Adventures living as expats.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Moving on from Jakarta

A few months ago, Jeff and I received the much anticipated news that we would be moving to Taichung, Taiwan.  After returning from our home leave trip in late July, we immediately got started with all the moving preparations - securing Taiwan visas after gathering all of the paperwork, sorting and packing up the apartment, moving into a temporary residence, cancelling our Indonesia residence cards and working visas, and saying many heartfelt goodbyes to our wonderful friends in Jakarta.   During this time we had a bit of a chance to reflect on our experience in Jakarta and recall some of the ups and downs we've had.

We've been fortunate to have such an amazing opportunity to travel and experience living in a completely different culture; however, it has come with sacrifices and taught us a lot about ourselves and how blessed we are as American. We've never regretted our decision to take on Jakarta and will always look back on it with overwhelmingly positive memories.  Here are just a few of the things that we'll miss as we adjust to our new home in Taiwan.

  • Indonesians are some of the friendliest people we've met in all of our travels.  They are always ready with a warm smile and a "selamat pagi" (good morning) or "hello mister."  Even during the fasting month of Ramadan, I was blown away at how positive people would remain.  
  • Spas are everywhere and prices are unbelievable.  We typically would get a weekly reflexology or massage which would cost us anywhere from $7 - $12 for an hour depending on how luxurious the setting was.  
  • Jakarta has a fantastic fine-dining restaurant scene with so many cuisines to choose from as well as great casual cafes and coffee shops.  Some of our favorites restaurants were Monologue, Goods Diner, Potato Head, Union, Le Quartier, Turkuaz, Han Yang Garden, Taco Local, Anomoli, and La Luce.  
  • Having a housekeeper / cook was such a luxury that we're unlikely to have again anytime soon. I loved having a clean house all the time and not worrying about when I next needed to clean the bathroom.  I will miss ironed pajamas and perfectly folded underwear.
  • Travel opportunities from Jakarta were extensive and cheap.  During the last 3 years we've visited 11 new countries and 20 different islands throughout Indonesia.  Some of the most memorable trips have been with friends like Nusa Lembongan with Brendan and crew, Anyer with Adelle, Lombok for Mia's 30th, Pulau Macan for Bede's 30th, Yogyakarta with Tane and fam, Bali with Dalena, Vietnam with Tav and Jenny, Oz with Matt and Adelle, and of course the epic Banda Belters trip.  
  • Above all else, Jakarta has an incredibly welcoming and adventurous community of people and we've made so many life-long friendships.  From the first month we arrived through to the last week, we always had people inviting us into their lives and supporting us through struggles we were having.  
This farewell post would not be complete without a list of the more humorous and strange things that became very normal in our lives in Jakarta, so here goes.  

  • Beware of Jakarta street food and fresh fruits or vegetables.  This is not the same risk level as a local taco stand in Mexico.  Three years in Jakarta doesn't make you immune either as both Jeff and I can attest to.  Moreover, don't assume you or your visitors are safe in fancy restaurants (sorry Tav and Jenny). 
  • Embrace side cutting in lines.  Our initial polite attempts to queue in lines often felt like a test of patience.  Merge into the line on the side like the rest of the crowd.
  • Security screenings don't need to slow you down.  You're not required to take off your purse or stop when the metal detector goes off.  Just follow along with everyone else and keep moving.
  • Singapore medical outs are fantastic.  Why not combine a vacation with teeth cleaning?   
  • Four people on a motorbike is average, five people is worth a look, six is worth a picture.  
  • Someday you will have to clean up after yourself.  I love to tell people of the time that our housekeeper called in sick on a Monday and I forgot to tell Jeff.  He got home before me and called in a feigned panic claiming that our house had been ransacked while we were at work.  Actually we just left our apartment looking like a tornado had ripped through it.
  • When in doubt about the food while traveling to remote areas, you can subsist on rice for several days.  Nasi goreng (fried rice) and nasi kuning (yellow fragrant rice) are great options in these situations and rarely will your stomach regret it later on.  
  • You can pay "jockeys" in Jakarta to ride along in your car so that you can use 3 in 1 lanes during rush hours.
  • Jeff had a special pair of "massage underwear."  
  • We often sent more texts to our driver than to each other.
  • Discussing stomach health (or lack of) was a surprisingly common and popular conversation topic.
  • Being asked personal questions like "how much weight have you gained?" or "why have you been married 4 years and don't have any kids yet?" became the norm.  
Sampai jumpa lagi Jakarta.  We will miss you.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Milano and Parma, Italy 2015

After getting off the train and getting settled into our hotel, Jeff and I were famished and headed to dinner at a nearby restaurant at around 7:30.  We got a few strange looks as we're seated in the completely empty dining room.  After looking around uncomfortably for a few minutes, the host explained to us that most Italians don't eat dinner until 8:30 or later.  Luckily another naive couple walked in a few minutes later and broke the awkward silence that was hanging over the restaurant as Jeff and I whispered about whether we should leave and come back later or not.   We opted to fill the extra time by ordering a bottle of wine and taking our time deciding on what to eat which worked out perfectly for us.

The next day was our only full day in Milan so we walked all over the city touring museums and the Duomo (cathedral) in city center, drinking espresso, and eating gelato.

The Armory in one of the museums we visited
A mall close the city center with so many luxury brands
The Duomo of Milan
Inside the Duomo
After our short tour of Milan, we rented a car and headed south to Parma - the home of Parma ham and Parmigiano-reggiano.   What a wonderful finale to our trip it was!
A Castle in Parma
Inside the Duomo of Parma
Inside the Baptistery in Parma

Our second day in Parma included a self guided castle journey around the province.  Our first stop was the Fontanellato Castle with a deep moat surrounding it.  We did see some bottom feeder type fish but unfortunately no alligators or man eating piranhas.
Fontanellato Castle
Fontanellato Castle
Next we headed to the picturesque Torrechiara Castle which was surrounded by beautiful countryside and had beautiful paintings on the inside of most of the rooms.
Torrechiara Castle
Torrechiara Castle
Torrechiara Castle
Our final stop for the day was Bardi Castle, which was an important military fortress that looked pretty impossible to defeat.  There were enormous walls complete with arrow slits and holes for dumping hot tar or rocks out of.  There were cellars set up to store large amounts of food in case of a siege.  There was even a torture rooms with super creepy apparatuses that made us both feel pretty queasy.  
Bardi Castle
View from on the of the towers
Torture table in the dungeon
This view was made for selfies.
Our final day was filled with a food tour around Parma to see Parmegiano-reggiano production, Parma ham curing, and traditional balsamic vinegar processing - all among some of Jeff's favorite foods.
Making the cheese
These salt baths help to cure the Parmigiano-reggiano so that it can be aged
The cheese vault
Parma ham aging refrigerator
More Parma ham
The traditional balsamic vinegar has to be aged in these barrels for at least 12 years.  
12, 20, and 25 year balsamic vinegar
We had such a fantastic time exploring a little of Paris and Italy.  One tradition that we're working on taking home with us is how Italians eat dinner - lots of conversation, plenty of wine, and no time limit.  This seems to us like a huge improvement over the quick dinners we've gotten into the habit of having lately.

3 Days in Paris, 2015

Our 3 days in Paris flew by in a whirlwind and it felt like we needed at least another week to really see the city and get properly caught up with our friends and fantastic hosts for the weekend, Mia and Dillon.  Despite missing a night of sleep on our flight from Portland, we powered through our first day and headed straight to the Eiffel Tower after dropping our bags off.  Our adrenaline and energy really kicked in as we rode the elevators up.  Overlooking the city from the tower was incredible and such a great way to get oriented with the city.  It's no wonder that it's the most visited paid monument in the world with 7 million visitors each year.  
Our first sighting
Beautiful breezy view from the Eiffel Tower
The following day we took a bike tour of the city which was fantastic overview of all the best sights in Paris.  We didn't have enough time to go into any of the museums, but at least got to see the outside of these amazing landmarks.  We hope to return some day so we've got plenty on our list to save for the next visit.
Notre Dame
One of the Love Lock bridges in Paris.  
Jet lagged but having an amazing time
Blue Bike tour group
Our favorite day was spent wandering around several charming Paris neighborhoods with Dillon as our trusty guide.  We loved walking by the markets that always had jaw dropping selections of cheeses, baked goods, sweets, cured meats, and prepared food.  Fast food here is entirely different than in America and undoubtedly much tastier and healthier.
This was just a small section of the cheeses available.  We love French cheese! 
My favorite stop of the day for fancy scooped Gelato.
The original Laduree macaroons.  My favorite flavor was pistachio.
Thanks Dillon for showing us around :-)
World's largest crepe?
After our short trip in Paris we hopped on the train to Milan which was a great trip.  The seats are roomy and comfortable, there is decent food available to buy, and the scenery is gorgeous with plenty of green vineyards, ornate cathedrals, imposing castles, and cute villages to see along the way.