Saturday, November 9, 2013

Winding Down

I am now in my 23rd month in Jakarta and it is time to start winding down and preparing to head off for my next assignment. That means not only doing my day job, but also making sure that I have all my stuff ready to be packed, all my records in hand, bills paid, training plans in order, Home Leave arranged, and plane tickets booked to return to the states. It's also time to reflect on all that I have learned and all that I have gone through.

The memory of my first moment on the ground in Jakarta is indelibly burned into my nose and my brain. The feel of the damp air, the moist heat of tropical humidity, and the smell of cloves and jet fuel. Walking into my first apartment and seeing the tiny little Christmas tree my sponsor had bought so my my girls could have a tree. The first day that I walked across eight lanes of the worst, most polluted traffic I had ever seen in order to get to work. The torrential downpour that soaked me through as I walked home. The first, tentative words I would try and use with the taxi drivers to try and get somewhere. My girls learning a new culture and starting in new schools in an alien world.

Learning my job as a First Tour Officer while having to run a major operation in the embassy, hiring, firing, reprimanding, and generally handling most or all of the day-to-day decisions that go into the personnel operations in a Mission as large as Indonesia. Meeting new people, working with people I only get to meet over the phone. It is truly amazing to me, all the things that go into running an embassy, and I ended up involved in a lot of them. Decisions on travel, assignments, pay, health care, and policies that will affect the Mission for years to come.

Along the way there was my separation and the end to 20 years of marriage, coupled with an opportunity to spend six months with my oldest daughter, just her and I. An amazing time that I will treasure forever. The pain of being away from my twins, and then the eventual return of my oldest to the states to live with her mother. From there, the beginning of a new relationship filled with joy.

And then there are the feelings of loneliness,of being away from family and friends. After 13 years in Oregon, I had made many lasting friendships and now I had to learn how to maintain them while on the other side of the world. Other friendships became challenging, mostly because of the divorce and new relationship, but I am confident that all will smooth itself out and go back to a new version of normal that will be better and stronger than ever before.

These past two years have been filled with nothing but change and challenge, and I am the strongest I have ever been. I have grown, been beaten up, fallen down, gotten back up, and continued to step forward into this bright future. In a few short weeks I will get on a plane to travel back across the Pacific for the last time for at least a few years, and I am looking forward to all that is in front of me.

I move forward with confidence and joy, knowing all is well in my future.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Motorcades Don't Organize Themselves

Ever see a motorcade going down the street and wonder how it works? After, that is, getting over your frustration at being stopped until it passed. Well, prepare to be educated.

Motorcades do not spontaneously create themselves, but are formed through a great deal of work and stress, and there are an amazing array of things that can go wrong at any point in the process.

- First, you need a logistics person to figure out what vehicles are needed, where the motorcade will go, and how it will get there.

- Second, you need to know how many people are riding in the cars, what their job is, and what car each will sit in.

- Third, you need the cars, with drivers who are capable of listening without imposing their own thoughts on what they are doing. It doesn't matter if they actually know better, they just need to listen and follow instructions.

- Fourth, you need to arrange for all the police to assist with riding in front of and behind the motorcade, to insure that cross streets, stop lights, and stop signs can be gone through without slowing.

-Fifth, you need some poor sap to ride near the back of the train who is in charge of getting the cars lined up correctly, and to keep an eye on the whole process while it drives along. When everyone arrives at the final destination, it is also this person's responsibility to keep the whole thing together in case some over-eager traffic cop decides to tell a driver in the middle of the motorcade to go somewhere they should not go.

In six days of managing a motorcade, that consisted of anywhere from 15 to 35 vehicles, had 20+ total movements, as many as three Very Very Important Persons in any one movement, and only about half of the movements went as planned. Not only were we contending with up to 40 other motorcades and a dozen other governments, there were a number of logistics challenges with local communication. At one point I had to jump out of my vehicle and sprint after another one that was several cars forward of me. in another instance I was forced to jump into a moving vehicle in order to insure that the group stayed together and another motorcade didn't get into the middle of mine. From having heated words with police and armed soldiers, to apologizing to others for those same strong words, it was an exercise in never-ending chaos. Possibly the most memorable move was when we had to park the majority of the package in a scrub forest with cattle roaming around because there was no street parking within 500 Meters of the drop zone.

All-in-all, the best lessons I learned was that no matter what the cost, get radios for every car, and make sure that the drivers understand from the beginning that they are to ONLY listen to the officers in charge of the motorcade and not pay attention to any other instructions. Unless they point guns at you, and then you can listen.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

So I think I am back...

It's hard to believe how long it has been since I last posted anything, and a lot has happened in that time. So while this blog is about the major changes that happened when I turned 40, the hardest changes have been since then. I'm not complaining, I'm happier now than I have been in a very long time and the world is a brighter place because of it.

Frankly, there is so much that has happened that I am going to skip right past it all and focus on what is most recent and in the immediate future. Yes, that might disappoint a few people but oh well. :)

Last weekend I finally got to spend some time in Singapore, outside of the airport. It is amazing how big the differences are between different countries in Asia, despite no real distance between them. Singapore is certainly the most rigidly controlled, yet best organized city I have been to recently. The roads a perfect, there is good traffic control, and well developed public transportation. Kuala Lumpur, in comparison, is moving in that direction yet still has a ways to go, but is pushing hard to get there. Jakarta, in contrast, has a massive distance to cover and will not get there anytime soon without some significant social and political changes. While some of the roads here are decent, they are few and far between and end up being thoroughly messed up by the intersections with the tiny goat-path sized roads along their lengths. You can tell a lot about a city by the way it handles its infrastructure.

Singapore is not a place to travel if you are looking for anything truly inexpensive. Much of what you might think of as cheap tourist stuff is much more expensive in Singapore than it is in Indonesia or in Malaysia. That isn't to say that you can't get Singapore-specific swag for cheap prices, but if you want to find low-cost mementos, don't plan on a shopping trip in Singapore. That said, there was some great stuff to be found anyways with a few notable locations to visit. Chinatown is one location for some fun shopping and good eats, but beware, what you think might be a simple lunch can easily climb close to $100 US. What I saw of Little India didn't have all that much to recommend it, but Haji Lane is a wonderfully kitchy/hipster place for those looking to find something more unique or special.

We visited the Art Science Museum while we were there too, and were lucky enough to see three different traveling exhibits. First was a display of 50 of the best National Geographic photos ever taken. From the girl in Afghanistan to Jane Goodall, the photos were enlarged and well curated to display them without interference from other photos. Second, was a mummy exhibit on loan from the British Museum of National History. Again, the exhibit was well curated and took visitors on a trip through the mummification process and showed a very good 3D movie of CT scans of the mummy. Finally, and surprisingly our favorite exhibit, was a wonderful display on the works of Charles and Ray Eames. From their early days before being married, through the end of their lives, the exhibit showed many of the different items they created. The famous Eames Chair. The Eames Deck of Cards and the Hang Everything. Some of the different houses they built, and a few of the movies they made. All in the service of their vision and process. All-in-all, it was inspiring and educational, without being in the slightest bit boring or tedious.

Looking forward, I am now less than 80 days from leaving Indonesia and preparing or my next assignment. It has been a tour filled with joy and laughter, tears and sorrow, victories and failures, and a whole hell of a lot of learning. I am not the same person that arrived here in 2011, and I am thankful for that. I have a clearer vision of who I am and what I want, and my goals for the next few years of my life are clearer. My life has even bigger changes in store for me, more great adventures, and further opportunities for me to dance across the world.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Long Absence

It's been a very long time since I posted to this blog, and I really need to get back on it.

The Right Turn at 40 was nothing compared to the turn at 41. After 19 years of marriage I am getting a divorce. My ex and two of our daughters are returning to the states and our oldest will at least finish the school year with me, in Jakarta. ife never seems to go the way it is planned. Yes, that is a very brief way of encompassing yet another life-event but that's about all I will ever say about it in this forum.

So enough of that.

Most everyone I know is aware of the saying "thrown into the deep end." As a former swimming instructor and Lifeguard, I know exactly where the saying came from and how hard it really is. At least so I thought.

Back in October I posted about having my assignment changed while still going to the same post. What I didn't say was that I had been assigned as Deputy human Resources Officer (HRO). What I learned after I got to post was that I would in fact be the Acting Senior HRO.

In a Mission with ~1500 employees.

For 10 months.

That's right, the deep end called and said it wasn't deep enough, and the shallow end was too close for comfort, so please just go ahead and drop him in the middle of the Pacific with a couple of arm floaties.

I survived! What an adventure that was!

I learned more about what I didn't know than I knew I didn't know. And the list of what I don't know keeps expanding. *sigh*

But in November, I finally began the job I was supposed to have and let me tell you, it is fabulous. I finally get to learn all the little State Dept. secrets and procedures and practices and peculiarities, and culture from a senior officer instead of having to run face first into them like I have been. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed myself and have a wonderful staff that helped me through, and great support from the rest of the Mission, but that doesn't change the fact that I was learning a new career and job three pay-grades above mine.

I am really looking forward to this next year, but also to finding out where my next post will be. My bid list is due in 24 hours and then I get to wait for word on where I'm going and what language I'm learning. I know the job, Consular!

So, that's it for today. But I'm back, so will return to boring all of you with my thoughts.

Be well, Neighbors.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

It's Been Awhile

since I've posted, so I thought I had better let you all in on how things are going. I spent the last five weeks in DC going through training at FSI, and while it was extremely valuable, I really didn't like being gone for so long. It turns out that my job in Jakarta is so busy and complex that every issue we were taught in class the first week, I had handled at least once in the seven weeks before beginning training. Frankly, I had dealt with most of the personnel issues that we discussed in class, so it was nice to know that I was on the right track. After the five weeks in DC I began the long trek back to Jakarta.

38 hours of travel!
Arrive early to Dulles. (I do NOT like this airport!)

Fly to Minneapolis, MN (Surprisingly good shopping there.)

Wait five hours.

My jacket was stolen when I wasn't looking. Normally this would REALLY piss me off, but I don't have any use for a heavy bomber jacket in the tropics so it was just one more thing to carry. What really ticked me off was that my headphones were in the pocket so I had to buy a new set while on the airplane since I didn't discover THAT loss until we were in the air.

12 hours to Narita. 

Had just long enough to transfer to the other end of the terminal for my connecting flight.

Six hours to Singapore.

Six hour layover.

I really like Changi Airport. Especially the transit hotel where I was able to shower, shave, and sleep before my final leg to Jakarta.

Hour and a half flight to Jakarta.

Walking off the airplane, I was greeted by the warm, damp blanket of the tropics and the smell of clove cigarettes. After those five weeks in DC where the temp got down to the low 30s, I was very happy to be back.

Since being back I was able to go to school conferences, the annual 3rd grade health clinic, put on BY the 3rd graders, and go to the local amusement park, Ancol, where we went to what we thought was going to be something very akin to SeaWorld in the U.S.


What it was, was a rather nice aquarium. There were several excellent exhibits, including a huge seawater tank with walking tubes through it so you could see the animals swim around you, sharks, piranha, a pair of manatees, and several different open tanks where you could handle some of the less dangerous sea life. It took the girls a bit, but they finally were willing to pet the sea turtles, pick up a starfish, and even Ms. K was wiling to touch a ray. The other big attraction in the park was US. I don't think I saw more then five other westerners (read Caucasians) so we stood out pretty well. Especially our giant blonde girl. At one point, a woman turned around and took a picture of her, with her friend standing just behind her so that they could have a picture "with" the big blonde. A and I thought is was funny, but the oldest was NOT amused. :)

It turns out that Ancol is a series of different parks that include the aquarium, a more "SeaWorld-like" park with animal shows, a roller coaster park, water park, paintball, and who knows what else. Each park has its own entrance fee, but none are very much by U.S. standards. $6 to get into the aquarium during the week. $10 for the animal shows. Not sure what the other parks charge, but I doubt it is much more than $10 per person. We will go back another day and spend more time at at least one or more parks. It just means getting there earlier, and staying a bit later, despite the awful traffic to get back home. One hour to get there, two to return!

Traffic is its usual nightmare but you just have to sit back and either sleep, look at the people, or veg out with a book, or one of the many electronics at your disposal. It is still the rainy season here, so most every day between two and four it starts to rain, often with close lightening and very loud thunder. I love electrical storms.

Needless to say I am happy to be back and am trying to fit back in to my job and the routine at home. My jet lag is over, my sleep schedule is mostly back to local normal, and things are good.

Be well, my friends.