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.

Posted by: HK | November 4, 2016

Another Day, Another Country, Another Protest

Once more I find myself enjoying a break from school due to a political protest.  This time, protesters have hit the streets of Jakarta in their thousands.  The cause is anger at the Christian Governor of Jakarta, who is accused of blaspheming the Quran after making a comment saying that Muslims did not have to follow a rule about not voting for non-Muslims.

Image taken from the Christian Today Twitter account; they took it from somewhere else but I lost the original in a sea of Tweets.

I am watching the protest on streaming, CCTV Camera and Twitter, and it is a huge protest – one estimate puts attendance at 150,000.  However, so far, it has been mostly peaceful, with only hostile threats, a bit of sign burning and one report of stones being thrown.  Yet there is a huge air of fear among the expatriate and Christian communities.  Not because there have been any threats made on this occasion, but because there has been a history of violent protests in Jakarta.  The most severe occurred in 1998; protests in Jakarta and elsewhere quickly descended into riots in which Chinese-Indonesians were targeted, foreigners were dragged out of cars and killed, and over 1000 died – mostly protesters who burned to death in fires started to destroy Chinese businesses.  One of my colleagues, who was in Jakarta in 1998, described it as a civil war.  Other protests in the following 18 years have been less destructive, but have also at times ended in violence.

Obviously, we are concerned about safety, not least because Phalla will be travelling back from college later this evening.  We pray that things remain peaceful.  That many people in one place always has the potential to go wrong.  Yet what has amazed me has been the assumption that, because it is an Islamic-based protest, it must involve violence.  I have had concerned friends (from other countries) contact me who have read reports and heard rumours about Islamic extremists urging mass violence at the protests.  I have read comments on live videos condemning the protesters simply for being Muslim.  One comment even used the event as Pro-Trump propaganda, sarcastically mocking the “peaceful” protest with the hashtag #Trump2016.  Given that the video was of a group of men in their own country standing by a bus and occasionally waving flags, I failed to see the significance for Trump’s hard-line anti-immigration policies.

On the other hand, I have been very impressed with the attitude of the local authorities and police, particularly in comparison with my experience of protests in Cambodia.  The police were specifically ordered to be unarmed – not even “rubber bullets,” although there were armed military being interviewed on TV who have been stationed in reserve away from the protest area – and spent time before the protest began praying with the protesters and giving Islamic greetings designed to encourage peaceful communication.

The protests are supposed to end in around an hour.  It remains to be seen whether the protesters will disperse peacefully, stick around much longer (some threatened to stay overnight) or descend into chaos.

Posted by: HK | March 25, 2016

Trials of a Caffeine Addict

Those of you who know me well will know that there are two things I need to keep me happy – chocolate and coffee.

Chocolate in Asia is a disaster.  Yes, I can pay a huge amount of money for Cadburys, but it is either from in Australia – in which case it is just about edible but generally disappointing – or Singapore – in which case it has wheat added to it and I can’t eat it – or Malaysia – in which case I would be better off eating a box of wax.  I basically rely on closely guarded and rationed supplies from the UK, which are sometimes sent by friends or brought by visitors, topped up with Snickers or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups when I need a sugar fix.

Coffee, however, has not been an issue.  Until, that is, I moved to Indonesia.  Indonesia is a country famous for its coffee – including the infamous luwak coffee made from civet poop – yet I just cannot find a good cup.

Part of the problem is that – whilst I have finally purchased a French press and some very strong ground beans for the weekend – I tend to drink instant coffee during the week.  Yes, I know, what do I expect if I insist on drinking processed muck?  However some Vietnamese, Cambodian and Malaysian instant coffee is actually very good and not a thing like the tasteless, over-processed granules that come in your Nescafe jar.  Not as good as the real thing, but definitely a substitute when you are running late for work and have a screaming 3-year-old blocking the route to the kettle.

Indonesian instant coffee is, however, terrible.  Weak, laced with sugar (many brands list sugar as the main ingredient!) and disappointing to taste.  However the very worst thing of all is that the powder refuses to dissolve.

Now I know that proper coffee needs filtering and so on, and that the ability of instant coffee to dissolve is a product of the terrible processing that instant coffee undergoes.  But it is also the whole reason why I choose instant over real coffee.  I don’t want to spend time filtering or brewing.  I don’t want to have to carry various pieces of equipment to work every day.  And I certainly do not want to have a mouth full of gritty coffee grains at every sip.

Why is Indonesian coffee like this?  I cannot find a clear answer online.  Most websites just seem to assume that it is normal for Indonesia.  One even suggests that it is part of a charming tradition of drinking coffee from an upside-down glass, sipping the liquid from the saucer whilst the coffee drains remain behind.  However that sounds to me more like a convoluted solution to a problem that really shouldn’t exist.  Other people suggest simply waiting for the residue to settle.  But, to be honest, if I don’t have time to make a proper cup of coffee, I don’t have time to wait for my instant coffee to be, well, not instant.

And so it is that I find myself in the most contradictory of positions: an instant coffee snob!

Posted by: HK | March 21, 2016

Sweat, Ships and Civet Poo – Part Two

You can always tell when I have had too much coffee, because I start getting twitch and wanting to write stuff.  However I’m not quite sure what to write about.  I’d love to write about miraculous, amazing, soul-winning events, but in reality life just plods on.  I could write about our nanny troubles (we now have a new nanny who is currently working well), or the ever-complex attempt to move house (particularly urgent now a chain smoker has taken up residence in the corridor outside our apartment door).  But there are too many people in the world without a roof over their head or the financial capacity to care for their children for my struggles to be worth more than a sentence.  I could write about Phalla’s studies, but if I say that he has just planned a 3rd-grade lesson on rhythm, then read a letter by Saint Jerome, and is now watching a YouTube video on graphing linear equations, that about covers it.  I could write about my school, but it mainly just consists of planning, teaching and marking; Grade 8 still drive me crazy (but I love them – in case any ever find this); and, again, life just plods on.

So I’m going to turn back time to those distant days of the beginning of January, and continue the story of our adventures travelling around Jakarta!

I left off the story as we emerged from the cross between a dungeon and a greenhouse that is the Transjakarta busway station at Kota, the Old Town, and managed to make our way to Taman Fatahillah, the central square.  Although we were disoriented at first, the correct direction actually became apparent very quickly – we simply followed the crush of people.  As we walked down a paved side-street, we found ourselves part of a river of people flowing towards the square, with occasional eddies as people broke off to examine one of the many stalls selling posters, key rings, t-shirts and other tourist trinkets.  By this time we were feeling rather ravenous, so we created an eddy of our own and paused outside a quaint Dutch colonial building, which had been converted into a very busy cafe.

Inside, the wood-paneled room was a heady mix of stale smoke, sweat and delicious food.  We found a table in the corner and ordered our meal: chips for Natty (of course), chicken for Phalla and satay for me.  The food was good, but best of all were the avocado shakes, which were artistically served in refurbished jam jars.

Feeling refreshed, we once again joined the river of people as it opened out into the ocean that is Taman Fatahillah on a public holiday.  Everywhere we looked, we could see people, bicycles, traditional puppet shows, food stalls, shows, statues, living statues, gigantic figures of traditional gods and, most bizarrely, an assortment of mascots from various programmes such as Doraemon and Masha and the Bear.  Phalla and I were mesmerised; Natty, however, was overwhelmed, and so we found ourselves at the other side of the square rather more quickly than I would have liked.

Due to the heat and noise, we decided that we were yet again in need of refreshment.  We dived into the nearest doorway, which turned out to be Cafe Batavia, one of the best-known establishments in Indonesia.  Whilst there, we decided that it was time to try one of Indonesia’s best-known drinks: civet poop coffee, or Kopi Luwak as it is more properly known.  At more than $10 a cup in this cafe alone, it is one of of the most expensive coffees in the world (and also, arguably, one of the most controversial).  We were expecting something miraculous; unfortunately, although it was definitely the strongest cup of coffee we’d had since arriving in Jakarta, we were left rather unimpressed.

Having recovered our enthusiasm for exploration, we set off away from Taman Fatahillah to find the Kota Intan bridge, the only surviving Dutch drawbridge in Indonesia.  We were expecting a short stroll along a picturesque riverbank.  Instead, we ended up dodging traffic along a dirty street next to an open sewer.  Disheartened, we took a Bajaj (tuk tuk), and peeped at the bridge through the window as we “sped” past.


Our final stop of the day was Sunda Kelapa, an old shipyard full of old fashioned boats.  Natty was in his element as he ran down the length of the dock, jumping over (and sometimes off) gang planks, smiling at sailors and spotting a variety of vehicles used in the shipping business.  After finally reaching the end and the sea, we threw stones and admired the lighthouses, before walking back again to revisit a few of Natty’s favourite sights (the dead gecko in a crack on a gangplank; a particularly large and muddy puddle; a gang plank that was just the right height for jumping) whilst watching drones fly overhead as people videoed the shipyards against the backdrop of the setting sun.

By this point we were tired, hungry and exhausted.  We refueled in Indomart, made a determined decision against attempting to find our way back by bus, and hailed a taxi.  We spent the ride home scoffing crisps and discussing the fact that we had actually enjoyed ourselves in a city where we normally feel so frustratingly homesick.  So ended a wonderfully crazy Jakarta adventure.

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