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Thursday, December 26, 2013

teacher's thoughts on a student

" focus his considerable energies on his work rather than on horseplay; to battle more vigorously the demons of complacency."

My favourite comment made by a teacher about a student....ever.

No Show Snow for Christmas in Yorkshire

I’ve experienced Christmas in many different places and circumstances. In fact it was at Christmas five years ago that I packed my bags and left England to work as a teacher in Indonesia. So coming back to the Uk, with my wife Yohana, has been truly exceptional. It wouldn’t matter where we were really, the family aspect to it is what makes it. But Yorkshire also has a certain je ne sais quoi.

Obviously the key reason for our second trip to the UK inside a year, was to spend time with my Dad whose cancer has seemingly managed to get the upper hand at the moment. He wasn’t expecting us back until the 14th January and had been telling everyone how much he was looking forward to it. Mum slipped Dad a mickey by telling him she was going shopping when in fact she was collecting us from Darlington railway station. I only wish I could show you the look on my Dad’s face as Uchiel walked into the living room. He did a double take and as he looked at her for the second time, his facial expression was the dictionary definition of ‘gobsmacked’. What I can tell you is that everyone, including my father, will remember it forever.

As for the weather, well Uchiel was cold enough when we came back in May but this time she’s been positively frozen. We had no need to buy winter clothes, not that we’d have known where to find them in Jakarta, as we have basically just been wearing hand me downs. But we have made it outside into the fresh air a couple of times, in fact today the car was frozen solid so that was another experience. But still no snow (technically, there was a light dusting of snow through the night into Boxing Day, but it could have equally been mistaken for a particularly hard frost).

Christmas Day was a class affair. We roasted a goose, had vegetables and yorkshire puddings too and some quite stunning desserts. There were artisan chocolates, loads of wine and some pretty good port and Mum’s Christmas cake, decorated with pigs, ladybirds and pandas due to the unavailability of more traditional Christmas cake decorations. Presents were opened, tv was watched and all in all it was just a truly great day.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Teardrop Paradise

Sri Lanka is a mysterious, exotic country. Famed as much for its cricketers as its Ceylon tea, many people equally associate the country with the rebellious Tamil Tigers and The Maldives. I was fortunate enough transit aircrafts there on this recent trip back to the UK.

It wasn’t the best of starts to a trip in many ways. Unable to check-in online, we boarded the plane for the five hour trip to Colombo expecting to find our pre-booked, extra legroom seats and staff waiting with a cold Lion Beer. Instead we were met by the 3+3 seating arrangement common on low-cost airlines, no tv monitors onthe seats or hanging from the cabin, and a pricelist for alcoholic beverages. On top of that our seats weren’t located near to an emergency exit so had no extra room. Anyone familiar with low cost travel will immediately recognise the conditions in which we would spend the trip.

Actually we had already been made aware that this leg of the journey would be conducted by Sri Lanka Airway’s ‘sister’ airline, MINLanka. We just expected that whilst the conditions would be a tad cramped, they’d have pulled out the stops with everything else. As I said, we could have had a better start.

Turning the clock back for a moment, Yohana and I had found out a couple of weeks prior to our journey that we would be accompanied by one of our friends from Jakarta. Stewart used to teach at EF Gading Serpong but is currently employed by the Jakarta International Montesori School and was heading home for Christmas on the same flight as us. With the 3+3 seating it was very easy to arrange for Stewart to move from his booked one into the one next to us.

Another thing that we were painfully aware of was the transit in Colombo. All nine hours of it! What to do with that time had been the source of much discussion. Stewart had talked about leaving the airport for a few hours, but on checking into it it seemed that Uciel would need another visa. For the sake of a few hours this didn’t really seem to be worthwhiile so Yohana and I had resigned ourselves to getting some sleep on an uncomfortable airport bench and trying to sneak complimentary shots from the duty free sellers.

As it transpired, in conversation between the three of us, we decided that it would at least be worth checking into the transit visa thing so, on arrival in Colombo, we headed for the customer services desk. They directed us to a short queue where we waited to speak to a chubby Sri Lankan guy. On reaching his desk and explaining that we had 9 hours to kill and wanted to leave the airport, and him having looked through our boarding passes, he finally suggested we speak to his colleague sat next to him. This meant going to the back of a slightly longer queue. As our turn to be seen approached, the guy we’d originally spoken to moved from his original seat, sat on the opposite side of his colleague and called us forward. My initial suggestion that we had just spoken to his brother produced not a titter. Maybe I need to work on my timing.

Explaining our dilemma, he kindly pointed out that we would be given a free meal due to the length of our stay and then started talking to his colleague about hotels. Quickly stopping him I explained again that we had only a few short hours and didn’t really want the expense of a hotel and that we’d rather do our own thing if he could just see his way towards letting us out of the airport.
His answer was that if that was what we wished to do, we should go and explain our situation to the head of immigration, who would issue us with a pass. Coming from the rampant corruption of Indonesia, I jumped swiftly to the conclusion that to arrange this money would have to change hands and, at the same moment, a thought dawned on me.
“Er..., that hotel thing. Is it free?” I enquired, tentatively. I was thinking that he’d been happily looking into hotels and maybe it wasn’t an address that we needed as part of the short stay visa thing, but maybe we could wangle this another way or, that even between the three of us, the cost would be minimal.
“It depends on the type and cost of your ticket” said the portly chap. “Let me see those boarding passes again”.

Next thing we know, we’ve had our free meal vouchers taken away from us and replaced with a white docket entitling us to a single and a double hotel room and a meal each at vaguely cricket-sounding The Sunhill Hotel, and this would come with complimentary transport to and from said hotel. Winner!
Now at the risk of seeming ungrateful, a few things should be pointed out. From receiving this voucher, it then took another hour to get to the hotel due to the Sri Lankans seemingly endless fascination with making visitors join pointless queues. This, plus the wait for the complimentary taxi. On arriving at the hotel, we were shown to our more than adequate rooms (evidently a single room is a smaller room that contains a double bed and our double room had a double bed plus an extra bed) but on requesting the location of the restaurant were were given the perplexing reply that there wasn’t one. On asking for the bar we were again informed of a lack in this area too. But the guy on duty just took us outside, over the road and into a nearby Indian restaurant   where we were told that a few beers and some red wine for Uciel was very possible and that we could pay by card (on account of not having any Sri Lankan Rupees).
The final thing we were left with was the confusing; “Please be back at 9pm for food”.

We ordered the drinks and sat chatting and watching Liverpool condemn Cardiff to another Premiership defeat and decided that food must be a take away affair. It’s a shame as, on reflection, we’d have gladly stayed in the place we were and whose prices were very reasonable.

We weren’t the only people in the restaurant, two other tables had groups of guys seemingly preparing for Christmas. Sri Lanka is predomninantly Buddhist but never let that get in the way of a celebration. They seem to be  a lot like the Thais in this respect. It turned out that one group was having a birthday party for one of their number but the other group, sat on the table nearest to us were celebrating after a positive stock take result at work. They did this by sharing a bottle of gin and some food and then banging on their table to a beat that went well with “We wish you a Merry Christmas”. This was produced in pretty good English and was obviously for our benefit as when they finished they all stood up and came over to our table. Hands were shaken, cheeks were kissed, high fives were handed out, photos were taken and emails were swapped. The genuine emotion these guys displayed as they talked about their hopes for our appreciation of their country was mirrored when the next table of guys did exactly the same thing. Nearly too awesome for words.

Back at the hotel we had time for a shower and to eat the fried rice and spicy chicken that was delivered to the room before the taxi arrived to take us back to the airport where the plane that would take us the UK, the decidedly bigger and better equipped plane, was waiting.

Those few hours have really given me some encouragement to revisit the teardrop island.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The smell of home...

I can't believe that I've neglected this blog for so long. It seems that time just gets away from me and other things take the place of my musings. Well not today.

Indonesia, just like anywhere, invites you to use all of your senses for the complete experience. Touch is important in so much as it may actually be impolite to touch, for instance when greeting a Muslim woman. The gesture is to hold out your palms, pressed together with thumbs pointing upwards and then very nearly touch the outstretched hands of the person you're being introduced to. *If I have misunderstood this particular social interaction, feel free to correct me to ensure I don't feel like a complete pillock the next time I'm in a similar situation.

Sight and Hearing are of obvious importance. My first earthquake experience in Indonesia wasn't actually indicated directly by sound, rather my inner ear (of all things) received a message from my brain that my eyes had detected a slight swaying motion in the building. This then in turn connected with Taste as I knew I was about to vomit due to the previously unknown motion sickness. Fortunately my class of 8 year olds were vastly more experienced than I in these matters and got me to the relative safety of the front desk before I unloaded my breakfast.

But Smell, now there's a sense. I can only pity those souls born without it. To go through life and not experience the smells of mown grass, a freshly cut rose, cool rain on hot tarmac. That's unfortunate. What led me to think of this blog entry was the last of those three things I just mentioned. I have always associated those three smells with the UK, but I was to be pleasantly surprised.We're in the heart of the rainy season here in Jakarta which usually lasts from October until April. Unlike the UK where it usually lasts from September until July. Coming home the other day in brilliant sunshine, the clouds just burst. From a clear sky the rain fell and as it hit the hot road surface there it was. That smell. My olfactory organs engaged the on switch of my mind's time machine and I skipped back to my first, dulled memories of receiving this aromatic information. Having been here for nearly five years, A rainy season has come and gone before. But this was the first time I was aware of that smell. We don't have a great deal of grass that needs cutting around me so it's not like smelling a lawn getting mowed back home and as for roses, well there are more plastic ones than there are real ones it would seem.

In some people this smell, like other sensory examples, could cause homesickness but my point is that homesickness comes and goes, sometimes when you least expect it. I find these smells to be comfortable and go a long way towards easing it because they remind me that home is sometimes just a smell away. I don't regret my move to Indonesia in the slightest, but I think it'd be unusual if I didn't miss some things. The rain experience was a help, not a hindrance and it made me start thinking about other smells.

Indonesia is a land of smells, some good and some...less so. In the 'less so' category, I rank at number 1 the Indonesian fruit delicacy that is the Durian. I've written about this before so suffice to say the smell that once caused a pressurised International airliner to make an emergency landing isn't going to surprise many. If you don't believe me, buy one. I'm sure an Asian supermarket will have one. If not, try asking the local Masochists society for help. As a developing country with a hugely overpopulated capital city, pollution and waste disposal create an aroma that is understandably difficult to miss at certain times.

But there are so many more interesting smells. Indonesia is a coffee growing country and freshly brewed Indonesian coffee is as diverse as French wine. Keep your Starbucks, thanks. The recent food festival held outside the local shopping mall invited you to close your eyes and breathe in the subtle differences from the myriad regional dishes. Sure a lot of Indonesian food is fried but that smell of oils cooking in a pan also has the same effect here as walking past a Fish and Chip shop in the UK or a patisserie in France. Charcoal barbecues set up by the side of the road cook different types of meat and all meat eaters love a barbecue, don't they? I think it appeals to our ancestral instincts.

Sure, senses are best served when they are in harmony but Smell is my favourite.


Friday, July 19, 2013

A Return to Singapore

Today, 19th July 2013, saw me heading to the airport to do my annual 'visa run'. Part of life on an annual contract, even an extended two year one like mine, is that if you leave the country for an extended amount of time, you need to return on a tourist visa and then go back to Singapore for the full visa transfer. Somewhere else on this blog I have already gone into the reasons for this but, it's a great trip. Apart from the waking up.

Yes, the day starts at 4.00am with a shower and dressing the part. This includes shorts and a t-shirt plus flip-flops. The bonus of dressing this way is that you speed through the airport check-in scans, the downside is there is absolutely no chance of a free upgrade to Business Class (not that there ever was, as we use the lowest cost low-cost airlines)

Anung, the school driver was there to pick me up, on time for a change, and we winged our way to the airport with my much improved Indonesian, meaning we could talk about my imminent new motorbike and Anung's impending trip back to his village for the Idul Fitri celebrations at the end of Ramadan. The roads were empty and we arrived in plenty of time for the check-in. Plenty of time, that is, until I realised I'd joined the queue with the slowest check-in person possible. I frantically looked around for another queue, but all that I saw were sad, sympathetic eyes, empathising with my plight. At least this was what I saw on the outside, on the inside they all had that smug, self-satisfied grin that screamed "sucker!".

As the clock ticked towards boarding time, I decided that breakfast would have to wait.

Boarding went without a hitch, other than people trying to get on the plane before their seats had been called and snarling up the entrance to the boarding tunnel, and we arrived in Singapore ninety minutes after leaving Jakarta. Ninety food free minutes. I know this is a low cost carrier, but they usually offfer you food and a drink to buy. Not today.

This meant that the first sustenance to pass my lips since an apple juice and toothpaste cocktail at 4.15am was, yes, a Singapore Sling! On numerous visits to Singapore, the one experience that has escaped me was this country's contribution to alcoholic cocktails. The reason I've never felt ispired to find the eponymous concoction before is that it contains gin, my least favourite spirit. Today though I decided to find the Raffles Hotel where the cocktail was first created, and down one.

....Actually, that's not entirely true. The real reason for my Search for Sling was the lack of new movies available to watch in Singapore. This, along with a couple of pints of cider, is how I usually spend my trips. I was hoping for 'Wolverine', or at the very least 'Red 2' but no, they don't open until at least the following week. So with no cinematic goodies to fill in my time I'd decided on unearthing Raffles.

I'm glad I did actually as, after dropping off my passport and details, I realised I was pretty close to the MRT station known as Raffles Place. Yep, you're ahead of me, aren't you?

That's right, Raffles Place is actually 1.5km away from the Raffles Hotel, which is something of a let down. I know this, not because I carry a pedometer, but because it was a great way to interract with the locals and they wanted to make sure a walk that far wouldn't kill me.

"Hey, I'm new in town. Can you tell me how to find Raffles?"
"This is Raffles"
"Yeah, I can see that, but I'm looking for a Singapore Sling"
(after checking her watch suspiciouslyand seeing it was 10.30am)  "oh, you can get those everywhere"
"Yeah, I know that, but I want the old colonial place where they were invernted"
Really? Let me find it for you"" and so she entered the hyperspeed world of the internet via her handphone.

I know, it would be like someone in London having to check directions to Buckingham Palace, but this poor girl was just in awe at my story of the invention of a drink she had no doubt tried at least once.

And then she made me take a picture of the directions on her phone.

It was a great walk and I got to see the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel, three towers topped with what looks like a stranded ocean liner. I walked past the Singapore Cricket Club, another excellent old building situated in the heart of the modern glass financial district and then, there it was. The Raffles Hotel.

The hotel part of the hotel is off limits to non-residents (as was the wi-fi, I was later to find out) so I wandered in the direction of the billiards room. Turned around by a kindly porter and advised that this was now a restaurant, he gave me complicated instructions to find The Long Bar. To say this place is a maze is an awful understatement. It was 20 minutes before I found a sign informing me that the bar wasn't on the ground floor! However, once setlled in a wicker chair with a copy of the Singapore Times (Friday's edition makes the Sunday Times look lean), I took a sip of my first Singapore Sling. You couldn't taste the gin, was a pleasant surprise. It really is a refreshing drink and on a day as humid as this one I applaud old Mr Raffles for his creation.

Thirty Singapore Dollars later, I can only assume the monkey nuts had been laced with gold leaf, I noticed I was hungry and the best place to eat your fill and still have enough for a bottle of water is Little India. Only two stops from Raffles on the MRT, I found myself on the Racecourse Road and outside the Gayatri Restaurant. The chicken biryani I had here is the best indian food I've ever eaten, and I've travelled in India. True, the two ice cold large bottles of Tiger were pretty damn good too and a total of 26 Singapore Dollars for the lot (including popadoms) was exceptional value.

Food over it was time to head back closer to the Visa office. I'm sat writing this in a coffee shop callled Tom 'n' Tom's on Tras Street and now can't wait for people to know about Gayatri and Singapore Slings and coming back again with Uciel to try them too.

And you too Mum!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

An Indonesian in Europe, or alternatively titled "Bugger me, It's cold!" Part 1

It’s coming towards the end of our holiday and the prospect of returning to Indonesia has, for once, found me in something of a dilemma. In previous years I have been ready to return and it was only last  year when I said that a month was too long and two weeks would have been more than enough. This year though, the dynamic has been a lot different. I’ve had Uciel with me for one thing, and for another we’ve seen and done a lot more.  We’ve visited two capital cities and travelled enough miles to make Santa Claus tired just thinking about it. And then there’s my Dad too, but we’ll talk about him more on another occasion. Instead, let me take you through the highlights of this trip ......

Trying to take a month off work is easy for me. I just wait until the end of my contract and say “right, see you all in a month” and off I go. Of course there are exit visas to be processed and administrative stuff to do, but it’s all pretty painless as all of that paperwork is done by someone else. And then you need to forget that you’re also not being paid for a month. For Yohana however, it wasn’t that easy.

Indonesians are as entitled to holidays from work as anyone, but after all of the religious/political/religiously-politically correct (delete as applicable) holidays have been taken off, and we get quite a few public holidays in Indonesia such as Idul Adha and Weisak Day, plus enforced National holidays such as Idul Fitri at the end of Ramadan and Christmas, most Indonesians are usually left with about six days. Having had a lot of time off last year first with my parents, and then when Myles and Jon visited, not to mention the extended honeymoon at Christmas, I thought Yohana would struggle to take so long off work. This trip would probably also mean we wouldn’t be taking any more extended holidays this year either. This was the first hurdle we faced when planning our trip back to the UK.

As it happened we needn’t have worried so much. Yohana’s boss was really accommodating, but it did mean a lot of extra hours on her part prior to leaving to ensure that clients were looked after. (I should explain for those of you that don’t know, Yohana, or Uciel as I like to call her, is my wife and she’s a marketing consultant for a paper company.) This meant that by the time we were due to leave, we were both in need of relaxation.  We had both told our respective employers that we were available in case of emergencies. For me this meant by email, for Uciel this would be by Blackberry Messenger.

I mentioned that we had planned on going to the UK, but we would also be visiting France too. This came about following a request from me that Yohana produce a list of things that she wanted to do in the UK. I wanted to make sure that the days didn’t go by without something to make them memorable. Along with the classics of Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, there was also horse racing and castles. And then there was the rather less English, Eiffel Tower. I wondered if I could get away with substituting Blackpool Tower, but that thought quickly disappeared. The logistics of obtaining two visas, as well as flights and ferry crossings, went far more smoothly than we had expected and I would advise everyone to go through an agent for visas and my mother for train and ferry tickets! Anyone who needs to know who we used has only to contact us as we were extremely happy with the service and the price.

 The main reason for returning to the UK was to allow Uciel to meet my friends, see where I come from and to spend time with my Mum and Dad. My parents had travelled to Indonesia twice before, the last time being for our wedding and, since I’ve lived in Indonesia for four and a half years and know the culture and customs there fairly well, it was now time to introduce Yohana to my background and culture. The ‘rents had planned a trip in mid June to Brittany in Western France to stay in their friends’ house, so , as our dates for taking our holiday had changed from the original ones, it would now be great tagging along with this at the end of our holiday. It also made it possible to fly into Paris and see the Eiffel Tower before heading over the water to see the UK. We would then complete the most audaciously planned trip since Hitler decided a winter in Russia would be nice for a change and get to spend alot more time with with Mum and Dad by returning with them by ferry, touring around Brittany, and finally flying back home to Indonesia from Paris. In the words of a famous meerkat friend of my Dad, “simples”!

That all of the plans came to pass were due in no short measure to the efforts of some amazing people,  people that you’ll read about a bit more in a moment. But for now, let us say our huge thanks to Myles and Karan, Russ and Michelle, Justin and Jemma, Vero and Sam, Sue and Arthur, Mandy and Tam, Chris and Pat, Dermot and Pauline, my brother Glen and last but not least, Beryl and Geoff. There were so many other people who helped make the trip so special. All of my old friends who we met down in the south of England, all of my family and friends who we met up in the North. We do also need to apologise to the vast number of people that we weren’t able to catch up with. A month sounds like a long time but let me tell you that time does in deed fly.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous blog about Paris, so let’s start on the Isle of Dogs, somewhere near the centre of London, where we were in the process of re-enacting The Blitz by flying along the Thames in a German made Fokker 50 propeller-powered airplane, courtesy of Air France.

We’d flown into the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on the previous Sunday and here we were now on Tuesday evening flying out of Orly airport, which for a small city aiport is pretty nice too, and into London’s city airport. The plan was to spend the next five or six days with one of my best mates, Mr Myles O’Neil and his partner of two years, Karan Murphy . I’ve known Myles for about fourteen years or so and over those years we’ve had lots of laughs in lots of different parts of the world. Last year, Myles and another friend of ours Jon had stayed with Uciel and I, visiting various parts of Indonesia and culminating in a trip to Bali. Offering us a place to stay was a way of returning that favour, but it was to prove so much more than that, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The beauty of the City Airport was that Karan works on the Isle of Dogs, the location of the city airport, so was able to pick us up without driving miles out of her way. Gatwick is way down in Surrey and Heathrow is out along the M4 nearly into Buckinghamshire and while both have a train access to major stations in London, this was by far the best choice.

As an aside, the Isle of Dogs is one of those great English place names, like Lower Drakes Bottom and Upper Drakes Bottom, and according to Wiki it dates back to 1588. Depending on what you believe it’s name comes from the place where Edward II kept his greyhounds, or over the years the name has altered from it’s original “Isle of Ducks”. Personally, I prefer the greyhound version.

One of my big concerns about our travels was immigration. Sure we had the visas, but they hadn’t been tested. In Indonesia, you’re never entirely sure you’ve got the genuine article. With DVD’s and CD’s, with furniture or electronics and especially with documentation. Driving licences are a case in point. I know not one Indonesian who has taken a driving test or one that has received ther licence through any other means than buying one, if they even have one at all! This naturally played on my mind, imagining ever more serious scenarios in which Uciel and I were thrown into dank cells with political prisoners, well, we were going to France after all and I’m sure the Chateau d’If is still working.

With this in mind, we had planned a pack of necessary information, well, we thought it may be necessary but you be the judge. In the pack were obvious things like copies of tickets, passports and an itinerary of what we were doing on different days (thanks Karan!). On top of this were copies of birth certificates, marriage licences, even my divorce certificate from my previous marriage. Uciel was leaving nothing to chance in casewere stopped and interrogated. We came through Indonesian emmigration and again in Qatar without a hitch. The French guy in CDG looked at Uciels passport for a few extra seconds, but that was it. At London City it was different. As I have a UK passport we were separated into different immigration lines. I sailed through mine and went to stand near to Uciel, to give her some moral support. “Would you mind waiting around the corner sir?”  said the Immigration official in a tone that immediately let me know it wasn’t really offering me a choice. “Er, that’s my wife, is it ok if I just wait here?” said I. “No.” He replied, “but we hopefully won’t keep her too long”, again in a tone of voice that left me confused as to if this were some kind of immigration joke that only immigration officers understand. Here, I decided,  was where our worst nightmares were about to come true. I thought I’d give it five minutes and then put on my best disgruntled face and ....oh, here was the wife walking round the corner with a beaming smile. The guy had been really pleasant. She’d been able to answer all of his questions as to where she was staying, who the guy was that she was travelling with, what she was looking forward to doing in the UK and, if she had the time, that she should check out the summer collection at Dorothy Perkins (I made that last part up, but I could imagine it happening. Uciel brings out the best in people). He’d then wished her a pleasant stay in the UK, stamped the passport and in she came. I get a harder time than that going back into Jakarta!

While on the subject of passports and documents, I want to flash forward a little to the ferry journey back to France. On the morning that we arrived from the ferry, we needed to clear customs. This meant stopping at a booth after disembarking the ship and showing our passports. I pulled up the car at the booth, within sight of Roscoff town centre, applied the handbrake for the formality I assumed this would be and strode over to the waiting immigration officer. For Mum, Dad and I this was indeed a formality but for Uciel? Well, the guy looked at the passport as he flicked through the pages. After a couple of minutes (seriously) he turned the passport the correct way up and found the page with the passport details. Then, pointing to a little white box, he asked for fingerprints. At first I thought he’d meant mine as I’d got out of the car with the passports but he waved Uciel’s green passport and indicated that I should get her to come out of the car. I walked back to the vehicle and jokingly told her that they weren’t letting her in and that she had to wait here until someone arrived to take her back to the UK. In hindsight that seemed a lot funnier at the time and had things gone worse I wouldn’t be writing this in such good humour. Anyway, Uciel nervously walked back to the booth, with me to act as translator. Now here is one of those moments when words do not do the situation enough justice. If only I’d had my camera I would be able to show you pictorial evidence of what happened next. The finger sensor in the booth was so high I had to lift Uciel up so she could swipe her index finger! This was pretty funny for anyone looking on, but on reflection also annoying to the fingerprint donor as anyone under 5’ 4” would have struggled and that would have included both Bonaparte and Tom Cruise (allegedly).

Anyway, back to the Isle of Dogs where we were about 10 minutes delayed into London and Karan was waiting to whisk us straight back to their house where Myles was waiting with a hearty meal of Bangers and Mash.
Bangers and Mash, now there’s a food that only the English could have come up with. When Myles asked what the first food was that we’d like to eat on arrival in the UK, the answer was simple. Bangers and Mash. It was the same when I landed the previous year and stayed a couple of days with Myles and Karan too. Why? Well a few reasons I guess. Bangers and Mash, as I said, is quintessentially English, so would be a good starter for Yohana’s culinary experiences and with the varieties of sausages now available you can make it as traditional or exotic as you could wish. Secondly, it’s pork and living in Indonesia means that, whilst we can buy pork, we can’t buy English sausages. Finally, as a welcome to the cold and wind of the UK, sausages, heaps of mashed potato and lashings of gravy is a meal that, as Dad used to say, puts hairs on your chest. We went to bed that night exhausted but content

The Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were all about London. Karan has an uncanny knack for finding great deals and this had allowed her and Myles to experience some amazing restaurants and hotels and we were about to receive the benefit of her exceptional hobby. Karan had been searching the internet for vouchers that would make our experiences memorable but also reasonable too. Along with her brother, who is Head Concierge at a major London hotel, they had sourced some unbelievable activities. It all began with an enquiry from Karan as to what Uciel and I would like to do during our trip to London. This was dutifully replied to, containing the usual sightseeing spots, but also some more eclectic forms of entertainment such as the possibility of seeing dog racing. On top of this, Myles and I share a penchent for good food, and I will never pass up the opportunity of visiting a special restaurant, but we never expected what came next.

A few days went by before, sat at my computer one day, I saw a facebook message ping in from Karan. In it she said she’d done some digging around and had found some stuff to do. If any of the stuff was too much or too expensive we should let her know but have a look and get back to her. Have a look at what, I thought to myself, scanning the rest of the message for information. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a Facebook addict. Foursquare, a little Twitter sometimes too but mainly Facebook. I share everything on there but never have I shared an excel spreadsheet. This was why I’d missed the small green ‘x’ symbol the first time I looked, I just didn’t know you could do it. Double clicking the icon led me to a day-by-day itinerary, split into daytime and evenings. Each column had been completed with what I can only say was the best selection of activities ever put together for a trip of this kind. Imagine for a moment if you will, a twenty-six day trip that included flying seven thousand miles around the world, twice, a flight connecting Europes two most major cities (sorry Berlin, Rome and Madrid), a ten-hour ferry ride and time spent with parents and friends, not to mention shopping and eating and sleeping. This is what we’d taken on. To open the spreadsheet to find that our five or six days in the South of England would include not only all of the things that we’d asked for, but also some luxuriously indulgent activities, and planned so as not to exhaust anyone, was incredible.

The two things that will always stand out on that spreadsheet for me were Lunch at The Ritz and Afternoon Tea at The Savoy. There was a whole spreadsheet full of activities that included dog racing in Romford, cocktails in Centre Point on Tottenham Court Road and a trip to theatreland to see The Bodyguard at the Adelphi. But here were two of London’s most iconic establishments and we’d be visiting them both!

The weather had certainly perked up since arriving from Paris. As Brits, we have something of a reputation for discussing the weather. If conversation ever dulls to the point of boredom, most residents of these islands can be reanimated with a reference to the weather, no matter how bad. As the eskimos reportedly have two million words for snow, we have many different words for rain and we were about to experience a few of them on this day. It had gone from being cold enough to freeze the balls from a brass monkey and occasional rain in the form of stair rods in Paris, to temperatures now nearly reaching double figures and clouds that had relaxed to just looking ominous. That was the Wednesday morning to which we awoke and after a mug of tea and a bacon sandwich (you can never have enough pork on a trip home), we headed for Cockfosters tube station with a plan to take the Northern Line of London’s famous Undergound train system into town and do the open top bus trip. This would take up most of the day before heading back home to get changed and then all of us out to Meet Spikey Steve and his girlfriend at Romford Greyhound Track.

On arriving in London we headed for the Mall with a plan to walk to The Palace (Buckingham, for those non Brits reading this). The first of many surprises came as we went through the arch. On our left was the ritual known as “The Changing of The Guard” where men in bright red uniforms and huge black Bearskin hats march up and down a square in tight formation. Due to recent terrorist activities including the daylight stabbing of an off duty soldier, we were unable to get into the seats placed around the square but our view from the mall was unobstructed and for the first time Uciel forgot about the cold driving through the layers of clothing she was wearing and her smile just beamed. This was the London she’d anticipated.

Weather is important to this post for a number of reasons. Firstly, Uciel and I live in a tropical country. Let me let that sink in for a moment..........Ok. So we live in a country where the average temperature is 25 degrees. At night. We live in a country that is so hot that it is possible to melt steel at the side of the road. Well, maybe not quite that hot but I wouldn’t recommend touching a car that’s been stood in direct sunlight, but let me tell you that arriving in France to a temperature of 6 degrees Centigrade was nearly enough to make Uciel get back on the plane and go straight back home. We knew it was going to be cold but this was ridiculous. Fortunately we’d come prepared.

Contrary to my mother’s advice against the idea, we’d packed for the equivalent of a Siberian winter. Or at least Uciel had. Having never been out of Asia before (she’s travelled to Malaysia, Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong) Uciel really only had annecdotal advice to go on. One of these advisers is an Indonesian friend called Veronika. Uciel knew Vero when she lived in Jakarta but last year Vero married Sam and now lives with him in Nottingham, England. Because of this, Vero had felt the full force of an extended English winter. I say Winter as it was still snowing after officially becoming British Summertime inMay. Armed with this experience, Vero was able to tell Uciel what to expect on arrival. Interestingly, the day she and Sam came up to Leyburn, Vero was dressed like many Indonesians I see in Jakarta, with skinny jeans and a sleeveless red lace top. Either she’d aclimatised well or really wasn’t learning very quickly.

Another friend of ours is Deby Sanjaya. Deby is engaged to Richard Owen, a teacher at EF Gading and my Best Man at our wedding. Richard decided that the best time to take Deby to the UK, and in particular Welsh Wales, was in December. Even in a mild winter Wales is notoriously bad and it wasn’t mild. Now admittedly that was also Richard’s contract break so he had little choice as to when they could go but still, if you’re going to take an Indonesian to the UK for the first time I can think of better times of the year than December and January.....Anyway, Deby was able to give Uciel lots of advice on what to wear.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Contract Breaks

One of the big differences between this job and others that I've done before is the basis on which I'm employed.
As a kid doing temporary summer jobs, it was cash in hand. But following that, it was continuous employment. By that I mean that you worked for a company until such time as you resigned or were fired. I've experienced both of those things.
One other variation is that you may stay with a compmany for your entire working life with the end being either retirement or redundancy. These, outside of government jobs, seem, to be much rarer situations these days, partly I suppose because of the benefits that are paid out.
With EF, I'm employed on a rolling contract. In this situation I'm given a one year contract as a standard and then each year an extension is negotiated. Last year I agreed a 2 year contract. The reason for this was that it allowed me to plan a little further ahead, but it also allowed me to not have to worry about the whole bargaining session. Frankly I find it boring and also a little unnecessary. I believe that if both parties are happy with each other, and neither one is asking for anything outrageous, then that meeting doesn't need to be a long drawn out affair.
One of the benefits, and I guess that depends on how you look at it, is that I can take a contract break. This is a period of time between one contract ending and another beginning where I can take unpaid leave. The maximum period of time is a month, but if you wanted to take a few days then that would be equally fine.
I have found this advantageous over the last couple of years as it has allowed me to return to the UK to spend time with my parents and friends. My father isn't in the best of health and my mum isn't getting any younger plus two weeks just doesn't seem to justify a seven thousand mile flight. As long as you prepare through the year for the unpaid part then it's a great extended holiday. I suppose you could just accrue your holidays, but the thought of going a whole year without any time off isn't something that I would like to consider.
Back in the days of continuous employment jobs, my work-life balance was definitely off balance. I threw myself into my work with little thought given to scheduling my work commitments with holiday or leisure time. These days, I like to think that the wisdom that comes through a mixture of age, friendly advice (thanks Penny!) and arthritis allows me to be more practical. I still work hard but I know when to say no to unfavourable requests for my time.
Anyway, back to contract breaks and my current situation is that I'm sat in the lounge of the North Staffordshire Hotel at six o'clock in the morning writing this. My wife Yohana and I are here with my parents visiting my brother Glen who has just completed his second degree. We've spent the last two weeks in Paris, London, Hertfordshire, Cambridge, Durham and Yorkshire and we're about to head for the cross channel ferry to spend another eight days touring Brittany. Now that's what a holiday is really about!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Parisienne Walkways

This is the first time in over a year that I've slept in a room with no air conditioning. Well, that is if you don't count the tent on the volcanic island of Krakatau, but then I did say room.

Yohana and I left the sultry climate of Indonesia two days ago and headed for a 3 day break in Paris. This would be our first stop before a couple of weeks in the UK and  a final week touring Brittany.

But back to the air conditioning. I know what you're thinking. Paris in May. Surely you'd need a little A/C action? Here's what we heard as we were landing. "Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. I'd like to welcome you to Paris where the local time is 7.20 am and the temperature on the ground is 6 degrees centigrade. On behalf of myself, Captain Assad and my team at Qatar Air, may we wish you a pleasant stay and look forward to flying you again in the future".  The last bit sounded like sarcasm. 6 Degrees? This was going to be tough on the wife.

The flight itself was pretty uneventful. We arrived at Soekarna-Hatta airport with time enough for some food and relaxed waiting for the plane. We had everyone on board 20 minutes before the flight but still managed to be 30 minutes late on takeoff somehow. That was ok though as it meant a shorter stopover in Doha, still the worst Middle Eastern airport I've travelled through. A couple of poor and expensive hot chocolates later we were on our way to Paris.

On the first leg of the journey, we'd had a great cabin crew looking after us. I mentioned to Alicia that it was Yohana's first trip to Europe and this seemed to be a cue. Chilled champagne arrived along with fancy chocolates to keep as a memento. The second leg was more tiring, yet neither of us slept very much.

On arriving in Paris we were picked up at the airport by Muntz, a Frenchman of Morroccan extraction and he took us on an informative journey, laced with thoughts on football and french food to our hotel.

The Hotel Icone is a 3 star hotel just tucked away behind the city's Opera district, We knew we couldn't check in until later so we dropped the bags and walked out into the brisk morning air. The city is pretty quiet at this time on a Sunday morning yet there was plenty of activity going on behind the facades of the multitude of cafes. We found a quaint-looking place and ordered coffee and hot chocolate and a prefect croissant from a very flustered middle-aged waitress. She had 10 customers and a menu that contained approximately 6 breakfast choices but she still rushed around, tutting and clucking if the patrons weren't ready. All very French and pretty funny for Yohana to watch.

After this we walked back to the hotel with a plan to just relax until the room was ready but, as luck would have it, the duty manager had got us a room prepared,

A pretty small but clean room, the bath was immediately filled, but as Parisienne bathrooms in standard rooms are pretty small, we took the bath one at a time! I thought Uciel may want to get some sleep, but no, she was pretty keen to go exploring. We walked around the Opera district taking in the views and soaking up all of the French atmosphere. At midday we stopped in a cafe and Uciel had some roast chicken and I a rib-eye. I asked for the steak rare, which seemed to surprise the waiter. When it came, it was cooked to perfection. griiled on the outside and purple-red inside where the temperature had only just got to it. washed down with some Crozes-Hermitage and supported with some French bread, Uciel didn't even seem to miss the sambal, although some Dijon mustard added some tang to the French fries. On clearing my empty plate, the seasoned waiter tipped me a friendly wink as if to say, 'you eat steak like a french man'. He even took some pictures for us and gave advice on safety tips around the City. I questioned at this point if we were actually in Paris. Earlier, on showing Uciel one of the city's automatic toilets, a guy offered to show us how to use it (the door, not the toilet). Along with the hotel manager and the waiter, maybe the arrogant nature and dislike of anyone not born in Paris had changed. Whatever, this was proving to be a great day.

Following lunch we walked to the nearest Metro with a plan to head to the Cathedral at Sacre Coeur. It would be a trial run, so to speak. The extremely helpul ticket seller told us what we needed, and a two day metro pass later we were prepared to enter. Uciel put the small rectangular ticket into the machine, pushed the bar forward but stayed perfectly still as she continued to roll the bar forward. I considered for a moment why someone would do that but quickly I realised that this kind of travel is alien to most Indonesians and again, the helpful ticket seller smiled knowingly and let us through the emergency barrier.

Initially complicated, the key to the Metro soon sprang into my minds eye. with a few changes we travelled to the Pigalle and walked to the Scre Coeur area. Taking photos, drinking orange juice and espresso and generally soaking up the sights and smells was fantastic. It was however beginning to take its toll on Yohana who was visibly tiring. So it was that we agreed to return to the hotel for a nap.

That was 10 hours ago. We both fell into bed exhausted and as I sit here at 1am writing this, I'm watching Yohana deal with a bit of jetlag.... 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

This is permanent, right?

Tattoos are something I came to later in life. Some of the kids at secondary school used to mess around with needles and biro ink. These same people now no doubt curse their juvenile sensibilities every time they look in a mirror and see the spiderweb on their neck or mumm and dadd spelled incorrectly on their knuckles!

My tattoos began in the year 2000 on a trip to Australia. I had the sudden urge to get a tattoo. It wasn't a drunken rush, rather it was something I'd thought about years previously in Blackpool. I'd been on holiday in the Las Vegas of North West England with my then wife Linda. We were celebrating our anniversary by watching Roy "Chubby" Brown on the pier (I was always the romantic!) and as we walked down the prom towards Bispham we spotted a tattoo studio.

The window was filled with all of those really gaudy designs that I'm sure someone must ask for. You know the ones. Chinese Dragons, Anchors, Flaming Skulls with Snakes or Dragons going through the eyes and not forgetting the semi naked woman tattoos too.

But body art is personal. One man's Popeye is another woman's lawnmower and the reasons for getting said artwork are myriad.Some people want to express themselves through engraving their bodies

For me it was partly a form of delayed rebellion. My parents were a tad conservative when I was a kid. I wasn't allowed to get a tattoo, wasn't allowed to get a motorbike (although they went one better with a car for my 18th birthday!) and wasn't allowed any piercings. That last one I've never changed although a freckle on my right ear sometimes confuses people.

I wanted a tattoo but had no real idea what I wanted. I had been told to choose wisely, in the style of the old Templar Knight at the end of Indianna Jones and The Holy Grail (sic). But then I saw it. or, the inspiration at least. Jon Bon Jovi.

Yes the original Jersey Boy was there, in the newspaper, sporting a small tattoo on his right shoulder. The Superman 'S'. I knew right away that this was what I wanted, not the Superman 'S' but that other symbol of all that is right in the world. The Batman logo.

Standing there on the breezey promenade, explaining my need to a guy who looked like a cross between a Hells Angel and a Weeble, I didn't expect the answer I got. "Do you want the 60's one, the one from the comics or the Jack Nicholson one?" he said. I was about to point out that he meant Michael Keaton, but he wasn't in the mood. "Come back when you're sure, son". Wow, he sure knew the meaning of permanent.

That was the day I nearly got a tattoo but I guess the idea stayed with me. In Australia, I took a printout to a local tattoo artist and one hour later my left shoulder sported a small batman logo. It's not there now though as on a subsequent trip to Thailand with friends, I decided that it was just too small and I had it covered by, yes, a dragon tattoo. In between I also had another tattoo of a dragon on my right shoulder as a reminder of a subsequent trip to Asia and in 2010 I had a tattoo of an Indonesian cicak, a small lizard,  on the inside of my left forearm.

I'm currently debating another tattoo right now. My tattoos so far are reminders of great experiences and places I've visited and this time I'd like something to celebrate Uciel. I've been thinking about ways to combine her name with an interesting design. The spelling of her name, linked with phonemic symbols and a dramatic font is where I currently sit.

We'll see.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Unusual Suggestion at the Cinema

Went to the movies with Uciel tonight to watch Jack the Giant Slayer. The movie was pretty good but nowhere near as weird as the order for refreshments.

Me: saya mau popcorn mixed, kercil
Server: POPCORN MIXED KERCIL SATU! ada lagi pak?
Me: ya, coke satu, tidak pakai es
Server: kamu mau gel?
Me: Gel? dengan coke?
Server: ya.
Me: gel apa?
Server: gel lychee Pak
Me: betul? gel dengan coke?
Server: betul Pak.
Me: ini enak?
Server: tidak
Me: ok. Tidak pakai gel.


Friday, March 1, 2013

The darkest hour is just before dawn

Back in 1986, I'd just moved out of home into a pokey bedroom in a shared house on Bishopthorpe Road in York. My wings had already been exercised a couple of times in preparation for leaving home. When I was eleven, I'd deliberately missed the school bus one morning and turned round and went back home. Once there, I retrieved the rucksack I'd packed the night before, checked all of the essentials were in there; sleeping bag, pocket money, sheath-knife, and got changed.

Now dressed and having draped my school tie over a dining room chair as a reminder that I'd once been a member of the family, I locked the door and set off.

Most of you are going to be thinking "where?" "where does an eleven year old boy run away from home to?". Don't get me wrong, there are enough sad and tragic cases of kids who have no love in their lives. Whose childhoods are blighted by illness or disability or an uncaring society. But I wasn't one of those. I was a slightly spoiled eleven year old whose brother knew more ways to wind him up than was good for an eight year old. I told myself, it was either running away or fratricide. It had come to that.

So for the past week I'd been concocting a plan. I'd leave home as normal, head for the school bus, wait long enough for my parents to go to work before enacting my scheme. I made it all the way, by mixture of hitching and bus, to my Nan and Pop's house in Durham. And, it was a good 5 or 6 hours before my dad came to pick me up. That was a pretty grim drive back, I can tell you. Maybe I'll write more about this another time.

The second break for freedom came when I was 16. A particularly adolescent-sided argument with my mother ended with the words "that's it, I'm leaving". To which my mother replied that I shouldn't let the closing door hit me too hard on the way out. With no other way to save face, I stormed upstairs, packed a bag and booked myself into a B&B on the very same Bishopthorpe Road. Why? Well, I had my freedom, didn't I. I was on my own, out to make my way in the big, wide world. And where better to start than two miles from home in a bed and breakfast.

We had no internet in those days. We did have phones, but it didn't cross my mind to call a few places and find out how much B&B's cost. I just picked the nicest looking one and checked in. These days you have to show ID and sign registers. Back then, I handed over some cash to a small, grandmotherly type and in return I got a key. When I looked at the remnants of my wallet, I realised I'd probably got a maximum of 4 or 5 days living in this sort of luxury. The world turned and I returned to the family home. The pretext was that I'd forgotten underwear, but I think we all knew that that was as close as anyone was going to get to an I'm sorry. That came later.

So, 1986 and here I am. With my dad's help, I'm moved into a box room just outside York's Roman wall. I have a job, trainee manager in a bingo hall, and I have a place all of my own. What I don't have is any experience. I've always been adaptable and am pretty resourceful when push comes to shove, but that morning, when the electricity ran out and I didn't have 50p for the electricity meter and the small room heater that it powered, I understood one version of this blog's title.

Why mention all of this now? well, here I am nearly thirty years later and it's 5 am on a Thursday. I'm living in Indonesia, my wife is lying next to me and I'm sweating like a pig on a spit. Yep, the electricity has gone off and the meter needs feeding. Where's my wallet and torch.....

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rumah Sakit - trans. Sick Room

Hospitals, wherever you are in the world, are not great places. Lets be honest, the three reasons to be there are; you're sick, you're visiting someone who's sick or you're involved in the treatment of someone who's sick. Whichever cateogary you fall into, it's not a great place to be.
I have never worked in a hospital (maybe I should add that to my bucket list) but I have been a patient, both in and out, and I have visited many people who've had to stay in one over the years.
I was once told doctors are in the fortunate position of being able to bury their mistakes, and laughed. My current situation has caused me to reconsider the humour.
Wait a minute, the laughter can continue for a moment as I tell you I'm currently suffering from Gout. This condition, depending on your age and global residence, will either draw head scratching perplexityand a vague recollection that you thought it was a type of Dutch cheese or you'll have a visual image of an old WWI officer, glass of port in one hand and a lump of stilton in the other, scowling due to the exasperating pain in his foot.
Let me tell you, I'm 45 years old, have a fairly healthy diet (c'mon, I live in Southeast Asia) and the opportunity to eat rich food died with my old UK salary. I liike a beer, but drink nowhere remotely close the amounts I drank when in the UK.

So what is gout and why am I devoting the best part of this blog to the condition? Let's do the science-y bit first.

This is courtesy of

Gout is a kind of arthritis that occurs when uric acid builds up in blood and causes joint inflammation.
  • Acute gout is a painful condition that typically affects one joint.
  • Chronic gout is repeated episodes of pain and inflammation, which may involve more than one joint.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Gout is caused by having higher-than-normal levels of uric acid in your body. This may occur if:
  • Your body makes too much uric acid
  • Your body has a hard time getting rid of uric acid
If too much uric acid builds up in the fluid around the joints (synovial fluid), uric acid crystals form. These crystals cause the joint to swell up and become inflamed.
The exact cause is unknown. Gout may run in families. It is more common in men, in women after menopause, and those who drink alcohol. People who take certain medicines, such as hydrochlorothiazide and other water pills, may have higher levels of uric acid in the blood.
The condition may also develop in people with:
The condition may occur after taking medicines that interfere with the removal of uric acid from the body.


Symptoms of acute gout:
  • Symptoms usually involve only one or a few joints. The big toe, knee, or ankle joints are most often affected.
  • The pain starts suddenly, often during the night and is often described as throbbing, crushing, or excruciating.
  • The joint appears warm and red. It is usually very tender (it hurts to lay a sheet or blanket over it).
  • There may be a fever.
  • The attack may go away in a few days, but may return from time to time. Additional attacks often last longer.
After a first gouty attack, people will have no symptoms. Half of patients have another attack.
Some people may develop chronic gout. Those with chronic arthritis develop joint damage and loss of motion in the joints. They will have joint pain and other symptoms most of the time.
Tophi are lumps below the skin around joints or in other places. They may drain chalky material. Tophi usually develop only after a patient has had the disease for many years.

Signs and tests

Tests that may be done include:
Not everyone with high uric acid levels in the blood has gout.


Medicines should be taken as soon as possible if you have a sudden gout attack.
  • Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or indomethacin as soon as your symptoms begin. Talk to your health care provider about the correct dose. You will need stronger doses for a few days.
  • Your health care provider may prescribe strong painkillers such as codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.
  • A prescription medicine called colchicine helps reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation.
  • Corticosteroids can also be very effective. Your doctor may inject the inflamed joint with steroids to relieve the pain.
  • The pain often goes away within 12 hours of starting treatment, and is completely relieved in 48 hours.
Daily use of allopurinol or probenecid decrease uric acid levels in your blood. Your doctor may prescribe these medicines if:
  • You have several attacks during the same year or your attacks are quite severe
  • You have damage to joints
  • You have tophi
  • You have uric acid kidney stones
Some diet and lifestyle changes may help prevent gouty attacks:
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Reduce how many purine-rich foods you eat, especially anchovies, sardines, oils, herring, organ meat (liver, kidney, and sweetbreads), legumes (dried beans and peas), gravies, mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, cauliflower, consomm√©, and baking or brewer's yeast.
  • Limit how much meat you eat at each meal.
  • Avoid fatty foods such as salad dressings, ice cream, and fried foods.
  • Eat enough carbohydrates.
  • If you are losing weight, lose it slowly. Quick weight loss may cause uric acid kidney stones to form.
See also: Kidney stones

Expectations (prognosis)

Proper treatment of acute attacks allows people to live a normal life. However, the acute form of the disease may progress to chronic gout.


Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have symptoms of acute gouty arthritis.


The disorder itself may not be preventable, but you may be able to avoid things that trigger your symptoms. Limit alcohol consumption and follow a low-purine diet.

Anyway,with the words "the exact cause of gout is unknown" ringing in my ears, back to the story.

On the 6th January this year I felt such extreme pain in the big toe of my right foot that hospital was the only option. Local doctors do exist and if it were a bad cold I'd have gone to see someone like that for the traditional remedy of broad spectrum antibiotics. This required more professional advice.

The treatment suggested by A&E (the place everyone goes when first arriving at a hospital) was a blood test which confirmed high levels of uric acid in my blood, and a course of medicines consisting of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers. Once those were finished in 3 days, there was a further course of 10 days tablets to reduce the acid level causing the painful crystals.

Today is the 27th January and I have just completed my second course of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers (yes, the gout returned just vdays after completing the treatment) and a visit to the hospital, this time to see an internist. The old Chinese-Indonesian doctor was sat in a wonderfully light and airy consulting room. On arriving, Yohana and |I were led past about 30 waiting patients to see the doctor. I'm not sure that all the patients were waiting to see the same doctor as me, or even if this doctor only saw Western patients, but I couldn't help feeling guilty.

An initial conversation, in a mixture of English and Indonesian, led to me lying on the consulting bed. This itself seemed odd. I know what I've got. The doctor could see from my records what I've got. Yet my blood pressure needed to be taken again (I can only assume that lying down is the best position for this). On recording that 80 /120 is indeed normal, the doctor, with surprising speed for a man of his years, reached down and yanked both of my big toes, casually commenting "no pain there then". One day, I hope to be in a position to return this same level of patient care to this mad old sawbones.

I was ushered out of his room with a prescription for a months supply of uric acid reducing tablets and told to come again once they were finished. That's it. No advice on what other things to do. No foods to eat or not to eat. no herbal remedies to supplement the tablets. That was it.

This is why I have little faithy in Indonesian medical expertise. I apologise to anyonbe reading this who feels slighted by my descriuption, but this is first hand (foot?) experience. On another occasion I'll add the story of the Indonesian surgeon who fitted my mother with an incorrectly sized hip.