Sunday, February 27, 2011


Shoppers' Paradise - Main Street Cilegon

Dearest Friends,

Rather than drag it out, I might as well admit to my most embarrassing Anyer Beach moments all in one letter.  Notice I said "Anyer Beach moments", not moments ever, nor moments abroad, or even moments in Indonesia.  You see, humiliating myself is one thing I happen to be quite good at, so I've managed to collect at least several such memories in almost every place we've lived.
The fabric store, and an Indonesian math lesson.

The first in Anyer Beach was the avocado incident.  John's favorite salad at the AB restaurant was the Avocado Vinaigrette -- a half avocado with a bit of pickle relish placed in the cavity, that has been drizzled with a vinaigrette dressing.  Easy peasy, right?  So I decided to fix it for him myself.  Only, when I was scraping some food scraps into the toilet from the same plate that held the avocado pit, the pit got away from me and landed in the toilet too.  In fact, it went so far down the toilet that I was unable to reach it with my hand.  Believe me, I tried.  So, of course, the toilet got stopped up and I had to ask the little housekeeping fellow to come fix it.  He came out of the bathroom holding the pit in his hand, with a look of bewilderment on his face, then proceeded to explain to me, as if I were a two year old, how dumb it was to flush an avocado down your toilet.  From then on, whenever he saw me, he'd grin and waggle his head in wonder at the goofy American girl.
Learning enough Indonesian to do the mandatory haggling.

Not long after that, our bed broke.  We weren't even doing anything at the time -- just sitting there, reading, when suddenly it collapsed.  Of course, quite a few people witnessed the bed being carried out of the newlyweds' room in pieces the next day, and a new one being carried in.  Before long, everyone in the compound grinned and waggled their heads when they saw me -- those bachelors most of all. Eventually, I grew weary of yelling "We weren't doing anything!" each time they did it -- especially after I caught John giving them cocky winks behind my back.
The supermarket.

Last but not least was the trip to Kem Chiks.  As John had promised, a company van came to pick the ladies up each Wednesday, to drive us to a little grocery store in Cilegon (pronounced chili-gone).  It was at least an hour's drive, if I remember correctly, over those lovely bumpy, twisty roads, and one time I made the mistake of sitting in the very back seat.  By the time we got there, I wasn't feeling so hot.  I hurried up to the cashier and asked "Where's the bathroom?"  "Mrs. wants to take a bath?", she asked.  "No!  Your restroom!  Where's your restroom?"  "Mrs. needs to rest?"  "No!  Crap, forget it!", and I made a beeline for the door.  I got outside just in time to decorate their shrubs with violet-colored vomit.  Lesson learned: If one is prone towards motion sickness, one should never ride in the very back of a van or bus -- especially if one is drinking a fizzy grape Fanta.  From then on, everyone at Kem Chiks grinned and waggled their heads whenever they saw me.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Dearest Friends,

You may be wondering why so many people would make the arduous drive out to this tiny resort where we lived.  What was the big attraction?  Was it the beach?  Probably not.  Indonesia is an archipelago made up of hundreds of islands.  No matter where you are in Indonesia, you are never far from a gorgeous beach!
Anyer Beach Sunset

Well then, could it have been the five-star cuisine?  Not hardly!  The best thing we had going for us was the little sate hut down by the beach each weekend.  The high point of our week was to walk down there on Sundays (John's only day off), to feast on a few of the tiny kebabs (pronounced sah' tay) and some of the sticky rice, which had been wrapped and steamed in little gift-like banana leaf packages.  However, though they were special to us, they were hardly worth driving several hours for.  You could get them anywhere in Indonesia!
The Sate Hut

So, what was it then?  Hmmmm.  Perhaps it was the bowling alley.  Yep, you heard me.  Anyer Beach, this simple little resort out in the middle of nowhere, reached only by the most primitive of roads, boasted a state of the art bowling alley!  Go figure.
Anyer Beach Bowling Alley

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Dearest Friends,

If you recall, I mentioned that almost all the women in my childhood neighborhood were stay-at-home moms.  The only job my mother ever had was a brief stint selling Mary Kay cosmetics.  She taught us that women should never be seen without make-up, how to get your way while letting your husband think he's the boss, and how to hide something you've bought for a while, so that when you do wear it, and hubby asks if you've bought something new, you can say "This old thing? I've had it for ages!"  I spent the whole summer before college sewing cute dresses to wear every day, and even wore stockings the first week of class, but soon traded them in for frayed jeans and sandals.  You see, I showed up at UT (the most liberal, hippie-fied school in Texas) in 1971, when SDS, ERA, Roe vs. Wade, draft-dodging and presidential impeachment were everyday topics of conversation.  By the time I graduated, I was quite proud of how very liberated I had become.  I just had no idea how hard it would be to maintain, once I'd traded life in Austin for life as an expatriate wife who couldn't get a work permit, couldn't drive, and who was completely dependent on her husband for everything!
Luncheon with Miss D. (far right)

Despite my ill-planned shipment and lack of equipment, I managed to do ok in our make-shift kitchen.  I'd even host little dinner parties for some of John's bachelor friends, as a way to make myself feel useful.  I'd fix a batch of watery spachetti or underdone fried chicken in my electric frying pan, serve it to them out on our tiny porch, and they'd treat me like I was the hostess with the mostest!  Just when I was starting to believe it, I got invited to lunch at Miss D's place.

Miss D. was one of the older wives -- the one who reminded me of Zsa Zsa Gabor, with her exotic accent and ever-elegant attire.  There was an air of mystery about her, and she would allude to a princess-like upbringing.  That all ended when "riff raff" took over her country, and they had to bury their valuables and flee their mansion in the dead of night.  Miss D's luncheon was served on beautiful Chinese dishes, lined with glossy banana leaves that she had sent her housekeeper out to pick (She needed a housekeeper? For one room?).  I prayed that she would never invite John or any of the bachelors over for dinner, for it was sure to raise the bar on their expectations!
Miss M. gives little K. a haircut.

You see those kerchiefs the women are wearing?  They were probably hiding the curlers in their hair.   It seemed I had left my campus world, where I had friends who were burning their bras, and had given up shaving their legs and pits, and had traveled back in time to one where they believed the only way to get ahead was to use one's feminine wiles.  They went around in curlers and caftans during the day, but met their hubbies at the door each evening dressed to kill, with welcoming drink in hand.  I knew I was in trouble the day I found myself leaving a card party early, because I wanted to have plenty of time to get gussied-up before John got home!

Monday, February 21, 2011


Dearest Friends,

One thing I found most interesting about life overseas was the cast of characters -- and I do mean characters!  I'd grown up in your typical 50's suburban neighborhood, where all the hubbies went off to work each morning, most all the wives stayed home with the kiddos, and everyone went to church on Sundays.  I remember being quite shocked when a guy I liked in high school said he lived in an apartment.  I'd never known anyone who didn't live in a house.  Life as an ex-pat was going to be quite the eye-opener.
E. shows us the ropes

Life o' the party

First of all there was Princess D, who reminded me of Zsa Zsa Gabor, with her exotic accent and regal attitude.  Rumor had it that her "hubby" wasn't really her hubby, for there was one back in the states who refused to grant a divorce.  There was the beautiful young woman who's blonde cherub son was three years old before the father decided to claim them as his family.  I wish he never had, for they deserved so much more.  He got kicked out of the Pula Rita for hurling one of their employees through a plate-glass window when he was pissed about something.  He was always pissed about something.  Then there was E., who reminds me a lot of Sue Sylvestre on the TV show Glee -- all rough and tough on the outside, with a bit of marshmallow hidden underneath.  She'd give me grief about being so young and googly-eyed, then show up on my porch with some containers for me to store my leftovers in, or an offer to show me the ropes down in the market.  She was a tall, blonde American, but her hubby was a wee little black-haired Scotsman who played the accordion, and who obviously brought out the marshmallow in her.
The Irish Lads

Three Musketeers: S., A., and Dear Hubby

Last, but not least, were the bachelors.  John's boss B. wasn't much older than us, but was very quiet and reserved.  The young guys loved to tease and joke with him, but it was obvious they had a great deal of respect for him.  S. and A. were John's two best buddies.  S. , a big ol' blonde from Tennessee, is the one who keeled over at the sight of a hypodermic.  A. had been in the Peace Corps for a couple of years before coming to work for B&R.  His claim to fame was that he could roll himself up in a sarong, drop down anywhere on the ground, and be sleeping like a baby in a matter of seconds.  There were a couple of Irish guys, who were a hoot and a holler, though I could hardly understand a word they said.  And then there were the twins, who thought they were God's gift to women, and were wilder than a March hare.  With characters such as these, things were bound to get interesting, were they not?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Gone Fishin' - Indo-style

Dearest Friends,

John proposed to me in the fall, then tried to talk me into coming over for a visit during my Christmas break, but I just couldn’t do it.  First of all, I told him, my parents would freak at the idea of me staying with him before we were actually married, which was true (them being oblivious to the fact that it was pretty much a moot point after our having been together at UT for several years during the "Make Love Not War" era).  Years later when my middle sister married her husband, at almost 40 years of age, their apartment leases both ran out shortly before the wedding, so they went ahead and moved into their new place together just a week or so before the ceremony.  During that time, they had a break-in one night, and Mom said "It's God punishing them for living in sin!" (Though I must admit, she said it with a twinkle in her eye.)

My second excuse was that I feared he would somehow talk me into going ahead and getting married while I was there, so we could forego the hoopla of a formal wedding -- which would have been fine with me, if it weren’t for that one semester of school I had yet to go.  Hey, I didn’t work my butt off to put myself through school just to give up now, twelve hours shy of a degree!

The real clincher though, was the shots.  I hate shots.  A lots.  (This year I finally got my very first flu shot, after weeks of pressure from friends and family.)  John never should have gone into such detail about the huge number of shots you had to get before going to Indonesia, nor told me about his big tough friend S., who keeled over in a dead faint before they ever got the first needle in him (the nurse just went ahead and loaded him up as he lay there on the floor).  I knew I’d have to deal with them sooner or later, but if I had a choice, I’d take later.

Water Buffalo
Anyhoo, since I had no idea what or how much to pack, I just had to wing it.  I packed my new sewing machine and associated paraphernalia, a couple of Corning casseroles, a few plates and plastic glasses, a few towels, and my little appliances.  When the shippers arrived to pack it up, I had everything laid out on a couple of card tables in the corner of my bedroom, and I actually apologized to them for there being so much for them to pack.  They snorted and said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”, which is exactly what John said when the shipment finally arrived.  “This is it?  This is all you brought?”  “Well, you told me not to go overboard!”

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Dearest Friends,

Lounging in our back yard.

Life at Anyer Beach was a huge step up from the Pula Rita, yet still a far cry from the Singapore Hilton.  Each of those little beach bungalows you saw was a duplex, so we got half of one.  All the furniture was rattan, and there was just enough room for a double bed, a small armoire, a dresser, and a wee little fridge.  They were tight quarters, which grew tighter by the week, but at least it was just the two of us.  Imagine what it was like for those who had brought a kid or two along!  The best thing about our new home was the small porch nestled under that curved overhang.  It was a great place to curl up with a book, to entertain, to find some space from one another, or to share a breathtaking sunset.  We could sit there for hours, mesmerized by the rhythm of the waves.  The most thrilling time to be there was when a storm was brewing out over the ocean.  Soon as we heard the first rumblings of thunder, we’d wordlessly drop what we were doing, and head out to watch the show.

Our bathroom/kitchen/darkroom.

Officially, we weren’t supposed to cook in our rooms, but most everyone chose to ignore that rule.  The resort did have a restaurant, but the menu was rather limited and would have grown very old, very fast.  We saved it for special occasions, like the time they threw a luau-like shindig out by the pool, centered around a roast suckling pig with apple-stuffed mouth.  The rest of the time I made do with the electric frying pan and small toaster oven that we had received as wedding gifts, both of which had to be plugged into a big black transformer that sat in the corner of our room.  We had left most of our gifts packed up at my parents’ house, but a couple of months before the wedding John sent word that I was to pull together a small shipment consisting of whatever I thought we would need to get by for a year in a furnished apartment, should we ever get one.  Then he added, “But don’t go overboard.  B&R will only pay for so many pounds.”  I, of course, had no freaking clue what we would need, never having seen the place, and only ever having lived at home with my family, or in a dorm. 

P.S.  Know what's really funny about that picture of John washing up?  We must have sent this one home to the parents, because I wrote a note to them on the back which read "He's only posing - I don't really make him do dishes!"  Obviously I wasn't quite as "liberated" as I thought. Maybe I felt the need to compensate for the imbalance in our financial contributions --  a sign of what was to come, perhaps?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Dearest Friends,

As for that soft bed and hot shower I was pining for? Well, our first night was spent in John’s bachelor quarters at the Pula Rita motel in Merak. He’d been housed in a thatched-roof bungalow with no hot water, and the bed was a goat’s hair mattress on the floor. After an icy-quick shower I climbed into bed, only to discover we had roommates. Various lizards were hanging upside down from the rafters -- some tiny and chameleon-like, others not so tiny. Periodically one would suddenly release those suction cups on its itty-bitty toes, and take a kamikaze plunge to the floor below, or onto our bed. I was probably in the middle of telling John I’d never be able to sleep like this, when exhaustion overtook me. Next thing I knew he was kissing me goodbye and heading off to work.

Bachelor quarters at the Pula Rita.

Before long though, he was back to say “We’re moving!” Though the houses, school and doctor -- which B&R had promised all those coming over on married status -- had yet to materialize, they had managed to lease a few units at Anyer Beach, a small resort that was a popular getaway spot for people from Jakarta. Fortunately for us, one unit had just become available. Not only would we have hot water and a proper bed, our bungalow faced right onto the beach, and on a clear day you could see the volcano Krakatoa in the distance, with smoke coming out its peak!

Our bungalow at Anyer Beach

The volcano Krakatoa, seen from our back porch.

The next morning, before leaving for work, John said, “Oh, by the way. Housekeeping will come by periodically with fresh towels, and they’ll pick up any clothes we have that need laundering.” “Hold on a minute, Buster! Are you telling me I won't really be doing our laundry in the river?” He just grinned. “What about shopping in that outdoor market?” Again with that grin! “It’s actually a fun place to go exploring," he replied, "as long as you avoid the stinkier parts -- which is fairly easy to do since a van comes here once a week to take all the ladies to a nice little grocery store in Cilegon. They have a few cuts of frozen meat, some canned goods and such.” “Arrgh! How could you mislead my like that, leaving me to fret and suffer all this time?”

John then told me about his friend, who’d only been married a few months when he got offered this position. This fellow’s pretty young wife made him come over ahead of her, to scope things out. He fell madly in love with the job, this place, and his life here, and sent glowing reports home to her. He told her it was an absolute paradise -- Heaven on earth! Sadly, she never even saw it in person. She got only as far as Singapore, then refused to budge an inch further. “So, you see, you should be thanking me for leading you to expect the worst (and by the way, you must reeeaaally love me), for now you get to be pleasantly surprised!” I don’t remember for certain, but I'm thinking I probably bopped him up-side the head at that point.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Miss Becky in the garden of the Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Taking the gondola to Sentosa Island, Singapore

Downtown Singapore

Singapore, old and new

The vote is in!  The consensus is that I should retain my current-day voice, so that you have the added benefits of hindsight, perspective and lessons learned.  Thus, we shall continue:

Dearest Friends,

Singapore more than made up for any discomfort on the trip over. The sights, sounds and smells of Hong Kong had been a bit much for a kid who’d hardly been out of Texas, but Singapore was somehow different. Singapore was exotic elegance -- a fascinating amalgamation of old world and new. This honeymoon was my first experience with luxury hotels, since Dad’s idea of a great vacation always involved fishing and cabins. It was also my first introduction to bidets. Oh, I'd read about them of course, and knew what they were for, but nowhere did it say you must be seated before turning on the spigot, not leaning with your face over the bowl!

At one point John had lived in the Singapore Hilton for a few months, so that’s where he had booked us. Now, if you will, picture this little Texanette walking through the front doors of this ever-so-chic hotel, then finding herself surrounded by people who were saying, “Welcome back Mr. Lane! So happy to meet you at last Mrs. Lane. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to make your stay more enjoyable.” When we reached our room we found fresh flowers, fruit and champagne awaiting us. A girl could get used to that kind of treatment, though I never did. I loved everything about our stay, from afternoon tea at the Raffles Hotel to night markets on Bugis Street, and from Chinese feasts at Bamboo House to flaming dishes prepared table-side at the Harbor Grill. Alas, all good things must come to an end, and a few days later we headed off on the last leg of our journey.

We were met at the Jakarta airport by a Brown & Root driver with a well-worn VW van, and were joined by several other men who were headed out to the fabrication yard. My first impression of Jakarta (which has never been dispelled) was of wall-to-wall people and a thousand beeping horns. Though our destination was only about sixty miles away, the roads were so potted, congested, and winding that the trip took hours. Because there was no air conditioner, our fellow passengers opened the sliding doors on both sides of the van, and I held on for dear life, afraid of bouncing out. Before long, the nausea was back, and I slumped onto John’s shoulder, doing my best not to whimper. The crazy drivers and lack of doors turned out to be a blessing in the end. Since I had to concentrate just to stay in my seat (no seat belts, of course), it distracted me from the nausea, and I was able to make it all the way to the yard without embarrassing myself. That was to come later. I was fairly wrung out though, and I’m sure all I wanted in the world was a nice hot shower and a soft bed, which, in hindsight, is pret-ty dang funny.

At last we reached the fabrication yard, and were able to stumble out of the van. As I stood there, feeling more than a bit bedraggled, several grinning guys came barreling down the steps of the two-story metal office building. There was a flurry of hugs and introductions, then they gathered round expectantly, as if waiting for us to do something. Finally I noticed that a few were darting glances over their shoulders, so my eyes followed theirs. John let out a huge guffaw, but my eyes grew big as saucers and my cheeks turned bright red. “Oh no, John. You didn’t!” There, draped across the upper half of the building, was a huge sign that read “Welcome Home Becky and Fuzznuts.” You see, there were three daughters in my family, and rather than keep up with the names of every guy we went out with, Dad called all of them Fuzznuts -- as in “What’s new with Ol’ Fuzznuts?” I made the mistake of telling John his nickname once, and now, it would seem, the whole world knew! Finally I decided, well, OK, maybe it was kind of funny, and a little snort slipped out. Before I knew it, I was bent double with laughter, imagining how my parents would react when they learned of Dad's infamy.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


I've taken the liberty of writing an alternative first chapter, written this time from young Miss Becky's perspective, as if she's telling the story as it happens.  The previous one was written from old Mrs. Becky's perspective, as she is recalling it some 35 years later.  Won't you please be so kind as to give it a gander, then leave a comment to let me know which voice is more compelling?  I'd be ever so grateful!


 Dearest Friends,

Hang onto your hats, guys and gals!  I've got some earthshaking news.  I'm engaged!  Can you believe it?  

Five or six months ago, when John and I parted at the airport, he actually had tears in his eyes, and swore he'd come back to me, but I wasn't so sure.  After all, we'd been dating for three years, and the word marriage had never crossed his lips.  Heck, he never even asked me to go steady!  Of course, I'm pretty sure that was mostly due to our age difference.  The poor guy was so horrified when I admitted my age on our first date.  As if it wasn't bad enough to be a senior dating a freshman, she had to be a seventeen-year-old freshman?  Or, maybe it wasn't my age so much as that prim little voice I used, after he suggested going to his place, to tell him "Nice girls don't go to boy's apartments!"  Geez, I was such a doofus!  Is it any wonder it was at least another month before he asked me out again?

Even then, he made it perfectly clear that, though we might be spending every single Saturday together, and working together in the dorm cafeteria each day, and eating most of our meals together, we were not "going together!"  He said on Fridays I was free to go do whatever, or see whomever, I wanted, because if ever there was a person in dire need of more "experience" before choosing to settle down, it was me!

I suppose I could have talked him out of going, had I been willing to beg and whine, but I was determined not to be the "clingy" type.  I knew he'd had at least two previous relationships with girls like that, and believe me, they did not end well!  He told me once that he doesn't want a wife who lives through her husband and kids.  He wants someone with her own career and passions, who's bold and independent.  After meeting his mother, Theda, I can see why he feels that way.  That woman is a pistol!  So, I do my best not to voice my insecurities -- to be the tough girl he admires, who's putting herself through school with no help from anyone.  I let him go.

It must have been the letters that turned the tide.  Come to find out, I am a darn good letter-writer, and John's none too shabby himself.  What we could never say in person just comes pouring out of our pens, and I feel closer to him now than I did when he left.  Hoowee!  The things that boy puts in a letter!  Why, it'd make your toes curl if I told you, so I won't!  I guess I've become pretty brazen myself, dropping hints about what a great little wifey I'd be, and "not just in the kitchen" (I'm blushing!).

Still, you could've knocked me over with a feather when I finally got an actual phone-call from the guy, and heard him saying "So what d'ya think, Beck?  Should we get married?"  I was so shocked, I must've stood there for a minute with my mouth agape, before I finally got it together and said "Well, it's about dang time!"

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Thanks for visiting Miss Becky Goes Abroad! I just set this site up yesterday, using a temporary template, to lock in my url. I've hired a blog designer to help create a special banner just for me, to give it the look I have in my head, but lack the skills to accomplish on my own. If I get her questionnaire completed by Friday, she's promised to begin work on it this weekend. Soon as the facelift is complete, there will be new chapters for you to read. Woohoo!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


What I remember most about those first weeks of marriage, and our journey to Indonesia, was nausea -- an unbelievable amount of nausea -- and a huge sign hung for all the world to see, which caused my cheeks to burn with embarrassment.

My college boyfriend John had left for a job with Brown & Root, in Southeast Asia, at the end of my junior year. He proposed to me by phone several months later, sent me an engagement ring in the mail, and a few days after graduation I married a guy I hadn’t seen, and barely spoken to, in thirteen months. The next day we boarded a plane, and headed off into the great unknown. Sounds crazy, I know, but what you have to understand is that, though neither of us was very good at sharing our feelings face-to-face, we were both damn good letter-writers. Our relationship progressed more during that year apart than it had in all three years of dating!

The nausea started before we’d even made it out of the States. Since the trip to Indonesia was doubling as our honeymoon, we decided to make a few stops along the way, the first of which was San Francisco. One day we rented a car and drove out to visit John’s maternal grandmother. It was a gorgeous, romantic drive, but the roads were rather twisty, and before long I was hanging my head out the window, hoping the cool breeze would calm my stomach. “Uh, Beck? You OK?” “Oh, sure. I just get a bit carsick now ‘n then (plus airsick, seasick, swing-sick, merry-go-round-sick, and pretty much anything-that-moves-sick). It’s no big deal.”

I did fairly well on the trip to Hong Kong, but we were only a few minutes into the flight to Singapore when a combination of exotic foods, turbulence, and nervousness had me running for the toilets. Every time I tried to return to my seat, I’d get about halfway down the aisle, then have to turn and run back. Finally I just gave up, slid down to the floor of the stall, dropped my head onto my arms, and stayed that way until it was time to land. The lock on the door was broken, and people kept barging in on me, but I was beyond caring at that point. John checked on me periodically, but I assured him he’d be much better off just leaving me where I was.

The reason for my nervousness was that Singapore was the last bastion of civilization on our journey, and after that, there was no turning back. Not long after John proposed to me, I started peppering him with questions about where we would be living. Finally he sent me a packet of photos, including one shot of some women doing their wash in a muddy river, with a few water buffalo for company. It was labeled “Our local laundromat.” Even more disturbing was the shot of the outdoor market where he said I’d do most of my shopping, with its huge slabs of fly-covered meat. It was a far cry from paradise, but I figured “Hey, if John and his coworkers can hack it, then I durn well can too!” My parents weren’t nearly so optimistic.