Jakarta family time

Jakarta family time

Floating in a swimming pool somewhere in Jakarta with two crazy kids jumping on me screaming “Uncle Ben, Uuunnncccle Beh-ehn!”, red eyes and stupid smile (the kind of smile where your tongue half pokes out and you look like you have picked up an extra chromosome somewhere).

That is me after an especially brutal commute from Denmark. I seem to affect planes. They break. My travel superpower gave me an extra overnight in Paris back in April and a bonus night in Helsinki on this commute. I landed in Jakarta after nearly fifty hours awake, many of which were spend in airline ‘lounges‘ staring blankly at Panasonic flat screens which were repeating animal planet over and over. I now have an intimate understanding of the “Trials of life in africa” Lions are ‘majestic’ and gazelles ‘graceful’. I wander off the plane bug eyed, kind of pleased with my intrepid look and get an unconvinced hug from Ameer my four year old nephew. Mel, my big sister, gives me a more convinced hug.

Stoked to have some family time, the fatigue of the commute slides away as Mel and I frantically catch up on what skype and emails missed. Gotta love living abroad in this technological age. Straight to the swimming pool, I need to stay awake to kick jet lag as I know two little munchkins will be jumping on “Uncle B” early the next morning. Back at home I gave the kids their Lego. (thoroughly tested by me in Denmark) and Mel gratefully receives her pulped Multigrain cheerios, before I stagger upstairs and fall into a dreamless sleep.

Monday was spend watching Geckos and staring at walls in the heat while Mel and her husband Win worked. Win is currently in the last few days of Ramadan, kind of the Muslim version of Christmas. The difference is that they earn their presents! This means that for a month they cannot eat or drink during daylight hours. I have been curious to experience how this feels,  never curious enough to actually try it! In the afternoon wandered over to Mel and Win’s work to check out what they do.

The school is a very exclusive school built by a man who is stupidly wealthy. He has the monopoly on Jakarta’s water, power, resources…both the prime minister and vice minister attended the school’s opening. You get the picture. The campus more closely resembles a resort than a school. Manicured gardens surround water features, shiny new play equipment is surrounded by lush tropical plants. How do you teach a grade four kids who has his own driver, maid and helper? or the kid who got a new BMW for his birthday? or the kid who showed an interest in soccer, so his dad built him a soccer field, and bought him a European soccer team?

grey Jakarta family timeThe gap between rich and poor in Indonesia is breathtaking. Win told me of one grade ten boy who turned up to metalwork with a brand new Volkswagen golf, he gleefully spent a term trashing the car in an effort to turn it into a racer. Another kid turned up with a semiautomatic sniper rifle. Laptops are a monthly consumable to be trashed and replaced. Just down the road other kids cram into a single, non airconditioned building to learn.

These are school stories which I never tire of. The disregard for their privilege astounds Mel and Win. School fees start at $110 000 per year and increase every year from Kindergarden. Mel’s Campus is in BSD city, about a half hour commute from Jakarta’s CBD. There is a second campus in the city centre. Set on the ninth floor of a plush office building it caters to executive parents working in town. I feel sorry for these city dwelling kids as they would rarely have the chance to get dirty, let alone be outdoors. They get shuffled from apartment block homes to their apartment block school. No amount of iPads or consolation prize, guilt presents can offset this loss.

Somehow despite keeping in close touch with both Mel, Win and the kids we manage to fill our time with constant chatter. It is so very wonderful to be enjoying family time after one and a half year. I start to feel like an old bastard as I tell Ameer and Ambieka how much they have grown. Last time we were close my pharmacy partnership was in its death throes and I was understandably distracted throughout.

On Tuesday, being a good uncle I helped Ameer wag his first day from school and took him to Kung Fu Panda two, in 3D. I sat there next to my little mate, simply loving having time with him, both of us were wearing those dorky plastic glasses. I was determined to make the most of having a valid excuse to see kids movies!

Relieved that the Panda ended up saving the day Ameer and left the air conditioned building being slapped by the heat as we walked outside. Completely lost and needing to walk home we did a few laps of the shopping complex. Security guards sat laconically on plastic seats watching drivers risking their lives in the chaotic traffic. Making a game of my geographical embarrassment I asked Ameer which way was home. He said; “Silly Uncle Ben, see the flag over there, that is the grocery shop, behind that is the way” I took my pint sized guide’s hand and he led me through six lanes of traffic and home. All the way I was trying to convince myself that I would have found it eventually.

The heat here is killing me after the Danish ‘summer’. Mel knows my poor form in the heat and thankfully set the air con in my room to “Tasmania”. My room is my refuge from both the heat and Ambieka’s occasional two year old tantrums.

aaaand straight back to the pool.

grey Jakarta family timeWin came to the pool but after a day not eating or drinking he is happy to chill on the plastic pool lounge. I truly have no idea how he works through the day without sustenance. A friendly, grey bearded chap sporting a very hydrodynamic beer belly floated over and was soon wearing two kids on his back. It was Phil. One of the more interesting characters I have met in a long time. Phil is a retired catholic priest, an ex-school teacher, a lover of books, a great mate to Mel, Win and the kids, hilarious and outwardly gay. He moved to Indonesia for love and seems to be rather bored with himself here. Phil’s days are spend reading, writing and philosophizing. I got the distinct impression that his is an intellect not comfortable without challenge. We spoke at length about both of our writing projects and life in general before the family and I left for home. We wandered back in the heat to enjoy another night of each others company.

That night I figured out that the little stool near the toilet is not a foot stool for Mel, but a standing platform for Ameer. I also witnessed the witching hour first hand for the first time in my life….

The witching hour is that magic time after dinner and before bed when the devil himself takes control of little people’s bodies and sets them running around like demons, whingeing about stupid things, saying they are hungry, then saying “not really” and basically justifying my non-parental status. Mel took the kids upstairs to perform an exorcism this left Win and I to bitch about University fees. Well, I bitched after finding out I am paying four times more per unit than Win. Mel returned looking haunted and apologizing unnecessarily. On Wednesday I again stole Ameer from school to take him to Kidzania, (to be brutally honest, this was mainly for my benefit). Wednesday deserves its very own blog.

Wednesday night we desperately set about enjoying our last few hours together. Win ate and recovered from another day of fasting as Mel and I sipped on a cranberry and Vodka in the hot night. We watched bats chasing insects around a nearby lamppost, zapped mozzies with the electric big zapper and philosophized.

All too soon, I am kissing my Nephew and Niece, hugging Mel and Win goodbye and watching them drive off to school. In two more hours time I will be on my way to the airport to (hopefully) meet Jette in Bangkok. We have a hotel tonight planned but not booked. That is as far as our planning extends for our three week tour of Laos and Cambodia.

We don’t even know how we are going to even get to Laos. I want to hire a scooter. I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, and Mel and Win if you read this: “Terima kasih karena saya, senang melihat keluarga yang luar biasa Anda melihat Anda semua di natal, banyak cinta. B”

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