Posted by: HK | March 31, 2017

Mummy and Natty Adventures: HellZania

In a recent post, I described the blood, sweat and tears that were involved in attempting to gain access to KidZania, one of Jakarta’s leading attractions for kids. We finally managed to go inside shortly after 11am, and I pretty quickly realised that a day-trip to Hell may have been a preferable option. At least the music would have been better.

I was thrilled that my son would spend a day learning about Capitalism.

Words cannot describe the assault on your senses that is experienced on first walking into KidZania. Dim corridors, echoing screams, neon flashing lights, a writhing sea of bodies undulating in every direction. Like most guests, we spent our first moments paralysed with shock, trying to take it all in. Then the words of Aditya, our obsequious customer service rep, echoed in my mind: “First you get money at bank, then you can play.” The bank. Right. Bound to be near the entrance as it is the first port of call for all visitors. We searched and searched, to no avail. Finally, after asking several surly workers, we found the required location at the furthest point from the entrance.
And so it went on. Everything was badly signposted. There were limited instructions for anything, not even in Indonesian. At one point, my son wished to drive a car. After much searching, we found the scrummage that passed for the queue. We managed to push our way to the front, only for the worker to demand Natty’s driving licence. Of course, my 4-year-old does not have one of those. So he was sent to the hospital for a “Medical Checkup” (which involved spending 5 minutes alone in a room with a suspicious-looking man in a doctor’s costume), then he was handed a scrap of paper, which he was under strict instructions not to lose, and had to find the driving test centre. There he had his photograph and fingerprints taken, was asked if he knew the colours of a traffic light, and was declared fit to drive. Clutching his license, he returned to the waiting scrummage, and was eventually permitted a 3 minute test drive around a fake petrol station forecourt.
And therein lies the problem with KidZania. Every activity involved up to an hour of mind-numbing tedium whilst queuing or fulfilling the convoluted entry requirements, followed by a few minutes of activity. Bad enough for an adult who can at least pass the time going all Mama Bear on the hordes of rampaging school kids attempting to jump the queue. Agonising torture for a 4 year old who just wants to be able to play.

Waiting is not fun, Mummy.

The activities themselves were, I will admit, very nicely done, and I admire those workers who did show a bit of enthusiasm, particularly the chocolate factory worker, whose smile barely faltered when 30 kids started hammering on the glass 10 minutes before closing. However, this was overshadowed by the fact that Natty only managed five activities in 5 hours; by the fact that he was turned away from numerous activities for being too short or too young (thank God he passed the 100cm mark last month, or he’d have done nothing!); by the fact that everything started closing at 3pm even though the official closing time was not until 4. And everything was overshadowed by the noise, the toilets (let’s just say that 8 stalls for 1000+ guests is never going to be a good ratio), the over-priced food options, the torturous promotional music (which sounded scarily similar to North Korean tourist propaganda), and the crowds. Everywhere, the crowds. At one point, Natty’s activity had to be cut short as there were 200 people blocking the road down which his bank vault security vehicle was driving. I pray that there is never an emergency situation, as the inevitable stampede caused by an attempted evacuation would be catastrophic.
At last, by 3pm, the crowds finally started thinning as the school parties left early in a futile attempt to beat the Jakarta traffic. By this point numerous places being “sold out” or “finished already,” and the hall echoed eerily with the zombie-like footsteps of weary parents searching for any activity that would help to make the entrance fee worthwhile. Natty ended up in the chocolate factory surrounded by adoring older women (he makes a habit of this), and after 20 agonising minutes came out with a tiny square of chocolate, interestingly gift-wrapped and optimistically addressed to himself. Whilst he was producing this creation, I spent my time as I had done at every other activity: alternating between waving maniacally through the glass window, scouring the local area for the activity with the shortest queue, and watching minutes of my life disappear. Although, to be fair, I did spend an amusing few minutes as the factory worker placed a tray of lovingly made chocolate creations into the fridge and then tried to fool 6 pairs of eagle eyes into believing that he was removing the exact same magically frozen squares 3 minutes later.
As the final seconds of the chocolate factory ticked down, another parent and I had been surreptitiously watching the door of the adjacent tea factory. Three happy girls skipped out the latter room; fellow crazy mum and I grabbed our respective darlings by the hand the second the chocolate factory door open and, sharing a barely perceptible nod, propelled them straight through the open door of the tea factory before the startled worker could open his mouth to protest. I’m not sure tea making is really Natty’s thing but, as the other mother whispered to me in frenzied tones, “No queue” meant a lot at this point in the day.
After the tea factory worker had pushed his final cohort back out the door with a suspicious number of minutes left on the clocks, Natty and I flew round the site looking for any attraction that was still open. This resulted in a very bemused worker and pair of sisters as I picked Natty up and flung him into a window cleaning gondola, shouting “One more!” in my best Indonesian. This really was the end of the line, however, and it was time to count up his earnings and visit the department store, where we discovered that 5 hours of hard work had earned enough for one tiny chocolate wafer. Welcome to the world of capitalism, son.

Trying to squeeze every last drop of value out of my precious tickets.

Finally we admitted defeat and left. After half an hour scouring the mall for anywhere that would sell us a bottle of water, we hailed a taxi and set off for home. Unfortunately, the rest of Jakarta’s 32 million-strong population decided to join us, so the drive took rather longer than anticipated. Natty passed the time by falling asleep, which meant that he then spent his sleep time dancing around the room and “helping” Daddy with his homework. All in all, I was glad for a relaxing day of lesson planning the following day, after which I was quite refreshed and ready for our next adventure. But that will have to wait for another post.
Posted by: HK | March 28, 2017

Natty’s First Book

Natty has written a book!


He is currently working on title number 2, a sequal to Edward Lear’s The Jumblies.

Happy reading.

Posted by: HK | March 24, 2017

Mummy and Natty Adventures: Welcome to KidZania

This week is term break for Natty and I. Phalla’s term break is not for a few weeks, so we are unable to travel anywhere. Instead, I decided to make some day trips with Natty.
Our first trip was to KidZania, one of the leading activities for children in Jakarta. We were super excited about the concept – the attraction is built around a child-sized city, where children are able to experience different jobs, such as fireman, doctor, archaeologist, interior designer, factory worker and more. Fuelled by promotional pictures of excited kids in cute uniforms, our expectations for a kids’ paradise were high.
Unfortunately, what we found instead can only be described as Hell on Earth, although I believe Lucifer’s domain is probably quieter and almost certainly has better air-conditioning.
KidZania occupies part of the 6th floor of Pacific Place Mall. Due to the distance from our house, we arrived 10 minutes after the 9am opening time. The rest of the Mall was a deserted early morning ghost town; the ticket area outside Kidzania was a swarming mass of hyped-up school kids, fraught teachers and overwhelmed parents. We found the family queue, only to be told after a few minutes that tickets were completely sold out. For the whole day. We could try coming back the next morning, but we’d have to get there before 8am and, even then, there were no guarantees. Advanced booking was simply impossible.
Bitterly disappointed, I stood to one side to consol my distraught child. And watched at least 5 other families walk up to the ticket desk (sorry, KidZania Airline Check-in Counter) and buy tickets for their children.
Confused, I queued up again, to be stopped by a beaming, be-sashed customer service representative by the name of Aditya.
“Sorry, tickets sold out,” he announced.
“So your colleague said. But these families are buying tickets.”
“Only have adult tickets. No child tickets.”
“That person buying a ticket cannot be more than 6. He is not getting an adult ticket.”
“Ticket sold out. Your son, no ticket.”
As he was speaking, another family pushed in front of us and successfully bought tickets for their three kids. At this point, I may have become just a little loud and angry. The customer service rep started backing away and looking to other staff members for support, but they all took one look at the crazy white woman and vanished.
Eventually Aditya realised that he was on his own, and managed to persuade me to follow him to the Customer Service Office. There he offered me the choice of giving him the money to buy a ticket for me at 7am the following morning, or trying my luck at getting a half-price 2 hour ticket at 2pm. Unaware that most of the activities refuse entry after 3pm and so that my son would not have time to do anything on a 2 hour ticket, and choosing not to worry about how to fill a 4 hour wait with a child who has the attention span of a demented goldfish, I chose the latter option and left my phone number so that he could reserve us some 2pm tickets.
Natty and I left to find some coffee with which to drown our sorrows. On the way, we made a tour of Pacific Place Mall, a shopping centre so high class that it has a fake marina inside.
Just out for a day trip in our yacht, don’t ya know.


Then we made our Starbucks stop (which only served to remind me that Indonesia really does not do good coffee)
We were just about to hit the toy shop scene when my phone rang. It was my new best friend, Aditya, from KidZania.
“We have ticket now. You want?”
I don’t know how the customer service rep had managed to “find” a sold-out ticket, but we ran back upstairs and into the customer service office.
“Is full price, but now is already 11am and is very busy, I am sorry, but is OK, you want?”
I hastily agreed, and the rep scuttled across to the ticket desk so rapidly that he went flying down the stairs. Fortunately there were no serious injuries, and we bought the ticket and prepared to go inside.
As we passed through “security,” we read cheerful signs reading, “Welcome to KidZania.” Much more accurate would have been signs reading, “Welcome to Hell.”
Posted by: HK | January 30, 2017

Crème Brûlée, Wet Wipes and T-Rex Arms

Well, that escalated quickly.

I started writing this post whilst waiting for minor surgery.  In true Asian private hospital style, I only came in for a consultation, but left with a hole in my back, a suitcase of medication and a bill that made me break down in tears in the doctor’s office.

I miss the NHS.

I have had what appeared to be an infected boil on my back for the last three weeks.  An online consultation with a UK-based doctor (via an absolutely awesome service provised by ny health insurers) seemed to confirm that I had an infected sebaceous cyst.  I was prescribed an antibiotic and told to wait for it to burst.

I am already allergic to penicillin; unfortunately it appears I am allergic to erythromycin as well.  Having your face and lips go numb and tingly in the middle of the night is not a fun experience.  So I stopped taking the antibiotic and settled in for the wait, somehow resisting the urge to hand Phalla a hot needle and some wet wipes.

Then, on Friday, fever struck. Unsure if I was suffering from complications of the infection or merely the particulalry virulent lurgy which is currently rampaging through our school, I called the online GP again for advice.  She said that complications couldn’t be ruled out and I should get someone to look at the cyst asap.

So Saturday found me in the Emergency department of a nearby hospital.  I actually wanted to go to a cheaper, more local clinic, but my inability to speak the language, combined with the inability of anyone I know to recommend anywhere in the local area, meant that I had little choice but to pay over-the-odds for a private hospital with English-speaking doctors.  I waited for over an hour (admittedly, not bad by UK A&E standards) before being admitted into the Emergency Ward, where I waited for another hour for the doctor to come and see me.

“What is problem?”

“I have an infected sebaceous cyst that needs draining.”

“You want blood tests for an infection?”

“No.  I have a cyst. On my back.”

The doctor prodded me slightly through my shirt.

“It hurts?”

“Yes, when you prod it.”

“You want biopsy?”

“No, please just drain it.”

“OK. I will hospitalise you overnight.”

“Um, no.  It is just a small incision.  I really don’t need hospitalising.”

“An incision?”

“Yes, to drain the pus.”

For the first time, the doctor asked to look at the cyst.  After 10 seconds of staring, he announced that he was off to find a surgeon.

Eventually he returned.

“Surgeon no available.  I make you appointment.  For Monday.”

“Can you not do it now?  It only needs a small incision and draining.”

“No, no, the pus is very deep.  It needs a surgeon.  Come back Monday.”

For the privilege 2 hours of waiting and 2 minutes of consultation, I paid around $50.  Havig ascertained that the necessary procedure would only cost a further $50 or so, I went home with an armload of antibiotics to wait for Monday

It turns out, by the way, that I am not allergic to these antibiotics.  They merely make me feel so sick I wish I was dead, which is apparently a common side effect that I don’t need to worry about.

So, this morning, I turned up for my 10am appointment.  At 11:30, I was admitted to see the surgeon.  He listened to my tale of woe, spent 10 seconds staring at my back, and announced that I needed minor surgery to remove the cyst.  At a cost of around $350-400.

“But surely it is just a small incision.  The emergency department said 600,000 rupiah ($50).”

“That is for consultation only.”

“No. They said for incision.”

“You need surgery.  This is not a small boil.  They were wrong.”

In the end I agreed to the surgery.  Less than half an hour later, I found myself lying face down on a bed whilst the surgeon sliced, poked, prodded and stitched.  I am very squeamish, so I will skip over the fibromyalgia-induced panic attack; the wonderful oxygen; the strange cutting, tearing noises emanating from behind me; the worrying laughter of the doctor and nurse as they poked my back and made comments about “lots” and “here” and “there”.  After an indefinite amount of time, the surgeon announced he was finished for the fifth time, made a few more stitches and left the room.  I sat up, slowly, and was handed a much-needed cup of sweet tea to help me recover.  The nurse smiled reassuringly at me.

“Here, Mrs,” she announced, and thrust something at me on a piece of paper towel.  Off-white, surprisingly large, it quivered, like a half-eaten crème brûlée.

“Ugh,” was the only response that came to mind.  The nurse laughed, and tossed the offending article into an open waste bin under the bed.

Finally, around $300 and one cyst lighter, I was allowed to go home.  Once there, the pain kicked in.  I spent the rest of the day dosing up on pain killers and gesturing at things with T-Rex arms, as the cyst’s location just below my shoulder blades on my spine makes any form of lifting, carrying or arm extending impossible.  Now I’m off to bed to attempt to find a comfortable sleeping position which won’t result in Nathaniel kicking me in the back, and to plan the next four days of making family and students my personal slaves before the stitches are removed on Saturday.

Next time, I’m going out to buy a needle and some wet wipes.

Posted by: HK | January 2, 2017

English Fails

Depressed by 2016?  Eager for life in 2017 to be greater?  All you need is more Allocat!

Brand name for my new shawl.  At least it isn’t a face cloth.

Peaceful Parenting advice from the public toilets at Aeon Mall, Phnom Penh.

Members of the Oceanic Six taking passengers to brothels is clearly a common problem in Jakarta.

Posted by: HK | December 19, 2016


There are many things that I love about Asia.  But some things are just Fails.

Take this children’s toy, for example, of the kind where you connect different parts (collected from meal deals) together to make a robot.

Someone wasn’t thinking when designing the connections:

Or the transformations:

This Superman doll looks freaky enough as it is…

But the dismembered corpse mode is definitely worse:

This was a surprise offering from a traditional Indonesian crafts store:

This mug is a wonderful example of surreal Asian English at its best:

Meanwhile, Aeon Mall in Cambodia is clearly responding to the popularity of beauty courses offered by NGOs:

To end on a festive note:

Posted by: HK | December 2, 2016

A Peaceful Ending?

According to the Jakarta Post, today’s protest (or rally, or prayer meeting – call it what you will) ended peacefully when most of the 500,00 strong crowd dispersed after the official 1pm ending:

In an attempt to keep the event non-political, the President and Vice President joined in the afternoon prayers, and delivered a short speech.  Participants mainly kept off the roads, keeping to the central garden around the National Monument, and have been praised for not damaging the area.  However, some remained to hear political speeches, including those that urged listeners not to accept non-Muslim government members.  In addition, police arrested 10 people before the event on charges of planning to attack or defame the government.  These apparently included the daughter of the country’s first president, Sukarno, who served from 1946-1967.

Posted by: HK | December 2, 2016

Protest Day Take Two

Today is yet another protest day.  Well, technically – as authorities have asked for no protests against the alleged blasphemy by the Chinese Christian Governor of Jakarta – it is a union-led march (which happen regularly and peacefully around Indonesia) coinciding with a peaceful mass prayer meeting.  However, basically, it is another mass protest day.

By 7am, trains and roads into Jakarta were flooded with protesters.  The last protest drew around 150,000 supporters; for this one I have heard “official” predictions of up to 600,000.  The last protest was peaceful until dark fell, when a small group attacked police (leading to numerous injuries and the death of one man from an asthma attack) and other small groups decided to attack passing motorcyclists and loot a local mart.  In addition, police reportedly arrested a number of known ISIS supporters who had infiltrated the protests.

For this protest, who knows?  It may be peaceful, it may see localised violence, it may descend into chaos, it may be the scene of a terrorist attack.  According to one of my colleagues, army snipers are being positioned at key locations, just in case.  As with the last protest, those with memories of the 1998 riots – where Chinese and foreigners were targeted and killed, and around 1000 protesters died in a fire started during the riots – are very afraid.

Please pray once again for peace in Jakarta, and in all the countries round the world where protests and demonstrations are taking place.

Photos taken by a colleague this morning at the train station in Bogor, a town to the South of Jakarta.

Posted by: HK | November 5, 2016

Protest Ends, Time for the Blame Game

It seems that the protests here finally ended around 4am this morning, following talks between representatives from the government and the protesters.  Negotiations centered around the promise of a legal and transparent investigation into the Governor of Jakarta, commonly known as Ahok, whose comment mentioning a verse from the Quran sparked the protests.

Headlines from around the world predictably focus on the “eruption” of violence by “hardline Islamists.”  Whilst there were reports of cries for Jihad, and some were waving banners that demanded that Ahok be killed, the violence and criminal acts (looting and attempts to steal vehicles) really does appear to have been carried out by a very small minority.  In fact, there are claims that when one group started the violence against the police, others in the crowd sided with the police to try and restrain them.  There was, tragically, one fatality, but this was reportedly someone who suffered an asthma attack triggered by the use of tear gas to disperse the violent crowd, rather than a direct result of violence on either side.  The President of Indonesia has claimed that the violence was triggered by those who wanted to use the rally for political purposes, rather than those who were raising a religious objection.  Meanwhile, rally organisers have blamed the violence on “provocateurs” among both the protesters and the police, who continued to fire tear gas canisters after being ordered by the National Police Chief to stop shooting.  Ten people have apparently been detained for questioning, and pictures circulating on social media are asking for help in identifying those who first attacked the police.

What the headlines gloss over are the majority of protesters who made their demands legally and peacefully.  What they don’t mention is the thousands of Muslims in the capital who did not participate in the protests, or the condemnation via social media by Muslims of those who turned violent and thus confirmed the stereotype, undermining what had been a peaceful rally in defense of their religion.

In short, violence “erupted” in the Jakarta protests not because, as many would have you believe, the protesters were Muslims, but because they were human, and that many people fueled by an atmosphere of mutual anger is almost bound to result in incidents, particularly where any form of politics or religion is involved.  Just look at this list of incidents of violence at Trump rallies.

Anyway, things have calmed down for now.  The trouble never came anywhere near us, for which we are thankful, although there is a huge banner hanging near our local supermarket which demands justice for the insult to the Quran.  Please keep Jakarta in your prayers as the investigation into the Governor goes ahead: he seems to actually be very good at his job, and his Chinese, Christian background make him as popular with many as he is hated by others.

For those who are interested, is a fairly comprehensive, relatively unbiased overview of what happened.

Posted by: HK | November 4, 2016

Tear Gas and Firecrackers

An update on the protest here…

As darkness fell in Jakarta, many left the protest to return home.  Others, however, stayed and gathered at the Presidential palace to continue protesting.  With the darkness, sadly, came some outbreaks of violence.  Disappointed that the President had refused to meet with their representatives, and angered that police had asked them to respect the curfew which had been established to mark the official end of the protests, some protesters threw rocks, bottles and firecrackers at the police, and rushed against the police lines.  The police tried to defend themselves passively, but ended up using tear gas and water canons to disperse those who were causing the trouble.  In the chaos, two police trucks were set ablaze in a fire which dominates scenes from the protest.  A number of people ended up hospitalised in the clashes, and at least one person seems to have been killed, although details are still sketchy.  However, most people still seemed to remain fairly peaceful.

Many of the protesters started moving further north, away from the central areas where the government were based.  They attempted to enter the housing complex belonging to the Governor of Jakarta, who the protests are against.  However, when that failed, they settled for more general violence.  Some groups were filmed targeting cars, attempting to stop them reportedly in order to rob them.  Nearby, an Indomart (small grocery store) was looted by a mob of people.  A regiment of riot police were employed to march north and calm the situation down.

Now, at 10.30pm, the images are of groups of protesters marching in all different directions as they leave the protest and return to their assembly points.  Again, most currently appear to be very peaceful.

When so many people are gathered together, it is sadly inevitable that a few will get carried away and start throwing stuff, or use the fact that they have had a good day of being angry with their friends as an excuse to try a bit of lawlessness on the way home.  The end of the protest is probably the most dangerous time, as the official work is finished and those who are minded to do some unofficial damage feel at liberty to do so.  I am still – having followed (online!) protests in Cambodia whilst I was there, and in other places such as the Calais Jungle and London through friends – impressed by how remarkably peaceful 100,000-150,000 people remained, and how restrained the police and authorities have been.  The official line was that the protesters were being given their democratic right to demonstrate peacefully, and, as far as the official protest was concerned, this seems to be exactly what happened.

Now to pray that calm reigns as the protesters disperse, that the groups who see the night after a rally as an opportunity for lawlessness would be prevented from causing chaos, and that everything would end peacefully with the ability for both sides to find an agreeable solution.

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