Oil and Gas Industrial zone,The equipment of oil refining,Close-up of industrial pipelines of an oil-refinery plant,Detail of oil pipeline with valves in large oil refinery.

The EXPAT

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8. Jakarta

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Making a very long story short, in 1981, this family, my wife, three girls and a boy, took a job overseas in Singapore, with promise of a three year assignment. Here, I learned what the new term Expat meant. Now I was one! Three months after our arrival in Singapore, with industry & business conditions in the turbulent 1980’s, I was laid off! They would provide passage for our return to the states where I had no job, so I started knocking on doors in Singapore! Praise the Lord! After several nail-biting weeks, I got a job in Jakarta, Indonesia. That’s about an hour’s flight south of Singapore. We spent the next three years as engineering manager in a semiconductor assembly plant for Fairchild, Inc. (Expat squared!) – This was what I‘d been doing at Signetics in Utah, prior to the move. Our eldest daughter Marcie, left us in Singapore for her first year at the university, stateside, so it was we five, learning to adapt to the Muslim culture of Jakarta. Here is a letter I sent to my mother, as a teaser for our Indonesian expat experience:

Dear Mom,
  I’m sitting in our car, driven by our special driver, typing this note to you on a portable typewriter. This is better than worrying about all the cars we almost run into or cows that almost run into us. Typing this on my way home from work, about an hour both ways every day. Here it is 10 minutes later having the typewriter thrown out of my lap three times, what with the bumps and grinds of a normal ride home. Almost the first paragraph of nonsense completed. You probably think I’m drunk. Wish I were!

As I was saying, to help you remember who this is, you’ve probably guessed by now, so why the charade, eh? Yes, its Bob, number one son, speaking from downtown Jakarta, where the air is not so dry nor clean, but nonetheless palatable (there are some who would argue that point but you can find those in every crowd…)!
 Wow!…that was close. Nearing the halfway point… my driver is a little kamikaze pilot who is a protector as well as a driver. He is a jewel, being sure we don’t pay too much for things. Learned a lot about bargaining from him. Stopped for a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken last week on the way home. As I was leaving, chicken in hand, a guy was selling bouquet’s of orchids, beautiful flowers. I thought it would be nice to take home with the chicken. He wanted 3,000 Rupiah, which is about $4, I offered him 1,000 Rp, finally paid him 2000 Rp ($3). Wish everything was as cheap. A jar of peanut butter costs about $6, and I do love peanut butter.

Friends of ours had an accident just before Christmas, sounded a bit familiar. Kirsten Shields and her son Bryan, age 14, were in a crash on their way home. Bryan had a concussion & was out like a light at times, back on at others, his mom was bruised a bit, he had his arm badly buggered. They finally got to a hospital and had to wait two hours for the doctor to come. When he got there he said it was too serious & they should take him to another hospital. They did, and had to wait there for the doctor to arrive. Finally 5 hours after the accident he was treated by a doctor. He was in the hospital three days, then ten days later they decided his arm was broken and put in a cast.

He is fine now, spent a riotous weekend with Dan New Years, they get along well. But as I consider the health-care here I get the willy’s. You can understand why companies send their people to Singapore for medicals. That is how we justify a Singapore trip at Christmas time, the company pays for two medicals each year, one during home leave and the other at Christmas. We all got a clean bill of health this time. The Dr. (an Australian) says I’ve got the heart of a 30 year old and all I have to do is lose 30 pounds. What does he know? I’ve really been lucky here in Asia, haven’t had any problem here in Jakarta, and that is something with all the critters in the air and water. I had one bout with the Asian quickstep when I was working in Malaysia while we were still in Singapore. I was working in Penang, getting to Singapore on the weekends and got something in my system that almost did me in. I was working each day, then back to the rat trap where I was staying, where I’d sweat, chill, convulse, agonize, thought I was going to die, then wishing I could. But after a few days I outran it. Like they say here in Indonesia, Tidak Apa Apa, which translated literally means, “No, what what,” but is used to express, “It doesn’t matter.” What does matter, is all our love, sent this sunny day. Bob

The Indonesian language is interesting, not a difficult language to learn as languages go. As I learn more of it I realize how very difficult English is, and illogical. For instance, how would you pronounce “OUGH?” Then think how tough it would be trying to learn English to be given the following words, Rough, Through, Plough, Although – you can probably think of a few others. Even those who speak pretty good English have a tough time with some of the sounds. TH in the, is not a sound they normally use, usually sounds like a D. They do not have a sound equivalent to our “U” as in up. They would say “oop.” Funny thing last month before Christmas, one of the Indonesians in our office quit and we gave him a farewell dinner at a place called the Green Pub, specialized in Mexican food of all things. Pretty good. And they have a live country & western band, all Indonesians. You couldn’t tell the difference between a good old honky tonk in the states except for a few sounds. We had them play as a request “Take this job and shove it!” They did it perfectly except for the word shove which came out with a long O as in stove. One of our friends, the Matelli’s, were there having a birthday dinner for one of their daughters, and Ray stopped at our table, in the midst of “San Antonio Rose,” to say how good it was to hear some Christmas music at this time. They were from somewhere in Texas.

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson is a retired professional quality engineer and educator with extensive experience in manufacturing environments throughout the world, including Singapore, Indonesia, Russia, and various locations throughout the United States. Besides all that, he Leslie Householder's admired and revered father, and she is pleased to spotlight his "Expat" stories here on her Rare Faith blog.