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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Love and Romance

Girlfriends

I’m surprised the subject of romance hasn’t come up on this blog before now. I may have touched on it once or twice but I haven’t really had anything positive to write. From my own position there’s been the occasional date and coffee and stuff like that. There was the brief thing with Felicia and the not so brief thing with Hylda which at the time seemed good but never amounted to anything more than  short romances.

The difficulty for an English guy living in Indonesia  is firstly around the whole “what does she see in me?” thing. We’re suspicious.  In our own countries we get by on our charm and our luck as much as on our looks and different people want different things. By building relationships or by seeing what happens from a one night stand in a nightclub the deepest connections can grow. Here in Indonesia it’s different in that as ‘Bule’ we stand out, even in Jalan Jaxa and Blok M.

A few of my friends talk about having felt like accessories such as Prada shoes or a Gucci handbag (notice i didn’t say Tescos own) when out with their girlfriend, cause no matter how you try to get away from it, we’re a must have for some girls. The type of girl who believes all her financial worries will be over the minute she aquires a ‘Bule’ or ATM card as we’re sometimes known.

At this point i should make it clear that I don’t mean Sugar Daddy.  Some guys are still looking out for a trophy wife but I guess they in turn are used for their earning potential and the status they may bring. In fact some Indonesians think we  smell bad, don’t shower enough and have big noses so we’re not on their wish list. But it’s true, others will put up with all of those faults (and more) in the pure hope of a better life.

Then there are those with a plan. The ones for whom love is incidental. A friend of mine got married to an Indonesian in the UK. She then proceeded to get homesick so they and their baby relocated to Jakarta. Next thing you know he’s in the middle of divorce proceedings without a leg to stand on and the house and stuff is all in the name of his missus.

A cautionary tale I agree, but not isloated by any means.

It would be asy to only consider the negatives. Instead lets look at the possibilities for love 8,500 miles from home..
Indeonesian men have a bad rep, some deserved, some not. But in a predominantly Muslim country where a great deal of women are thought less of than the men (look at dress codes and the acceptability of polygamous marriages) it’s no wonder that the recently metrosexualised westerner is attracive. Hell, even the mysoginistioc dinosaur 70 year old is still preferable because in public they have manners and pick up the tab.

It may be a naive opinion but I believe the opportunity to find love exists if you follow the basic rules.
1.   Get to know the culture and social mores of your girlfriend. An understanding of why she won’t hold hands in public or give you a kiss goodbye in front of other people may not be a sign that she’s just with you for the money. Rather her upbringing has taught her that these things are somewhat taboo.
2.   Communication is the key to the Universe, not just the UK. If you talk about what makes you happy and what makes you sad then less is left to chance, assumptions and misunderstanding. This becomes admittedly more difficult in a second language so sometimes a secondary explanation or a question to check understanding may be necessary. One things for certain, learning the langauge is a headstart although you may still struggle with the vagaries of slang.
3.   Relationships fail everywhere, not just Indonesia. If yours does, accept it and move on.
4.   If you choose to make your partner the one night stand you met in a club and gave Rp250,000 for the cab fare home, i’m tempted to say you’ll get what you pay for. And if that’s what you want then good luck and well done.

So where do you meet the girl of your dreams? Well, as i mentioned before you propbably won’t need to make many introductions as you’ll find that the more forward girls will come to you. If you’re respectful and considerate you’ll be attractive. If you speak the language reasonably well you’ll have a greater number of people to choose from. If you are god’s gift to women, I guess you stopped reading after the first sentence.

There’s always the people you work with, but spare a thought for what happens if it doesn’t work. And again there’s the internet. It depends on your opportunities to meet women, your self confidence and a little bit of luck.

The path of true love is often difficult to see, sometimes has hidden traps and amongst the roses there’s the occasional Raffelesia.
Without naming names i have friends that are in great relationships. I have others who aren’t. It’s so easy to fall in love here because 90% of the girls are beautiful but as with girls from your own country, they are just as likely to have baggage from previous relationships .

Belitung - 5th to the 9th September 2011




There are things that never cease to amaze me during my stay here in Indonesia.  The people, the weather, the food, the customs but nothing has amazed me more than this particular event.
We arrived on Belitung, an island off the western coast of Sumatra, on Monday and were met at the airport by Ary. To say it was invaluable having Emma’s contacts and advice from the previous week is an understatement and Ary took us from the airport to look at his two hotels. Ideally we were going to stay at Lor-in on the coast near Tanjung Tinggi but on seeing the two cottages closest to the sea at Pondok Impian 2, we booked both and  unpacked.
An afternoon on the beach at Tanjung Tinggi was followed by an evening searching for a restaurant in Tanjung Pandan. I’m not sure what we expected to find but we were a little limited by the need for food that wasn’t too spicy, Mum and Dad still aren’t quite used to the power of the chillies here! The search concluded on the waterfront where, despite lots of “sorry mister, no beef/fish/chicken” i was able to eat an amazing noodle dish while my dad had a sorry looking spag boll and mum had an omelette! There had to be better than this.....
Tuesday was an early start with a car trip around the Northern tip of the island. This really is a beautiful place but the lack of road signs is frustrating at best! We made our way back to Tinggi for a swim and the water was beautiful. The surrounding granite rock formations are some of the most uniquely beautiful i’ve ever seen.
Following a quick lunch of fresh coconut and sate skewers that came to a total of 34,000 for the three of us, we started to head south and seeing signs for a couple of Pelabuhans we headed for them. I always thought Pelabuhan meant beach but what we were met with was  a huge concrete road heading out to a docking station for small ships.
Stopping to take some pictures, we were just about to get into the car when my dad tripped and fell. The resulting gash in his leg, just adjacent to the shin bone, immediately started leaking blood of a deep crimson colour. Not good.
I ran back and got the car threw dad in the front (not literally of course) mum in the back and headed for Tanjung Pandan. ......at speed.
Now i don’t expect you all to believe what i’m about to tell you but it’s true, i promise. At 4.02 we entered the small hospital past a line of Indonesians varying in their sicknesses. There were two rooms. A waiting room and a treatment room. We were directed to an empty bed in the busy treatment room and were immediately seen by a doctor who having once been shown the wound burst into action.
An injection of anaesthetic was followed by what I can only describe as triage surgery. There were no niceties or bedside manner just an urgent cleaning of the wound that happened in front of my still bewildered eyes. Running through my brain at the same time were thoughts such as “you haven’t even asked his name”, “where’s the private room?”,” are you really doing this right here and right now?”. When i say infront of my bewildered eyes i would also like to include the curious audience that had gathered to watch. The table that my dad was on was open to the whole room.  The looks of awe and amazement at seeing a bule in general public, was multiplied to see one lying on a hospital bed with a wad of gauze packed into a hole in their leg. The craning necks seemed to want to identify that our blood was red as well and not some kind of bluish green that they’d been misinformed about .
I should tell you that the audience included someone’s grandma who had just died on the next table and a man holding his severed finger, more interested in my dad’s treatment than the re-attachment of his digit. On the next table to him was a woman whose waters had burst and was awaiting delivery of Belitungs newest arrival....one in and one out it appeared.
Throughout all this my worried looking mum was in and out to check on proceedings. My Dad is without doubt the strongest man i’ve ever met. Throughout what was a painful experience (obvious by the look on his face and gritted teeth) he didn’t complain once, not once.  To clean the wound involved sticking wads of gauze inside the hole in his leg and then dripping some white liquid from a height. At one point another liquid was put in which immediately started foaming like a corrosive acid. Still not a single complaint.
Then the stitching. Disolvable intenal stitches went in first and were quickly followed by black cat-gut stitches on the outside and then padding and a bandage.
The procedure ended with a tetanus injection at 4.25.
Twenty-three minutes for three internal stitches and three external stitches. A thorough cleansing of the wound and a tetanus jab. And a bill, including antibiotics and other drugs that came to Rp380,000. All together! (around £25 in English money!)
Handshakes all round were distributed and to the waving of still awestruck locals we departed the hospital.
Back at the hotel a cold guinness was just what the doctor (I’m sure would have) ordered for dad and it went  down well before a well deserved sleep.
Wednesday was originally planned as the day of the boat-trip around a few islands. But with the recent incapacitation of Mr Stoker Senior, we decided to head for Memboleng, and what a great decision it turned out to be.
Following a quick trip to the hospital to change the bandages, we headed out of Tanjung Pandan and pointed the car south. Following the coast to our right, the road occasionally pushed us inland to view the scenery there. Glimpses of monkeys playing in the road were interspersed with stops to top up the petrol and take pictures of the variety of colourful houses. Currently this island would appear to have one functioning petrol station (more are being built but not finished yet). The common thing to do is to stop at a shop/house/shack that has 1 litre and 5 litre containers outside and have them fill the tank through a funnel and hose contraption.
I mentioned that new petrol stations are being built (we’ve seen a couple around Tanjung Pandan and Tanjung Tinggi) but my concerns are A) what happens after the imminent boat festival (Sail Wakatobi in October which will see sail boats from many nations, as well as their entourages arrive on the island) and the tourists leave? Will the garages continue to be manned? And B) is this the first of many changes about to take place on this delightfully concealed island? There is a definite edge of selfishness in what i’m concerned about as i don’t want to see this beautiful island commercialised.
There are plenty of waroeng style food outlets but  very few actual restaurants that are obvious to the naked eye. The only sign of corporate branding is the KFC that sits proudly in the centre of Tanjung Pandan. Rather people cook for themselves or head to a waroeng and eat in or get the food wrapped in banana leaf and brown paper to take away.
No Starbucks doesn’t mean a lack of coffee....rather you get the local Java blend and depending on your ability with Indonesian it will come as you asked. It won’t be a moccachino with whipped cream and hazlenut syrup, but it will be strong and tasty. I know that some people find it impossible to go without fast food but trust me when i say sate chicken is the tastiest, fastest snack available.
So back to Wednesday. The car brought us to a part of the southern coast where we were surrounded on two sides by water. The beach was again pristine and white and there wasn’t another soul to be seen. Leaving Dad holding the car keys, Mum and I took it as an opportunity for a swim. It was as close to having your own private island as i think it’s possible to get.
Moving on with a plan to head to the other side of the island, we stopped briefly in Memboleng for some food. This was bakso (meatball) soup with plain rice and padang style spicy chicken. The roadside stall we ate at probably didn’t get that many Bule tourists so the looks of astonishment at our arrival were quite funny.
Heading towards Tanjung Lusa, we arrived to find a long rickety wooden pier heading out into the ocean. The kids, all laughing and pointing, that we saw grouped around the rocks at the entrance to the pier, soon plucked up the courage to ride their motorbikes along the pier to join us and ask us questions. I say courage as it came in two forms. The first was obviously approaching older Bules. The second was that if you saw the state of the pier with rotting slats supported by bamboo in the pier, you’d never have walked on it let alone rode a heavy motorbike carrying two passengers!!
The ride back through hilly, forrested countryside and more villages was just spectacular, with the windows wound down allowing us to wave at the many people shouting “hey mister”.
Back at Pondok Impian 2, we relaxed before again dining on amazing prawns, chicken and vegetables at the next door Restaurant Luat that we had somehow missed on our first evening.
Thursday morning arrived with Mum and I walking out on the sand flats outside the cottages, made available by the receeded tide to watch guys apparently digging in the sand for nothing in particular. The mass of tiny sand crabs swarmed and seethed infront of us as we walked through the shallow warm water.
Arriving back to find breakfast of nasi goreng, mie goreng and roti bakar with strong coffe, this fortified us before our ride up to Lor-in near Tinggi.
The hotel overlooked a completely deserted beach of pristine soft sand and having got Dad settled in a lounger in the shade to read his book, Mum and I went for a swim. The water can only be described as crystal clear. This is a term that has been widely over-used but is the only description which can be applied in this case.
The rest of the day was spent exploring more around Tanjung Tinggi.
Friday arrived and it was time to leave beautiful Belitung but there is no way this will be the last trip here.

see my facebook page for more photos from this trip