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Living in Indonesia:

Should I stay, or should I go?


Urban myths


A Husband's Perspective



For me, the stress of this crisis began on Monday, May 18.

"You've been ordered to leave." Dini's voice was rapid and strained.

"When?' I asked, as if someone was telling me the bar was about to close.

"This afternoon. Everyone's meeting at the Shangri La hotel."


Dini, from the Canadian consulate has been a great help. She's helped with paperwork for our marriage; she intervened with an employer, and she has been a conduit for official information. Dini is also a very professional and pleasant person. Her clipped speech, and frantic tone were completely out of character.

Basically, here was the situation. The Canadian Embassy and the US Consulate General Surabaya  had chartered a flight. Canadians, Americans, Germans, Dutch and a couple of Turkish nationals were going to fly to Singapore.

 For this excursion they would pay the bargain price of $500 USD. Now, if you're a businessman or an engineer - no problem. Teachers in Indonesia make between $300 and $450 USD per month. When you have a family, with children in school, you don't have an excess of cash. My wife Emily and I have two children, Emily's from a previous marriage, but nonetheless - our children. The wolf may indeed have been at the door, but that sucker was going hungry tonight. My family is my life and no crisis will change that.

 On Sunday night we had a family meeting. I outlined the options.

Canada: We could spend everything we have and take the family to Canada. Canada is where I have family and friends, but no job to go back to. More importantly I don't have a place to stay, at least for any extended period.

America: I have friends there. Emily, my wife, has a visa. I love the country. It's a damn expensive trip, and again I don't have a home or a job there.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is a big, beautiful and exciting city. Emily speaks passable Mandarin and her mother is fluent in Mandarin, Hokkian and Cantonese. The children's Chinese is like my Indonesian: pathetic but earnest. Emily has family there. Hong Kong is impossible without money. Finding a job could be next to impossible. I want to see Hong Kong, but I'd prefer the experience to be a positive one.

Taiwan: The jobs are there in Taiwan. Many teachers have left for Taiwan. Would my family be allowed in. I can't take the chance.

In the end, we decided to wait it out here.

With Wednesday's impending madness (see story) almost upon us we discussed hiding out in one of Surabaya's hotels, or going out of town. We decided to wait on developments.

No one could give me a clear answer about the family. They're Indonesian citizens, but they're also Chinese. Even if Emily could come, being my wife, what about the kids? Even if Emily and the kids were allowed, what about Emily's mom?, their Grandmother?, my mother-in-law?

Do in-laws count as carry-on luggage. Don't freak gentle reader - I love my mother-in-law. She's a great lady. The bottom line is; I'm not leaving my family.

Norm Mcdonald from the Canadian Embassy said later that my family might be able to come out with me. On there own, Canadians have returned home. Some remain in Singapore waiting out the crisis.

Some will undoubtedly go to Taiwan, or Thailand. Some will even go to Bali.

Some American friends are now in Bali, waiting.

We are now at home waiting for the situation to return to normal. Here we sit, packed suitcases and documents at the ready.

Local children are in the street. They're playing volleyball. The ball makes a dull thud when they hit it. The balls here never seem to have enough air. They're having fun.

Meanwhile, we sit behind our seven foot iron fence - waiting.

Some streets, like the one directly in front of our house, are blocked by rusting cars and vans,.Other streets by soldiers. Men decidedly less rusty than the cars and vans. Men having less fun than the children. Men waiting.

People sit in small groups, talk, drinking and eating. Kaki Limas(five legged men)the street merchants with their pushcarts, sell food and drink. The voices on the street are uncharacteristically low.

Sharing quick smiles, and nervous glances, hands together or resting on knees - they wait.

A young woman, eating food from a Kaki Lima, shakes her hips slowly and seductively to Ricky Martin's 'Maria'. A large black rooster intrudes on the volleyball game. He exits quickly as the ball narrowly misses him. Too bad. He's probably the noisy bugger who woke me up this morning, at three o'clock. The dancer has finished her meal and joined the game.

Young men, previously content to watch, have now joined the game. For now they are moving, playing, and laughing. The waiting may come later.



Saturday, November 14,1998
Surabaya is quiet right now. We hope things stay calm. We're okay here,but things in Jakarta are crazy. A number of students have been shot,and beaten. Some have died.
Yes, we do have our bags packed, but we're not living in constant fear.You departmentalize. I've got a panic attack scheduled from 3:15 to 3:30. Then the kids are home from school. In Asia,as you may or may not know, Saturday is a school day.
Here in Indonesia it is a constant shifting of equalibrium. You think you're set, that things are secure and arranged, and zap. Nothing is what it seems.
Emily, my wife, is in China right now. She's making contacts for our business. She left last week with her mother and sister. She'll be gone one more week. It's been very lonely, and very hectic. I miss her, but I'm glad she's not in Indonutzoh.
In terms of stress, nothing quite equals parenthood. I haven't had the breaking-in period.
The hardest thing with teenagers is to convince them they're not invulnerable.

... And then

It's been a long time since I last wrote.
It's getting more difficult to find the time.
I've been teaching 40hrs a week.
Its about twice as much as anyone would want to attempt for any extended period.
We're doing okay here.
Things are a bit uncertain at times.
Living in Asia is sometimes like being under a microscope.
Everything you do is examined, talked about and then embroidered. As I'm not known for my patience with gossips at the best of times, Asia can be stressful.
Emily's business is going well. Work is going well.
On Sunday morning we will be leaving for Bali.
Some perverse part of me was actually nostalgic as I read your description of snow. I think I'll try to bake that part away in the Balinese sun.
I'll write more later.
Jakarta is not on fire, but the level of casual violence has increased.
Muggings and robberies, especially by taxi drivers, are the biggest problem for foreigners.
We had a large demo on Mayjen Sukorno today. Seems Megawati's faction has some beef with the Darmala group.
During the last week of February a young man was killed near Pasar Atum, a local, and very rundown shopping plaza. He was stabbed in the back so that the thieves could take his motorcycle.
Ethnic violence is being pushed in the news but the actual incidents have been rare. This is a case of quick and nasty robberies.
We have also had a rise in Dimam Berdarah(Dengue Fever) Two of our neighbours went to hospital. There back home now. Sulewesi was hit pretty hard.
The rains have been quite heavy this year.
Bali was nice. It was also damn crowded.
We returned from Bali early Saturday morning.
It is a long drive, and because of holiday traffic and ferry delays; it was even worse.
We waited from 3:330pm until 2:00am for the ferry.
Bali was nice, but it's good to be home.
How are things there?
Tomorrow it's back to work. I'll try to be happy, but I really need some more time. Ah well.(big sigh)
All the best, Wayne, Emily and family
I have some news.
Grace is getting married.
She'll tie the knot on March 28.
She is under strict orders to finish college.
I'm not crazy about it, but the guy is a decent sort.
He treats her well.
He's not an obvious nose-picker, and he's got bucks.
Things have been decidely hectic since the anouncement of the wedding.
How are things there? I'll write more later.

Sunday, February 28

I'm trying not to be a workaholic. I pretty sure I'm not an alcoholic. I can walk away after one beer. I avoid alcohol enough now, so that's not the worry it was.
I find it difficult to turn away hours, but it has become a bit much.
Life here is going well. Occasionally there are bumps. We have a good life here, but I miss family, friends and a familiar landscape. I would love to return to Canada.
There would be two conditions though:
could I find a decent job, and could Emily find work.
Indonesia, or perhaps it's just teaching, is stressing me out right now, but it's the only viable gig I have.
I'm qualified to do other things.
I'd like to write, I'd love to design, and it would be great to feel creative again ... but will it pay? I'd love to just teach computers, or writing again. My buddy Chris and I have been talking about a couple of scripts. I know I can write, but I don't know thing one about marketing a script. The idea that keeps cropping up when you talk to people is a story about this life. I'm a teacher. He's a teacher. Wouldn't you like to be a teacher too? Be a social leper, be a social leper.(or was that drink Dr Pepper) There are eight million stories in the naked city, as the narrator said.
Maybe there are 10 or 15 really decent stories.
I hope all is well with you.
All the best, Wayne
by Wayne Duplessis


(Mt. Bromo, East Java)

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