HHH

On on!

Another Hash House Harriers run through gorgeous rice paddies and tiny villages. A few local kids saved our asses by directing us the right way, after we missed the confetti marker. We gave them a sweet bun to say thank you and they cheered us on.

And the dragonfly? There were millions. Such a beautiful trek!

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Pembantus

We lost our maid. Actually, we recently found out our original (old) maid died from high blood pressure about a week ago. My maid told me the news in private, although I had heard a day or so before… I told her I was sorry and then for some reason, maybe to reassure her or to lighten the air, I told her how much Ellie likes her. Love, even.

This was Thursday, a day before she quit/was fired.

On Friday Seth was unable to make it to Jakarta due to the extreme flooding in the city. He came home and found our maid with a friend in the house. This breaks one of our rules of having no friends in the house. A rule that protects both her and us from conflict. She had broken the rule a couple of times before and we had no choice but to say this was the end. She agreed, actually, and packed her stuff and left before Ellie came home.

This is the heartbreaker. Seth picked up Ellie from school and explained the situation. Ellie said she was sad. But I didn’t realize how much it had affected her until Ellie saw the maid on the street, outside our house. The maid panicked and left, leaving Ellie, standing there… Crying.

I was so surprised by the event that I had no idea what to do. The cause of the crying, or even why the maid was on our street didn’t make sense. It took a while to calm Ellie down and she’s still confused about why we cleaned the house today.

Ellie asked me if I was the new maid as I washed our clothes by hand. I joked that I was, but to be honest, it felt pretty good doing some basic chores around the house. It felt like my house, for the first time in who knows how long.

There’s something about having a maid while renting a house in another country. You not only feel like a guest in the country, but in your own house. Third world problem, right?

The thing is we don’t have a choice right now. We need after school care and help with a lot of things, such as shopping, which is a lot cheaper for an Indonesian than a Bule.

So we are on the hunt for the perfect maid. Willing to pay a nice sum for peace of mind. I think any of us would. And we could really use that here…

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National Geographic, Eat Your Heart Out

It started at 5:30am on Saturday and ended around 11:30pm on Sunday.

No, it really started when Seth text me on Thursday asking if I wanted to go to a primitive Baduy village this weekend with his friends Ted and Puji, and their friend Nunuz, who is studying the ancient tribes. My initial thoughts were that this would be a great opportunity to get out of Bogor for the weekend, do a little trekking, and witness a several 1,000 year old Indonesian civilization. I asked if Ellie could come.

Ted and Puji spent the night on Friday and the driver arrived around 5:30am. We crawled out of bed and into the car, picked up Nunuz, and drove for four hours to the base camp for the Baduy villages. We came prepared with a backpack, packed with a change of clothes, basic medicine, a sheet and blanket, water, snacks, and a small mattress pad to sleep on.

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We met our guide in the base camp and snacked on several durians before we set out. The hike started easy enough and Eliana walked about 90% of the hour or two it took us to get to the next village. The hike took us up a couple thousand feet and through some amazing jungle filled with durian trees and arenga pinnata (palm trees that sustainably produce brown sugar). We arrived around 4:00 pm to the village we were invited to stay in. The guesthouse was traditional; woven from palms, without furniture, a fire pit used to cook food in the kitchen, and no electricity. The river was the bathroom. No joke.

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Time seemed to grind to a halt. We sat on the front porch for an hour or two and watched the village work. Families trickled in and out, to a small waterfall on the outside of the village where they bathe. Women sat on their front porches and weaved textiles using backstrap looms. It looked terribly uncomfortable, but the women looked at peace while they worked. The clicking of the wooden rods from the looms, and the occasional rooster call was all we heard.

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Just as the daylight started to fade, we unpacked some headlamps and gave some ingredients to our host to cook us dinner. Our host cooked us rice, greens, omelet, slightly fermented tofu (it tasted like cheese!) and sardines in a tomato sauce with garlic. Ellie loved the sardines. We sat on the floor in our house and ate our dinner, then made our beds. After a short exploration around the village with our headlamps, we went to bed around 8:00pm.

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We woke up on Sunday to rooster calls and daylight. It was early and we were starving. We ate a continuation of our dinner from last night, with some fried noodles to fill our bellies a little more. We packed up our gear and head out to travel around the other villages.

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Several obstacles lay between each village. The first was a swaying bamboo bridge we had to cross over a very high river (our toilet, if you remember). We had to escalate several peaks, traversed over large and small rocks, small streams, and a lot of mud. So much mud that everyone besides me and the guide were forced to take off their shoes and walk barefoot, as sandals were pointless in the extremely deep and slippery clay. At one point we crossed a stream and walked to a large lake. Our friend Ted jumped in, but I stood there in disbelief. Did we have to cross this!? It took a few minutes for me to comprehend that we were only there for a swim, not to cross. Whew…

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As much as Eliana struggled to walk the approximate 7 km (4.5 miles) between villages; she was a warrior. She found joy in the smallest things and did a beautiful job keeping herself engaged, without too much panic in stressful situations. We visited around 6-8 outer Baduy villages in total. The people were, for the most part, friendly and inviting. Everyone was impressed that we hiked through so many villages, especially with such a young child. And the biggest bonus of all was actually getting to see and say hello to some inner Baduy people, who crossed our path on the trail. Traditionally it is forbidden for outside visitors to enter an inner Baduy village, so the fact that we got to meet some on the trail was pretty exciting.

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Our trek on Sunday lasted for over 8 hours. We returned to base camp wet, muddy, and absolutely exhausted. We purchased a few things to remember the experience, such as a beautiful table runner woven from the village, the traditional Baduy patterned sari and bandana, and some bracelets. We rested at base camp for a half hour while Eliana, and I’m not kidding, ran around flirting with the village boys. After 8 hours of hiking this kid still had so much positive energy! Amazing.

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The trek was one of the most challenging that we had ever experienced. We were not only proud to have done it, but to have successfully completed it as a family.

So Eliana is Hindu now.

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It’s kind of an awkward thing to have your child take a required religion class, when religion is not really practiced at home. I know this topic is a bit taboo to talk about, especially in the United States, but I feel a little more at ease discussing it now that I’ve been in Indonesia for six months.

Religion is very out in the open here, and a very common question to ask when getting to know someone new. It’s used as support to help explain why someone does something, or where their family is from. Oh you’re Sasak? You must be Muslim and from Lombok.  You’re from Aceh? Good luck riding sidesaddle on a motorcycle if you’re female, in accordance to the new Islamic law proposed recently. Religion is less personal and private and more communal, even fashionable here, in my opinion. Hijabs are frequently seen across Indonesia, as a religious symbol, but also as an accessory to appear sophisticated or trendy. Now, I hardly notice them.

I digress.

There are four recognized religions at my school: Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Eliana was placed in the Christian class the first semester. She did have a few questions about why we don’t go to church and once mentioned something about god giving out candy. We tried to get more details, but she seemed to not be very phased by it all. We on the other hand were feeling like it was time for a change. If Eliana has to take religion, then I would like her to learn about religions around the world or what religion is as a whole.

As a child I was given several opportunities to learn about other religions. I remember visiting churches, cathedrals, and temples throughout my childhood. I enjoyed comparing the traditions and rituals and I especially appreciated the right to choose what I agreed with and what I didn’t agree with. This is not common for most, and hopefully not offensive to anyone reading this post. However as a parent, it is something that I would like to provide to my own child: The right to choose.

And on that note, one common religious ritual Ellie has picked up on, and practices on occasion, is placing rice on her forehead, pulling her hands together and praying. Her teachers have also noticed this and commented about it. Apparently our frequent visits to Bali have made an impact! And now (or at least for this semester), Eliana will be a Hindu.

Sure, why not?

Expat Achievement Unlocked: The Local Job

By Seth

Some time ago I made a post to the worlds most popular social network insinuating that I “discovered” that I needed to work to sustain myself. That being without a job was really quite depressing and that there was only one way out. Now, those who know me, already knew I was full of it. That I simply don’t sit still well, can’t retire and won’t be put out of the ranks voluntarily. They called my bluff.

Honestly, the point of the “discovery” was to send a message that you don’t have to look too hard to see that there is something of a lethargy culture in the USA among workers. Not hard to see why in this age, where greater productivity is required, wages are falling and stress increases as the result. The theme for the last 5 years was presented to me by my management in multiple organizations as “do more with less”. I’ve known quite a few professionals in my career that are depressed with the present state of things and find themselves looking for a way out, into early retirement, as the alternatives are so few. It’s a cycle that further spirals into more depression to think that there are no outs and then you just sit still, until you find (or will) yourself physically ill. It’s a phenomenon that’s actually been heavily studied, and it’s called learned helplessness. I am not known to suffer from it, usually… I try to stay as busy as I can in creating my solution. I’ll simply try to evaluate every option, try every approach and drive my friends crazy with my half baked ideas. I spent the last 6 months consulting for a start-up, an international payments company, then I was teaching English to tweens, and then I started taking tests/completing requirements. The situ is, you gotta will yourself up and out of it. So here is my story from the end, and we’ll work back to the beginning, Pulp Fiction style:

Nearly 3 months ago, I finished a second interview with a Jakarta company that creates technology solutions (mainly in fraud and money laundering prevention) for banks. We negotiated over one weekend and I am now preparing begin my contract. The position will be Sr. Consultant, Anti-Fraud, which is a significant title and carries the genuine flavor of “Executive”, which is a novel concept for me… with room for growth in the organization, which is just an 18 month-old startup. It’s an earnest, decent and real way to improve my station, like earning an MBA in life. My contract is for one year, and would likely be renewed provided I do all the good things I’ve suggested I can achieve. They’ve also dangled a significant bonus structure and paid my VISA costs for another year. Best part, I no longer will be a monkey in a cubicle. Sounds so attractive you are thinking about hopping on the next plane, right?

Finding, landing and participating in expatriate work is a very difficult process. Expats are not the most attractive hire, are not frequently offered interviews and are crossed off of near every list. Why?
-You require a business/working VISA which will have to be sponsored by the hiring company. This can be very expensive to the hiring company to permit, process and validate your need to work for them. They will need to do it every year, and every time they do, cha-ching, there’s that fee again.
-You don’t speak the language and are likely going to make more cultural faux-paus than the average local.
-You require 10x the pay, which around here is still about 25-33% less than what I made stateside, but cost of living locally evens that out, until you try to buy something like an iPhone. I love iPhones 😦
-You may also require benefits such as a car and driver, housing, and/or family benefits including international school for the kids.

Needless to say, you bring unique talents as well… which can offset the costs. A new degree of sophistication, which may include novel ways of thinking and actual experience in a field which may not have been developed locally yet. Networks that are already mature that can’t really be forged by the locals. The understanding where the trends and technology is headed from the perspective of the developed world. So, it can be a good balance for the company, overall. Finally, you also create an image, bringing an Orang Bule (direct translation: albino person) to the table, is sometimes a point of pride (I anticipate going to some weddings that I have no other business being at). OK, so that’s the short list pros and cons, here’s how I actually did it. I hope this comes in handy for someone.

Most often, you’ll find expat work through one of two channels:
1. You are recruited from your home country, as Jennifer was, which brought us here
2. You are socially networked into this new job, through a local referral. Alternatively, your buddy brings you in, or you use angles from new networks developed locally.

As a “trailing spouse” which is what they call a person in my position, we are left to use channel two or try to locate the job locally on their own. I was successful in the latter and it’s the hard way, so if you are in this position, you can use the following approach.

Using the big job boards to push a resume in front of a HR or hiring manager is utterly useless… they will usually filter you out. If you apply through one of their networks and try to use this approach to push out resumes, you’ll have found you wasted your energy, it is an exercise in futility, but can instead be a good source of leads to apply through the companies internal recruitment website.

Focus on that approach and/or research the type of business you want to be in, identify organizations that offer your target job, and find/visit their websites directly. Use generalized terms, and instead of trying to just get to the target job/company, research the news/articles and recent developments of the businesses. This will point you in the direction that work is going. Who attended what conference on what topics and left a powerpoint deck on the internet respectful of it.

This is what I did, I found a competitor for one of my old vendors, who was offering a service/solution offered by an organization and I went to their corporate website. They had a position which was not listed on the job boards. I wrote a genuine and directly-to-them cover letter, and they pursued me.

For me, the best part is that I did it all on my own. Completely and without any others’ intervention, this job is mine, which is a point of pride and a continuing career pattern.

We all derive our value from the things in life that we do, some from being a parent or partner, from being a volunteer, from being a leader in the community, and others from the way they make a living. I feel like I will be back in the game, a valued and purposeful member of society who will solve problems professionally for others. I will help to secure networks from the bad guys who lie, steal and cheat which increases the costs on the rest of us. I will also secure a better future for my family and advance my skills in a challenging environment. I will fight a minimum of 4 hours of traffic each day, learn to conduct myself in a language and in a cultural setting I am not native to. I will do all this and more for much less than I can accept back at home. I will do this and succeed because I simply can’t sit still.

Retirement is just not in the cards.

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Sailing the Bali Sea

This story deserves a much longer blog post, but I’m short on time and preparing for the next adventure.

I just can’t skip over or not reflect on yesterday’s adventure. We left early to sail to the Gilis, only to experience a typical Indonesian tourist trap of our 7million boat ride to double in price. We played our best defense and walked away, and then got our way, naturally.

The vessel was a very old and a bit dodgy traditional Indonesian boat. But our voyage to the Gilis was easy, about an hour long from Senggigi. We arrived at Scallywags and booked scuba diving tours (Seth, Lintang, and Dad) and the rest of the day unfolded easy enough with beach, snorkeling, and drinks. When the heavens opened and started dumping water, we began to worry. It was only 3:00 and… Is that our boat driving away?!

Thankfully he stopped and began to bail water. Did I say thankfully? We persuaded him to brave the pouring rain and waves and take us back to Lombok the shortest route possible. It was cold and we were all soaked by the end of the 20 minute voyage, Ellie the only one with a smile on her face. I swear the kid feeds off others adrenaline, especially in high risk situations.

In all, an exciting day.

Today included some more sailing for Dad (around the harbor) and lihat lihat (looking) of properties around Lombok for us. The real gem was a listing we found in Gili Air. We shall return tomorrow to check it out!

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