Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Mystery Woman, Princess D., I. and N. -- any old excuse to get dressed up!
Dearest Friends,

Thanks to our little get-away in Jakarta, John and I finally had the Christmas spirit, so we decided to throw a party.  I knocked myself out, cooking all kinds of good stuff for it, but I fixed the kinds of things my parents, who were non-drinkers, fixed for our family Christmas parties -- cookies, cakes and candies.  I had no idea that people who were drinking wouldn't want anything to do with sweets!

Little S. and some of the guys.
The first person to become sloshed was my friend R's husband, E. (no surprise there), so of course, he had no interest in dancing with her.  One of the families had a teenaged son who was visiting for the holidays.  Since he had danced with most all of the women in the room, no one gave it a second thought when the kid noticed R. tapping her foot to the music, and asked if she wanted to one except E., that is.  Next thing we knew, he had her by the hair, and was dragging her down the sidewalk towards their townhouse.

Me, R., and Princess D.'s hubby.
Talk about putting a damper on things!  Before long, the party broke up, all of us worried about what might be going on down the block.  Fortunately, most of our guests could walk home, but our friend S. had to drive his itty bitty Honda all the way back to Anyer Beach.  When we spotted him trying to climb into our trashcan, instead of his car (granted, they were about the same size), we ran out to inform him, rather forcefully, that he was spending the night with us!  Unfortunately for others who were dear to us, not all hosts were going to be that observant or persistant.

Monday, March 28, 2011


John, shaking packages and trying to guess their contents.

Dearest Friends,

Our first Christmas abroad was to be quite unlike anything I had ever experienced -- and not just because I was far away from friends and family.  Thirty six years later, it still sits at the very top of our "Most Memorable" list.  Yes, it was to be my very first ever where I wouldn't be surrounded by my parents and siblings, hanging the same stockings and decorations in the very same places we always did, and eating the very same things we always did, with the very same people we always ate them with, but to tell you the truth, I was ok with that.  I was so ecstatic to finally be spending a Christmas with John, and to have the opportunity to form new traditions of our own, that the homesickness sort of faded into the background.  No, what really bothered me was that we had no tree, no ornaments, no stockings, and no gifts, and even worse, nowhere to get them!  I think I probably sewed a shirt and made a frog beanbag out of batik for him, and even covered a styrofoam ball with red sequins (the most tedious thing I'd ever done in my life), but you could hardly call that Christmas, now could you?  So, imagine my glee when John burst through the door one day, saying "Pack your bags baby, we're going Christmas shopping -- in Jakarta!

Funny, come to think of it, that I remember the beanbag frog and the sequin ornament to this day, but don't remember any of the gifts that we purchased in Jakarta.  Guess it just goes to show you, great memories have nothing to do with how much money you spend!  Anyhoo, I was so over the moon about finally getting away from Cilegon for a few days, spending some time with my hubby, and eating someone's cooking other than my own, that I wouldn't have cared if I'd had to barf all the way there and back.  Luckily, I didn't (perhaps Indonesia was toughening me up?).

What I do remember buying is that scrawny-ass plastic tree in the photo above, though to me, it was the most beautiful tree in the world!  We also found a box of those old-timey metallic glass ornaments, like our grandmas all had -- the first of many, many things we were to discover that, once they had gone out of vogue in the states, somehow found their way to third world countries (including many processed foods that were years past their expiration dates).

I&I's little girls.
We happened to run into our British friends I & I in one store, who were desparately trying to find a few things for Santa to bring their kids.  They had finally settled upon some really cute wicker baskets, about three feet tall, woven into different animal shapes -- all with big tummy pouches that could be filled with an assortment of small toys and "sweeties."  We liked them so much that we bought a kangaroo for ourselves!  It served us well for many years -- first as my sewing basket, then as a laundry basket, and finally as a toy basket in my kids' nurseries -- before we finally let it go.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Dearest Friends,

Miss Becky is going on a T.A.I.R!  That's sister-speak for a Thomas Annual Inspirational Retreat (better known as a girl's get-away).  I'll be back on Sunday, though.  Don't have too much fun without me!



Dearest Friends,

As I mentioned before, Indonesia is made up of hundreds of islands, and, in the beginning, each one had its own unique dialect, its own native dress, and its own primary religion.  It wasn't until much later that the government pronounced Bahasa Indonesia (the language we were taught) the national language, to be taught in all schools.  However, there are still many, many older people, on many of the smaller or more remote islands, who do not speak it at all.  There was a women's "conversation group" that I attended in Cilegon, and the Indonesian wives once put on a fashion show of sorts, where their children modeled the native costumes of the area they were from.  These are just a few of them.

Brides and bridesmaid (center) from Minang and Karo

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Dearest Friends,

There were many, many things that I loved about Indonesia, and a few things I was not so crazy about.  One thing in particular gave me one of the worst scares of my life, but it deserves a story all its own, so we'll save that for later.

One thing that impressed me the most, when I first arrived, was the way wee little boys could shimmy up those tall, thin coconut palms using their bare hands and knees.  Then I found out about the surprise that could be awaiting them at the top.  I was told that Indonesia is home to the smallest, but deadliest, viper in the world -- one who's bite can kill in a mere seven seconds.  I wasn't sure if that was true or not, but it was enough to keep me out of coconut trees forever, and had me holding my breath each time I saw a child heading up.

Another problem was what some expats called bribery, but Indonesians didn't see it that way.  To them it was just the manner in which business was conducted.  When you received word that a long-awaited package had finally arrived after weeks and weeks, then realized they weren't going to hand it over until some rupiahs had changed hands, you just couldn't get your knickers in a twist.  You had to keep reminding yourself that, to them, it was no different than our tipping a waitress.

Speaking of packages, that brings us to problems #3 and #4 -- mail and communications.  In a word, they sucked!  Not only did we not have cell phones back then, I don't think we ever had a telephone, period.  I seem to remember that if our families needed to get in touch with us, they had to call the office, then someone would get word to us.  And, if I wanted to invite a bunch of people to a party, or contact a group of the wives for any reason, John would take all my notes to work with him, hand them out to the various husbands, and hope that they remembered to pass them on to their spouses in a timely manner.  Letters usually arrived ok, though it took two weeks or more, but packages were another matter altogether.  They could take months to arrive, if at all, and when they finally did, they might be missing half their contents.  A packet of our wedding photos disappeared from one package and, for the life of me, I couldn't fathom why anyone would even want them -- besides us, of course!  Then someone said, "If it makes you feel any better, they are probably now hanging in a place of honor on someone's living room wall, and whenever they have guests, they will point to them proudly, saying 'Those are our American friends!' "

One thing is for certain, the longer we were overseas, the less persnickety we were, but the better our sense of humor became.  You just had to let go, else you'd never survive.  Good training for becoming parents, no?  One Christmas package finally showed up several months after the fact, with half the stuff missing.  What did make it through, much to our delight, was a box of those little bite-sized Butterfinger bars.  Only, when we opened the box, we discovered that it was crawling with ants.  We stared in dismay for a moment, then John grabbed the box and ran for the kitchen.  Did he toss them into the trash bin?  No, he did not.  Instead, he held some of the candy under running water, to rinse the ants away.  I only hesitated a second before accepting one from him, popping it into my mouth, and letting out a groan of satisfaction.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Dearest Friends,

In case you've been wondering how we ended up here in the first place, and what exactly John was doing, well, he was building these guys -- jackets and decks -- which would eventually support off-shore drilling platforms.

This is the fabrication yard where they were assembled.

It still boggles my mind that B&R would hire little engineers right out of college, just kids really, and send them over here to deal with the tough-as-nails foremen who'd been doing this for 20 or 30 years.

Here is the explanation that John scrawled on the back of this last photo, when my grandfather asked exactly what he was up to: "This shows our assembly line of jackets.  These will be loaded onto a barge and transported out to a production site.  A large crane, 500 short ton capacity, will lift the jacket off the barge and set it in the water.  Piles are driven down through the legs into the seabed to anchor the jacket, legs are laid out on the ground, the bracing for 2 sides are erected."

There.  Now you know.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Bowling with I & I

Dearest Friends,

Well, I've already shared with you my most embarrassing moments while living at Anyer Beach.  Now I suppose it's time to share my Cilegon moment.  Hmmm, or is it an Anyer moment?  A bit of both, I suppose, for after we had moved to Cilegon, we got word that they were going to start up a bowling league back at Anyer Beach.  We decided to join, even though it would take up half of John's one day off, and meant we'd be driving home late at night, which was somewhat scary over there.  The couple in the photo with us were recent B&R imports from Britain, and an awful lot of fun.  I believe he was Scottish, and once, while gazing at the atrium in our townhouse, he asked me if we had any TOR-ussis.  "Huh?"  "TOR-ussis", he repeated.  "You know, the chaps who carry their homes on their backs?"  "Oh! (snicker, snicker)  You mean TURD-uls!"  Later, he got back at me by saying that only a Texan could take a simple word like Cairn (he pronounced it Con), and turn it into Cay-ir-nuh.

Anyhoo, back to the embarrassing bit.  One evening I went to get a soda or something, and when I came back, John was sitting in the scorekeeper's spot.  I walked up behind him and placed my hands on his shoulders.  Occasionally I would massage them a bit, or scratch his back.  He loves it when I scratch his back, and sure enough, he gave a little wriggle each time I did it.

A short time later the next bowler stepped up to the line.  Imagine my surprise, when I realized it was none other than my hubby!  It suddenly dawned on me, if John was up there, then who the heck...?  I glanced down just in time to see his buddy A. turn and grin up at me.  "AAACK!  You're not John!" I screamed, leaping away as if my hands were on fire.  "Nope."  "Well why the heck didn't you say something sooner?"  "I dunno.  Just curious, I guess, to see how long it would take you to notice."  Again, I don't remember for certain, but I'm pretty sure someone else got bopped up side the head about then.

The Infamous A.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


The Mrs. and Teeny get ready for a party.

Dearest Friends,

That bliss was to be short-lived.  A few days later, there was a knock at our back door.  I opened it to find an Indonesian woman standing there, shopping bags in hand.  "Hello Mrs.  My name Teeny (Tuh-nay).  Your friend say you need maid.  I work for you."  "Well, um...I, uh...O.K.  I guess."  So she moved right in to the little room off our back porch, and that brief interchange was fairly indicative of our relationship from that point on.  I later questioned everyone I knew, but none of them had sent her.

One of the main reasons I had been dragging my feet about hiring anyone, was that deep down, I knew I was very ill-prepared for the task of supervising staff.  I was too young, and had never supervised anyone but my kid brother (I had two older sisters who had always been "the boss of me"), especially not someone who was 10 or 15 years my senior!  My parents had pounded it into me that you were to respect your elders, and always do as you were told.  Plus, I couldn't really remember seeing my mom interacting with staff, as she had quit hiring maids as soon as we girls were old enough to do chores.  Also, it really went against the grain with me, to let someone else do what I could just as easily do myself, since I was there at home and hadn't much to occupy my time.  I had never enjoyed having people wait on me, being more of an "I can do it myself!" kind of kid.  Most importantly, I cherished my privacy, and when you have a live-in maid, there is no such thing as privacy.

Soooo, what was, to most women, one of the best perks of life overseas, ended up being the bane of my existence.  Once, when the card group was meeting at my house, one of the older Brits said "You need to get that maid of yours to clean those light fixtures up there.  They are covered in dust!"  When I told her "I'm afraid that's not how it works around here.  Usually, she tells me what to do.", they all burst out laughing, certain I must be teasing.  I wasn't.  By that point, she even had me sewing for her.

The only thing I was firm about was the cooking.  Since I couldn't work or contribute anything financially, my self-worth was becoming more and more wrapped up in my ability to cook and care for John, so that's where I drew the line.  That was my territory, and the only time I came very close to losing my cool with her, was when I had baked John a special batch of cookies, and she polished them off before he even got home.  Did I meet John at the door, ranting and raving?  No, I scurried to bake another batch.  I didn't want him to think I was a little tiddy-baby, who couldn't even handle someone as sweet and accomodating as Teeny (which she was, whenever he was around).  There were certain times, though, when that worked to my advantage -- such as when we had parties.  Since John was around for those, she really knocked herself out.  There's nothing better than throwing a big bash, falling into bed with the house a total wreck, then waking up to find that everything was magically back in place and squeaky clean.  I really, really miss that.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Dearest Friends,

Not long after we got settled in, other women started asking me when I was going to hire a maid.  "Why would I hire a maid?  I don't have enough to do as it is."  "You have to hire one.  It's expected of us.  Any expat with a house is supposed to have staff.  The salary is minuscule to us, but it's a fortune to them, and can support a huge extended family."  "But I don't want a maid!"  "Doesn't matter."

My solution was to just drag my feet and do nothing -- put it off as long as I possibly could.  I didn't have a clue how to look for a maid, anyway!  Instead I concentrated on fluffing my new little abode, scouring the shops and stalls in town to find the many necessities that I had failed to include in that shipment I put together, so many months before.

I painted my kitchen a pretty buttermilk color (one I loved so much, I've used it in most every house since), moved the little refrigerator out to the dining room, to give myself more workspace, made some green checked curtains, and finished up a needlepoint kit my sister had given me, so I'd have something to hang on the wall.  I was one happy camper!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


John and his two brothers,  on our new sofa.
The Living Room
The Dining Room
My Kitchen -- may look tiny to you, but to me, it was a palace!
John's photo-printing setup, in one of the upstairs bedrooms, where he created masterpieces like that first pic above.
P.S. No, he's not really a triplet.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Dearest Friends,

Sometime in October of '75, when we'd been in our little beach bungalow about four months, John came home with some surprising news.  It's kinda funny when I think about it now, but almost every day since we got married, I have greeted John with a question like "What's new at work?", or asked him to tell me about his day.  When we are living stateside, getting a response from him is like pulling teeth.  And, even if he does respond, it's rarely anything of great import to me.  When you live overseas, however, on a company compound, it's a whole different ball of wax.  Almost every decision made ends up affecting your life in one way or another.  So, from that point on, whenever John walked through the door saying "You won't believe what happened today!", I couldn't help but hold my breath, until I discovered whether it was to be a good thing, or not.

This time, thank goodness, the news was very good.  B&R had finally managed to lease a block of townhouses in Cilegon, as well as a few larger, freestanding homes, from one of the other companies that was doing business in the area, and we were to get one of the townhouses!  I was going to miss being right on the beach, but at least we could still drive out to Anyer on John's day off if we wished, and I was sooooo ready to live in a real house, with a real kitchen, and more than one room!

The little atrium in the center of our townhouse, and Miss Becky in the kitchen.
Best of all, my social circle would be expanding dramatically.  Not only would B&R be bringing in more families now, we would also get to meet people who worked for other companies in the area.  We could go to Bingo Night with the Brits, who served mince pies as refreshments, and called out funny things like "Lucky Legs Eleven!"  I would even be invited to join a ladies' card group, where we were served a proper tea while we played a game called Whist, but where we always ended the afternoon with a wee drop of Sherry.  Yep, things were definitely looking up!

Three of the Brits.

One day I was visiting with several of the Brits and a couple of ladies from Louisiana.  We were discussing one lady's cute Cajun accent, when somehow the subject turned to my accent.  "What accent?  I don't have an accent."  Dead silence.  "Do I?"  "Bwa ha ha ha ha!", they all burst out in unison.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Dearest Friends,

There were many different ways to get around in Indonesia.  Most of the locals relied on their own two feet, or perhaps a bicycle.  A few lucky families might have had a small motor scooter, and it was quite common to see a husband and wife, with an infant, a toddler and some shopping bags, zipping along on a single scooter.  If you had to haul something, or someone, you might have used an old wooden cart, or perhaps, a beca (pronounced betcha), which is kind of like a rickshaw with a bicycle attached.

This beca is carrying a woman to market, though you can barely see her for all the chickens -- chickens that are all still very much alive.

If you needed to go a very long distance, you might have traveled by bus, as long as you were ok with it running on a very loose schedule, and with very irregular regularity.  Did I mention that Indonesia operates on "rubber time"?  It is much more flexible than what most Americans are accustomed to.

When international companies began doing business in these out-of-the-way locations, they needed workers, and the workers needed a way to get from their kampungs (villages) to the work site, in a semi-timely manner, so along came the "mini-buses" -- small trucks with camper shells on back.  The trick here was to see how many guys you could stuff into that one small space.

Judging from all these mini-busses that are lined up on the other side of the demolished bridge, I'm guessing this must be how John and his coworkers were transported the rest of the way to work, for all those weeks, until the bridge was repaired.