Thursday, April 25, 2013

The bowling incident...

We wanted to have an outing as a family. After a week of hectic schedules and not-so-patient interactions with each other on all levels (yes, all levels: inter-sibling, parent-child, and spousal), it was time to have a unity-building activity. A reminder that yes, we do like each other, and yes, we can take time away from the "scheduled events" to just have fun together.

Bowling was the answer. Or so I thought. Throw in the complication of Jakarta, and it became not quite so clear cut.

My only job was to locate a bowling alley that catered to families (instead of a seedy place that includes additional forms of "recreation") and find out how to get to said bowling alley. Straight forward, right? Wrong.

I found a bowling alley listed on several websites with good reviews. New plush facility with bumpers on the gutters for novice bowlers. And a miracle: only a short 15 minute drive away.

We loaded into the car with the hope of slippery lanes, cool shoes, and shiny bowling balls just calling to us! We hit traffic. The 15 minute drive turned into 40...but not to despair, it would still be fun.

We arrived at Pasarya Mall. From the website, the bowling alley was on the 7th floor. We found the elevator and pushed 7. When the elevator door opened on the 7th floor, we were greeted not by a bowling alley but by frilly dresses in the children's department. We checked the elevator and saw that there was indeed a recreation center but it was on the 9th floor. No problem.

We arrived at the 9th floor. Still no bowling alley. We asked around. No one had ever heard of a bowling alley in that building. We showed them the website with the matching address to the building we were standing in. Nope. No bowling alley here. And yes, this is the only Pasarya Mall in Jakarta.

The ride home was a brutal 60 minutes. By the time we got home we slunk out of the car like melting playdough. I was more than a little deflated.

I was discouraged. A wasted afternoon in search of something we never found. I was also discouraged because I let all the defeats of the day get to me. I felt like Jakarta had won and we had lost (yes, I turned the hunt for a bowling alley into an epic battle, because in Jakarta it sometimes feels like that).

Our consolation was dinner at a restaurant and a trip to the movie theater. But I have to be honest, it's getting old. When our only reliable form of family entertainment is eating out and a movie (and of course game nights at home), I feel a bit like a loser. I miss long walks in the clean air. Or a spontaneous visit to a playground. I miss Frisbee games on a green lawn. Or miniature golf, bowling, museums!! and hiking options all within a 30 mile radius. I miss the reliability of America - how accessible all of it is. The choices. Oh the choices.

I miss the weekends when dinner out and a movie wasn't the only choice, it was the rare thing we chose to do after we'd filled our time with everything else. Our family doesn't bond over a dinner/movie the same way we bond while walking down the W&OD trail or a game of baseball at Hamilton Park.

Perhaps it's time to get more creative...I'll work on this. And in the meantime, I'll try to track down an actual existing bowling alley in Jakarta. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Some "Light" for Boston

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Because I believe the truth of this statement by Martin Luther King Jr, and because I believe in the healing power of words, here's a small offering about a city I love.

Boston Memory 1

I learned to drive in Massachusetts. My dad insisted I learn on a stick shift - a navy blue Cherokee jeep. I shed tears and cursed under my breath (still loud enough that I'm sure my dad heard but chose to ignore) as I stalled at entrances to rotaries (round-abouts) again and again. But a triumph came the day I drove for the first time to the Braintree T station. I parked the car and purchased my T tokens for downtown Boston. I bought two extra T tokens that day so I could wear them in my shiny cordovan-brown penny loafers. I thought I was very cool.

Boston Memory 2
I went on a first date with Chip Oscarson to a small North End restaurant called La Famiglia. I wore an over-sized sweater. But even with the sweater, I shivered as we waited outside in the cool Fall air to be seated. Once inside, I immediately warmed up. The portions were huge. A steaming platter (think king-sized) heaped with pasta took up more than half of our little table. The smell of garlic. The candle-light. The cramped restaurant bustling with waiters and patrons. I fell in love that night. Not with Chip (though I was quite smitten with him), but with Boston.

Boston Memory 3
I saw my first "Broadway" musical in Boston.  My Dad had heard good things about some "new musical" and he bought tickets for us. I invited my friend, Katie McDonald, to join us. We parked at Braintree station, took the T into Boston, and found ourselves sitting in the top balcony (almost the last row). I remember feeling like my knees were in my face because I was so cramped. We knew absolutely nothing about the plot of this new musical, but I was very excited. During the final scene of "Les Miserable," I sobbed like a baby - blubbering so loudly that a little white-haired lady turned around and patted my knee. "It's just a story, dear," she comforted. Who would have guessed that my first musical would still be my most favorite?

Boston Memory 4
Christmas in Boston. One Christmas, my parents suggested we have less presents under the tree and use the money to spend a couple nights in Boston. It was cold. I wore an ankle-length green coat with brass buttons as we walked the snow-filled streets. The Boston Commons were a winter-wonderland. The swan-boats parked at the dock wore a blanket of white as they seemed to nap in their winter repose. We watched the newly released "Beauty and the Beast" in a movie theater. We sipped steaming hot chocolate at Fanueil Hall and dined on bacon-wrapped scallops from our favorite seafood stall on the second floor.

Boston Memory 5
My Dad let me play hooky from school one wet spring day. We drove into Boston to a small bookstore where Robert Bateman, a Canadian Painter, was signing prints. My Dad had discovered Robert Bateman's work when we lived in Alaska and had collected many of his prints. It was thrilling to talk to this man whose art decorated the walls of our home. He signed his "Dark Wolf" poster for me, writing "Keep Singing, Holly."

There was something special about that day beyond meeting Robert Bateman. Perhaps it was the "stolen" feel to the day - the day was more valuable because we had robbed school and work time. Perhaps it was Boston-itself with the lights, smells, and sounds of this thriving city. Or perhaps it more simple, perhaps it was just being with my Dad in a place we both loved. 

Boston holds many more memories for me. Family shopping trips, school trips to MIT, choir trips to the Boston Conservatory, and our senior week trip with good friends, Shelley, Glen, and Brad. Both my Dad and sister, Katie, have run the Boston Marathon.

Even though I live on the other side of the world and it's been decades since I've lived in Massachusetts, this week my heart is in Boston. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Top 5!

I've been dealing with some post-Karen blues this week. And it hasn't helped that I've also been crazy busy. Busy with good things (like activities for my kids, and church responsibilities) but still busy enough that I've felt a bit on the verge of an anxiety attack on a daily basis.

But the prevailing thought I've had lately came from something Karen said as we were driving to the airport on her last day here. I asked, "So what are some of your overall impressions of Jakarta?" Her answer: "It's not as bad as I thought it would be. From you descriptions, I was expecting much worse."


Granted, we took really good care of Karen. She didn't have to find, clean, or prepare food, communicate in Indonesian, navigate the streets of Jakarta, or figure out how the heck this city works, or how the heck to find fulfillment for children, husband, and self in a place that is pretty gritty - all things that made our initial transition here very difficult and still pose great challenges.  But Karen had a point.

Jakarta is not so bad. In fact, we truly love our experience here.

So here are my top favorite things about Jakarta...

5.  FOOD (as long as it is cooked and cleaned REALLY well!). I didn't know how much I love watermelon until I had the option of eating it every day. And oh mangoes - the tang mixed with the sweet - in salads, in smoothies, in desserts. Then there's the new fruits I've tried: mangostenes (shown below) with the inside white fruit that looks like garlic but tastes like a plum, and jeruk bali that are like giant grapefruits.

The traditional Indonesian dishes are also delicious: chicken sate, the gado gado salad, and the soto ayam.

4. SPAS. Okay, so I've only been to a nice spa twice. And even with the cheap spa, I've gone only a handful of times. But that's still more than I would be able to do in the US. The cream bath head/neck/shoulder massages are heavenly.

3. Tropical weather. This one surprises me because I'm such a fan of the seasons. But there's something to be said for predictability. And it is nice to walk out into the warm air...soothing like a warm bath or an embrace. Every single day.

2. Proximity to beauty. (I'm cheating here because I know it's not really something specifically about Jakarta). But just an hour drive away (give or take a couple hours due to traffic) is some of the most primitive, tangled, green-beauty I've ever seen. The foothills of Gede with the tea plantations. The mountain peaks with the towering clouds that roll in and out like the tide. And of course Bali (an hour and half plane ride away) with Hindu culture, rice terraces, dramatic cliffs, turquoise water, and blue skies.

1. People. It is always people that make the difference, don't you think? The Indonesian people are BEAUTIFUL. They are kind, meek, generous, friendly, and sweet. Their smiles reach my soul. Our dear Yuli is an example to me everyday of what it means to be cheerful.

And then there's the non-Indonesians. My fellow-English teachers who I admire and who "get" me and accept me. And my amazing friends who are doers - those who dive into this crazy city on a daily basis and figure things out. I am inspired by the people here.

That's only my top five. There are lots of other reason I love it here. Many other reasons that will make it hard for me to leave in a year. Plenty of reasons that make Jakarta not so bad at all.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Jakarta Visit

My friend, Karen, came to Jakarta! Let me tell you, there were lots of tears when I saw her walk out of the customs area at the Jakarta airport. I just felt overwhelmed that she had come all the way around the world to see me.

We spent a whirlwind few days touring Jakarta. We didn't give her any time to adjust to the jetlag - and she was such a trooper. From Monas (pictured below) to Istiqual (the 4th largest mosque in the world)... the old Dutch part of the city
 with its festival type atmosphere, we were go go go.
On Tuesday, we enjoyed a lovely day at the spa - Karen opted for the herbal press massage while Madi and I had head/shoulder massages and pedicures. Karen braved the bajaj ride to the Lippo mall where we watched a movie in the Premiere theater. Hard to beat the lazy-boy recliner chairs and dinner served while we watched the movie.

Of course we went to Taman Safari. Karen held every baby animal available. The baby orangutang, Jennifer, was quite taken with Karen. She wrapped her arms around her neck and didn't want to leave her lap when time was up. I'll never forget the little orangutang with her cute face and dark eyes holding out her hand to Karen as though she was saying, "Please don't take me away from this kind lady." Jennifer didn't like me quite as much - though she did enjoy pulling my hair!  The elephant ride was also a hit.
Then we headed to Bali (on a crazy early morning flight - we left our house at 4AM!) We couldn't have packed our Bali trip any fuller. Here are my top five memorable moments:

1.  The snake sighting during our beach exploring (later found out it was a Blue Krait - one of the 5 most venomous snakes in Southeast Asia!)
2. During our water rafting down the Ayung River, our awesome guide, Agus, announced "If you want to get out and swim down the river, this is a good place to do it." I was cautious, thinking maybe he was joking. Then I heard a splash! Karen hadn't waited for a second invitation. She was the first one out of the boat and in the river. Leasie and Meya quickly followed. I followed their lead, and soon we were floating down river laughing and whooping.

3. Morning run on the beach. So good to enjoy my running partner again!

4. Sari Organik  We hiked through the rice fields to an incredible organic restaurant for lunch in Ubud. Although Leasie and Meya were NOT impressed by the organic menu, Karen and I were in food-heaven. My grilled vegetable salad, pink drink, and fried bananas were exquisite! 

5. Monkey Forest attack! We were in the forest less than a minute when a huge monkey jumped on Karen's back. Even after we gave him a banana, he stayed perched on her shoulder. I tried to shoo him away, but to no avail. I thought Karen was going to have a heart-attack. 

But my favorite two moments of the entire trip were on Easter Sunday. Sitting there in church next to my dear friend, we both got emotional during the opening song. I could barely sing as the tears rolled down my cheeks. I was just so grateful for so many things.

And then, true to her giving-nature, Karen made her famous (divinely delicious) orange rolls Sunday afternoon. We didn't have any oranges, but we substituted with lemons and they turned out wonderful. I'll never forget watching Meya and Karen standing side by side in my Jakarta kitchen rolling the dough and forming the rolls. I know it was Karen's way of saying thank you.  
Indonesia is a long way from my Virginia home. It's a long way to come for a visit. Which makes me so grateful to Karen for making the long trek so that I could share a bit of this incredible country with her. And to see it through her eyes was a gift to me. As we drove to the airport she said, "Jakarta is not as bad as I thought it would be. From the way you described it, I expected much worse." And it's true, showing Indonesia to my friend, made me realize just how much I've come to love this place.

We'd love more if you have an inkling to ride an elephant, dine in rice fields, or have near-death experiences with snakes, you have until June 2014.