Some bookishness

Today’s post is very very close to my heart. I had thought of writing this yesterday and posting on the occasion of the International Book Day, but it didn’t happen. It was Nyepi, the Balinese Hindu holy day and a national holiday here. With a hovering preschooler and equally hovering (and towering in his calls for attention to x-y-z things that I supposedly neglect) husband, who could find a few minutes to write? Not I!

Actually, its more than a few minutes because I cannot let go of the topic at hand without doing some research here. Also, I got to know that there are 2 different dates when the international book day is celebrated which took away the thunder of yesterday anyway 😉

The topic at hand is exploring the possible reasons why books are so expensive in Indonesia. Some examples in this regard-

  1. I remember very well, the YA novel ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ became popular in Indonesia around the release of its movie somewhere in mid-2014. The popular book-stores Gramedia and Periplus were displaying its copies everywhere. I haven’t read the novel but I used to follow John and Hank Green, aka the vlog brothers on YouTube back then so I was aware how popular this book was. To say I was shocked to know the price is an understatement. I am sure, the price back then was upwards of IDR 300,000, which is INR 1500. About US$ 21. I came to India for a vacation in May 2015 and noticed the same novel everywhere in similar displays at Crossword and other book shops in India. The price – INR 300, which is IDR 60,000 approximately and US$ 4.29! This kind of 5x price difference was astounding!

  2. Cut to today, when I have to purchase books, I tend to compare Amazon.in and Bookdepository.com for the price difference. Just today, I compared ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ again. The paperback is priced on Amazon.in at INR 193, which is close to IDR 40,000. That’s US$2.75. On book depository, it’s selling for a discount of 40% (!!) for IDR 152,000. That’s INR 744. Meaning US$10.6. This amount is at least acceptable. Interestingly, on Amazon.com itself, the paperback is retailing at US$7.59. This means its cheaper to buy this book in India than in the country where it was written! More on this later.

  3. I compared one more book – ‘The paper dolls’ by Julia Donaldson today. The price on Amazon.co.uk (since it is originally a UK book) is GBP 3.99-i.e INR 365.6 and IDR 74,800. This is selling on Amazon.in for INR 280 (GBP 3 and IDR 57,260). On the book depository, it is selling at a discount of 26% (!) for IDR 134,000 (INR 655 and GBP 7), again making an extremely compelling case for purchase in India.

Not that I was expecting ‘at par’ pricing! Definitely, there will be differences. The most important reason being the existence of the ‘South Asian Edition’:

SA editions are the absolutely legal versions of the original work published in local printing presses in India, under copyright and licensing from the foreign publishers. Cheap local labor means cheaper paper and overall inputs. Also, this paper is of a lower quality since its not export grade. This ultimately translates into cheaper books for the readers. I think students are the best beneficiaries of the phenomenon, going by this question on Quora. In India, given the fact that most of the higher education happens in English, the English readership is considerable- definitely when compared to Indonesia. As a result, demand is higher. Also given the extremely price sensitive market and rampant piracy, it is more sensible on the part of a publisher to license out the printing for local edition. These editions are not saleable outside the subcontinent. Though nothing prevents you from buying these when in India and then returning to your university. It is perfectly legal. A standard practice among the Indian students studying abroad I bet!

I am a big fan of the ‘South Asian Editions’ ever since I noticed the price differences for the first time during my MBA days. I remember my ‘S A edition’ of Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management very well, against the one I borrowed from the library. Clearly, there was a difference in the paper quality etc. But the content was the same. It didn’t matter. For sure I didn’t look upon Kotler as a collectible book anyway. I think the first example of the Fault in Our Stars falls in this bracket. Since the publisher Penguin is also a big publisher in India. So is Bloomsbury who printed Harry Potter books. Out of curiosity, I just searched and realized that all of the big six publishers are operational in India. Most of them have India specific websites. They get the books printed locally.

In comparison, a simple google search did not lead to any information on the presence of the big six in Indonesia. Most publications are done by local players and independent publishers. Kompas Gramedia group is the biggest publisher; but since their publication arm is not listed, much of the data is not available on the public domain.

Why the foreign publishers are not in the Indonesian market is clear – and a topic for another (even more detailed) post.

Bulk discounts?

This is something I wondered for those books that are definitely not printed in India and still are sold for a cheaper price in India. For example, an Usborne Phonics Reader title ‘Snail Brings the Mail’ costs INR 134 on Amazon India. Same costs GBP 5.18 in the UK and IDR 117000 (at 25% discount ahem …ahem) on Book Depository.  Since we own a copy of this book, we know that the paperback has been printed in China. The high cost in the UK which is the home of Usborne publications – probably implies import duty? However, what is notable is that in Indonesia its cost is still 4x more than in India. Keeping the import duty part aside, sheer numbers with respect to demand for this particular title are likely to be higher in India than the UK or Indonesia. Which might lead to sales discounts.

Duty structure

Finally coming to duty structure. I confirmed that:

  1. Import duty on books is nil in Indonesia. It can attract VAT of 10%. Which means on a book with the CIF value of USD 100, a duty of USD 10 is likely to be imposed presently. As per my information, no other duty should be charged.

  2. As per this form, a book with of CIF value USD 100, will attract a duty of USD 14.86 in India.

This adds rather than solves to the conundrum because higher duty in India does not explain lower costs of books in India as compared to Indonesia, that too, lower by 4-5x. Reasons could be anybody’s guesses:

  1. Low demand for imported English books in Indonesia. Translates into lower price elasticity. Thus its a sellers market and they are trying to milk it.

  2. India is a very price sensitive market. Good demand means economies of scale possible. Bulk discounts possible and it is possible to be profitable despite selling at low prices.

Unfortunately, up to date data is not available on the printing and publication industries in both the countries. It would have been interesting to compare the profitability of these publishers /sellers to know more.

Hopefully, I will stay interested in this topic to update more!

Advertisements

Mumbai and Jakarta under one umbrella – A rain fed comparison

The first week of March! Not much rain this year during this wet season. By not much rain, I mean only sporadic news on flooding. In fact, every year, low lying areas of Jakarta flood almost every other week during Jan/ Feb. This year didn’t happen. Year after year, the amount of rainfall seems to be reducing. I haven’t checked any official statistic on this, but I can definitely remember the times when roads to the airport used to be flooded and the only time when electricity in my apartment complex got disconnected for a couple of days due to rains. Anyhow, thought of posting something which I began writing in the year 2014, but abandoned. I noticed it today in my drafts. So thought of updating and posting.

Coming from Mumbai, here are some aspects of the Jakarta rains that I thought were striking:

It pours and then vanishes:

Hopefully, this post will not sound like a weather report but that’s the most striking feature. Indonesia falls within the equatorial belt. As such faces a ‘wet season’ with 6 months of regular rainfall and a dry season peppered with rainfall. It rains a lot. And by lot, I really mean in colossal amounts; …in about an hour! Or give and take half an hour more! Coming from Mumbai which faces just 4 months of the monsoon (though severe) – I was used to different kind of rainy days. Rainy days have ‘literal’ meaning in Mumbai. It means it would rain for the whole day. During July and August much more than June and September and cause various kinds of transport and communication disruptions, flooding etc. Most of us 80s and 90s born Mumbaikars would definitely remember 26 July 2005. Yours truly walked through neck-deep water across suburbs that day!

Here in Jakarta, similar copious rain can fall in about an hour/2 hours etc. and then, you are free for the rest of the day. Its surprising for a Mumbaikar. Yes, there is substantial flooding (we call it ‘banjir’) and we do have stories from Jakarta too. But its different. You are not coped up inside your home in Jakarta unless you live in a low lying area. Warm weather even during wet seasons also means things are dry pretty soon. Your clotheslines get dried as usual (its not allowed in our complex to put clotheslines in the balcony and I have put mine in the windowless storeroom. Still clothes get dried pretty fast. Impressive huh?). Smaller difficulties in life such as urgent shopping, wearing a particular dress etc, do not exist here as a result.

Rainy accessories…. Or lack of them

Having landed in Jakarta for the first time during the rainy season, I had expected to see people accessorized with the rain gear. Weird as it may seem, not many people seem to own umbrellas or raincoats in Jakarta. With the type of climate where it rains almost daily – ( even during the dry season, as soon as the temperature exceeds a particular level) – to me, such a climate meant constant accompaniment of the rain-gear. I had also noticed similar umbrella culture in the Philippines (as in India, my home country) so nothing had prepared me for this. Many Jakartans seriously don’t own umbrellas!

Buying rainy shoes has been an important event every year (or every second year if the shoes from the previous year weren’t outgrown or worn out) in my life – ever since I started walking. Like most of the fellow Indians – at least those who live in the more rainy areas of India. It used to be an event especially as you had to not only find the right size and pattern, it needed to be of right material too – so that you wouldn’t get a shoe-bite. Equally important was whether it would make the squeaky sound while walking (obviously you select the one that wouldn’t or at least wasn’t likely to make such a sound). Usually, rainy shoes in India back in the day were hideously patterned. That would be sort of unwritten rule. It HAD to be ugly if it was rainy-footwear. Turns out, this rule is not pan-world. Here in Jakarta, one finds an amazing variety of lovely patterns in rainy shoes. But most importantly, I found one more aberration –  People may not wear rainy footwear during the rainy season at all. Here in Jakarta, you see them wandering with all sorts of fashionable footwear even during rainy season. Ever since I came here, I have not purchased a single rainy/’all seasons’ pair of shoes.

In Mumbai, if you dare to wear non-rainy footwear at all, you’ll probably end up throwing it the very next day. I guess its somewhat difficult to tolerate rainy footwear all around the year. In India, we have to take it just for four months. The nature of rainfall here is different. It doesn’t rain all day usually. So as far as you remain inside during the rains, you are good to go with any footwear especially since it dries up soon too.

Same goes for raincoats and umbrellas. I think Raincoats are almost non-existent here except for tarpaulin ponchos used by vendors, Ojek drivers, and so on. There will definitely be Jackets for bikers etc. But nothing like the mass raincoat buying that would happen in India at the beginning of the school season. Umbrellas seem to be a preferred choice and widely available in the shops; but when it comes to actual streets and rains, nobody seems to be carrying them. When I was working, only one of my male colleagues used to bring an umbrella at work and was teased by others as ‘Bapak Payung’ aka Umbrella Man/Mr. Umbrella. Among women, it used to be a colleague and me bringing umbrellas. 2 women. Slightly better than men! Which brings me to the next observation…

People don’t walk here…

Most importantly people don’t walk! As in pedestrians don’t exist in most areas of Jakarta except for the market places and smaller residential areas. Footpaths are for namesake. Very narrow. Obviously, because people don’t walk. Footpaths are not needed to be wide! People drive. Or get into public transport. Cheap fuel (Quite cheap as compared to Mumbai which is close to 2.5 times expensive) leads to the affordability of vehicles which in turn has added to the traffic woes of the city. A rain-related fact is that most of the vehicles are like mammoth sizes compared to Mumbai vehicles. Some of them indeed seemed like minibusses at first glance to me 🙂 (After 7 years here, I find vehicles back home small). I was told by a friend that this is because families with 3 or more kids are still very common here. Their doors open at a higher level as compared to say many vehicles in India. Due to regular flooding during the wet season, many families choose to own such vehicles so that water does not enter into the vehicle. They also spend a lot of time commuting given the Jakarta traffic; so they prefer to have a good amount of space in the vehicle.

So far, I can recall only so much. I might update this post if I remember something else. 🙂

It does indeed feel like an ‘analysis of rainy season behavior of the Jakartans’ 🙂 but at least I found it interesting. 😉

When a compliment touches your heart…

Beautiful

Compliments! How many of us know the art of complimenting? In fact, the times today are such that a compliment is always viewed with doubt. The other day, a friend mentioned to me that she met an acquaintance at a party who was looking pretty and so she complimented the said acquaintance. The acquaintance, in turn, got so conscious that she kept asking throughout the party whether something was amiss about her look and why did my friend say what she said (a.k.a the compliment). This is probably not uncommon. Most of us cannot take a compliment these days. We get suspicious immediately. The fact is we either think someone is fake complimenting or that we really do not deserve to be complimented. In both cases, we are being judgmental. Aren’t we? We don’t allow ourselves a moment to shine, to bask in self-appreciation that a compliment subtly involves.

On the other hand how many of us really give genuine compliments? Today’s world is hard to please. Many people say that they don’t know how to use flowery words. This somehow is supposed to convey some sort of genuineness on their part while making those who compliment sound fake, and yes, many people belong to this category. Of course, complimenting shouldn’t equate with flattery/sycophancy at all; it needs to be genuine. It needs to come from a place that everyone has something good in them and that needs to be recognized.

Little compliments do matter. Toddlers and preschoolers are the best examples of how. They perform for applause and repeat. What a child can clearly demonstrate, we cannot. That humans are hungry somewhere for appreciation. That all the appreciation is not sycophancy or flattery. That it does make you feel better. How hard can it be to accept compliments gracefully? How hard is it to say kind words to someone? It can be anything. The other day, on a message board I follow, someone wrote a book review and she wrote at the outset that her writing was bad. Her writing indeed had left a lot to be desired for. However, the group moderators set the tone for further conversation. They all complimented the woman for the fact that her review gave them a good idea of the book. They complimented her for her passion for reading, due to which, she took this first step of writing a review and getting over her fear of writing. I felt their way of complimenting was spot on. It was genuine. It showed they had read the whole review despite bad writing and grammar which can be a turn off for many. That they appreciated her active participation. What they began was carried on by other members and this encouraged the woman to post one more review, this time she had proofread the post through her friend – she claimed. Thus beginning to improve her writing quality. This is, of course, an example from the virtual world. She declared her low confidence at the beginning itself. More often than not, posts with bad writing do get trolled very easily. Therefore the moderators who were kind enough need to be applauded. In real life, we mostly don’t declare our lack of confidence or demotivated mindset to the world. It’s trickier. But just imagine, what sunshine a simple unsolicited compliment can bring to someone in a similar situation!

I definitely know now, what a difference they can make. I happened to receive some genuine compliments yesterday and today – somehow I do not remember having received them with such a pleasure over years! Probably because they were received after ages for something that I was appreciated for during my younger days! They brought cheer to my day and even the days to come. I genuinely felt happy. Motivated even. I thought over it. I, who am not a graceful receiver of compliments and probably my way of giving compliments too is awkward and cautious because I keep thinking that the other person shouldn’t get the wrong idea that I am flattering them for no reason – am finally convinced that compliments are genuine verbal sunshine and that everyone needs it. Everyone needs to receive it and emit it every now and then so that the world, in general, is a happier place.

We women especially  – after marriage and child, are prominently in the role of a caregiver. We are busy motivating, boosting other members of our family and we rarely think about our qualities and attributes that once were appreciated – by friends, parents, at work. It’s not a conscious decision by the other members of the family, but definitely, our emotional well being does take a backseat in all the other hustles and hassles of family life and the larger scheme of things. Suddenly one day someone notices you for your work/qualities – and you feel genuine happiness. So this is a post to say thank you to my payers of compliments.

In conclusion, I’d like to share something that Gaur Gopal Das has said in his latest book – Life’s Amazing Secrets, which I finished reading earlier in the month. This is the real reason I got thinking about compliments in the first place. While discussing relationships, he gave the analogy of financial instruments – that one cannot withdraw without investing. Like financial instruments, our relationships need investing and there are various ways he explores – but one important way is to compliment. A lot.  There are ways to build trust first – after which we gain the right to really offer negative/corrective feedback if any. However, the person to whom we offer such feedback will be receptive only if s/he feels adequately appreciated by us for their qualities. Most of what we learn in OB or Human Resources as a subject/psychology or even plain old ancient pithy proverbs such as आधी स्तुती, मग विनंती! (a Marathi saying which means ‘request only after praise’) point to something similar. Still, we need to be reminded of it time and again! In fact, if I have to introspect on how much I have ‘invested’ in all of my relationships by way of compliments, I know I haven’t done enough. About time I changed this. While the book specifically focuses on relationships, my post is also about the compliment to all and sundry. The least we can do is brighten someone’s day with a genuine compliment. I know, I will start immediately.

Wanted: A good GP

At the outset, let me put the disclaimer: A) I do not claim to know about healthcare in entire Jakarta or Indonesia B) This post is related to just my own experiences.

Over the last 7 years, I have concluded that the healthcare options available to us where we live in central Jakarta are at best dubious, despite having 2 very well known state of art hospitals nearby. As an expat, the first problem that one comes across is to find a doctor, a GP, that is reliable. Usually, there are references, but everyone’s perspective and experience are different. Also, it’s not easy to find a doctor whose approach matches with your beliefs.

In Indian context usually, the approach/line of belief is ‘minimum intervention’ – that maximum healing should be done with minimum possible intervention in the body’s natural rhythm and healing process. Treatment only if necessary. Body is a natural healer. We need to allow it enough chances to heal itself. Antibiotics are used at a later stage in the healing process  – usually only after determining that other medicines are not working.  There is something called drug resistance which develops on account of constant, unnecessary and incomplete drug intake. Thus my first preference would be to find such a doctor who believes less is more.

As an expat, very first difficulty is finding a good GP, especially the one that confirms with your own approach of health care. Yes. the doctors KNOW what is right, however, over the years, we laypeople do develop a valid perspective in my opinion, which is in other words known as ‘informed choices’. This became more critical to me after my son’s birth. All the ensuing reading and discussion with his Indian pediatrician led me to be fixated with minimum intervention philosophy. One of my closest friends happens to be a practicing pediatric cardiologist, presently in Germany but who has also worked in India and thus contributed to my education on the subject substantially. I think of her as my lifeline!

The problem might also be because as expats we receive references of doctors who are good with English as well as only state of art clinics/hospitals, which might not necessarily lead to effective treatment. Finding the right medical care is like finding a needle in the haystack. That’s what my experience says.

Urgent need for today’s post came from yesterday’s visit to the nearest GP’s clinic. I had been having fever since early morning and it seemed to increase gradually, so I went to the clinic at my husband’s insistence. It was just the first day of fever. Since I don’t work, I do not have the pressing need to feed myself antibiotics or cure myself immediately. But I do have a 3-year-old at home who is absolutely attached to me and from whom its difficult to quarantine myself. We had been hearing about dengue since last week in Jakarta so we thought better be safe. As my GP measured the temperature, it was 38 degrees (100 F). He asked me certain questions about fever, phlegm etc the usual. Then he immediately offered injection – anti-inflammatory he said. It will also break my fever. I asked him why was he offering injection when it was just 100 degrees. He replied because my throat was extremely inflamed. I said I would not like to take an injection. Then he gave me a total of 6 medicines including antibiotic, anti-allergen, something to manage my stomach acid, a syrup to alleviate sore throat, a flu-related tablet and one more tablet. The syrup was a concoction of some powdered medicines+syrup – what they call ‘Racikan’ here and you don’t know what it includes. I asked him why was he giving antibiotics  – he replied because he was sure I had bacterial flu and not viral flu and that it needed antibiotics. I didn’t argue. I am not a medico. But I have enough experience of falling sick on account of flu and it getting cured by itself with no medication. I was only relieved that it wasn’t much serious.

I came home and messaged my dearest pediatric cardiologist, who despite handling close to 100 patients for the day on account of winter-related sicknesses, replied back saying all I needed to do was just to take a paracetamol and lie down for as long as my son lets me, drink lots of fluids and repeat this for the next few days till I feel better. She was shocked that I was offered injection as well as antibiotic and then an anti-allergy to counter the effects of antibiotic if any.  I followed her advice and my fever has broken immediately and not returned so far as I type.

This, however, is not a sole example. Over the last 7 years, we have always been given antibiotics for flu every single time we saw a doctor from the nearby clinic/hospitals. We being expats are not covered by the national healthcare program and hence our bills for simple flu visits can range up to 700,000 IDR which is near about USD 50 / INR 3500. We do not have health insurance too. Which of course is our own laziness but in any case I don’t think coverage will include flu visits.

I was chatting with few friends on this and they were in fact in favor of a treatment containing antibiotics though aware of drug resistance etc. They were working individuals and felt they didn’t have enough time for the flu to naturally subside. However such strategy is harmful in the long term and someone badly needs to educate the public at large.  Some of them were indeed shocked at the total bill amount I mentioned because larger clinics and hospitals are probably charging a lot more due to their infrastructure and their names. There could be the whole shebang of corporate sales/ profit targets at hospitals behind this for all I know.

When I was in India, the very first pediatrician I consulted, who was attached to the maternity ward where I gave birth, was big on medicines. Which is exactly why I looked up, researched and found the right doctor for my son in India. Here so far despite living for 7 years, I have been unable to.

Play-Doh Saurus

img_20190106_154335

 

Dear Play-Doh-saurus,

You are tiny but mighty 3.4 years old with all your willfulness and individuality. You made up your own name in a flash of inspiration from an empty play-doh box and of course, Play-Doh Saurus you are. You definitely are. I have lost the count when we have made instant play-doh at home. Your dad has lost the count of times he bought you play-doh. You definitely love mixing things…textures… colors…exploring new textures sensorily. You love play-doh, kinetic sand, homemade dough, soil from pots, salt and what have you.

In a rare exception, you didn’t want to touch the earthworm because it was slithering in a puddle, though you tried hard to touch a snail and were frustrated that it went inside its house. You are curious about our home-pets (home insects rather)- the ants, you have a love-hate relationship with. Sometimes you follow them to see where they are going and sometimes you want to crush them because they might want to eat your meal. Lizards, a staple in Indonesian housing – you love. You always compare their calls to each other with me calling you. That makes me feel super awesome! ok. I am kidding. I hope by the time you are of age to be able to read this – you will realize how disgusting this is…. you hate errant houseflies but wanted to collect cockroaches and take them home one day.

You love singing. you want to sing nursery rhymes with pretend mike in hand. You need to be sung to so that you can sleep but a lot many times these days it is counterproductive because you join the singing 🙂  you hate going to podium. I have to push you outdoors, but once you go there you love playing on the slides. At home you keep climbing on things – on me too and yet you are a cautious wise pre-schooler. I think you do balance out. You’re not a daredevil. Nor are you timid. You do run like there’s no tomorrow, but always turn around and look for me in a while. I think that’s cute. Though when you know I am really close by, you don’t prefer to look where you are going and ram into things, people and what not. You love tug of war, somersaults, chasing and your cars. Your red car is like your sibling. Just yesterday you called your yellow car your baby too and asked me to ‘gendong’ (Indonesian) = hold the baby. You also love pretend -plays, pretend-talking on the phone, pretend shopping and pretend doctors.

You were not much into soft toys so far but a Diwali visit to meet a  newborn had you reformed. You made your tiny Ele (elephant) your baby and began microwaving it – to keep it warm. Later you kept her in the refrigerator to counter the heat. I was touched when you started calling your small kiwi bird baba when the real baba had gone one business trip. You took it everywhere, fed it meals and even slept with it. When your real baba returned you were excited and even slept on the big trampoline (baba’s tummy) but you never cried when he was away. That reminds me. You call your dad’s tummy big trampoline and mine, the little trampoline! I guess you do have a point there. You want to convey in cute creative words, the need for us to work out!

You have a 3-year-old mind of your own. You value your possessions. A bit too much sometimes 🙂 but I hope you soon will learn to share. You are beginning to notice other kids and wishing to play with them. Your sense of fashion is much ahead of mine. This I concluded almost a year back when you matched white shoes with white design on your orange shirt and requested to wear eyeglasses :-). You have maintained this interest. You hate long sleeves and formal shirts. You hate collars, long pants, and non-cotton fabric. I feel this is cute as well as precocious you know.

You get mad when people make incorrect pronunciations! something that you seem to have inherited from me ;p you began crying while correcting the pronunciation of your friend Y’s original Mandarin name. You call languages ‘talking’. You ask me to play ‘shopping’ in ‘English talking’. You asked me this Saturday – “what talking is going to be there at the birthday party aai? English talking, Bahasa talking, Marathi talking, Hindi Talking or Mandarin Talking?”,  though you only understand Bahasa and Marathi talking mostly 🙂

You observe more than you talk and one day suddenly spill out words of wisdom 🙂 just the other day, you asked me to draw an angry tyrannosaurus (‘ANGRY’) and called it Baba. You asked me to draw a pterodactyl and called it aai. How did you even know these names? or even remember them? That’s when you called yourselves a ‘play-doh-saurus’! You love reading. Mainly car stories. But you are also enjoying stories about insects, germs, and cats. You are a cat person! (We are dog people … so we tried to make you come to the other side. It didn’t work.)

You love love love colors! coloring, drawing. You seem to be engrossed while coloring. You talk in terms of colors. The water bottle is always the red water bottle. Aai-purse is always yellow aai-purse and so on.

Most of all you love me a lot. You used to hate kisses and hugs till you turned 18 months and from then on you have never looked back. You are big on hugs and kisses  – but only with me. Not with baba, not with tante, not with anyone else. That makes me feel so special 🙂 You still have great separation anxiety and still we go together to relieve both ourselves … but I hope you will outgrow this soon.

There are lot many things I want to write but I’ll just sum it up saying you are an awesome kid and I love you to the moon and back ( though you never loved that story).

(Inspired by a post I saw on my friend Rekha’s blog)

Dating !…of sorts…

I spotted you from a distance…. As you stood under a tree
The sun shone upon you, as you basked in all its glory
Your eyes, with pleasure alight, upon the tot at your knee
And I saw a ray of hope –  a kindred soul in thee

 

As I approached you, you noticed me and I smiled shabbily
You narrowed eyes appraisingly, as I stood so flabbily,
I tried some witty remark on weather that I offered as a bait
I thanked my stars in my mind, that finally someone worth I met

 

Then we exchanged pleasantries and chatted for a while,
And what I learned about you then, really made me smile
You stayed nearby and came to the park daily at this hour,
You too were seeking to meet someone these days that had been so dour

 

Accidentally daily at same time we seemed to bump always
One day at park, my heart hummed its time to seek the ways
To spend more time with this one, she’s the keeper you see
So I gathered my wits and my courage and invited her for tea

 

We bonded over diaper brands, we gushed over babyfoods,
We shared agonies with each other complaining about our broods
Dear reader, the rest is history, of this love story of sorts,
Its about one mom dating another one, now control your snorts…

 

The end!

Probably I have overused the poetic license , but these or any other words wouldn’t do justice to one important agony of the mom life! Finding new friends – er make it new mom friends.

Mom dating! Yes, Mom dating is the term for it, and about accurate and succinct description – of the struggles one faces as a mom, trying to make friends with other moms. This agony may not be faced by every mom. But many of the first time moms (that’s FTMs in modern mom world lingo) that have willingly opted to be a stay at home mom (SAHM – another modern mom world lingo aka MMWL), do face it. Like any other decision taken in the heat of the moment – where we later try to justify it  (including that of marrying, having a child and so on) (LOL) – the decision to quit job never really estimates the impact of lack of regular (almost constant) adult interaction, that makes up for even the lack of social life otherwise, in some cases (like mine to an extent when I was working in India with 14-15 working hours a day). Working moms have colleagues for some sensible adult conversation throughout the day. They connect over one common aspect – work. Whether they like each other or not, they must accept each other. It is sort of God given (or fate given – take your pick) arrangement, where you need do nothing. You can meet your other friends during the weekends – but mostly you are busy with chores on weekends – and spending valuable time with your kids. There is no time to feel , think etc.

For us SAHFTMs (Ha! I just thought of it) – life is all fun initially until the extended break seems to be extending towards infinity. You spend your day cleaning, bathing, feeding (rinse and repeat) ,putting them to sleep, obsessing over number of feeds, number of poops, colour of poops, figuring out exactly why the baby cried and so on… I have elaborated more than enough I suppose. It is a mix of awesome, fun and frustration in equal measures and worth every moment spent in doing these I agree. But as days go by , and the signs of clinginess of the baby don’t dissipate,  you do miss some adult conversation. The husband being the only remaining earning member of the family, cannot cater to this whim exactly when you feel like it – like when the baby is asleep in the afternoon or when out for evening stroll, since he is probably stuck in some corner of his office, trying to make sense of something on his work screen. Plus who would really want to bond with you to discuss your frustrations about a diaper rash cream , a baby detergent and so on??? Unless that person is a mom of a similar aged baby herself!!! That’s why SAH-Mom dating is needed. Some adult conversation, similar concerns and so on!

But what is the reason for a blog post if it was as smooth a sailing as in the poem above, which is just a figment of my imagination. In reality, if you notice someone at the park, in all likelihood they already belong to some mom-clique and will tend to ignore you. If this important hurdle is crossed, probably you have won half the battle. If not, then park probably was not the right place for you. You need to find other places – like playgroup drop off and pick up area, playgym / music / activity classes etc.  You cannot be seen looking shabbier than your mom-target, nor can you look unachievably chic holier than thou (though sometimes it could lead to aspirational popularity  – because everyone always wants to be friends with the cool chic mom in the class/area isn’t it?) You try to bond over clothing, stroller brands, parenting style and passing judgements about how other moms are acting (and in a way try to know each other’s compatibility).  You start discussions with discussing number and quality of playgroups in the area (I tried this), saying – “how has been your experience of ____ playgroup? Would love your honest feedback.” You send Facebook friend requests and then compliment now and then on their photos whenever you possibly can.  You receive and give compliments on baby clothes, get asked about doctors and so on. All this can be asked genuinely too of course, but these conversations, if happening too frequently are “masked friendship requests” so to say :-D. Sometimes, your “friendship requests” are met with a royal ignore. You do wonder things like – am I not interesting? Not funny? Am I not cool enough and so on –how easy it was during childhood. My toddler shares his toys with people he likes. If someone doesn’t play with him, he moves on…after 3.5 decades of life, such rejections are hard on your ego….

All in all, making mom friends is hard. Just like romantic dating I would say. Similar level of uncertainty and bruises to ego, which become more difficult to bear because of the advanced age (as compared to the romance years) I’d say, if you meet someone, keep the momentum of friendship going, because you never know- the 15 days you were absent from park were enough for your target mom to meet someone new and move on

The cat who… got lucky!

At the outset, I am NOT a Hello Kitty aficionado.

In fact, this post is specifically to ponder over the unbelievable popularity of Hello Kitty. In general, most of the popular characters have followed commonly trodden path of first being introduced through comics or cartoon series and subsequently have found themselves being peddled as various kinds of merchandise. Clothes, accessories, toys, paraphernalia. Hello kitty as per my knowledge is the only such extremely famous character which has traveled a reverse journey. First, as a bag and subsequently in other merchandise and a few years later into cartoon. If there are others as grand and as famous who have emerged in similar manner, I am not aware of them of course.

In India, I have seen Hello Kitty in various forms, especially on bags and lunchboxes, ribbons and dresses of little girls, which, I have to conclude were illegal imitations, now looking at the price of its official merchandise in various stores in Indonesia. I had always wondered back when I was a kid, who Hello Kitty was, because unlike other cartoons I had never come across animated series of Hello Kitty. Years passed and cut to present years in Indonesia, where I came face to face to the gigantic brand that Hello Kitty is and was astounded by its penetration at so many levels in the merchandise world. I was particularly flabbergasted to notice she was on this packet of sugar :-D.

IMG_20140629_143358

I mean, though I have studied finance,  subconsciously one does ponder brand association with products every now and then. How is Hello Kitty relatable with a day to day item which is used thoughtlessly? Maybe they want to say the sugar is as sweet and the character Hello Kitty is sweet natured too. Though, since Hello Kitty is almost a collectible brand now, one would think, they’d skip merchandising it in form of a generic consumable like sugar.

Kudos to its creator, Yuko Shimizu, who, in comparison with the Disneys of the world, did not have to even create a story for her character to sell so much of the merchandize 😊 . Today, as per Wikipedia, Hello Kitty is a USD 5 Bn brand, as per this article, it is USD 7 Bn.

On the other hand, was there a dearth of cute comic characters? There wasn’t. There were cute care bears for example, the popular series during late 80s and 90s when I grew up. Remember seeing them in Archies greetings too. They have faded now. But Hello Kitty, which was ‘born’ even earlier (is apparently 43 now) than these bears, is still thriving, and is being followed; my niece aged 7 for example is a big fan and owns everything Hello Kitty from erasers, dresses, books, toys and all-that-you-can-have. Though many who were her fans in childhood are now adults and have her as tattoos for example. The Taiwanese Eva airlines has her on their planes and in flight merchandise apparently!

Really, is Hello Kitty that unique? I personally am not really into Hello Kitty (or any character, or a film personality, star, singer and so on), so I cannot understand this phenomenon of mass following, especially the owning of merchandise, posters, dresses etc. Sometimes I feel this tendency of mass following has got to do with feeling some sort of sense of belonging. The fans belong together in celebration of something. An exclusivity etc. Despite the great many explanations on Hello Kitty phenomenon, including by people who have studied her for decades apparently and explained how her lack of mouth is adaptable and empowering to women etc., I just believe Hello Kitty and its promoter company got lucky to put it simply! Despite other Kawaii or cute characters in Japan, only one was picked up the world over…. By luck., and congratulations to its promoter company Sanrio for that!

The Key to knowing Bahasa street style

Sample this – random texting between my husband and his friend:

Husband – Hey, long time , lets catch up!

(I am sure, the real message was even shorter. Something like – ‘Let’s meet’ or even ‘Meet me’ or ‘Meet!’ – all of this is probable considering my husband’s low patience for all sorts of texting, further tempered by the fact that it wasn’t his client)

Friend – Hey, sure! Let’s meet at Kunci? (Knowing his friend too, I know it was much shorter reply 😀 )

So, my baffled husband turns and asks me – “do you know a place called Kunci? “

Ever proud of my own better Bahasa Indonesia skills (only as compared to my husband), I set him correct. “Kunci? Come on! Kunci means a Key Swapnil, a K-E-Y! Key! That which helps to lock and open the door??”

He made a noncommittal noise and went back to messaging, then smiled looking at me. “You’re wrong. Apparently Kunci means mall Kuningan City”.

We spent a moment in amused laughter. In almost 6 years of my residence here in Indonesia, one thing never ceases to amuse and baffle me. Its the abbreviations created by people. The local slang language or ‘Bahasa Jalan’ (Street language) as they call it , has evovled a ‘tendency’ to create short cuts. I call it tendency because I notice this leaning towards shortforms in almost every sphere of local life. I have come across abbreviated forms of so many unexpected words, places, things and so on, that sometimes, when I learn a new word, I ask the native Bahasa speaker if it is a shortform or a real word.

So you have shorter names for malls like Mangdu for Mangga Dua, Kokas for Kota Kasablanka, Sensi for Senayan City and so on. Not just malls, even place names become shortforms and you tend to get confused. Once while reading a running race schedule, I noticed the location was Jakpus. I got quite confused before realising that in all probability it was Jakarta Pusat  (Central Jakarta). Similarly Jaksel, Jakut and Jaktim. Names too do get shortened here, say a Wijayanto becoming Yanto, Arianto becoming Ari and Christina sometimes being called Tina! Which I guess is the only abbreviation, commonly practised throughout the world. 😊

While these abbreviations are mainly a part of street language, they are formally used sometimes  – such as Jakpus / Jaksel on the website of that racing community. The national monument in Jakarta is called Monas, which is shortened ‘Monumen Nasional’ . There are many communities with shortened name. Certain ‘national communities for so and so’ being called Komnas __ ___. Even the ministries have faced same fate. Kemenkes for example means Kementerian Kesehetan (Health Ministry) . Minsitry for information and broadcasting is called Kemkominfo and formally so.

Once while travelling I came across a series of shops named Warkop. Example – Warkop Ibu Yeni , Warkop Pak Nurul and so on. I wondered aloud what warkop meant. Our driver informed us – it was Warung dan Kopi (Snack and coffee).

With so many shortforms floating around, you would think, that there wont be many long words in Bahasa Indonesia. That’s extremely far from truth. To get a taste of the long words, one glance at newspapers is enough. Sometimes the words seem so long to me, that I wonder when they will end , even while reading them 😊. All in all , maybe these long words are what prompted the locals to start with shortforms. Whatever it takes to make communication easy! Only, they should have this kunci (Word key) for us newcomers though and regularly update it. That will make our life easier. 😊

 

Bucketlist – Things I’d love to do on a day off.

Today, I took an off. Was tired of routine. Was unwell too. So just thought of pausing for a moment. It wasn’t an ideal day though – nevertheless, I felt much better for it. I thought of listing things I’d do on an ideal day off 🙂

  1. I’d wake up to cool morning breeze and lightening sky. Would love to take in the calmness of early morning. Peace and quiet. Just be. Take in lovely pink and orange hues of the skies.
  2. Make myself a cup of steaming ginger-flavored tea, listening to the early morning classical raagas. Just absorbing every taan, aalap, every nuance of a bandish… experiencing its mood, sentiment, just dissolving my existence, going to faraway places within that song – that raag. Its been ages that I have done this…. I guess these days, early mornings are all about getting breakfast ready / lunch boxes ready.
  3. Would then go for a walk on the podium. It is lovely around 7 here. Much brighter than I would like, but on an off day, I am hardly going to wake up too early 🙂 . What I love about Jakarta most is its green surroundings. At least compared to Mumbai, where I lived most of my life, this city is several times greener. Evergreen trees laden in their full glory all the time. 🙂 No fall here … The facility management of this apartment complex has done lovely landscaping work and maintained well all these years. Its a pleasure to walk on the podium – especially when it is less crowded. Mild morning weather, chirpy birds, green grass, evergreen trees, flowers… would just take in everything. The hibiscus near swimming pool with bright pink blossoms, frangipanis  just about everywhere, dotted with yellow flowers, at times which are scattered on the lawns below, making a beautiful picture. I would stop to notice the toddlers over at the kiddie-swimming pool. Their laughter and bright faces will be sure to set my mood. Maybe, I will just sit on one of the benches for a while, all by myself  – just observing. Just being. Doing nothing.
  4. I would return home to be served delicious breakfast. On a day off, I wouldn’t have had to bother about deciding the menu or even cooking it. I’d just get it ready in my hands. I would eat it while scanning through the morning papers. I’d find just the right news to debate with my husband and chat leisurely. Or just to talk about nothing and everything. No rush to get to the work – no rush to be on time anywhere. No meetings, no deadlines, no notes to be written, no follow – ups.
  5. I’d then tidy up and just lounge about with a favourite book to read. I think I haven’t read a book end to end for quite a while now. It would be fun to just read for 3-4 hours at a stretch.
  6. It would then be lunch time and miraculously home made lunch would be ready waiting for me 🙂 On weekdays, I cook only a part of my morning meals, and on a day off, I’d shirk from even that. It would be awesome to eat my favourite meal – varan-bhat-batata bhaji – poli – tup and limboo. Simple Maharashtrian fare. It would taste like my mum’s cooking.
  7. After lunch I’d probably watch some movie or tele-series, out of the collection of CDs that has been accumulating here over the last 2.5 years, but really never accessed yet….
  8. Or I’d go to a spa and pamper myself – especially my feet, I feel too worn out these days.
  9. Tea-time I’d just make some nice snacks. Try something new – and quick 😉
  10. I’d then make an hour – long call to some friend . Catch up. Laugh, cry and be happy. Maybe even gossip a bit.
  11. Husband would be back early from work. Or he too has stayed in and just lounged about with me. Maybe, we will go out for a nice dinner or just stay in. We will cook dinner together. I will cook and he will be with me in the kitchen, chatting about his day, maybe he will lend a hand. Would play some nice music – maybe consorto music? maybe Vivaldi’s four seasons while we cook. We’d have risotto, some bread and some salad. 🙂 Numero uno of comfort food.
  12. We’d then walk up to the terrace and just watch the city go to sleep. Try to catch some stars in the clouded skies of Jakarta. Or we’d take our sleeping bags and just lie down, listen to radio, playing old classics.

🙂 thinking up all these things in itself made me giddy with joy. Now I can’t wait for a real day off to arrive.

The culture of respect ?

“Ibu, aku terlambat , pesawat belum datang.” I heard a part of what my colleague was saying on phone. We were in Lombok, on an assignment and stuck at the airport. The plane taking us back to Jakarta had gotten delayed by 4 hours.  I had already called up my husband to inform and was waiting for my colleague to finish his call, before we went back to work related discussion again. “Ibu, nanti aku telepon ketika pesawat mendarat”. …

I was sort of surprised + impressed that he still calls his Ibu (Mum) first, even in his mid thirties. Indonesians are very close to their family – mostly like Indians, I had heard, but this was little out of ordinary for me.  I wouldn’t call my parents immediately under such circumstances, they need not know that I’m getting delayed and then worry about me. Maybe, he lives in a joint family. ‘The analyst’ started making her assumptions. Anyhow, after he hung up, I asked him how came he called his mother because she might worry unnecessarily. Indonesians do tend to ask even more personal questions and even to casual acquaintances or even strangers. Though I knew he wouldn’t have minded – he’s a friend.  Anyway, he did a double take – “Mother??, no, I called my wife”.  Then it was my turn to do a double take – “you  address your wife with ‘Ibu’?”. Till then, to me, Ibu meant only following things:

  1. Ibu is your own mother
  2. In formal situations, it is a title of respect – similar to ‘Madam’ – for someone senior in age / designation – mostly aged 30s and above.

So I was even more impressed with this colleague, who was addressing his wife ‘Madam’. Not jokingly, I could tell from his expressions. He added, “Of course, that’s what I always call her”.Having returned home, I mentioned this to a local friend and he set me correct. “We always call our spouses with the relevant title”. This was a shock and relief to me. After hearing the Bahasa Indonesia word for the word ‘husband’ – Suami, which has been derived from Sanskrit ‘Swami’ (master), I had been flabbergasted. So this new information was a happy shock.

 This means, husbands will call their wives – ‘Ibu’ (Madam) or Mbak (Miss) while addressing and wives will call their husbands  – Bapak/Pak (Sir), Mas (young sir I guess?) while addressing them. This to me initially seemed too formal, until I recollected that in many parts of India there still is culture of addressing significant other ‘aap’ (respect) irrespective of gender. Even kids . India always has culture of addressing husband as ‘aap’ – being the patriarchal society that it is. But in some areas even the wives are addressed in kind. In Maharashtrian culture too probably till last century I guess, the culture of calling significant other “tumhi” (respect) existed. However, I don’t think adding a title for those considered ‘junior’ was ever a part of our culture. Fortunately, today we have again gravitated to an era where genders are on equal footing when it comes to addressing each other (genders to come on equal footing in India in real sense will take probably couple of centuries more… but that is besides the point).

So, coming to the point, so far in my interactions, I haven’t come across anybody in this country, irrespective of his/her age, situation,  social status, profession etc, being addressed without title. Titles – Pak/Bapak, Mas, Mbak, Ibu, Nona (for young miss) etc are used in formal as well as casual situations. I guess, in situations with extreme familiarity, sometimes, you could be addressed only with your first name, parents calling their children etc.  I call some of my friends on first name basis, but I think their acceptance of it could be more to do with the fact that they understand differences in cultures.

To me it is amusing how the use of titles does not really impact the level of intimacy in this culture. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Indonesians are very genial? – that they always have given respect to anyone irrespective of their status / situation by addressing them with titles?  I can only make guesses.