1998

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There is a saying "Into every life comes some adversity."  There is another, more contemporary 2 word expression for the same.  The good news is that we've had enough of that in 1998 to last us for a while.  The good things about 1998 are 1) it's over 2) we have our health and 3) we are together as a family.

At end-March Neil was told that Bank Papan in Indonesia, controlled by the Tirtamas Group, could no longer pay his salary; this came after several months of partial salary payments.  The experience of this bank in Indonesia was both good and bad.  The good was that Neil achieved every goal asked of him and the challenge of the work made him a better technologist.  The bad was financial; all up, the bank's owners owe us US$150,000 in unpaid salaries, incentives and expenses.  We're not broke, but having that money in the bank would be nice, to say nothing of Tirtamas fulfilling its contract and commitments.

From April onwards Neil has conducted a job search, first in the US, then in Australia.  This was interrupted by civil unrest in Indonesia when Usa, Roger and Rex fled the country fearing their lives; they were even photographed and appeared in The Bangkok Post newspaper as fleeing refugees from the Indonesian problems.

The May 1998 civil unrest in Indonesia deserves more description.  We lived in the Hilton Residence (apartments), right in the downtown area of Jakarta.  The Hilton borders onto a facility used for large conferences (e.g. a recent Non-Aligned Nations Movement meeting was held there); attached to that is a large parking lot often used by the military to prepare for events.  In May this was used as a staging area for the military to prepare their convoys for patrolling the streets.  The video or photos you probably saw of military vehicles occupying the Jakarta streets were just outside of the Hilton to the north, west and east; the military were preparing their vehicles just on the south of the Hilton.  The place where the protesting students were shot and killed by the military was on the same road as the Hilton, about 2 miles west.  So Usa, Roger and Rex were literally stuck in the middle of these problems.  The reason they fled the country was the military were using live ammunition in the street just outside of the apartment.  Neil was in the States on his job search and received a phone call from Usa at 3am saying "I think we should get out of here."  What happened was that she had just taken Roger and Rex down to the pool but was chased away by the security guard who said something like "you know, they are using live ammunition in the street out there and the pool is within range if any bullets go astray; I wouldn't be swimming today if I was you."  That led to Usa's phone call!

That was on a Thursday; the next day was particularly bad with riots and gangs roaming the streets; people who attempted to get to the airport took around 4 hours (for a trip that normally takes 30 - 40 minutes) and were stopped multiple times by gangs demanding money for "safe passage".  Both Thursday and Friday were marked by fires in shopping malls that killed 1,200 people; these fires are generally thought to have been started by the military; people speculate as to the reasons.  Also on these days there were 60 - 70 Chinese women raped by mobs; these are "official" numbers; rumors generally double that number.  These rapes have been determined by the government not to be ethnically motivated but no-one believes that.

So it was in this chaos that Usa ventured to the airport on the Saturday.  And even though she had a ticket, the situation for getting on the plane was unclear at best.  On that day Thai Airways had 2 flights for Bangkok, one at around 7am, the other at 1pm.  They said they would give Thai nationals preference getting onto the aircraft.  All Neil could do from the safety of the States was to advise to leave for the airport early, use the only reputable taxi service in town and pay whatever the taxi driver asked as the fare --  pay US$100 if necessary.  Usa planned to leave the apartment at 5am to be ready for the early flight.  As it turned out, luck was with her.  The drive to the airport was normal, no gangs, no stopping for "free passage"; the taxi fare was also by the meter, which means about US$3; with normal exchange rates this would be about US$15, but the Indonesian Rupiah had devalued so fast that anything valued in Rupiah was much cheaper than normal.

Given the circumstances it is no wonder that the newspapers were on hand at Bangkok airport to photograph those arriving from the mess.  And it is a credit to Usa that she was able to organize to get out.  Fortunately, her sister was visiting from Thailand (what timing!) and she was a great help in organizing the boys and luggage.  But can you imagine being Usa?  Even though she is Thai, she looks Chinese; her husband was overseas conducting a job search; she had to organize luggage for an indefinite period; look after two boys, aged 4 and 1 at the time; with widely reported ethnically-oriented rapes; reports of gangs stopping traffic on the way to the airport; reports of taxis gauging customers for fares (not that you can blame them); and going for a flight to Bangkok that hadn't been confirmed. 

It turned out that Usa was on the 2nd flight, so she left the apartment at 5am, arrived at the airport around 6am and got on a 1pm flight.  There were a lot of people at the airport who would have accepted that as a good deal, as many had camped there overnight; there were people who were getting on any plane leaving the country.  And for those who stayed in Jakarta another few days, some had to leave on emergency flights arranged by their embassies.  These people were left in an especially difficult position as when they wanted to return to Indonesia the immigration authorities were refusing them entry as they didn't have valid exit stamps in their passports.  They had to get to Singapore or the nearest Indonesian embassy and get some special stamp in their passport to attest that they had actually left Indonesia!

Neil left the States a few days later to join the family in Bangkok.  We all snuck back into Jakarta in June to pack our belongings and get out of Indonesia.

After that excitement, news of the job search seems inappropriate; however, it was the other big activity of the year for the family.  Despite several hot prospects from time to time, the job search has not provided a final result.  However, we are confident that the right job opportunity will be finalized soon.

Usa, Roger and Rex have spent the majority of the year in Bangkok with family.  They spent all the time from early January until mid-April, then again from mid-May to mid-June, then again from August until now.  For the month of July we were all in Australia with Neil's Mum.  Thank goodness that family in both countries have been able to provide a place for us to stay.  Speaking of that, Neil was lucky enough to stay with friends in the US in April and May.  Some of the time was spent in California, the rest in North Carolina.  Thanks to both Nancy / Richard Goodman and Mary Stachura / Ron Leet for opening their homes.  You see?  In such a bad year there is a lot to be thankful for and great friends to thank as well.

In every letter we comment on Roger and his apparent difficulty in speech.  This year he's made remarkable improvements and has started to speak quite well.  Due to the time spent in Thailand his Thai is better than his English, but both a pretty good now.  He is able to express himself in either language.  The only thing where he is noticeably lacking is answering questions.  He can answer questions when asked in Thai, but not when asked in English; instead, he tends to repeat the question.  We figure he just doesn't recognize them as questions yet.  Roger is still a computer nut.  He has enjoyed the Magic School Bus all year and Madeline for the past 3 months.  He is socially better than last year, but generally happier either by himself or with people he knows very well.  For example, he gets along famously with his older and younger cousins in Bangkok who he sees every day.

Rex is developing very fast.  He will be 2 in February, but already seems older; he's fast in speech and learning, loves to watch videos like Roger and has recently started to do more than just slap the computer keyboard.  Rex has been in pre-school / daycare for the last 4 months of the year and seems to enjoy it.  We are sending him to a place that speaks both Thai and English so he isn't disoriented.  Rex adores his brother and tries very hard to play with him.  Unfortunately at this age, the difference between a near 5 year old and a near 2 year old is pretty big, so there's not a lot of common ground for play.  We hope this will improve over time.  It seems to be getting better in the past month or so.

The person most affected by the difficult year has been Usa.  She has been unable to paint or do any of the arts and crafts she enjoys so much.  Her social life has also been ravaged; instead of regularly seeing her many friends she now gets the boys out of bed, sends them off to school, helps her family in their business, picks up the boys from school and gets them to bed again.  We hope she'll have a more diversified life again soon.  Goodness knows that after what she's been through in 1998 she deserves it.

1999 ...