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Housing – Part 1

14 Nov 10
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Moving your family overseas isn’t something to be considered lightly, so the planning can sometimes take on epic proportions something similar to the attack plan for the Dirty Dozen, as my brother Don would say.

What goes with you, and what stays behind? How do you find a place to live, a school for the kids, and a life, even if for just ten months? Even the slightest details of a daily life often taken for granted at home need to be resolved before you leave.

A large part of the Fulbright, for me, was the opportunity to have the kids experience life overseas for an extended period of time. Most American kids never travel to other countries, and for those who do it’s often for a week or two at some resort. Our kids though were going to have time to feel the rhythms of a country – to take its pulse up close as it were. It’s one thing to read about driving in Bandung traffic. It’s another entirely to be riding on those streets, daily risking your life along with the thousands of others in cars, on motorcycles and traveling on foot.

It’s a lifetime of memories packed into ten months. No pressure to deliver on this of course.

Where we were going to live was an important part of the planning. Now I realize just how many expectations I loaded into that seemingly simple question.

I had an image of living in a house in a small village, or Kampung. The kids would walk home from their nearby school, finish their homework and step outside to play in the street with their Indonesian friends. We would enjoy sharing traditional dinners with our neighbors, and milk and honey would pour forth from our faucets. Or so it seemed.

As it turns out, we had about as much luck of achieving that dream as we would if we were trying to find a truly honorable politician in DC.

These neighborhoods, at least as I imagined them, simply don’t exist in the Bandung we have come to know. This city of 3 million does contain many Kampungs. Located off main roads, these are actually small neighborhoods slightly isolated by walls and blockades of various designs.

There appear to be two broad types of these neighborhoods – essentially gated communities for those with money, which encompasses a small slice of Indonesia’s overall population, and crowded, dirty neighborhoods for the rest of those living in the city, who spend their lives living on top of each other in a claustrophobic life dance. Of course, by nature such gross simplifications leave many people out, but a large part of the population falls into one of these two categories.

Hotel Majesty, 12th floor view

When we first arrived, we lived in the Majesty Hotel next door to the kids’ school. Hotel living can be fun. Adam enjoyed using our hot plate to make nasi goreng (fried rice) every night. Having daily maid service is a wonderful luxury, and access to a pool and a gym a real treat. But as they say, a hotel is not a home.

So we worked with a real estate agent known to the school, and used by previous Fulbrighters, to help us find a place to live. Tine is of Chinese descent, and grew up in Yogyakarta. She is a strongly-built woman who clearly has a lot of money and enjoys the perks such money brings into one’s life. When I asked her at one point whether our kitchen would be supplied with dishes and utensils, she laughed. “You’ll need to tell us what to get for you,” she said. “Indonesian women don’t go into the kitchen, so we don’t know what’s in there.” Of course she doesn’t – she has a cook to take care of that for her.

So Tine spent a day taking us around Bandung. My major concern was that we be near the kids’ school. The campus where I will teach starting in February is more than an hour away from their school, and I wanted to be the one doing the commute. So that narrowed our choices.

Tine took us to three different neighborhoods, none of which looked like anything I had hoped for. Most of the houses were lovely though, and large – some had 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. Clearly expats live quite differently from the rest of the population.

Now we had to make a quick decision.

— To be Continued —

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