Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Background & History Part II

Continued from Part I.......

In 1991 my father was offered a great opportunity to work and live overseas. Several months ahead of my mother and I, he moved over to Indonesia to start work and get things ready for us to move.

In early 1992 my mother and I packed up everything we could, sold off, stored or gave away the rest and boarded a plane for Singapore. For me it was the chance of a lifetime. At the time I gave little thought to what I was leaving behind. This was an adventure. Before this I had gotten to spend a little bit of time in Kuwait when my father worked there, but that was more of a holiday visit, this was different.

We spent a few days in Singapore before heading to Batam, a small Indonesian island off of Singapore, to stay for a few weeks. This is where my father was working at the time. The plan was we would move down to Jakarta, the capital, eventually, but for now we were staying with my father as we hadn't seen him in several months and he was too busy with work to go with us to Jakarta.

After some time though we did move to Jakarta. For the first few months we stayed with friends from the US who had moved over a couple of years before. It wasn't long before I started school. This was quite a shock. I had been hanging out with the son of our hosts at his school, Jakarta International School (JIS), which was primarily an American School. This school could put many US university campuses to shame. I was looking forward to attending such a school. But that wasn't to be.

JIS charged, and still does, insane fees for attendance. If my memory serves me correctly it was something along the lines of USD $2000 per month plus a USD $150,000 bond to get in. This was way more anything my dad could afford as he was working as a contractor. Families that were brought over from the US as employees of big companies had schooling and housing paid for, but we didn't.

Instead I went to an Indian run school, known as Gandhi Memorial International School (GMIS). The man that was responsible for getting my dad the job in Indonesia sent his kids there and recommended it. It was somewhat more reasonable at USD $300 dollars a month. Dad broke this news to me in stages. At first I thought it couldn't be all that bad, surely it was like JIS. Nope. Then came the news that I had to wear a uniform. Not Cool! As a student from the US, uniforms were a big turn off. I know other parts of the world have always worn uniforms but for me this was a new thing.

First day of school was a shock to my system. The school took hours in traffic to get to, was on the other side of town in a dirty polluted area. The whole area stank of sewerage. The school was a single four story box shaped building; lime green paint peeling off everywhere. The students were not American, I was the only one. I was surrounded by Indians, Phillipinos, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians and more. I was one of the only white kids in the entire school.

To top it all off we had to gather in the foyer, in front of a statue of Gandhi, every day and pray. No, we were not praying to him, it was a non-denominational prayer, but this still struck me as odd at the time. I was surrounded by religions I did not know or understand. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and more. Add to that the crappy uniform, the ugly school, being the only white kid, and picked on for it, and the new and strange country, the most popular Muslim country in the world, and you have one messed up kid.

As any good international school should, we all learned about all religions and participated in events dedicated to all religions, particularly Hindu ones. This too freaked me out.

So, as one may expect, I rebelled. I did everything I could to get kicked out of that school, I even took the blame for things that I didn't do. It is very likely that I still hold the record. I was suspended and expelled 27 times. My father was usually away working during this period so it fell on his friend, whose kids I went to school with, to beg the school to let me back in. I made his life hell for a while I am sure.

In the end I accepted my situation and while I didn't always agree with the school, and thought the facilities were horrid, I made great friends with both the students and teachers. In fact I went on to lead the student body, giving some teachers who were not sure of my rehabilitation nightmares! All in all I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. I had a great education and made great long lasting friendships.

Growing up in Indonesia I was surrounded by religion, everywhere. Being a highly Muslim country there are Mosques everywhere and the practically shuts down during Ramadan and comes to a standstill during Idul Fitri. The government in Indonesia even mandates that you believe in God, so long as it is a government recognized one. This included Muslim, mainstream Christianity, Buddhism and Hindu, but not Judaism, Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses.

It took little time after moving to Indonesia for my family to find an English speaking Church. It was run by missionaries from the US. At first it was a rather large congregation, but over time it dwindled down to just a few people.

When I was about 15 I started catechism classes. This is a bible study class that is supposed to prepare you to partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion. This class went on for about a year. Each week we would meet, discuss what it meant to be Christian, what it meant to partake of Holy Communion and read our bible. We had to memorize the Apostle and Nicene Creeds and all the books of the bible. We were encouraged to do a lot of reading on our own and ask questions etc. Even at that age I found many inconsistencies, contradictions and so on in the bible. I questioned a lot. As much as I liked the pastor I have to say his responses were not too good. I know I put him through hell when it came to explaining the holy trinity, Father, Son & Holy Ghost. This is not discussed anywhere in the bible, it was concocted by the Roman Catholic Church. A lot of my questions were answered with "it is not our place to question God", a response that I cannot accept.

I am the kind of person that needs to know WHY. I always have been. When I arrived at School in Indonesia my Math skills were so far behind the other students, due to the weak US educational system, and I struggled with Math. It didn't help that the teachers were impatient and felt I was holding up the class. In math, as with religion, I was often told when I asked why an equation worked the way it did, "Because it does". That is not an answer, not one I am willing to accept. I am curious by nature and I need to know WHY! I know I will be punished by having a child that asks "why" about everything but I will accept that and encourage them to keep doing it for their entire lives. A lot of things would be better if people would throw a fit and say "BUT WHY?"

Needless to say the pastor's responses to my questions never really improved my already rather basic faith. I played along because it was expected of me. I played along because I was told that I would be punished in hell if I didn't. Often I played along because I was scared, scared of hell, scared of questions without answers and scared of disappointing my parents. Scared is not something that should be associated with religion. Not a good one anyway, or at least not in my opinion, but I will get into that in the future.

During this time my parents got my brother Roger a job at a school in Indonesia. He had recently graduated University and was looking for work. The administrators for the school went to our church and wanted a young, single Christian coach for their athletics department. They met him in the US and interviewed him and he got the posting.

Roger and I have never really been close, there is too big of an age gap and too much differing interests for us to really have much in common, but it was good for a little while to see him again and have him around. I know it made mom really happy to have him over here, which was good. Living overseas away from your family is not easy.

After a time though his interference started up again. I know he meant well, but I still didn't like it. Again the usual stuff was at the center of it all, my choice of music (by now I was playing in a rock band), my interest in movies and, of course, my dating activities.

I was a huge fan of Nirvana, I loved their music. I can't say I really listened to the lyrics much but I loved the music, especially since I was learning to play guitar. All of the sudden my mother is told that certain lyrics mean certain things, or say certain things. Which they did not. I could list many examples of out and out lies but that is not the purpose of this post. Yet songs the two of them liked that were mainstream often had very bad hidden meanings to them, this is not to say I didn't like the songs, but they certainly didn't realize what they were listening to! The list of musicians I wasn't supposed to be listening to grew, Nirvana, Guns and Roses, Metallica and Kiss were a few. I ignored this and kept on listening and kept on playing. To me it was all about the music, if I could rock it on my guitar I was going to listen to it and learn how to play it. Eventually the complaining stopped, though every now and then there would be snide comments from Roger.

Then came my teenage girlfriend, this was really a bone of contention. I met Sally when I was 16 and I was "in love". I could write a book on this relationship but suffice it to say the biggest problem was that she was 20 at the time and Indonesian. It wasn't that she was Indonesian, but that she was 20 AND Indonesian. One would have to live in Indonesia to understand, but it is very common for expats to get local girls, way younger and way more attractive than the expat may otherwise get, all because these girls were looking for a step up the ladder. It was for money and position in society. Not all mind you, but it is very common. Many expats would be married and have honeys on the side and in the Oil Industry this was very very common.

As we were apart of that community due to my dads work, this is the opinion my mother had of many Indonesian women, especially an older one dating her son and Roger shared this opinion. There was all the usual concern about sex, her getting pregnant and trapping me in a marriage and so on and so forth. My father, thankfully, trusted me, as he always has, to do the right thing and stayed out of that part of my life. I admire him greatly for letting me make my own mistakes and learning from them. In this instance however I made no mistake.

Sally and I had a rocky relationship, often caused by the age gap and also concerns from her family, they didn't like her dating an expat. However none of my mothers or brothers fears were ever justified. She was a Christian and wanted to save sex for marriage and I didn't plan on doing anything stupid. That is not to say we didn't engage in your standard fare of teenage hanky panky, but we were not having sex. On top of that, she did not date me because I was an expat, or because I had money, I didn't. She dated me because we had genuine feelings for each other at the time.

My mother however struggled to deal with this and I was given a couple of frank discussions about the whole thing by my brother. I think they both breathed a sigh of relief when Sally and I broke it off.

More to come in Part II..........


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