covered in snow, gah! Canada, you're such a jerk about winter} but we hunt for foil-wrapped chocolate eggs in the comfort of our living room. So anyway, an outdoor Egg hunt was, like, a total thrill for me. Though I did learn a valuable lessons: chocolate melts in the equatorial sun. Duh.)


I hadn't really primed Stella for the notion of Easter and the Easter bunny. Living, as we do, in a Muslim country, she does not get much exposure to the trappings of cultural Christianity or the major high holy days. You know. She was a bit suspicious about the whole thing. A recent introduction to the concept of rats, which were explained to her as "small bunnies", may or may not have predisposed her to be distrustful of the Easter Bunny. I dunno. 


 

But with a littler persuasion, and some help from Nanny, she got into the game.


 

The garden provided all sorts of fun hiding places for our eggs (and lammbies). Balinese Hindu statue, FTW!!!


 

My attitude of, Meh Easter, left my poor kid without an Easter basket. A yellow bucket lined with Easter napkins and a little scrap of bow totally did the job, though. 


Stella didn't seem to mind her unorthodox basket, but she was soon distracted by a dust pan laying around, and thought that would make a much better Easter vessel. So, um, okay. 


So, we ended the day with half-melted chocolate, a swim, and a traditional Easter lasagna (???) for dinner, and cries of Happy bunny day from the tropics!!! 

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Support for the Trailing Spouse

I kind of hate the term trailing spouse. It conjures up images of a loyal old dog, ambling along as the husband (it's almost always the husband. Except when it's not. I do have friends for whom the equation is reversed.) forges forth, confidently climbing mountains, fording streams, and generally being the master of your small universe.  

But I also kind of like the term. Because it does covey the truth of this existence as an expat partner: you do have to give up quite a lot and travel (trail?) with your partner. 

People who haven't lived this way, well they tend to think of expat-dom as some sort of colonial throwback with palm trees, servants, free-flowing gin and tonics, and not too much to worry about.

Life as an expat wife can sort of be that way (like, you guys, I have palm trees! I also have a nanny, and don't have to scrub my toilet that often), but then there's the unseen stress that goes along with the package. When you sign up for this life, you give up the proximity of your family and friends, your support network is kind of obliterated, you often suffer a major identity crisis as you leave your job, your home, your interests, and your life behind.

It's a tradeoff, you know. I'll give you palm trees for your self identity.

But you can also make lemonade out of some of the lemons that come along with expat life. 

My friend and colleague Karlijn De Broeck is a life coach who specialises in helping trailing spouse find success as expat partners. 

We're working together on a blog project that I'm super stoked about. I'd love it if you checked it out, and maybe left a comment. If you're interested in hearing more about issues in expat partner-dom, you can check out the Expat Partner Successs Facebook page.  There are more things in the works, here. I'll update you!

"You're So Brave" That's Not A Compliment.

This post is brought to you by the good and kind people at Aetna International. Thanks, Aetna, for supporting my blog and allowing me to write honestly about a topic that is so close to my heart.

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You sure are brave! 

 

I get that a lot. From Indonesians, from foreigners, from strangers and from friends. This utterance usually follows tales of journeys great and small that I’ve embarked upon with my kid. Be it a short jaunt across town on the bus, or a several-days-long journey around Central Java via train, bus, and donkey cart, the response is almost always the same: a raised eyebrow, slight shock and a “Wow. You’re so brave!”

 

You’d think that I’d take it as a compliment. But that phrase, “you’re so brave”? Well, it gets my goat. 

 

Implicit in that statement is the suggestion that experiencing this country as the vast majority of its residents do, as well as being in close proximity to its people, is somehow dangerous. You’re so brave! This phrase insinuates that experiencing real life puts me at great personal risk. That the choices I make to see this country, to get to know its people somehow brings my parental judgment into question. To which, I declare, CHICKEN SCRATCH!

 

Hi. We're in Beijing. 

 

Many expats (and let’s be honest, many middle and upper-class Indonesians) take great pains to avoid contact with all but their own. As I've written before, walking is not a thing in Jakarta. If you have more than two coins to rub together, you drive. Or, better yet, you hire someone to drive you around. Buses, trains and bajaj are all reserved for those who are down at the heel: the other, the lower, the dangerous. What a terrible, menacing risk to have to stand next to a stranger on the bus! In the middle of the day! Or sit in a train car full of other people! Who might jump out at any second to cut your throat! Or something.

 If I never traveled by train, I'd never see a vista this lovely.

To fear that which we don't know is a natural response. Fear of out-groups, of cultures different and indecipherable kept our ancestors alive while we were all hunched on the savannah. This fear is still lodged somewhere deep in our reptile brain. And that’s cool. I get it. But to live an expat life governed by this fear of difference, well, that kind of defeats the entire purpose of moving abroad, don't you think?

 

 

It took me a while to get to this realization; I'll admit to plenty of fear and revulsion at otherness, plus an outright refusal to ride buses in Shanghai. And I regret that. But after many years of practice I've gotten better at quelling this fear. And that’s made all the difference.

 

Travel by becak turned out to be my preferred method of short-distance transport. Ever see a city from the front of a bike taxi while the sun set pink and the call to prayer drifted through the evening? Then, my friends, you haven't lived.

 

 

When I was new to the expat game, fresh off of a disastrous Indian posting, Mr. Chef and I arrived in China. After a short period of "whoa! This place is big and awesome and look: I'm eating street food!" I started acting like the proverbial expat jerk. I turned my nose up at women washing pork tripe in a plastic basin by the side of the street. I fumed at the sound of nail clippers in the subway, at the parents of rosy bottomed children in traditional split-crotch pants, at the week-long fireworks onslaught that was Chinese New Year. I couldn't see the beauty of it all, because I was so transfixed by the otherness, the potential danger (of nail clippings? I dunno.) 

 

I traveled back to China after my kid was born. I think she gave me bravery muscles, or something. With her, we went from Beijing to Shanghai by train. Solo. And it was NBD. Also, she got manhandled by strangers a lot. And didn't mind a bit.

 

 

As a result, I barely got to know my adopted country. I didn’t travel. I made few Chinese friends, sampled only but a handful of dishes in the Chinese culinary cannon, and spent a lot of my time being unnecessarily annoyed. 

 

I'm not doing that this time around. 

 

And you know what? This time I'm a much happier expat. 

 

Some evenings I ride home on the back of an ojek. Real life is all around me; men in flip-flops pulling handcarts laden with rambutan; women by the side of the street carrying babies in slings while offering small spoons of rice porridge to their wee ones; boys barefoot and bold darting in and out of traffic; the sun so low that it makes everything golden. On the back of an ojek I can orientate myself to this city, its and its rhythm. I see things I'd miss from inside a leather-seated taxi. “Wow, you're so brave,” people say when the see me disembarking from a motorcycle. Not really. The vast majority of Indonesians travel this way. I bought a helmet. We don't travel very fast. NBD.

 

Similarly, getting out of Jakarta lifts me up. I'm reminded that there's real life outside of shopping malls and luxury hotels. People smile at me. We sit on the train and make friends with a grandmother and her little grandson. A woman hears my girl crying and makes her way down the carriage with a handful of mandarins. I can see through these small acts of kindness that people, mostly, are good. A man passes by, stops for a moment, then taps my girl's cheek and ask her name. Hardly the picture of danger. 

 

 This image of a toddler climbing over ancient and forgotten ruins is brought to you by level-headed adventure, not bravery. 

Certainly we do come across hotel rooms that we must share with geckos or train toilets of dubious sanitation. We’re occasionally over-charged for a taxi ride, and perhaps I look at a plate of nasi goring and wonder if it will send me to a days-long holiday in the WC. But usually, I put on my big girl pants, think about how geckos eat bugs, cross my fingers and dig into my fried rice. 

 

All of which is to say that while I step out of my comfort zone, I don’t take traveling with my two-year-old lightly. There are risks. I recognize that pick-pocketing can happen, so I carry small amounts of cash, and hide my cards in the deepest reaches of my pack. I always bring a first-aid kit, basic medicine and a thermometer. I use sunscreen and mosquito repellant. We don't go anywhere without expat health insurance

 

You know, there are also risks to living. I might get my heart broken or I might break my leg. Something unspeakable could happen, regardless of whether I'm on an economy class train on the way to Yogyakarta or holed up in a five-star hotel. 

 

There's just too much wonder out there, too much beauty, too many smiles to deny these experiences to myself or my child. So we travel, I let her eat street food, and we'll ride trains and busses together. We'll talk to strangers. We'll use sound judgement, and we'll see all the good that there is to see.

On expats, adjustment, and carseats.

 

This weekend I got chewed out by an Indonesian mother.

Granted I kind of deserved a stern talking-to because I did go in full blaze, when a more measured approach would have been adequate. 

You see, I have a way of being ornery when confronted with certain triggers (namely rich people with superiority complexes and rules that I deem totally inane). This particular situation had both. In spades. And, PS, if you didn't already know this about me, when my principles get trodden upon and I feel that justice has been silted, well, watchit. (See aforementioned orneriness.) 

Anyway, she left, shouting at me, "You live here. Adapt. Just adapt. Adapt, okay? Adapt." And that phrase has jammed itself into my brain. 

Because you see, I like to think of myself as a "good" expat, the kind that sees locals on equal footing, the kind that doesn't abuse humans, the kind that isn't super into endless discussions of Us v. Them.

 

That call, Adapt. Adapt. Adapt. Well, it stung, as it was intended to, I think. And the sting comes from my insecurity, my own questioning of how far I need to adapt, and how firmly I must cling on to my native norms. 

 

Let's take, for example, notions of safety, about which I've written previously in both the Japanese and Indonesian contexts.

 

We tend to infer a great deal about someone's parental fitness by the way in which they comply to standard safety practices. North American babies spend the better part of their childhoods strapped into some form of vehicular restraining device. My own daughter drove from Northern Ontario to Southern Michigan in a super-safe infant seat, and screamed all the way. Better she scream, purple-faced and angry, than risk the small chance of a car accident. An unrestrained baby, well, that's a marker of total immorality and parental neglect. Just look a the price Britney Spears paid.

 

Here in Indonesia, few babies are put in car seats. Partly because cars are beyond the means of most, but also partly because here babies are held, not left sitting restrained in a seat. A  purple-faced crying baby cruelly left tied down when he just wants to  be held, well, that's tantamount  to child abuse. 

 

We North Americans (well, a certain breed of us anyway) banish all forms of BPA, toxic chemicals, pesticides, and screen-time brain-rot. Here, not so. 

Here hands are washed vigorously, sick littles are set to the doctor at the first sign of a sneeze, and my choice to let my child ride out her illness unmediated is seen as a dubious one.

 

There are ways in which I absolutely have adapted to life in Indonesia. I'm okay with my kid eating white rice, and street food. I carry my toddler in a salandang. I let strangers pick her up, and pinch her cheek. I've adjusted my time clock and my child's schedule to keep pace with daily calls to prayer. I've left *some* of my aggressiveness (picked up in China, BTW, another adaptation, another country) in favour of a friendly smile, because pushiness gets you nowhere here.

 Lunch on leaves. Total adaptation. 

 

Strangers man-handling my kid. Adapted. Yeah.

Appearing in public like this = failure to adapt.

But there are other ways in which I have not adapted. I won't go around acting like we live in a caste system. I'm not following the convention of my social station and engaging a car and driver. I walk places. I take busses and taxis. I still eat Western food, most of the time. I wear shorts. I go places without my hair done. I still think like a Westerner. 

I still get really angry when the rich and privileged go around acting like are better then everyone. 

 

So, I'm just not sure, how far do I need to adapt here to be a "good" expat? Do I really need to adapt to practices and situations against which my values scream NOOOOOOOO! NOT GOOD!! Do I just silently stew, or do I say something (with a little more artfulness than I exhibited this weekend.) How far can you bend and adapt but still maintain your sense of self, your culture, your values?  I'm not sure. 

 

Do you have any insight here?

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This post was kindly sponsored by 21st Century Insurance. Thanks, guys! I really dig your community activism and social media outreach. 

 

Speaking of safety, here's a cool thing, 21st Century Insurance is running a contest to promote child safety while driving and they are giving away free car seats to creative people that can redesign the Baby on Board sign. The grand prize winner even gets $10,000 for a nursery redesign. You can find the contest here.

 


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deluge

Jakarta is flooded. 

Stella and I are safe and dry, up above it all, with a fully stocked pantry, and a closet full of dry clothes.

Together with Stella's nanny, we pressed our faces to the window, looking down upon Bundaran H.I., Jakarta's major traffic circle, and it's under water. People wading through knee-deep, murky brown, pushing stalled motor-bikes, trying to find safe passage from here to there. 

We had just spent the previous week traveling, aboard trains that pass through slums, homes pieced together out of blue tarpaulin and cardboard. We were talking about the gravity of the situation, the thousands of people whose homes are flooded, who have no dry clothes, whose stocks of food have all been ruined. And it is primarily those people, the ones who live beside the train tracks, or in poorly serviced neighbourhoods who suffer.

Stella's nanny remarked, "Its so different you know, for rich people." I nodded my head in agreement. This is a topic we revisit frequently. I like to set myself apart from "The Rich", disdainful of their heavy egos and empty souls, and repulsed by their inclination to abuse humans who are not so rich.

"It's the poor people who suffer. You just press your nose to the glass and look down."

That killed me. She didn't mean to, but knife in heart.

She's right, though. It's not fair. It is so different, and I hate it. It feels really awful. I'm rich. I'm lucky. I'm dry. And that's not fair.