International Movers

I recently returned from a trip home to America where, as one could guess, the Trump vs. Clinton debate as to who should (or shouldn’t) be president was the hot topic among most people at the moment. Interestingly, I noticed that regardless of what candidate people were promising to vote for, I kept hearing many people threaten to move to Canada if their candidate didn’t win. Like ‘for real’ this time. It should be noted that we Americans do this, from time to time. When it comes to healthcare, elections, standard of living. For anything that really irks us Canada is often addressed as some sort of a bountiful utopian safe house to flee to when the bottom finally falls out in the U.S. It got me thinking though, about just up and swapping countries and how probable that actually is, once all things are considered. While it sounds straightforward enough, especially when you are just going ‘next door’ as in the case of a U.S. to Canada move, it is actually a huge undertaking emotionally and physically, particularly when children are involved.

One group of people that often seriously consider international moves are naturally those with partners from different countries, such as myself and many of my friends with Balinese, or Indonesian, partners. In my own case, before having any children, with a husband from Bali, the world seemed like our oyster in terms of where we should live. Being in my early twenties helped that vagabond state of mind massively as well. Doing half of the year in Bali and the other half of the year in the US was the goal for a long time, until we realized what it would have taken to fund two trips back and forth between Bali and the U.S. each year. Then children enter the picture and you are in a whole new zone of providing safety and stability for your family, that doesn’t even exist prior to that.

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For us, that meant trying out a life in America first. After an eight-year stint in the U.S., for four and-a-half years of which we didn’t come back to Bali at all, we were finally ready to settle on the Bali side of things. This was a good choice for our family personally, but I have met more people in mixed Indonesian/Western marriages that tend to go the opposite route, living in Bali first and then deciding to move back to their partner’s home country, be it Australia, America, Europe, or wherever. To the extent that currently the vast majority of our favorite mixed marriage couples in Bali seem to have been vacating en masse within the last couple years, to go live abroad. Since this type of an international family upheaval is rarely without its own well thought out debate as to whether this is the best choice for the whole family, I have come up with some things to consider when making the choice to uproot.

The family dynamic can change.  This is probably the biggest one and it can be hard to predict how it is going to pan out. Many times the partner that has been able to take a back seat in the day to day organization of things now finds themselves front and center, so to speak, by default, once they have moved the family and are now in their home country. This can be a good, or a bad thing, depending on personality types and family dynamic overall. One of the most interesting ways this has been true for us is as far as who ends up being the more responsible partner in terms of having to deal with bureaucracy, immigration, or any formalities. In the U.S., as the native English speaker, I was often the one that, by default, had to stay on top of everything from arranging appointments for things to handling any and all paperwork and correspondence for all things official that might come up in our lives. However, after our move to Bali, while I still do a little bit of that, the responsibility of that has very much shifted to my husband, as he is a native speaker and obviously someone who was born here, so he is usually way more effective at getting things done here than I would be.

Wondering where you fit in. This one can be so different for each member of the family. While I am a strong believer in people in mixed marriages trying out a life in each person’s home country, once you have lived abroad for a while and then go back to your home country, now with a family in tow, things can look a bit different through your (now more worldly) eyes. You will naturally be your spouse’s main support person if you are the citizen of the country you are moving to, which is obvious, but it can be a surprisingly big responsibility until everyone gets settled in, particularly if your partner has never been to your home country before, or doesn’t know much about life there. This is where meeting up with other families in mixed international marriages can be a godsend with adjusting to life as a family in a new country. As for children, depending on what age they are when an international move is made, there can be a great deal of resentment at first that can linger on for a while. They may really miss their friends and family that were left behind. In my experience, and from what I have heard from others, the younger they are when an international move is made, the easier it is overall.

The reasons why you left the previous country could now become things that you miss. It goes without saying that uprooting your family and moving far away from all that has been established together is a very personal decision, that can be based on multiple reasons. From new job offers, to giving the relationship a fresh start and a change of scenery, to being closer to family members who haven’t seen you in years, there are many different reasons to make the move. The funny thing is (which many people don’t often consider at first) is that the things that drive you nuts about the country you are currently living in, might be the things you end up missing later on. For instance, a seemingly low salary in Indonesia may be a factor for moving initially, but once you move abroad you may notice that with a job where you can make more money, after day care costs, working overtime, not seeing your kids as much and saving the weekends for running errands, that lower salary may have been worth it to spend the weekends on the beach with your family on the Bali side of things.

You will miss a new set of people now. This one is self-explanatory and just plain obvious, but still relevant, of course. You get married to someone from a different country and you will perpetually be missing a set of friends and relatives whenever you aren’t with them and far away. An international move just means you will miss a new set of people and then joyfully get to see other ones you haven’t seen in a long time. Before our move to Bali, I distinctly remember someone asking me, right before we left, if we realized the magnitude of our actions in moving abroad. That it would cause a ripple effect in the entire family structure right down to the language our kids would speak and to the way they would essentially view the world in many respects. It was said in a respectful way, but it really made me stop and realize how it would affect everyone in our inner circles and not just us as the ones moving.

Wondering ‘what if’ if you never give living in your partner’s country a try. For us our main reasons for moving back to Bali had to do with giving our daughter (who was born in the U.S.) richer experiences that we couldn’t give her there, like speaking three languages and lots of cousins to play with, along with a better quality of life that didn’t feel so much like a dog chasing their tail and never getting anywhere. Also, a big part of it was always wondering what if we moved back to Bali? Or what if we never did? That alone can be one of the most enticing reasons of all for a move abroad.

Has your family lived in the country of each partner? Which move was easier or harder to make the transition to and why?

 

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He’s Just Not That Into It

My Birthday is next week and thinking about it I began reminiscing (not in a soft focus, doe eyed kind of way, but more of a reminder that I shouldn’t get my hopes up this year) about my 32nd a few years back. I know it wasn’t a big one like 1 or 18 or 30, just plain old boring 32 and I wasn’t planning to make a fuss or demand fabulous presents or breakfast in bed, but I can’t deny some nod to the day I arrived in the world would have been nice.

However, having married a Balinese man I seem to have forfeited all rights to spoilings on my birthday. Celebrations and presents are for the Gods silly! Not only that but Balinese birthdays come every 210 days so requesting gifts every 365 days just proves how bad at maths I really am.

The worst thing about this whole husband ignoring my Birthday thing is that there is no rhyme or reason to it. Some years I get a present, some years I don’t. As much as I love being kept on my toes, playing along with my darling husband with a “Oh, it’s ok you forgot my birthday my love”, being presented with a surprise is much better than getting nothing and then having to pretend not to be angry because I’ve already said it’s no big deal.

Husband 101: teasing, even unintentionally when it comes birthdays is bad. Continuity is key; either do something or don’t but don’t let me be get all hopeful and then end up disappointed.

Every year I think back to the fluffy little chub of a puppy that was pulled out of a backpack on my birthday 10 years ago when we had been together for just over a month. Surely starting with the bar so high was either a monumental mistake or some kind of man trickery.

I have to admit, there is always a happy birthday and a kiss and sometimes I am also allowed to request that a bit of facial hair or dreadlock maintenance is undertaken (his not mine).

However, the best gift my husband gave me was one he didn’t even know he was bestowing upon me. On the evening of my 32nd birthday I was needling him (just a tiny bit) about how he had been a bad husband and he said, and I quote, “I’m just not that into it”, meaning my birthday. A bit pissed off and taken aback at first, I realized that he had just given me grounds for refusal to not do a million things…and laugh about it.

I’m just not that into doing the dishes today.

I’m just not that into hanging the laundry.

I’m just not that into cooking dinner tonight.

I’m just not that into letting you go out drinking with your friends tonight.

The list could go on and on (evil cackle, fade to black)

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Luckily I have wonderful friends

 

 

 

 

 

Sleeping Beauties

All you ladies out there married to Indonesian men, have you ever wondered if your husband has narcolepsy? Seriously, I have never known a man who can fall asleep so quickly and in such uncomfortable positions as my husband. Actually, I’ve seen his brothers and father pass out with equal speediness so perhaps it’s a narcoleptic gene…

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While I toss and turn for hours thinking about the pile of laundry the needs to be washed, the cat food that needs to be bought, and the possibility of a catastrophic natural disaster any moment, my husband is starfished on the living room floor in his underwear “watching tv”.

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I would have to be about a bottle of wine deep to pass out with my face stuck to the tiles, and I think the family would wonder if there was something seriously wrong if they found me like this. Actually, my mother-in-law once passed by while I was stretching my back on the floor (I was very pregnant) and came running into the house totally panicked thinking I had collapsed. A nice reminder that if I were to collapse on my own I wouldn’t be half eaten by the cat before someone found me.

Hmmm…tangent. Well, I am jealous of these lucky boys that can sleep like they’ve fallen from the sky but I also am aware that people may trip over me, so I’ll stick to my bed.

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Strike a Pose

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Last week a bunch of our mum friends and their kids went to spend the day at Komune beach club. It’s an excellent place to hang out in the sun, play in the pool and apparently take thousands of selfies…

Sitting around in our wet towels, eating fish and chips we definitely weren’t ready for our close-ups but it seemed the group of Indonesian 20-somethings that arrived and sat on the loungers next to us definitely were. The four girls preened and reapplied their (copious amounts of) makeup and even changed their clothes before the photo shoot really began.

Phones the size of most people’s tvs came out of handbags you could stow a small child in and held at arms length they snapped away happily pouting at themselves. Actually, to be fair they also took picture of each other pouting.

There didn’t seem to be any sign of them ordering anything or using the pool at this point, but they did suddenly magic a small bouquet of roses from somewhere and began a whole new round of posing. Just when I thought they might give their facial muscles a rest, a fully inflated balloon was pulled from the same mystical place the flowers had come from. Apparently they were just getting warmed up and they were oblivious to how ridiculous they looked. After about 20 minutes of this the group got up and left.

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This is one of those cultural phenomena I just can’t wrap my head around. Did they come and take photos just to say they had been to Komune? It certainly seemed that way.

I’m all for taking photos and for sharing on social media, but are these people missing out on experiences because they are too busy sharing them? Also, most people look like narcissistic fools in selfies…just sayin’. (Exhibit A, Indonesia’s most famous female police officer)

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A couple of months ago when I went to stay in a hotel for Nyepi with my family, I was amazed at the amount of people sitting around the pool with their phones out. The hotel was a 5 star resort, why weren’t they enjoying it?? For the amount of money it cost us to stay there I was determined to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment out of it and left my phone to go dead in the room.

In 20 years will these people telling their kids about that awesome time they went to Komune, or the amazing weekend they spent at the Rimba? I feel sad for them to think that their memories will all be so very dull and their pictures will be the versions of themselves that they want everyone to see because all the flawed ones have been deleted.

Every day I see families in restaurants playing on their phones instead of having conversations, friends sitting around with their phones looking at facebook to see what other friends are up to (they’re on facebook as well you fools!) and don’t even get me started on people who don’t even stop their motorbike to answer their phone or send a text.

me: WHY DOES IT SOUND LIKE YOU’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A TORNADO???

them: WHAT? I CAN’T REALLY HEAR YOU, I’M ON MY MOTORBIKE…

me: BAHHHHHH!!!!

Perhaps it’s time to put the phones away, stop pouting, look around and smell those roses instead of posing with them.

Ladies in Waiting

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Take two children, add in some extreme hunger, a 3.5 hour wait in a line going seemingly nowhere, then add in a Saturday and what do you get? If you guessed a trip to Disneyland you would be wrong, but not that far off about the general specs. If you guessed the opening of Bali’s first, long awaited, H&M clothing store, then the grand prize would be all yours.

There has been a tremendous amount of buzz for several months about Bali’s first H&M store at Mal Galeria, on the outskirts of Kuta. I know this sounds fairly ridiculous to some that don’t live in Bali, but let me just paint a picture for you about the options for clothes shopping here in Bali. Initially, you arrive in Bali with some of your favorite clothing items. They may be trendy, stylish, interesting, you may even have a beauty routine that you regularly adhere to. Over time (supposing you are here for more than a few months) the smoking hot sun plays its wicked game of ‘let’s fade all of your perfectly good clothes’. Then hard water (which is used in 99% of homes here) takes a toll on them. Eventually, the mold spots arrive one day out of nowhere (hey, rainy season!) giving the final knife jab to the heart, in what is a fairly predictable pattern for most items of clothing. Unless, of course, you are a diehard fan of polyester, than you have more options than most and should probably stop reading this now anyway.

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Why not just go shopping at one of the many clothing shops in Bali you ask? Well, sure, but the main options are limited to insanely small sizes in local retailers (which used to leave me sobbing in dressing rooms 15 years ago, so I can’t imagine how that would go down now), or expensive boutique wear, which is mainly for holiday makers, the likes of which often leave one looking as if a set of watercolors has just exploded all over your perfectly flowy dress. All this to say, when something like H&M (a reasonably affordable store with clothes that fall into the ‘something for everyone’ category) opens up here, it is a big deal and reason for celebration, or an episode of madness, as I soon found out.

The game plan was for me to take my two daughters (ages 8 years old and 6 months old) to meet Hannah and her two children (ages 8 and 3.5 years old) at H&M on opening day in the mall. We knew it would be mayhem because we had been keeping abreast of the situation on twitter. After hemming and hawing about it all morning I knew it was now or never and finally I just decided to go for it. Hannah, being much savvier in how to roll with two kids in tow, was growing more skeptical about how this would make for a ‘fun’ Saturday outing for us all and eventually decided to bail out for the beach, smart woman that she is.

My oldest daughter and I, as if two females possessed, marched into the mall like fierce warriors ready for anything. After a mere ten minute wait outside the store we were ushered into the sparkling new H&M, night club style, in select waves of people at a time. We thought for sure that we had dodged a bullet and the worst was over as far as insane crowds. Like Zach Galifianakis in the Hangover, with my 6 month old strapped to my chest in the baby carrier, we walked as if in slow motion, all wide eyed and hypnotized. At first it really didn’t seem too crowded, except for two pesky streams of people that snaked around the men’s, women’s and kid’s departments, leading to two separate cashiers. But we were sure (SURE!) that those were lines that would go quickly.

Our strategy would be to power shop, not attempt to buy every pretty, alluring thing in sight, and then get in line quickly in case it would be like a 30 minute wait. We could always come back another time in a few weeks to shop in peace. It should be noted here that I am far from being a fashionista. In fact, my oldest daughter would probably keel over with laughter if you even suggested it. I am just a sucker for breathable fabrics (cotton!) and new clothes every few years. So, we hustled, got our items and then parked ourselves in what we thought was the shorter of the two lines. I began texting Hannah, as there was some hopeful idea of meeting her at the beach later at this point. Forty five minutes later, with my phone battery dwindling rapidly, having moved only two yards further in the line, I was starting to grow nervous about what lay ahead. And rightfully so.

Blessedly, my six month old was asleep, at first. However, that didn’t last long. My older daughter and I began to awkwardly pass back and forth two armfuls of clothes, a kid’s umbrella, socks, and a hat (all of the in-store shopping bags were taken, being opening day and all), which meant my youngest daughter started to wake up and was plenty pissed at the interruption. The throbbing techno music, blaring from massive speakers throughout the store (again, opening day) and the 8,000 neon lights may have also played a role in this though. She quickly decided that she liked the ‘wait mates’ as I started to call them in my head, behind us and put the charm on pretty hardcore for just a bit. Until, that is, she realized in no time flat that we were not moving. There would be no walking around, bouncing lovingly with her, or playing with anything, really. She had to wait in one spot, just like us, which ramped up the fidget factor something fierce. Somewhere around the two hour mark (which was basically only a half of a loop around the kid’s clothing section) we could barely keep our belongings together as many of the items we were hoping to purchase were now scattered on the floor around us and being slid forward by our feet. My youngest daughter became an unruly mess of wiggles and whining and the oldest one fell completely silent and was totally ignoring me due to extreme hunger pains. Suddenly, I realized we were hoping to eat lunch after H&M and we had already been stuck in what was supposed to be the happiest shopping place on earth for over two hours. And not in a good way. Oh the irony.

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Thankfully, my ‘wait mates’, a stylish older granny and a spritely man with a mere two dress shirts in his hands made the time pass a bit more quickly as we developed many conspiracy theories as to why the line was moving so slowly, i.e. not at all. We had heard that the heavily discounted vouchers for the first 500 people that arrived that day were confusing the cashiers (this turned out to be semi-true); that there were only two cashiers per bazillion people (not totally true); and that the line was so slow because each person had decided to purchase a mountain of clothes in the sheer excitement of the moment of being on the precipice of new clothing options on this tiny little island (most true of all).

In actuality, the things we saw while waiting in line far surpassed the levels of crazy, rather than our conspiracy theories did. Someone had sent a bewildered Gojek courier to wait in the world’s longest line for her, to buy one pair of pants. All of the cashiers were trainees being trained onsite (uh, trial by fire), with loads of questions for the managers that hovered over them all the while and, one of the best moments of insanity, was when we finally reached the finish line and were a mere three people from the actual cashiers themselves when a seemingly normal woman in front of us, who had passed no less than five full length mirrors after our tour of the store during our wait in line, decided to try on her overstuffed satchel of clothes, one by one, right there in front of the cashiers and all of the other people waiting to pay. Twirling in the full length mirror like the big bag of crazy that she was. At this moment I truly thought that the ever patient and mild mannered spirit of Indonesians would give out simultaneously, in that store. The granny behind me muttered something about hoping she didn’t run into that lady in the parking lot, as she wouldn’t be able to control her rage.

Once we finally made it to the coveted cashiers our eyes were bloodshot, our stomachs were growling and all the children in the store started to freak out en masse, one by one. A Russian lady had to escort her three year old out of the store, as he had a total mental breakdown in the middle of the bow tie section, for no discernable reason. I felt his pain on a very visceral level.

So why in heaven’s name didn’t we just get out of line and come back another time, allowing us to shop with a tad more dignity and grace? Good question. I wish I had an intelligent answer for that, but I don’t really. Why didn’t the guy behind me do that, with his measly two shirts that would likely still be there next week? God only knows. I think that in everyone’s life sometimes we get an idea in our heads and regardless of how crazy it may seem we can get committed to it and just need to ride it out. No matter how dumb, or tiring, it may seem. In the case of living on a tiny island with limited shopping options for affordable, stylish, and sensible every day clothes that fit Westerners, I feel like some sort of fashion mania bewitched not just us, but everyone else that set foot in the store that day. The scariest part is, chances are pretty good I will be back very soon for more.

 

 

 

 

Girls Rule

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There has been a vast period of time that has elapsed since we last blogged. Mostly this is because we have been participating in the usual family/life juggling act, but with some other important bits added in to take up big chunks of our extra time as well. As always, motherhood and outside life is a fine balance.

One of the important bits (or big life changer) that happened during this time of blog hiatus was that I became pregnant with my second child. This is naturally an exciting time, as one would expect. It is a time to plan and prepare for life to shift a bit again, in the best possible way. At least this is how I feel.

However, now that I am in my last couple months of pregnancy, I find that I am fodder for all sorts of various questions, comments, and concerns from the general public. Naturally, this would likely be the case anywhere in the world, since a pregnant woman with an enormous belly apparently emits ethereal Buddha-like ‘rub my belly for good luck’ vibes, but in Bali the nature of this attention is actually a bit different than what I was used to the first time around when I was pregnant in the U.S.

Rather than just getting the usual banter of ‘when are you due?’ and ‘do you know what you are having yet?’ the conversation always follows with me announcing that in fact I do know that I am having a girl. Sounds benign enough, but this is where things take a turn for the strange, in a way that they definitely would not back home in the U.S.  With almost mind blowing consistency, the expectant look of happiness on the face of the (usually unknown) Balinese woman questioning me changes rapidly. Suddenly, their heads tend to tilt to the side and their eyes fall into an instant pained and sympathetic crease, betraying the international signs of sadness. Tongues cluck, as they shake their heads in dismay, assuring me that it will still be okay, while rubbing my arm. As if I have just failed the final end of the year school exam and must now stay behind a grade, I am then told that I can try again next year. That I still have a few good years left until, God willing, I will have the boy that I deserve to have.

Now if I didn’t know the deal here I would lose it for sure upon hearing this sort of thing. I’m sorry but did my baby girl news offend? This is the birth of a new baby we are talking about, not a trip to the guillotine. I am thrilled to be having a girl. While each child is obviously different, having had one girl already, in some ways there is an intuitive feel to raising girls that moms understand, since you have gone through very similar life stages and feelings yourself as a female. Plus, have they no idea how fragile a pregnant woman’s emotions can be? Don’t get me started on how many clueless people I have left in my wake of over emotion these last few months. Not to mention the fact that the baby seems to be healthy and normal thus far. That alone is cause for celebration.

The reality is that I do know the deal here and why this surreal conversation I seem to have on a now almost daily basis ensues with random strange Balinese women, verbatim, about my belly and its contents.

As a patriarchal society, from a young age in Bali it is common to hear endless banter about having a coveted boy child someday. Similar to many other parts of Asia, boys are the keepers of one’s legacy (assuming, of course, that there is a legacy to pass on) and all hopes and dreams are placed on them. Got a house, a business, or even just a really great pot to piss in? Traditionally, it goes to the boys in the family, rather than the girls. Plus, in Bali the boys are the ones that are typically expected to stay in the family compound and take care of their parents in their old age. As in, old age home totally unnecessary. On the other hand, girls are the ones that will inevitably move away into their husband’s family compound after marriage and help take care of their in-laws through old age. Essentially, girls are raised well to go care for and be a part of another family, whereas boys usually carry a familial (and cultural) obligation to stay in the family compound, taking care of their parents, thus eventually inheriting everything that comes with it thereafter. This just goes to show why there is such a high priority put on having a boy child and the potential they can possess for the parents someday.

However, as the mother of half-Balinese/half-American daughter, and now another one on the way, the future of my children is naturally a bit harder to read, regardless of whether they were boys or girls. By default they will always have a foot in the door of two very different worlds and, since each person is different, it will be up to them to decide which world they eventually end up marrying into and having children in. For example, if they were to marry a foreigner, regardless of their sex, they would likely move abroad and we could need to look into old age home options one day. On the other hand, even if I did have a boy someday, we live in a mid-sized Western style house, rather than on the family compound with my in-laws, so the odds are pretty good that a boy and his future wife (particularly if she were a Westerner) would not even have much desire to live in such cramped quarters and take care of us in our golden years.

All this to say, in my upbringing I was never conditioned from a young age to hope and dream of having a boy child someday. Quite the opposite on the U.S. side of things if you were raised by baby boomer parents who were quite happy to stop at one girl child, in my case. However, in Bali I have known Balinese women that get so upset when they aren’t producing a male heir, that it becomes very much the focus of their lives, sometimes creating great distress and sadness. In my experience, Balinese women that are past child bearing age and have only girls can get quite emotional when talking about how they never produced a true heir.

Naturally, one can’t be blamed for being a product of their environment and culture, but I still can’t help but cringe when I get the same pained response over and over from Balinese women when I answer the standard pregnancy questions with great momma pride. Must the proud pregnant lady happiness bubble constantly be popped by random strangers that I don’t even know? Sometimes I do tell them that I don’t know if I am having a boy or a girl, just so that I don’t have to hear the whole predictable spiel all over again. But usually I just tell them that I am having a girl and hope to create an all-girl family band someday. My husband could be our manager. In that sense I am lucky that he is one of a couple of his brothers that has only produced female heirs and that he is totally on board with that plan as well. There is some great female energy in his family and it makes me happy to be contributing to it. Not to mention, we still have plenty of time to figure out old age home options for our golden years, if need be.