10 January 2013

Culture Shock?

Someone asked me for my thoughts on moving back to the "west". This was asked of me last year however the delay in getting round to writing it is not indicative of any malaise regarding the topic. Rather the issue is one of time. Anyone who has followed my travels and travails over the past 3 or so years will understand that my focus has been elsewhere. Nevertheless, I have committed myself to writing more opinion(ated) blog pieces than I have been doing. This has already been a successful venture considering last year I wrote two and this year I have already written three. But, I digress...

Presumably, the question is one of what is it like to move back to Australia  after having spent the best part (almost the whole part) of fifteen years living and working in Indonesia. In a lot of ways it is a story of reverse culture shock. To be honest I am not sure it is even a story of interest but for me and mine (family). Simply, it is the story of my life with my family and our adjustment from one day to another and making the best and most of what we have at the times we have it.

Yet, moving anywhere is a challenge and I guess moving from Jakarta to Sydney and then to Collarenebri is a challenge of considerable proportions, particularly when one factors in raising a son, pursuing a Masters degree, and embarking on a new career. And, all the while, I am still being a husband and father.

This is a post that could run for tens of thousands of words as I explore every possible facet of what happened, how it happened, and what those happenings then triggered. The simple reality is perhaps as basic as death and taxes. Indonesia afforded us many opportunities to live a particular lifestyle. For example, when I first went to live and work in Indonesia it took me a considerable amount of time to come to grips with maids and other servants at my beck and call 24 hours a day if I so wanted it to be. Yet, it took no time at all to get used to other people having responsibility for paying my taxes and doing all that side of the financial equation.

In many ways I was young and naive and therefore incredibly open to the adventure of a new way of life. Indonesia provided that opportunity for an unbelievable adventure. I was fascinated by the little things--public transport, roving food stalls, ojeks (motorcycle taxis), becaks (bicycle rickshaws), eating food with chillies that made you wonder whether you were eating food or just chillies, and the people.

One thing that lingers, and it lingers because I still get the question, what are Indonesians like compared to "us"? I have always found this an interesting question for no other reason than it often is asked to draw a positive / negative comparison. The "us" and "them" dilemma amuses me no end as I am a "we" person. We are all human, we all have our human frailties, and we all at the most base level want better things for our children and grandchildren. But, once again, I digress...

Moving back to Australia, and Sydney in particular, was something that we wanted to do. So, in that regard it was much easier for us than for, say, someone whose job ended and another opportunity did not open up for them. The fact that we chose the move, and looked forward to it, meant that the transition was easier. I am not going to say it was all smooth sailing, but the reality is that one does what they have to do.

The laundry can only pile up for so long before you have to pick it up and take it to the washing machine and wash it. There are only so many days you can get up looking for your breakfast before you realise that you have to make your own. Similarly, it does not take all that long to recognise that there are no roving food stalls to satisfy that bakso craving at 2.00am as you finish writing that final op.ed piece.

Nevertheless, it was only this week as we were walking through the Pitt Street Mall in Sydney that my wife and I simultaneously looked at each other, had a knowing little smile, and meandered on. The captivating scent of a clove cigarette has that strange power to transport one back to a place that has been left far in the past. The old kretek gets us every time.

The truth is pretty plain and boring really. Life goes on. The transition was one that had to happen; good, bad, and ugly. We really did not linger. ponder, or dwell on the process. As individuals, as members of a family, as people we got on with it and did what we had. Do I find myself spending time thinking about the need for a maid or a gardener or a driver, no. Do I miss those parts of my / our previous existence, no.

If the point of the question was to find out whether I / we are happier here or were happier there, then the answer to that question is...well, that is like comparing good red wine and milk ;)

Now, if the question had been "how do you find living in the teeming metropolis of Jakarta and its satellite suburbs to the hustle and bustle of the 250 or so people that live in Collarenebri?" then my answer may well have been slightly different...


This is a brief introduction to what might be a much longer post after I sit down and think about it in a little more detail. It might even be a series of posts that might just be the start of an eventual thesis style document. I have always been fascinated with education and disadvantage. After all, I am now working in the field where education and disadvantage are two of the most critical elements of what I deal with on a daily basis.

I was standing in the shower thinking about the similarities between the disadvantage that Australian indigenous students endure and the disadvantage that Native American students endure and thought that this is an area of research that I would like to explore some more. You can ask why, why would you be thinking such things whilst standing in the shower, but there is no guarantee of an answer.

It is also an issue that allows me to get up on my soap box and do a little preaching. Although, the reality is that too much soap box preaching might ruffle a few feathers and earn me a reprimand or more from an unhappy employer. Such is life as Uncle Ned is reported to have said.

A brief look shows that there are real similarities in areas such as income / poverty, literacy and numeracy, low birth weights, drug and alcohol (ab)use, and access to standard services. The idea that education is a gateway to greater opportunity assumes that there is a gateway that can be accessed and that the gateway, once opened, stays open in such a way that the most can be made of those opportunities.

Creating an opportunity is a whole lot more than some pencil pusher moving amounts between columns in a book and giving the money a name. Money is not opportunity. What is missing in most programs, no matter how noble, is compromise.

To Be Continued...

07 January 2013


There is always a method to my madness. Sometimes it pays to be a little cryptic as the best move is not always laying all your cards on the table at once. A story for another time, maybe.

I have been a fan of Chris Rene for a while. There is something about his song "Young Homie" that really appeals to me. I am not sure that it would have appealed to me in the past but age wisens even the hardest of souls.

There is something to be said for the idea that "life is short, you gotta live it long" and "if you wanna build your love up, put your hate down". The idea of seeing peace signs as I turn around translates for me into wickedly coordinated handshakes with youngsters looking to belong and to be part of something bigger than themselves, "it takes education to change your reputation". 'Can you feel me?'

I overheard something recently that I find to be one of the funniest things. Whenever I listen to people saying that 'youth is wasted on the young', I can't help but have a little chuckle to myself about the cynicism embedded in that very idea. The very simple reality that we most often neglect is that it is these very experiences that we get, or have, when we are young that creates the individuals that we grow and become. Youth is what makes the young wise as they age.

Sadly, some of us lose our battles with our addictions. Then, others of us grown because of those addictions and grow out of them. We then have a responsibility to share those experiences and make the lives of those that follow us easier, choices wiser, and lives longer.

There is a reason I returned to my roots and to teaching; to make a difference, to facilitate change, and to share experience. The rewards far outweigh the sacrifices as there is nothing quite like seeing the door open and a young person stride through that door into the brave new world of education, renewed reputation, and opportunity.

Addictions are easy; life is hard. Despite my addictions, I love life!