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Wednesday, November 25, 2015


I saw a farmer the other day who was carefully cleaning some tilling equipment and it made me stop and wonder for a moment. He was obviously cleaning the machinery so that it continued to operate to the best of its ability and I know I'm guessing here, but I think I'm on the money when I say that he initially chose this equipment for a number of reasons. Firstly, its ability to do the job he was going to use it for. Secondly, its cost when compared to alternative equipment on the market, and in line with his personal budget. Thirdly, its projected longevity, how long it could last if he treated it well.

Comparatively, I considered the way in which some companies use their workforce. Certainly they consider the ability of their personnel to do the job that they're going to be used for, but some companies are comfortable in using underqualified and inexperienced people to fill the roles. Usually in this case they offer comprehensive training to ensure that the employee has a thourough understanding of their responsibilities and then, through monitoring and ongoing training, they are able to build a successful worker. Other companies don't even do this, instead they employ people who are patently incapable of performing their duties, even with extensive training and hope against hope that they can do a facsimilie of the job.

So do companies consider the cost of their employees? Well they do in my experience where I was often told to make sure my wages were in line with budget as it was the biggest flexible cost to a business. Companies often have bandings to separate the salaries paid and these may be based on qualifications, suitability or skills etc. This ability to pull from a certain pool of resources can, with the addition of development strategies, lead to an enviable group of staff. But what happens when the intial salary is too low, or incremental increases are not in line with what the employee might expect? Well in the first case you're not going to have a lot of interest from the precise people you're hoping to attract. instead you'll have to interview large numbers of people who are exactly not what you're looking for. As for people feeling they are not able to see their salary increase in line with experience or qualifications, or even to keep up with the local inflation levels, they will just leave or they will stay and procrastinate over whether to leave or not.

And what of longevity? Do companies want to keep their employees? These people who have had time, effort and money ploughed into their development? Well many companies say that they do but their actions often contradict the words that they use. My experience has led me to believe that clear and uncontradictory communication of expectations, remuneration, and the person's part in the company's future are all significant factors in establishing loyalty.

The tilling machinery that the farmer was using is hardly sentient. It won't understand the principles of Carrot and Stick, or the taste of A Praise Sandwich, nor will it need to concern itself with the vagaries of Situational Leadership. But if you mistreat that equipment, if you fail to do what you need to do to keep it running at its optimum, then sure as eggs are eggs you're going to have a problem on your hands....

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The 11 months on

 It's been a few weeks since we've visited and we're getting closer to the projected handover date so we thought we'd head over and have a look at the state of play with the new house.

We're not planning to move in until February 2016 so it'll give us time to get the decorations right, finish the kitchen fittings and make sure that when we do finally move in, everything's ready.

We've been giving some serious thought to the kitchen in particular and it's quite nice having a blank canvas to work with. It's also daunting in as much as we don't want to screw it up.

Currently we want something a bit like this......

 As for the rest of the house, well doors are just about all on, walls are starting to be undercoated and generic floor tiles are being laid (we may yet change some of the floor tiles, still thinking)

Here are some pics to give you an idea...

The last of the bamboo scaffolding about to come down

currently this area is going to be for a bbq but in time it will potentially be a room for a live in maid which many Indonesians choose to have 

We're planning a false bookcase to go in front of this door to the bbq area, a bit like this kind of thing .....


I think October is optimistic for completion!!

...but they are starting to lay tarmac

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A little bit of physics and a lot of luck

Have you ever fallen over? By accident I mean, not drunk? Depending on where and how, you know, raised paving stone, or misjudging distance for instance, it usually hurts like hell and bruises both body and, depending on whether you have an audience or not, ego equally.

Lets take it to the next level. Fallen off of something? Like a bicycle? Skateboard? Rollerskates? escalator? Grazed knees and hands are a minimum and I guess egos are again only bruised depending on the level of showoffiness.

Next step up, what about bumping into someone? Not in the metaphorical sense, I mean actually crashing body parts into body parts, and not in a bedroom sense either. It could be two people bending over to pick the same thing up and banging heads, or maybe concentrating too much on that Tinder profile while walking that you don't see the person coming in the other direction. Hurts.

At the centre of all of these events you will find physics and the numerous laws and principles that define the nature and properties of matter and energy such as Newton's First Law of Motion where A body continues in its state of constant velocity (which may be zero) unless it is acted upon by an external force. Thank you Big Bang Theory.

Now science was never my strong point so don't beat me up if, for instance, thermodynamics are also involved in any of those situations I described, it's just a device to bring me to the main part of this blog post. I was knocked off my motorbike on my way home from work two nights ago.

I've been carried from rugby fields, been struck by cricket balls and dislocated my shoulder trying to accomplish an eskimo roll in a kayak. I've crashed cars, fallen off bicycles, bruised my spine in a speedboat, been down to my last seconds of air while scuba diving and broke my big toe kicking a punching bag while learning Ju-Jitsu. But I've never been involved in a motorbike accident before.

I'm not sure that I overthink things but I definitely do think about things. When I decided to start riding a motorbike I was living in Chiang Mai in early 2009. It was a popular way to travel in a city with plenty of traffic, but organised road systems, and the decision to take the automatic moped rather than the Honda Phantom was decided as much by inexperience and price-per-day as it was by wanting to ride a mini Harley. I seriously wanted to ride the Phantom, I just didn't know how. Technically I didn't know how to ride the moped either but since it was fully automatic the worst thing I could do was over-rev the throttle.

which one would you choose?

A lot of my school mates (when I was a kid, not now I'm a teacher) rode 50cc motorbikes, I passed that by and went straight to driving cars. So with over 20 years of car driving experience, riding my first bike was fun but guided by common sense and an awareness that the protective cage around me had now disappeared. I also have a clear understanding of The Highway Code.

On arriving in Indonesia I was back on a bike inside a year but the conditions were remarkably different. I was still riding a fully automatic moped but the conditions of the roads; potholes, increased traffic, lack of signs, made riding a different challenge. South East Asia, with the possible exception of Korea (, also has a notable lack of Highway Codes. This means that rules of the road are more arbitrarily interpreted, by both drivers and authorities alike.

That video was of a toll road which doesn't allow the use of motorbikes, except in times of flooding... in some areas... maybe.

For a better idea of motorbikes, here's a video from Surabaya...

What was interesting in the second video is that most people are wearing helmets and not using mobile phones, this isn't necessarily the case in Tangerang and Jakarta.

These videos highlight that a person's understanding of road etiquette is only useful if the other users have the same respect. Where there is a lack of understanding, there is a driving test, where there is a flouting or disregard of the rules, there is the police and courts. So what happens if you find yourself in a country that has neither?

Of course I'm being argumentative. Indonesia does have a driving test but it is not essential to being able to drive. The driving licence may be purchased, illegally, and speaking to friends it would appear that a significant number of people go through this route. An equal proportion of people don't even bother to get an illegal driving licence, they just hope not to be stopped.

So what happens if you do get stopped by the police? Well in that case you just hand them the vehicle documentation and a folded up bank note and hope to talk your way out of anything. The highly unlikely worst case scenario is that if the policeman doesn't take the cash then it will mean a trip to the courthouse in the area in which you were stopped to pay an elevated fine.

Let me be clear, this is not some indignant tirade against the country in which I have lived for 6 years, rather it is an explanation of how things work. I now ride a Honda CBR 250cc motorbike, equipped with anti-lock brakes that I paid extra for and of all of the things that I have mentioned, the single biggest thing that I have taken into account before riding a bike and while riding a bike, is other drivers and what they might do. Indonesians are not bad people, they are a product of conditioning as we all are and where road use is concerned this area is not good.

Have you ever had that feeling, when sometimes you just know that something is going to hit you, or at the very least may hit you. Sometimes you just know you're going to be in trouble. That didn't happen to me. I approached a roundabout fully expecting that someone in the right hand lane may, instead of going all the way around to the last exit, may indeed head straight on, I was also aware that it was equally possible for a person in that right hand lane to pull off the stupidest of moves and turn left across the inside lane. I was in the inside lane, had slowed to take these things into account and then BANG! I'm lying on the road with a truck still seemingly trying to continue forward over my prone body, the only thing stopping this being the frame of my bike.

This truck had done just that, moved from the inside right to turn left at the roundabout. So even with all of my preparedness I still got hit. That I escaped with a swollen elbow and superficial cuts and bruises was down to the lack of speed on the part of myself and the truck.

Furthermore, the indicators on the truck weren't working, the truck driver had no STNK (vehicle documents) only a police slip proving the confiscation of those documents for the truck being pulled over earlier for another offense. In a slight case of irony, trucks are not even supposed to be on this particular road.

What would happen in the UK in this instance is that police would be called to the scene, drivers would exchange insurance documents, and injured parties would be taken, if necessary by ambulance, to a hospital.

What happened in my case was that I was assisted from my position by approximately 20 people, including local security guards, who seemed to appear out of nowhere. As I was able to stand and speak, and fortunately being only 2 minutes from home, I called Uchiel, my wife, to come and help out with language difficulties. The outcome was that the four guys in the cab admitted liability and agreed to attend a local garage to review the damage and agree on the amount to be paid. Insurance isn't mandatory in Indonesia, which means that most don't have it so "negotiations" are carried out privately. (

The following day, the driver and his mate appeared at our house on return from the repairs garage and, having pleaded poverty, agreed to pay half of the total repair cost which they transferred electronically into our account there and then.

This post should serve as both information and a warning for what to expect in this situation. Had I not had the benefit of someone I knew at the scene, it would have been branded my fault just through me being a foreigner. Had I been more badly injured, who knows what would have happened. What I do know is that had the police been involved it would have cost us money too and we probably wouldn't have received any money toward the cost of the repair.

I choose to ride a bike. I enjoy it, it's easier to get from A-B in heavy traffic and I am aware of the pitfalls. Will I stop riding a bike? No. Will I be more careful? Well certainly at roundabouts, but I don't think that I'm a careless rider or I'd have had more problems in 6 years.

So in the words of the Hill Street Blues desk sergeant, "Let's be careful out there"

thanks to the original owners of the pictures and videos used here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Operation Ketupat

Back in 2014, the Indonesian police decided to give a name to their security procedures during and immediately after Ramadan and they called it Operation Ketupat.

Ketupat is a boiled rice cake that whilst eaten throughout the year, is synonymous with  the Indonesian post-Ramadan holiday of Idul Fitri. It's therefore little surprise that the period of heightened  security procedures to 'protect' the large numbers of people travelling back to their home villages for the holiday, known as mudik, was given this moniker.

The idea is that during this time everyone needs to be aware that places that are usually heavily populated may now be deserted, so residents need to be careful in how they lock up their homes and belongings and the police need to be extra mindful of criminal activity.

There is also the increased numbers of people travelling to take into consideration. It's a time when trains are packed to Indian-style capacity, aeroplanes have been booked up months in advance and roads that are already gridlocked can stay that way for an even longer period of time. It is because of this that understandably cynical Indonesians have given the name of Operasi Ketupat to the Indonesian police's unique form of either a) fining someone for breaking the law, b) tax collection, or c) mugging, depending on your point of view.

In a country that imposes its laws in what can best be described as a laissez-faire manner, and that where the size of the punishment seems to depend on your ability to pay, this period sees police roadblocks and gauntlets set up to take advantage of all the people who are not following the dubious details of a Highway Code that, if it exists at all, is known only to a select few.

I know it's idealistic, but to change this will require some very simple rules on the part of the governemnet and the police.

1. The people need to know, very clearly, what the rules of the road are and the punishment for breaking them.
2. Rule breaking needs to be dealt with consistently and fairly
3. There can be no money changing hands, instead payment should be made where there is an ability to track that payment, either at a courthouse or an office set up for the recording of these payments where transactions are electronic.
4. Genuine drivers licences and insurance certificates should be pre-requisites, along with vehicle maintenance certification.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Penny Dreadful - Season Two (Spoilers!)

"Abandon hope all ye who enter here"

Over the last few weeks I've been binge-watching quite a few tv shows, catching up on things like Person of Interest, Peaky Blinders, Agents of Shield and Justified, along with introducing myself to other new shows with less success.

Two shows that I won't let slip and that I even watch every week rather than waiting until the season's end,  are Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful and for me they really are, along with Peaky Blinders,  the best damn programmes on tv at the moment. The quality of the casting and the writing certainly show where the money has been spent and because of this the latest season of Game of Thrones has been, for me at any rate, on a par with all previous seasons that came before it. But the real revelation has been Penny Dreadful and unfortunately I can't write about this show without spoilers so, if you haven't seen season 2 yet, I'll give you chance to leave and I'll continue after the jump...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What would you do with a Wetwang?

So what would be your answer to the title question? Would you eat it, offer it as a service to someone, or live in it? 

The fact is that I love names. Indeed the whole aspect of naming someone or something sould require imagination or knowledge, or it may be something as simple as a feeling. Depending on your cultural background there may be a ritual involved where perhaps the first thing that you see following the birth of a child is used, or, for the sake of posterity, the taking of your father's name and adding a number at the end.

In his book "Notes From a Small Island", the author Bill Bryson takes great delight in highlighting some of the more unusual place names that may be found on a trip around the UK. I am ever curious to know how places wind up with the names that they do. Sometimes it's a simple process of moving from an olde English name where -brook, -ton, and -ford all have meanings to their suffix (eg. the ending -ton, as in Darlington, could mean homestead). The name of the village of Wetwang in this blog's title, and also my favourite place name ever, is supposedly derived from an old Norse word meaning "Field for the trial of a legal action".

Our own names and family names are equally fascinating. It would appear that my family surname of Stoker has a number of possible origins. Firstly it may be attributed to an inhabitant of the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Examples of this could be, say, Lyndsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac or David Coverdale of Whitesnake, but probably not Hannah Montana . Secondly, the job of a stoker was to put coal into a furnace so it could come from that, or there is even a link to arsonism too. I've been able to go back 4 generations on the Stoker family tree with no sign of residency in Staffordshire however my brother lives there nowcoincidentally and neither is there a link to stoking or arson.

Before Indonesia I lived for a short while in Thailand and the general feeling is that most short surnames are from indigenous Thai families whereas the longer surnames are more often linked with Chinese immigrants. The Thai nicknames are much more visual and often relate to something around you. If you wish to convey size, you might use a nickname for something that represents that size.

Western names are generally family linked in the surname but the first and middle names are not averse to representing the parents love of sport or gardening, or even the city of conception.  Here in Indonesia that doesn't necessarily have to be the case as families are not bound by the same constraints. Depending upon your ethnicity you may have one or more names and none might represent any familial link. This freedom allows parents much greater flexibility and only recently I came across Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln. Indonesia is blessed with such different tribal and religious ethnicities that it is reasonable to find many varieties of names and structures. My wife falls into the cateogary of only having one name, Yohana, but due to the need to synchronise forms and paperwork on her passport it says Yohana Yohana and she only refers to herself on social media with my family name.

When we do eventually get around to having a family I can only hope that propriety isn't our only focus and we choose something suitable...

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Good days and bad? Put them into perspective.

As with any job it would be naive to think that all days will be good days. It took me a long time to work out that the job that I was doing previously was giving me less and less satisfaction and, if I'm honest, encouraged me to spend more time than I should have in continuing, and to put less and less effort into it. I had been inspired when I started on the road to becoming an area manager in the pub trade and benefitted from working with some incredible people, many of whom I am fortunate to still call friend.

In hindsight there were numerous other reasons for this trajectory as my personal life was in perhaps even more disarray than my professional one and trust me when I say that that's saying quite a bit!

Suffice it to say that it was a risk in leaving the UK and heading to Chiang Mai to take the CELTA. It could have amounted to an intense month spent learning the disciplines of the EFL teacher but with nothing at the end of it, or even worse the discovery that teaching was as equally demoralising as working in the pub/restaurant trade.

The CELTA was as tough as I'd been led to believe but I can unequivocally confirm that it, and the following 6 years that have brought me to where I am now, have been some of the best years of my entire life. Sure there have still been good days and bad days, there always will be, but even the bad days aren't all bad, are they?

Today has been one of those mixed days but the way it started was just the warmest justification for why I chose this new path. I arrived to find this photo on my desk and signed by the students on the back. Somehow puts everything else into perspective.

I was once told that if you have a bad day, write it down and it becomes the benchmark for all future bad days. If ever a day is worse than the one that you wrote down, that replaces your previous benchmark. I can heartily recommend this to anyone struggling for perspective and who wants to enjoy each day as much as they can...

Monday, June 22, 2015

The 8 months on

There's a scene in the trailer for the upcoming Marvel superhero movie "Ant-Man" where the camera pans back from a dramatic train wreck, presumably involving our hero, to actually show the crash to be a child's 'Thomas the Tank Engine' set. It's very effective and evidently all a matter of perspective.

I had a similar feeling yesterday when Yohana and I went to check on the progress of the house. As those of you who've read the previous blog entries know, we bought the house from viewing plans and a model and it was interesting to get a better perspective.

When we bought the house we knew there was a small piece of land at the back of the house that we would eventually build on. The plans showed it as garden but it really isn't big enough to be that. The length of the house, hell the overall size isn't exactly what we needed, but the location and size of houses that we did want were outside our current budget so this was the compromise. Anyway, we knew that we'd eventually build onto the back but only really on seeing the show house did we truly realise the limited space we'd have to play with, especially in the kitchen area. So it was that Yohana and I started finding prices for the building of a small kitchen extension before the house itself is even finished.

First stop was the developers who are actually building the house and the rest of the cluster. It made sense as for one, they have architects and for two, they're in the middle of building the house! They were really helpful, especially considering that when we first bought the place they told us that small changes to the original design were impossible. Now they were happy to start knocking down walls and adding doors where previously a door couldn't be found. As it was a hypothetical situation we asked about a two story extension that would utilise the spare land at the back of the house. This would give us the extra space in the kitchen, a third upstairs bedroom, bringing the downstairs bedroom into the living room and adding a "maid room". Many families in Indonesia employ maids and whilst we don't have need for this facility ourselves, it would make the house more attractive if it comes to selling it in the future.

The developer came back within a few days to say that it would cost 30% of the original house purchase price. Considering it was giving nowhere near 30% extra size we thanked them for their offer and went away to rethink some stuff.

The culmination of the last few weeks of negotiation have been Yohana meeting with builders to discuss the work and negotiate the prices. The reason for Yohana doing all of this and not involving me in the meetings is trying to avoid 'Harga Bule' which loosely translated means 'westerner price' which sees everyone; contractors, retailers, street hawkers, inflate their prices when they see they're dealing with a westerner. The situation now is the contractor who is building the row of shops on the front of the cluster, as well as the cluster's communal swimming pool, is also building a one level extension to our kitchen and is working alongside the builders of the original developer from whom we bought the house in the first place. The added benefits are that the house will still meet the original December handover date, we won't have to start extending the kitchen after we've moved in, and the cost of the kitchen extension, including all tiling work, is 3% of the original house purchase price.

Pak Haji showing Yohana the kitchen extension while a guy makes what looks like a spear (seriously, it did)
To put the whole 'Harga Bule' thing into some sort of context, this was the first time I've been on-site in two months and while we were there we were offered many additional extras, some of which already come in the agreement! We did agree to a door which will lead to the space where a future maid room may be but which for now will be a small BBQ area and the upstairs above the kitchen extension will have to wait for a bit.

The difference between a house and a home is all about the people, the atmosphere and the decoration so we're now thinking a lot about that side of things (the decor, not the people) and anyone who follows me on Pinterest ( can see some ideas of things we like.

Here are some more photos taken yesterday....