Tag Archives: Expat

So what’s the deal with…

Having lived in Indonesian for nine months here few things I have yet to full understand about everyday life here:

Why do my nails and hair grow so much quicker here? There definitely and answer for this somewhere on the internet but I kind of like the mystery,

Why are there so many employees just standing around at the grocery stores? Seriously, there are always about three-times as many staff as there needs to be and none of them seem to be doing anything 90% of the time.

Why are drivers so terrible here? If you only knew Indonesians from the way they drove, you’d think they’re the rudest, most inconsiderate, and clueless people in the world. Fortunately none of these things are even remotely true but driving here is a nightmare. For example drivers of both cars and motorbikes rarely look when entering traffic and it’s not infrequent for cars to just turn around in the middle of the street. Which begs the question…

How are there not more traffic accidents here? Ok, so I did see a dead body in the middle of the bypass (main road), a while back, and when there are accidents they’re usually pretty bloody (motorbike vs. car never ends well for the former) but drive here for more than five minutes and it becomes clear that there should be more crashes, accidents, bumps, etc. than there are.

Why is always so hot here? Because we’re so close to the equator, I know, so this is more a rhetorical complaint than anything else…

Why do people here hose off their driveway/street? Come mid-afternoon (sore) people just walk around with a hose to wet any paved area they can find. My first guess is that they’re trying to clean but I’m not sure it really accomplishes that. My second guess is to cool it down (see above).

Why is it cool to have contraptions attached to your muffler that make an absurd amount of noise? Funny story about this one, apparently there was a recent traffic stop in Denpasar where the police were making whoever had one of these get down on their knees and put their ear next to the muffler. Maybe this is a bit cruel but I think the amount of nose these things make is equally atrocious so the bastards deserve anything they get (or lose, as in hearing).

Why do people living here wear sweatshirts in the middle of the day? I guess they might be used to the heat but still let me reiterate how hot it is here… Really hot. And on the same train of thought…

Why do people prefer hot drinks to cold ones? This confuses the hell out of me. I try and drink everything with ice except for a morning coffee but it’s extremely common here to have hot tea with a meal. Bananaland…

There are certainly more, but since I can’t think of any right now I’ll leave them for another time. The mysteries of life here are never-ending…

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Highlights and Lowlights from an Indonesian Awayday

This was going to be my post last week but Sidd’s death while I was away obviously took precedent.

If you’ve been following my work over the past several months, there is one subject that I’ve written about more than any other: Indonesian football. Last weekend I was away with a group of fellow Bali United supporters (aka Semeton Dewata) on the first leg of their quarterfinal tie with Arema Cronus, the team from Malang in East Java. I’m not going to go too in depth because I’ll hopefully be putting together a larger piece for publication elsewhere in the not-too-distant future. But I still thought I’d share some highlights and lowlights. We’ll start with the latter.

Lowlights:

  • 25+ hours on a bus. We left Friday evening and drove through the night. Malang is somewhere between an 11- and 13-hour drive away and on a bus where the seats are frankly not made for 6-foot-4 (and a half) gentlemen, that’s a long ride. I ended up sleeping on the floor for a couple hours. My travelling companion (who was also too large for the seats) and I were hoping to get some sleep but rather than a quiet and restful environment and in addition the cramped quarters, Indonesian karaoke music was blaring until around 3am. The ride back was somewhat more subdued but longer (around 14 hours).

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    Travel-buddy Brant and a group from the bus. The one giving me the middle finger is Gus. He’s calling me a “stupid fruit” which is his favorite compliment He’s also the leader of the entire supporters group.

  • Bali United lost 2-1. And played poorly. Arema’s stadium is a pretty intimidating environment and United fielded a young squad but their defense was disorganized and their midfield got pushed around. When they had possession they did use their width well but they’re going to have to play much better in their home leg this evening if they’re going to advance.

Highlights: 

  • Malang is a cool city in more ways than one. The city sits in the East Javanese highlands and apart from the middle of the day, the temperature is perfect. Because of this cooler highland climate, the city was popular among the colonial Dutch as an escape from the unending heat of Surabaya – a major port a couple hours to the north – and so it is well-planned with wide tree-lined boulevards and art-deco buildings that are older than the Indonesian nation.

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    The main roundabout in Malang. Cars look funny in panorama.

  • Bali United only lost 2-1 and they scored an away goal.
    The three goals reported in a local paper. The third goal was basically this guy Samsul waltz his way through half the United defense.

    The three goals reported in a local paper. The third goal was basically this guy Samsul waltz his way through half the United defense.

    In truth it could’ve been much worse. Despite United taking the lead through a 66th minute penalty, Arema looked the more dangerous team throughout and hit the post more than once. Because of the away goal, Bali United only need to win 1-0 to advance to the semifinals.

  • Joining in the Semeton Dewata cheering section. Ok so maybe ‘joining’ isn’t exactly the correct word since I didn’t actually do much singing. The words were in Indonesian and I’m not one for going too gila. It also seemed like the Semeton Dewata were
    The Semeton Dewata arrive at Stadion Kanjuruhan.

    The Semeton Dewata arrive at Stadion Kanjuruhan.

    more interested in their chants than the actual gameplay, which is what I really wanted to see. Still, between the constant beat of drums from our corner and watching the 20,000+ members of Aremania perform their own chants across the pitch, it was definitely an experience.

After that bus trip, you better believe I’ll be making the hour ride up to Stadion Kapten Dipta for the decider this evening. I’ll make sure to keep you updated.

For Sidd

It’s impossible to truly say what connects man with dog. It’s been tried with IMG_4350marginal success in a literary sense but there are only so many adjectives and emotions that can be articulated in black and white. The real essence is deeper; part biology, part sociology, part emotion, part something else that combines those and more. Whatever unnamable, maybe even transcendent (if we’re being somewhat melodramatic) thing it is, is real.

I met Sidd in front of my house not even two months ago. He was a puppy whose two other siblings had died soon after they were born. His mother, Rosy, is a tan dog with a scar on her head that makes her look tougher and less amicable than she really is. She is a sweetheart and so was Sidd.

From that moment we met in the alley there was a connection, that connection, between us. He was afraid of nearly everyone else but trusted me. I would leave the gate open and a bucket of water for him to drink from and he would wander into the house and try and chew the floor. I would pick ticks and burrs off him and he would gnaw at my hand. He would roll over so I could scratch his belly.

IMG_5628None of these things make this relationship special in any way. Dog and man have had these exact same interactions and connections for millennia. And that’s just it. Our psyches can be synced in an utterly uniquely conscious fashion.

So why would someone poison Sidd? I don’t have an answer for that. The only thing I can come up with is “A lot of people here don’t like dogs.” But that doesn’t do this justice and nor does it explain why Sidd, of all the annoying dogs in the neighborhood, is the one that died, and why I’m sobbing over a dog I only knew for six weeks.

IMG_4447Much of this is me attempting to tread a path through the emotions of finding out a companion has just died, while I was away, and there was nothing I could reasonably do about it. The other part, the harder bit that will stay with me, is seeing him coming into the house, running his weird sideways run, and flopping on the ground at my feet and realizing this won’t happen again.

There are a few things that do give me some comfort and nowhere on the list is “it’s just a dog” (please see above). Here are some:

  • He was happy. This much was very clear. Although most people scared him and he didn’t like when I picked him up, you could tell he was still happy. Honestly, I don’t think this can be said for the other dogs around here.
  • He was loved. Primarily by us here but also, unbeknownst to me until we confirmed what happened, by another guy in the complex where he and Rosy lived.
  • He knew he was loved. I can’t say how I know this but if you understand everything I just said, then you’ll understand this.

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Dance Night in Semawang

So far Semawang Stories has been a little light on the actual stories and events so this week I thought I’d share an evening from a couple weeks back.

Bali is famous for its dances. Most are performed as part of rituals with deep spiritual and symbolic meaning and others are for entertainment. There have been dozens of ethnographies detailing their meaning and purpose. This is not one those.

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The statue of Ganesha, which normally causes minor traffic confusion anway, was decked out with offerings while the street was shut down. Also, the guy in the foreground is wearing an udeng.

A few weeks ago, Semawang hosted its own evening of dances. Actually there were several evenings of events but I only attended the one. The (for lack of a better term) festival, surrounded a purnama ketiga or ‘third full moon’. I won’t pretend to know the significance of this or why it was being feted but it was clearly important enough to block the main intersection with a substantial tent and force a traffic diversion.

In the tent there was a stage with a none-too-authentic Styrofoam set that belied the true localness of the atmosphere. The Semawang banjar of Sanur is a pocket of Balinese more or less surrounded by hotels, villas, and restaurants but locals have more or less held a large swath of real estate a couple hundred meters from the resort-lined beach.

The whole banjar, decked out in traditional garb, gathered for the evening’s entertainment. The men in white shirts, sarongs, and udeng (a folded cloth headpiece) stood or sat at the back, while the colorfully dressed women took up the 20-or-so rows of chairs.

By the time I arrived around 9, the dancing had already begun with kids, seemingly under the age of five, decked out in the elaborate gold and making the smoothly sharp and intensely choreographed movements that define Balinese dance.

YT standing awkwardly with Ibu Wayan before she takes the stage.

YT standing awkwardly with Ibu Wayan before she takes the stage.

The reason for my attendance on this particular evening was the promised performance of friend and neighbor. As dance followed dance, I starting noticing tourists creeping closer with smiles of awe and good fortune until they were literally against the stage, filming and photographing what they were lucky enough to have stumbled across. One (I think) Japanese guy almost tripped onto the stage with enthusiasm. But despite this secondary entertainment, there was still no Ibu Wayan (That’s my neighbor’s name, also my landlady’s name. The name means “first born” so there are a lot of Wayans around).

After a quick run back to the house, I was told that the ibus were up next. It seemed that the program was scheduled according to age and with an older troupe on stage when I returned (the stage was abotu a two-minute walk away) it seemed logical. An ibu did come out but it wasn’t Ibu Wayan (well, maybe it was, but not our Wayan) and she didn’t perform the high-choreography of the early performances. Instead, a man from the crowd joined her on stage and they pantomimed a sort of quasi-sexual pursuit for which the man mockingly apologized to his wife and the crowd on several occasions to great laughter.

Ibu Wayan sans partner. Note the

Ibu Wayan sans partner. Note the “elaborate” setand the microphones hanging down from the rafters.

The first woman ‘hosted’ three men in the same fashion and another danced with two before our Ibu Wayan finally took the stage with the audience well warmed-up and full of laughter. As Ibu Wayan’s second date was leaving the stage, I was asked if I wanted to join in. Now my hesitance at performing on stage goes back to early childhood when I hid under the table at Epcot Morocco rather than even chance an encounter with the in-house belly dancer. Once again it ruled the day and I politely refused participation with only minor pangs of regret.

All told it was an enjoyable and marginally educational evening. I didn’t learn much about the dances themselves but the fact that Balinese society has an easy sense of humor, even when it comes to one of their most storied traditions, was certainly on show. And I realized that I’m still afraid of dancing on stage with women.

On Migration

There was a certain amount of irony for me this weekend. At the same time as thousands of refugees were making their way into Europe with varying degrees of welcome, I jumped over to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia on what is known here as a ‘visa run’.

I’ll save my experience in KK for another post or article and while I’ve gone into the topic in a previous post and podcast a visa run deserves another quick explanation because it’s germane to the topic at hand; namely, the free movement of people or lack thereof. Essentially, because the Visa on Arrival (VOA) is only valid for 30 days and can only be extended once for an extra 30, every 60 days those of us on the VOA have to leave the country. While this has given me a couple opportunities to explore Malaysia, I’m reminded of its slight absurdity every time. On this visa run, though, the brutal image of a Kurdish/Syrian boy washed up on the shores of Turkey and the news of thousands of refugees (yes, refugees, the term is significant) banging on Europe’s proverbial door put that slight absurdity in stark relief.

While there have been moments of horror (such as the image of the boy) and disappointing responses from some countries including Hungary, The Netherlands, and the UK to name a few, there have also been encouraging acts of humanity. Thousands of Icelanders joined a movement to welcome a refugee into their homes and with the German government expecting to see as many as 800,000 arrive this year the country’s reception, at least among football fans, has been heart-warming.

But as much as grassroots movements to help are nice things to post on social media and can serve to absorb some of the strain, the real work must be done by the EU and the wealthy, developing countries where these extremely at-risk men, women, and children are heading. The fact of the matter is they have a moral and legal responsibility to help.

Now, both morals (for example Human Rights) and international law (which frequently is derived from those morals) depend on what are called in IR-speak ‘norms’, which means they’re flimsy and somewhat less persuasive than the hard power of, say, several thousand tanks. But with those wealthy, development countries being the main purveyors of those norms, ignoring them now would be the ultimate in tragic hypocrisy.

Fortunately though, we’ve seen that the people in many of these countries still believe in helping out their fellow humans despite fearful rhetoric about Islamization and potential threats from terror. And I think a whole lot of that humanity comes from the understanding that they are privileged to live comfortable, safe, and relatively free lives in their homes countries.

And so that privilege brings me to this past weekend. At the other end of ‘migrant’ spectrum from ‘refugee’ is ‘expat’. This is what I have called myself as a title and word to describe the experiences I’ve had living in Indonesia. But I use this term keeping in mind the word ‘expat’ is racially and economically loaded and stuffed with all sorts of neo-colonialism. You’re not an expat if you’re from Africa or Asia and move to the West, you’re an ‘immigrant’ at best. But because I am an ‘expat’, I was able to catch a plane to Malaysia for a couple nights and return on my now 5th tourism visa with no questions asked. There’s also the fact that I can return home whenever I want without fearing for my life.

Really that’s what all migrants, from refugees to expats, are looking for: to live their lives in the best way possible. Arbitrary lines on a map shouldn’t get in their way.

On being kept at arms’ length

I suppose there’s a reason I started this blog here, in Indonesia, rather than when I lived in the UK or the Netherlands. I found out this week it’s likely because this is the first place that I’ve truly felt like a foreigner.

I can’t say that this realization came to me organically . It was the hypothesis of an Argentinian guy I spoke with recently. He’s lived here for seven years and said that, of all the places he’s lived, this was where he could never truly feel a part of the Indonesian society, let alone Balinese. And in my more limited experience, I have to agree with him.

Of the expats I know that have lived here for many years, even those who are married to or work with Indonesians and speak the language fluently, all still run in expat social circles. This is not to say integrated foreigner don’t exist, I have stories of a couple and perhaps I have too small a sample size to declare this definitively, but the integration of foreigners or immigrants into Indonesian society is relatively minimal.

Part of this, I think, has to do with the extremely rich cultural heritage of Indonesia and, again, Bali in particular. Unless one converts to Balinese Hinduism and joins a Banjar, one is seen as an outsider. This has more to do with the strength of society than of any social barriers that are constructed

Another factor that influences this is the strong nationalism that runs through Indonesia. This is not a nationalism that was fueled by an immigrant narrative like the US (current Presidential candidates notwithstanding) or a kind of secular civic nationalism like in France, but a vibrant post-colonial nationalism that places the Archipelago’s fight for independence against European colonialism at its center.

This is not to say that I’ve had negative experiences or see this a social defect. Indonesians are culturally the most welcoming and friendly people I’ve come across, almost to the point of over politeness. But there is a distance, possibly even a society-wide wariness, that is hard to ignore.

And in some ways this is reflected in government policy. I’ve complained about the immigration process before, but it goes even further. Foreign citizens are not allowed to own real estate in Indonesia (with a minor and recent exclusion of high-rise apartments in Jakarta) and must have an Indonesian business partner to own a company (I think that’s how it works, at least). Both of these are disincentives for expats to make a permanent life here. Naturally many still want to and find ways around the regulation (for example 99 year leases), but the point remains.

But I don’t think Indonesia is alone in this. Any country with a strong ethnic base (I could go in depth here into why I called Indonesian nationalism post-colonial and not ethnic but I’ll save you the IR talk and just point you to the Types of Nationalism Wikipedia page) would have some incarnation of it.

And for what it’s worth, it makes for some entertaining and controversially worded conversations at expat bars.

In case you were wondering (an exercise in continued self-indulgence)

So far in Semawang Stories, I’ve described what life is specifically like in Bali and some peculiarities therein. This week I thought I’d give a little insight into what I actually do all day, you know, for, like, money and stuff.

First of all, Semawang Stories does not make any money and likely won’t in the foreseeable future. Unless one makes it big, being a mostly full-time writer isn’t exactly a lucrative business so I’m not exactly planning on making it rain anytime soon (plus there aren’t any (legal) strip clubs in Bali).

The best part of this ‘job’ is that I make my own hours and work is almost entirely on my own schedule. I say almost because deadlines from editors are a thing but fortunately I haven’t had too many as of yet. With the exception of my Vice Sports article on the #muzzaswell, which was somewhat time-sensitive because it was essentially on a weather system, my pieces haven’t needed to be rushed out.

The real reason I chose this subject is that the past 48 hours have been a pretty rapid series of highs and lows. On Friday, I wrote a piece about a local jazz festival I attended last weekend which should be published next week. And frankly, I kicked its ass. It’s the same feeling you get when you drop 20 in a game of basketball. The piece will be on a site called Bali Coconuts that I’m just establishing a relationship with having written this article for them about an art festival here in Sanur. On top of writing what you know is a good piece, submitting two articles within two weeks and getting paid for both (albeit underpaid) is damn gratifying.

Then, I woke up Saturday morning to find that a piece I’ve been working on for almost two months, one that will be my first in print, will likely be delayed until the next issue. The Editor-in-Chief wants it re-worked and some more urgency put into what I find to be an already engaging narrative. But as my editor put it, this is a big boy magazine and the Editor knows what the hell he’s talking about. More to the point, I’m incredibly proud of this story and this is absolutely the right magazine so I’m content to let this play out.

And yet, in the very same batch of emails (since I’m +12 hours from the East Coast, I get a whole day’s worth of email first thing in the morning), came a positive reply from an outlet I’ve been trying to pitch for months about a story I’ve been trying to pitch for months. This is no guarantee that I’ll be published, but it’s a big breakthrough and could very well lead to more consistent work in the coming months.

And this is basically what I spend most of my time doing, finding stories anywhere I can, putting together pitches that will grab an editor’s attention and then waiting. The waiting mainly consists of finding more stories and, in this age of constant media, keeping up with what’s going on in the world (i.e. surfing the web and reading content. Also, pro-tip, if you want to improve your writing, start reading more, find an author you like, and copy their style until you find your own.).

On the whole, I really can’t complain. I love doing this and, while I may not be making much money at the moment, I know that I can write as well if not better than many others (present post possibly excluded) who are doing it for a living so I know I can be a success if I put in the time. And I don’t mind doing that. As with many jobs, success depends as much on whom you’re connected with as how good you are at your job.

I’ll end this spiel here with the promise to return to a non-insect and more Bali-related topic next week. Thanks for tuning in and make sure to check out this week’s Frying Pan Podcast. It’s our best yet.