New Life in Singapore

The bike pedals creak and moan as I strain to pedal to the top of Jurong Hill. There’s a 12 kg 19 month old baby on the seat behind me and his 9 kg little brother in the bike trailer I’m pulling up the 60 meter hill with each crank of the pedals. It’s the most physically difficult thing I do in Singapore and I kind of look forward to it. 200 feet in elevation change on a smooth paved surface isn’t much to brag about, but it’s slightly more challenging with the added weight of both of my offspring.

Jurong Hill isn’t a place people visit in Singapore, but I visit it most days. It’s a little less than 4 km from our flat in Boon Lay, near the library, to the top of this hill and I can ride the whole way on the Park Connector, a well-developed bike trail linking all the parks of Singapore. I didn’t buy a car in Singapore. I could tell you all the reasons why it’s saving me so much money and the great exercise I’m getting, but it’s a bit boring. Better to write about why I like riding a bike around town with my babies.

JurongIsland
Looking towards Jurong Island from the Jurong Hill lookout tower.

At the top of the hill, we park the bike next a tree Queen Elizabeth, II planted back in 1972, but we don’t bother locking it because this is Singapore and there’s no crime here, so we don’t worry about theft, ever. One less thing I suppose. We don’t worry about violent crime, homeless people, vandalism, or drug addicts either, so honestly it’s a bit more significant than one less thing, but the key point is that we don’t worry anymore. There’s a lookout tower here at the top of the hill with a spiral walkway and the big baby likes to push the little baby in his stroller, so I detach the bike trailer and now it’s a stroller. We walk around and around the spirals and make our way to the top of tower. Then the big baby got mad and cried because he’s still learning about the world around him and he’s a bit frustrated that the spiral path to the top of the tower ended here. He wants to go higher! He’s crying loud and I’m trying not to laugh at him.

GardensByTheBay
Visiting Gardens by the Bay with Junior, one of the icons of Singapore.

From the top of the tower, we can see out to Jurong Island, a purely industrial and restricted area that’s mainly devoted to the petrochemical (oil) industry and shipping. I think that’s why Queen Elizabeth II planted a tree up here in 1972. Singapore was an up-and-coming developing economy back then and the leaders here probably liked to show off the marvelous port they’d just built. I don’t know for sure what ocean we’re looking at from here, but somewhere in the distance, the Indian Ocean meets the Pacific Ocean. Those two oceans coming together out there near this spot is probably the main reason this little red dot became one of the best cities in the world over the last 50 years despite its fairly recent former circumstances of a jungle swamp mostly devoid of natural resources. This place here, near where her majesty planted that tree on this hill that nobody visits anymore, is where the East meets the West. Location may be the only advantage Singapore has over lesser cities and map dots of other colors, but here it is in 2018 among the handful of top international cities with the lowest crime rate, longest life expectancy, highest per capita income, and best schools. It’s an open book, what they do here in Singapore. Not really shocking to be honest. Strictly enforce the law and keep taxes low for a few decades and behold, a world class city pops up. Any king or queen can come and see the Garden City and plant a tree too, but so far, no one can replicate the all-around success of Singapore. I think it must be the best city in the world and I feel very fortunate to live here with young children who will certainly just take it forgranted as children do.

HDB Floor
We get everything delivered in Singapore since we don’t have a car, mainly groceries. Junior always colours the boxes before we throw them away.

Singapore has over 5 million people and it’s one of the most densely populated cities in the world, but here we are with this 5 acre park and a really nice view all to ourselves on a weekend. Sometimes we see other people around here, but never more than one or two. I’d imagine there’s some place like this in every corner of Singapore, but since I’ve been here just six months, I only know my own little corner of the red dot. I didn’t stumble onto this hill top park until recently. It’s still a new find and I’m excited to have this hill as an approximation of a work-out since I no longer have any time to exercise by myself since these two little boys came along. That’s ok for me. I know they’ll grow up fast and one day I’ll miss bike riding and exploring with them like this at the end of the earth, where Queen Elizabeth II and the Shah of Iran came to plant a tree back in the 1970’s.

Bike
My family car in Singapore. This photo is at the Chinese Gardens in Jurong.

Jurong Bird Park is the well-known tourist destination at the bottom of the hill. It’s not as popular as the night safari in Singapore, but I think it’s all operated by the same organization. Basically, it’s just a zoo for birds. It might be a tourist trap, but since it’s the tourist trap at the end of the bike trail less than 4 km from my house, it’s my favourite tourist trap. It’s kind of far from some of the other attractions in Singapore, so it’s maybe a little less crowded. During the week, especially after a rain storm passes by, it’s also nearly empty. That’s when we most often try to go. It rains a lot in Singapore, so we go at least once a week, right after the rain cools down the temperature and the tourists go back to their hotels. It’s a very nice park. There are very large aviaries here that you can walk inside and feed and interact with the birds that live here, almost like wild birds building nests and raising families just like we’re doing in Singapore. A bird that lives in a big cage with everything it needs and wants doesn’t know it lives in a cage.

BirdPark
Inside a huge bird cage at Jurong Bird Park and it’s all fake, but who cares lah?

There is one aviary at the back of the park with a 100 foot tall water fall and a bridge. We go there most often. I know it’s fake, but it’s the best fake waterfall I ever encountered and it’s a really nice place to just sit for a while. The big baby walks back and forth on the bridge chasing after the exotic tropical birds. I can see him pretty easily and there’s not much there that can hurt him. The waterfall makes a pleasant back drop and helps me relax. It’s my favorite place in Singapore. I don’t even mind telling everybody on the internet because I don’t think too many people will leave the shopping mall to come over there after the rain anyway. The bird park had a really great promotion going on and the cost of a year pass was the same price as a day ticket, so we got that deal and now we’re definitely getting our money’s worth. The babies are both under two years old, so they’re free. There’s a good playground in the bird park too. It’s got a water park with lifeguards on duty and playground equipment that includes swings for babies, so it’s just right for us at this stage.

Library
Junior checking out a library book in the Chinese language. Just kidding, he has no idea, but we live right next to a library and we go over there once or twice a week and do our best to follow along at story time. He’s more interested in playing chilut-ba (peek-a-boo) in the bookshelves.

Sometimes we go the other way on the bike trail along the Jurong River to a place called Jurong Lake. The river is fully enclosed in concrete and I didn’t realize it was a natural river for a while. I thought it was more like a big storm drain. It’s full of fish and on Christmas day I talked to a guy who was fishing in what I thought was a storm drain. He’d caught ten tilapia so far when I talked to him. Merry Christmas, they were pretty big too. I haven’t tried fishing here yet, but I intend to try one day, since I saw that. It just seems so unnatural to fish in the city, but I guess that’s all in my country boy head. I see lots of fish in there though. The water is clean and clear, so you can see them easily. I think it’s a mixture of native and introduced species. Sea eagles come along in the evening sometimes and catch one. I’ve seen otters in there eating them too. Otters came back from extinction in Singapore just a few years ago and are now pretty common. I’ve also seen a couple of iguanas here. Iguanas aren’t native to SE Asia, so these are escaped pets I think, but they are huge and clearly doing well. I’m just impressed with the amount of wild life that I see in this city when I go out and about, especially on the bike. I come from the country and we always kept a look out for animals, so maybe no one else notices. Recently I saw a wild pig. There’s a few of those around too.

Singapore
Wearing his Indonesian Batik around the Singapore tourist traps. A mosquito got him on the forehead that day, but thankfully, they’re not a huge problem here.

I thought I wanted to live at Jurong Lake because I like it so much. It’s slightly farther from work though, slightly more expensive, and the apartments we looked at there were just slightly smaller. We thought we were moving there and we were $100 away from a deal on a lease when our place came up. It was cheaper, bigger, near a shopping mall, and didn’t have any stairs. We didn’t really like stairs since we have these two babies to think about. I wanted to live there because the flats there have a water view of this lake and it’s just really nice to wake up to a water view. I also liked the idea of being adjacent to such a big piece of parkland for recreation. We don’t live far though, so we come here pretty often too, second only to the Jurong Bird Park, which has a much better playground.

Bird
Chasing some kind of exotic bird at the Jurong Bird Park. He never catches them. We come here once or twice a week because it’s close and they have a promotion for a one year entry pass for the same cost as the day pass. Maybe I just like birds. I suppose that’s true too.

The Chinese and Japanese gardens at Jurong Lake are fake replications of gardens and architecture from China and Japan. I don’t know all the details, but it’s a pretty good replication. I’d rather sit here at the Chinese gardens in Jurong than go to China. It’s cleaner! My big baby is 19 months old now and likes to throw pebbles into the water from one of the bridges, so we find a nice spot to sit and then mess around doing things like that just to kill time. They sell cold drinks there too and it gets pretty busy on Sundays. Domestic helpers (maids and nannies) get the day off on Sunday, so they come to places like this and the guys here from the subcontinent doing construction or working at the refineries and the factories roam around trying to find a Filipina girlfriend. That’s my assessment of what goes on around there on Sundays. We like to have little picnics with subway sandwiches and this is my favorite place to picnic. It’s quite popular though. Everyone else likes to picnic there too.

We watched the lunar eclipse at the end of January here. One of the few English words the big baby uses is “moon.” He loves to see the moon. It was pretty cool to see it, red and hanging low over the lake at the Chinese garden as the earth’s shadow covered it for a few hours. It seemed like half the city came out that night to take a picture.

HDB Swimming Pool
We installed a swimming pool on the balcony of our HDB flat

Like most people in Singapore, we live in an HDB. HDB stands for Housing & Development Board. Most expats live in a condominium. I looked at the condominiums and they are a bit fancier. They tend to have carpet and just nicer construction, nicer cabinets, nicer furniture, and recessed lights. I don’t really care about that stuff, especially with two babies who might find some way to tear it up or color it with crayons. That said, I admit there are definitely two benefits to the condominiums, well, one definite benefit and one questionable benefit. The questionable benefit is 24 hour manned security. The condos all have security staff. Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, if not the lowest, for any international city. I live one mile from the police headquarters. I just didn’t think security was something I needed raising the cost of my rent in the safest city in the world, so I believe this benefit is questionable. I don’t fault people for wanting security though. It’s definitely something you get with a condo and not with an HDB flat.

MRT
Going the opposite direction of everyone else on the MRT on a Friday night in Singapore. We had the train to ourselves. Singapore is wall-to-wall with people, but we avoid a lot of crowds by doing the opposite of what everyone else does.

The main thing they get with a condo is a really nice pool. I do sometimes lament not having a swimming pool. My babies like to swim and I’m sure we’d use a pool most days. We used the pool every day in Indonesia. The price difference for three bedroom HDB flats and three bedroom condos came to about $600 a month and the condos were about 50% smaller in total area. In addition, the utilities cost more in condos for some reason. My wife told me it’s subsidized or something for HDB’s. Anyway, for $600 a month, multiplied by the 18 month lease term ($10,800), we decided we could live without a fancy swimming pool. I won’t argue that it’s a sacrifice because we really like swimming pools and water in general.

BasicHDBFlat
Dressed like twins at the HDB flat. It’s a pretty ordinary apartment, but I like the simplicity of it and the additional floor space. This kind of floor is great for kids because it’s easy to clean. The nanny mops it every morning at 5 am before they get up.

We bike ride to a few other places I didn’t mention, including a couple of huge waterparks. They cost about $2 for entry. They get a bit crowded on hot weekend days, but never so bad that we didn’t go in anyway. They have wave pools, lazy rivers, fountains, swimming pools, and huge waterslides. We’ve also been to the beaches a few times. There are several good beaches in Singapore. We’re only about 15 minutes by car to the beach and it’s one of the few places where we take a taxi. We haven’t been very much yet because the smaller baby was just too young for a day out in the hot sun, but I think we’ll go more as he grows. We really liked East Coast Park which has a long stretch of beach and our favourite is Palawan beach at Sentosa Island. Sentosa Island is entirely a tourist trap, but we aren’t affected by that. I just tune it out and don’t have any trouble not buying anything except a few cold drinks from 7-11. I think it’s a very nice beach there, but people give it very bad reviews. I guess they’ve just come from Phi Phi in Thailand, the Maldives, Bali, or maybe Bondi in Australia and compare it to those places when they review Singapore on trip advisor. You definitely wouldn’t come to Singapore for its beaches, but if you’re in Singapore already, they’re pretty good. I don’t think I’d feel the need to leave Singapore to go to a beach until my kids are a lot older. These are excellent beaches for smaller kids. They’re very clean, they have lifeguards, and there aren’t any waves.

SentosaBeach
Showing off my dad bod at our favourite beach at Sentosa Island, only about 15-20 minutes by taxi. It’s got bad reviews because people don’t like the boats you can see in the distance. I come from the mountains in Virginia, so I think it’s awesome to live near a beach like this with little kids.

We put a baby pool out on the balcony. It’s kind of funny looking. I saw one of the neighbors doing it, but I think it kind of works out. I have babies. They can’t swim anyway. So instead of nearly $11,000 extra rent, I just bought a $12 kiddie pool for the balcony. I probably wouldn’t even have that much room on a balcony in a condo. That’s the primary benefit of living in an HDB in Singapore, the space. You get more space for less money. If you’re ever living in Singapore and saving 5 figures in rental costs matters to you, I recommend leasing an HDB.

EastCoastBeach
Our second favourite beach at East Coast Park. It’s much bigger. It’s only second favourite because it’s 5 minutes farther. This is a really good place for biking too.

You never see expats in HDB’s. There’s just me as far as I know. I mean I’m sure that there’s another expat out there somewhere living in an HDB, I just haven’t seen the guy or heard about him yet. They definitely don’t live in my neighborhood. My neighborhood is mostly Chinese, although my floor in the HDB is all Malaysian. I guess we fit in a little better there since my wife is Javanese (Indonesian) and so is our nanny. Everyone on our floor speaks Bahasa and practices Islam to some degree, but in the wider community, most people are Chinese. There’s an African family too and India is definitely well represented. I really like that it’s a very diverse community and everyone gets along. The first memories of childhood for both of my children will come from around here where people of many colors speak many languages and that’s absolutely priceless. If all I have to tolerate is the scent of prawn paste from my Malaysian neighbor’s cooking to get that kind of result, then lucky me.

FakeSnow
At Snow City in Singapore. It’s sort of like a big refrigerated warehouse with fake snow. You can even ski in there. I hated it, lol. I think my wife liked it though. She’s never seen real snow.

My wife works full time, breast feeding a 19 month old and his 6 month old brother at home. The older baby started “school” about a month ago. He’s the youngest one in his class, just barely made the cut off for this intake in January 2018. The preschools are mostly on the lowest level of the HDB flats, so it’s really convenient. The idea being that a working mother can drop of her child and head into work all in one go. Since my wife doesn’t work, it means she doesn’t have to walk far or cross the road. We just put him in the two hour program, because that’s long enough for his age. It’s not really school, it’s more like a playgroup. They actually call it a playgroup, but the lady in charge has an early childhood education degree. There are 10 kids total, mostly Chinese, but I think there’s another Indonesian child and one from an Indian family too. They focus on English but they call the teacher lao-tse they’re mostly Chinese. If we stay in Singapore, I think they start teaching Chinese around 3 years old, so that would be a pretty good skill to pick up, but it’s down the road a bit. For now, I’m just glad this school is so close and convenient and only $175 SGD a month (about $130 USD). Some things in Singapore are expensive, but others are a real bargain.

Playground1
Some of the playgrounds in the malls are very good. This is at Jurong East Mall. It’s got a water park too. All free, if you can walk through a mall without buying stuff.

I think school may be the reason I either stay or go from Singapore in a few years. Singapore schools are the best in the world. As a result, only Singaporeans and permanent residents can go to these schools, with few exceptions. Private schools are also very good in Singapore, but at a high cost. The private schools cost more than college in America, then you still have college to pay for too! I’m not the sort of person who pays for private schools when I have other options. I think I’d most likely leave Singapore before I paid for private elementary school here. I might change my mind about that if circumstances change, but I doubt it. On the other hand, if my kids were eligible for public school, I’d probably stay as long as I could. I’m not sure that’s possible and if it becomes a possibility, I have to seriously think it through. Singapore requires all Singaporeans and permanent residents to serve two years in the national service. That only affects boys because girls are exempt from service, but I have two boys and if we stay here, they will get a wonderful Singaporean education, but then Singapore will draft them into two years of military service. I don’t think it’s bad, just that it deserves some consideration if I have to make that decision for these boys. Maybe we’ll never get to that point, so no sense worrying about decisions that aren’t on offer yet anyway.

(This baby comes from the Indonesian jungle and he’s scared of modern appliances in Singapore. He won’t go in the room with the washing machine, but he’s recently gotten brave enough to go look through the door.)

So we might be in Singapore for a short time or maybe a long time. We’re just going to do what I always do. Like John Candy taught us in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, “Like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty river, I just go with the flow.” Three years ago I never thought I’d be married, but here I am now with two kids too. That’s how things happen when you just go with the flow. Not that I thought about it much, but I didn’t think an urban setting would be good for raising kids. I did wonder a few times why people all moved to the suburbs when they had kids. It seemed like it would be easier in the city to me with all its conveniences. Almost all people said you want a yard when you have kids. I think most people want a yard and a car when they have kids. Maybe I would too, but here I am with no car, no yard, and two kids. I don’t feel like they’re disadvantaged. We don’t have a yard, but we have the kiddie pool on the balcony, that tree Queen Elizabeth herself planted up on the hill, the fake waterfall, and a Chinese garden. We don’t have a car to drive anywhere, but we love riding the bike to see these places and the things we see along the way, like otters and escaped iguanas.

Playground
This is a pay as you go playground in the mall. There are a lot of these. We get our money’s worth I think. He seems to like playgrounds better than toys.

What else can I say about Singapore? I’ll tell you I’m writing this from a Starbucks in Surabaya, Indonesia today. I finally got a bit of time off from work and the babies are with their grandparents, the nanny is back in her village (she’s also Javanese), and my wife went to the spa. I’m going to try and get it all into one blog entry since these babies are relentless, especially the older one, so if I don’t finish it now during my week off from work and my afternoon off from family, I might never finish it! It might be too long. I’m not sure who reads it this far or who might find what I’m doing interesting, but I don’t write this to sell anything or recruit for my religion or pyramid scheme. I just write it because I think some people might like to know about places they haven’t been before or someplace they might go someday too. Other people might like to know there’s a country boy out there still living a simple life even in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I’m not happy all the time or sad all the time. I kind of expect a little bit of everything. I started a new job, moved to another country, and my wife had a baby all within a two week period of time about six months ago. I wouldn’t recommend doing all of that stuff in the same year if you can help it, but that’s the hand I got dealt and that’s the hand I played. The one word description of the last six months would be stressful. I’ll pick stressful over boring every single time though. Boring is as bad as it gets for me. I’d rather have some high grade stress!

(Video of a trip to the baby spa back in Indonesia. Singapore isn’t too far from Indonesia, so we go back when we can.)

I think some people are interested in the nanny culture of Singapore. It’s kind of different there than having a nanny in a western country. Everyone has a nanny in Singapore, at least it seems that way. Everyone with kids seems to have a helper. My first thought was where do they keep a nanny living in these little apartments? I think that varies from one family to the next, but a lot of people use their bomb shelter for the nanny. Most flats are built with what looks like a big closet with a heavy steel door and no windows. We use ours for storage, but lots of people use it for the nanny’s room or for a guest room. I don’t think it’s so horrible, but I’m American in my heart, so I don’t think we’re better than the nanny. We just have different jobs. I wanted her to have a room too. That’s another reason I wanted a bigger flat more than a fancier condo. I thought it was important that the nanny gets her own room.

Dogs
At the duck pond in Singapore. He calls them dogs. He thinks everything is a dog. Flamingos stink pretty bad. I think I prefer ducks, but they look cool.

Our nanny has a name, just one name, because that’s how a lot of Indonesians are named, but I won’t write too much about her personally. She seems like a private person. We don’t talk a lot. I don’t even think she works for me. She works for my wife. She comes from Central Java. My wife comes from East Java and both of my kids were born in East Java. The regional language of these provinces is Javanese. So one more person speaking Javanese to the boys in Singapore at home should help them learn it. It’s a very old language and the most commonly used unofficial language in the world. The official language of Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia. I can understand and speak a bit of Bahasa Indonesia, but not Javanese. I think it’s important that we make an effort for the boys to learn Javanese as well as they can. They’ll probably be the last people to speak it in their mother’s family line, after a thousand years or so. The Javanese nanny helps with that, although it turns out she doesn’t speak so much Javanese as she used to speak since she’s been working outside of Indonesia for about 20 years. Learning Javanese won’t likely affect our boys at all. It’s just cultural enrichment. I think it’s good for them, so I hope they learn it well.

Lullaby Ride
Junior and Senior go for a ride every night at 9 pm in Singapore. It’s like magic and always puts him to sleep. The bike path in Singapore has lights and the temperature in the night is just right.

The pay for a domestic helper in Singapore generally aligns with her place of origin and sometimes education. At the high end, there are Malaysians and Chinese nannies with degrees in early childhood development. They cost a lot. Filipino maids cost more than Indonesian maids because they generally speak very good English. Indonesians are the lowest paid. There’s a tax included each month for the government and a placement fee that goes to the agency that does all the paperwork. Due to some high profile cases of mistreatment and a few cases of nannies falling out of the windows of high rises while they hung the laundry out to dry on bamboo poles, all domestic helpers are licensed and regulated and employers must pay a maid levy (a tax). I think this helps some, surely it’s a better situation overall than it is in some of the nearby countries where domestic help is completely unregulated. I am not sure exactly what we pay, but I think it’s about $1,000 SGD per month, including the taxes and agency fees. The nanny gets $650 (less than $500 USD at the current exchange rate). She works six days per week and by law and contractual agreement, she gets Sunday off like many other nannies and maids in the city. A lot of them still work on Sunday though. I presume there’s some kind of agreement for overtime pay. I think it’s very important to give the woman a day off, just psychologically. It’s just common sense that you don’t want to mistreat the woman who takes care of your kids. She has a sister working in Singapore too, so they meet on Sundays and go to Quran recitations or whatever grandma aged Indonesian ladies do. Sundays are usually full-on, hard days for us. I really can’t do any other work on Sunday. I have to be a dad from 8 am until 8 pm, full-time. It’s my favorite day of the week, even though it’s sometimes the hardest. The best thing to do with babies to make the time go by is keep them entertained. The harder you go with little boys, the faster they go to sleep! So on Sundays we go out and do lots of things. Sunday is always a really fun day. I suppose it’s like a family day for us.

MonkeysAtMacRitchieReservoir
Wild monkeys at MacRitchie Reservoir in Singapore. We’ve seen wild pigs and otters too, but haven’t gotten a good picture yet.

From Monday to Saturday, the nanny goes to bed around 8 pm and wakes up at 5 am. If it gets really bad at night with both babies crying, she’ll get up, but my wife almost exclusively deals with this on her own since she’s breastfeeding. As an aside, the nanny works hard, but my wife works harder. She wants to be the mom and she doesn’t want the boys getting confused about it. I think it works best in this arrangement. The nanny is the helper. Her primary concern is the babies. They always come first, but since my wife mostly manages all of that, she mostly just keeps the house clean and does all the laundry. A lot of nannies do the shopping and cooking too. Some people employ a nanny just to mind their dog. Other families hire them to look after the elderly relatives. Everyone does it differently. It’s not uncommon for families to have a nanny for each child and they sleep in the same room as the child. Most moms seem to work in Singapore, so that’s how they manage it. Anyway, for us, the nanny mostly does the cleaning and other chores.

Nap
Taking a nap at Jurong Eco-Garden under a big fig tree on a Sunday afternoon. I really like this place. Almost no one goes there, so it feels like we just have a big, fancy back yard with a pond and a forest all to ourselves.

We don’t normally take the nanny out with us either. We just give her a break and let her relax at home when we go out. Most people seem to take them along with them when they go out. We go to storytelling at the library near us on Tuesdays and most of the children are accompanied by nannies, not their parents. Our nanny stays home then and most every other time we go out, unless I’m at work and my wife has to take both babies, then she goes along too.

EcoPark
Adik (little brother) at the Eco Park in Jurong on a Sunday. He rides in the bike trailer in a car seat and his big brother rides in the seat on the back of the bike. Their dad still passes everyone even with the full load.

I don’t think my wife ever told the nanny to clean the house. She just does it. She gets up at 5 am and cleans it all, every day. It’s always so clean we never have to say anything. She’s been doing it for 20 years so she knows what to do. I’m really impressed with her discipline of going to bed early and waking up before everyone else and just knocking out all the chores. Then the babies wake up and vomit on the floor and color the walls and poop on the rug and she has to clean it all again tomorrow.

(Adik’s nanny teaching him to walk at home in Singapore)

I guess I have mixed feelings about the nanny situation in Singapore. No doubt about it, the pay is shameful. It’s a lot more than we paid the nannies we had back in Indonesia though, so plenty of people want the job. At least in Indonesia they got to have a life of their own and go home at night. Singapore nannies just work all the time and send their money back home. We couldn’t live in Singapore without a nanny though. My wife would be alone with a 6 month old and a 19 month old and no family or friends to help. I know people do it harder than this, but that stress in addition to moving to another country a week after giving birth seemed too much. I’m really happy with our nanny and I want her to be happy too, so we try to treat her as well as we can. We’ve gone to Indonesia twice in the last six months and brought her with us. We buy her plane ticket and give her some extra money to go home to see her family while we’re here. Seems just like a decent thing to do, but I think it’s an unusually good deal for an Indonesian nanny in Singapore.

Catfishing
Catfishing on Palua Ubin, a small time warp island near Changi Airport in Singapore. This would be a good place to visit on a long layover. It’s like going back into the 1960’s in Singapore. I really like this place, but it’s on the other side of Singapore from where we live.

I’ll write about one more thing and then I’ll wrap this up. Once I add in some pictures it will be pretty long. I haven’t really made many friends in Singapore. I’m not really bothered about that. I think that’s just how it is for a married man with two babies at home. I go to work and I go home. I suppose I’m friends with people I work with to some degree. I really like a few of them, so I’d say they’re friends, but outside of work and my family, I have no social life at all. I’m not sad about it because frankly, I just don’t have the time for it right now. I think it will come back again when my kids get older. I’ve always been the sort of person who talks to other people and I never had trouble meeting people, so I think this is just a temporary condition, but it’s kind of noticeable and I thought maybe I should put some more effort into making friends a few months ago. I resolved that I would not turn down any invitation to go out and do stuff in Singapore if any invitations came my way.

About a week after I made that resolution, sometime around new years since that’s when I come up with these silly ideas, I got into an argument in the comments of a news story. It was pretty stupid. Anyway the guy asked me to meet him down at the train station so he could kick my ass. It occurred to me that I’d made that resolution to meet people and do stuff, so I said sure, I’ll meet you. He called me a c*nt, so I figured he was Australian. He wasn’t Australian, but I wasn’t far off. He’d just finished university in Australia. I told him it sounded good since my little boy had never seen a pu**y before so I wanted to show him what it looks like. Anyway, this dude loves lifting weights and he looks like a handful, but I had this resolution to be more social so we met up anyway. Like I said before, I don’t worry about this stuff in Singapore, nothing happens here, so I didn’t expect this to be any different. Maybe I was lucky, or maybe I was just right because we didn’t fight. We became friends almost immediately. I suppose it’s a little unorthodox, but that’s what happened. We both were admittedly idiots for arguing on the internet, but it’s probably more of a sign that we’ve got similar personalities. We decided to go fishing since we both like fishing. I never told him the day we went was my birthday, but that’s what I did for my 41st birthday. I went fishing off the coast of Singapore on an island called Palau Ubin with a guy who I met because he wanted to fight me.

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This outdoor gym is right in front of our HDB flat in Singapore, but I’m ashamed to admit that we very rarely use it. We’re into biking right now. The babies don’t like it when we go exercise alone. This is a pretty nice feature though and many people in the neighborhood do use it.

Pulau Ubin turned out to be really good. It’s not near my little corner of Singapore so I don’t think I would’ve gotten over there without some help. This new friend of mine grew up in Singapore, so he knew where to go. He hadn’t been since he was a kid, but he knew the way. We had to take a ferry across the water to this island that’s protected. I think it’s a national park. There weren’t many cars, just people riding bikes. It looked like an awesome place for bike riding. We found this place where he caught a catfish once when he was a kid and fished there all day. We saw monkeys and some other wildlife and caught a few fish. The tide went in and out and it rained a few times. I got sunburned, stung by two bees, and stung by a catfish, but I thought that was great. Those are all summertime problems and I was born on a snowy day in January back in America, but here I was on my birthday, catfishing near the equator on a tiny island in the tropical heat with a friend I made from starting a fight on the internet. Like John Candy said in Planes, Trains, and automobiles, “I’m like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty river. I just go with the flow.”

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We live close to this very nice mosque. Junior doesn’t know how to pray, but he’s trying his best.

Saturday in East Java

“Da, da, da, da.  Di, di, di, di.”  Then there’s a kick, kick, a push, push, the sound of a motorboat, and then a laugh wakes me up earlier than I’d like, but I smile anyway.  The first light of dawn shines faintly through the windows.  I talk to the one year old baby who just woke me up.  I put him in his own bed 10 hours ago, but somehow he gets in between me and his mom every night anyway.  I don’t mind.  If he wasn’t in the bed with me, I’d wake-up and check on him a few times in the night, worried that he’s fallen out of the bed, gotten bitten by mosquitos, or worse.

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Sleeping arrangements for Junior and Senior

I ask the baby if he wants to go for a walk.  I don’t know if he understands since I’m the only person who speaks English to him.  Maybe he does, but it’s still too early for a walk, so I get my old Samsung tablet from beside the bed.  I’ve re-purposed it to show Baby Einstein and locked it down so his little hands don’t stop the video.  He’s seen it a hundred times by now, but his eyes get big and his focus narrows to the fiesta of squeaking puppets, mechanical toys, and close-ups of babies and animals for the next 20 minutes.  He giggles every time a puppet appears, like it’s the first time he heard a joke.

Then his mom wakes up and notices he’s wet.  She efficiently changes his diaper while I chug a bottled water and put on my shoes.  Soon we’re all three out the door, just before the sun begins to appear.  We walk up the volcanic slope and I can see the first rays are shining on the top of Mount Welirang.  Welirang is the Javanese word for sulfur and it’s so clear in the morning that we can distinctly see the fumarole coughing up a long sulfurous cloud from the earth’s crust that trails across the sky to the edge of the horizon.  It’s a strato-volcano, like Vesuvius, St. Helens, Pinatubo, or Krakatoa, so I’d imagine the world ends around here every couple of hundred years or so, then it goes back to peacefully puffing sulfur into the sky while mamas, daddies, and babies eat the delicious produce yielded from the volcanic soils, abundant rainfall, and equatorial sunshine.  Just like everything else here, there are pro’s and con’s about volcanos.

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Smoking volcano at dawn

My wife is seven months pregnant and there’s a 10 kg (22 lb) baby squirming on my back.  Our pace up the hill aligns naturally to a speed I’d describe as kind of slow.  We walk past the first manned security gate.  I can see the CCTV camera feeds watching over our street inside the little guard house.  A man smiles and raises the boom gate.  We greet him saying “Selamat pagi (Good morning)” as we approach.  He talks to the baby in Bahasa Indonesia as we pass and asks him how he slept.  It’s the third person the baby’s seen so far today and the third language he’s heard and the sun’s still coming up.  I’m not sure how this affects him.  Judging from the sounds that come out of his mouth, I think he speaks the same language as those puppets on Baby Einstein.  I can’t understand much except da-da, although he babbles and talks quite a bit now.

We start looking for a stick along the side of the road.  Every day we try to find the perfect stick.  Not too big, not too small, straight, not rotten and decayed, and not full of ants.  We find one fairly quickly today.  I think it’s the same one I found two mornings ago.  The baby takes it in his right hand and starts waving it around.  A big four tooth baby smile lights up his face.  We stop at the light poles and he clumsily whacks the metal pole with his stick to hear the satisfying sound of wood striking metal, “ping, ping, ping.”

A motorbike passes us in the opposite direction, going down the hill.  I acknowledge the rider with a nod of my head and he responds with the same.  Another motorbike passes us going up the hill, slowly and laboriously, carrying a load of hand cut grass tied precariously on the back.  We see about a dozen men from the village nearby, all employed in the same endeavor of cutting grass by hand between the golf course and the road and using mopeds like utility vehicles.  They likely have a cow cooped-up somewhere and they feed it grass to fatten it up for butchering, or maybe a horse or an ox used for work.  Grass is free and none of these guys could possibly have even a dollar in their pocket.  They’ll come back again just before dark and get another load.  I feel respect for their effort and more aware of the privileged life I too often take forgranted.

The first group of Koreans on the golf course are teeing off at the 6th hole with four pretty caddies dressed in pink.  They wave like they know us and they probably do, but I can’t keep the caddies or the Koreans straight.  Maybe they are just waving at the baby.  Everyone knows the baby.  He sees them and waves his stick in their direction and squeals.

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Indonesian Caddies on another day

A water sprinkler is still on from the night and the baby squeals again when he sees it.  Then a cat runs past and there’s another delighted squeal.  An old lady stands in front of one of the houses along the golf course, maybe she’s the maid there.  She laughs and asks him in Javanese, “Why are you carrying a wooden stick?”  He just waves it at her and shakes his head.  He’s with his Dada and he’s suspicious of well-meaning old ladies who might try to hold him and disrupt his walk.

We get to the intersection at the edge of the golf course and turn around just before we reach the second manned security station.  Sometimes we walk farther, but this is our standard turn-around location.  We’ve passed a couple of motorcycles, but no cars yet and we’re halfway.  Now we just go back and it’s all downhill.

I kick some kind of fruit down the hill to amuse the baby.  It looks a bit like an apple, but it’s not good to eat.  I talk with my wife and try to learn a few new words of Bahasa Indonesia.  We talk about other things too, whatever is on our minds.  We see an old woman holding a newborn baby in the driveway of a huge house.  My wife speaks to the woman as she approaches and although her teeth are brown and rotten, her smile is still welcoming and pleasant.  The newborn’s mother is near and soon comes out to say hello.  I think they must be the caretakers of this big house.  Maybe the owner comes from Jakarta or somewhere a few times a year to play golf?  Who knows?  We only talk about the babies.

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Morning walk with the baby

The first nanny arrives just before 7:00 am.  She’s on the back of a motorcycle driven by her husband.  She has a bag of freshly butchered chicken that my wife ordered from the village yesterday.  We’re about three minutes from home when they pass and they slow down to wave at the baby.  He squeals again, excited to see them both.  When I walk into the yard, the nanny’s husband takes the baby for a while, like he does every day.  My wife goes to make breakfast on a propane stove top and I go take a shower.

There are two bathrooms in our house, one upstairs and one downstairs.  They’re probably equal in every way.  I have the one upstairs.  It has toothpaste, a toothbrush, deodorant, a bar of soap, and a towel. The one downstairs has hundreds of things in it for my wife and a small plastic tub where the baby takes his baths.  Hot water heaters hang on the wall above both showers.  My wife never turns hers off because the baby takes frequent baths and she can’t reach the switch above the shower head.  I never turn mine on because I’m always kind of hot here and a cold shower doesn’t bother me.  I read that it’s good for you to take cold showers.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I figure it can’t hurt and if I believe it’s true, maybe at least I’ll get some placebo effect from the experience.  Cold showers are super-efficient, so I’m done in about three minutes.

We send our laundry out in a bag on a motorcycle every few days.  Half my clothes are always somewhere else and I don’t have many, so it’s easy to pick what to wear.  I wear whatever is in the drawer.  Today it’s a Texas A&M T-shirt where I spent a semester 20 years ago and a pair of shorts I paid a few cents for last year.  Then I’m back downstairs about five minutes after I went up, ready to eat breakfast.

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I can put this together in 5 minutes, including the shower.

A man arrives with his little girl.  He’s a driver my wife sometimes hires for the day.  Today she’s sending our minivan to the city for an insurance claim.  She forgot to get the 300,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($22 USD) required for the insurance deductible, so I jump in the minivan and head back up the hill to the nearby golf club and hotel.  There’s an ATM there and I’m back in under 10 minutes with 1.25 million Indonesian Rupiah ($100 USD), the maximum amount for one withdrawal from that ATM.  It’s a stack of money so thick I can’t close my wallet.

By the time I’m back, the little girl is playing with the baby and my wife has decided she should stay with us while her dad takes the car to the city.  She’s a pretty little Javanese girl with big, almond eyes and long, shiny, black Asian hair.  She can’t stop staring at me.  It’s probably the first time she’s been in the immediate presence of a white person, or one of the very few times.  I guess that she’s six, but she’s actually nine years old.  The kids are smaller here, so I usually underestimate.  She’s really nervous about me and isn’t sure she wants to stay or not.  What if I ask her a question in English?  My wife laughs and says I ask her questions in English all the time and it’s nothing to worry about.  Maybe the worst that could happen is she’ll learn some English too.

I eat green beans, French toast, scrambled eggs, two chicken nuggets, fried tomatoes, oatmeal, and sliced mango for breakfast and wash it down with orange juice and coffee.  I don’t know why my wife thinks green beans and chicken nuggets are for breakfast, but I never said anything because I think it’s good.  Indonesians eat the same kinds of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so maybe that’s the reason I get chicken nuggets every day for breakfast.  I am thankful each day that I have a woman who cooks breakfast for me.  I never expected it.  I tell her thank you every day too.

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From our family portraits last month, my wife’s idealized idea of how we eat breakfast.  That is us in our actual kitchen, but it’s never quite like this.

My wife makes a plate for the little girl, but she’s scared to sit beside me, so I leave and go back upstairs to check my email.  The second nanny is here early today and is cleaning up the bedrooms, so I take my phone and go out on the deck and watch the golfers approaching the sixth hole, just on the other side of a small creek and a rice paddy behind the house.

One old friend sent me an email about the strict interpretation of the US Constitution and the Dred Scott case.  I want to look up the Dred Scott case and reply, but the WiFi here is so poor.  It’s like dial-up internet in 1995 when it works at all.  It’s a bad morning for WiFi and as far as I can tell, I don’t have any other email.  I can probably read about the Dred Scott case later and figure out how it relates to current US politics.  My mind is quiet and I think it sounds interesting.  If there’s anything good about bad WiFi and no cable TV, it’s that I don’t have much cause to get worked up and hysterical about terrorists, Russians, Democrats, or Republicans.  On the other hand, it can be really annoying when I’m trying to get something done, like buying plane tickets or internet banking.  I’m feeling stuffed with breakfast, so I take a nap on the just made-up bed under the blasting air conditioner.

After my wife finishes in the kitchen, she comes upstairs for a nap too.  She’s pregnant and gets tired easily.  I’ve got no excuse, unless being 40 is an excuse.  After about an hour of light sleep, I hear the baby hollering and crying downstairs.  The two nannies and the little girl are all trying to feed him.  They’ve taken a broom away from him and he’s infuriated.  For some reason, he loves brooms, probably because the nannies frequently sweep the floor in his presence.  He’ll often check to see if the broom is leaning against the wall out back, then take it and toddle around the house, pushing the brush end along the floor.  He’s happy to see me and reaches for me.  Although I never feed him, bathe him, or change his diapers, I’ve somehow managed to become his favorite person.  Even I’m surprised at this outcome, but what can I do except enjoy the honor?  He probably won’t like me one day soon, so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.  I take him for a walk and talk to him until he calms down a little bit, then they try and feed him again.

The driver returned with the car much faster than we expected, so we decide to take the baby for a pony ride later.  Both nannies have to leave around 3:00 pm today, so it seems like a good thing to do.  It’s still a long time before 3 pm though, and it’s getting hot outside, so I decide to take the baby for a swim in the pool.

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My wife at the pool

He’s just a year old now and most days of his life he’s gone in a swimming pool with me.  Surely it’s his favorite pastime.  He can’t swim, not at all, but he thinks he can.  We live in a brand new development and most of the houses are still empty.  Maybe 10 families are here, but most of those only come for the weekends and I’ve only rarely seen anyone else in the pool, so it feels like our own private pool.  We use it almost every day, sometimes two or three times a day.  There are two sections, a deeper part and a shallow part.  We go in both sections, starting with the deep part, then moving to the shallow part.  Someone on Facebook told me to count everything to him when he was born, so we start the same way every time.  We dangle our feet over the edge of the deeper pool and I count really slow, “Ooonnne, twooooo, three!”  He gets a big smile on his face when I start the count down and usually laughs when we jump in the pool.  As an aside, anytime I need to get his attention I start counting really slow like that and his mood changes instantaneously.  It’s baby psychology 101.  I presume he remembers it from swimming and thinks something is about to happen.  I need to remember to thank that guy that told me about counting.  It’s one of the best unsolicited tips I got from my Facebook friends.  It works well for putting on his shoes and putting him in a car seat too.

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The baby and me in the pool

The baby goes naked when he swims.  I tried keeping his diaper on for a while, but they just explode and make the pool messy with bits of disintegrated diaper.  I keep a bucket by the pool in case of an accident and I’ve perfected a technique to remove all baby poop from the pool in one scoop.  If it happens, I get him out of the pool immediately and hand him off to his mom or a nanny, then I submerge the bucket upside down, so the air stays inside it.  I move it near the baby poop and tilt it.  The air bubbles up and the water and the poop get sucked into the bucket.  He’s had four accidents in his life in the pool, so I guess shit happens.  In my defense, we can’t find swim diapers here, so I don’t know if we have another option.  Maybe I’m a terrible person for not worrying much about it.  They clean it and put in chlorine daily and he’s never pooped in the adult swimming area, only the baby swimming area.  I suppose I do feel a little bit guilty about it, but on the other hand, I’m trying hard not to let it happen and I’m not going to deprive him of his most favorite pastime.  There’s been poop in that pool and it’s my fault, but it was in the water for less than a minute.  I saw a dead frog in there before too and it was probably there all day.  I think rotting dead things are probably worse than baby poop anyway.

The baby’s mom does slow pregnant woman laps in the deep end while we play.  I walk along beside his mom and he copies her, kicking his feet and splashing around like he’s swimming.  Then he likes to lay over the concrete wall between the two sections of the pool, reaching down to touch the water flowing from one section to the other.  His naked white ass points up to the sky and it looks simultaneously ridiculous and dangerous, but I stand beside him and hold him with both hands to keep him safe.  I think it looks much more dangerous than it is as long as I’m with him.  His grandma gets a bit scared to watch him when he does this, and he does it about 10 times every time we go swimming.  He’ll get pretty ornery if he’s held back from leaning over the edge to touch the falling water.

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The baby likes to hang naked and upside down on the wall in the middle of the photo separating the deep and shallow sections of the pool.

We always finish in the shallow end of the pool.  It’s very warm, because of the tropical sun shining on it all day.   The baby can stand up in the shallow pool and he creeps along the edge while he splashes in the water.  Sometimes he sees his friend, one of the maids across the road while she’s out hosing down the driveway and he calls to her.  The people in that house speak Mandarin.  I’d like him to learn Mandarin, but that’s one language we don’t have in his daily mix.

We usually swim at sunset, so most days we see the sun come up on our walk in the morning then we watch it go down from the swimming pool in the evening.  Bats and swallows fill the air above the pool as the sun sets.  Sometimes an airplane goes by too.  He’s started to notice these things.  It was interesting to watch him notice an airplane for the first time.

My wife saw a snake in the pool once, but I didn’t see it and felt skeptical.  I thought she was just paranoid.  Then two days later, her parents were here walking the baby around when they saw a snake eating a frog beside the pool in the grass.  They called me to come and see it.  The snake vomited the dead frog when I came near and slithered off to the bushes.  I don’t know what kind of snake it was, but I could tell it’s not poisonous.  We used to swim at night, but that put an end to night swimming.

Just before sunset, we drive the back way to the highest village with accessible roads on the mountain.  Sometimes it’s not accessible to go this way during rainy season because of mudslides, but it’s dry season right now.  The road is narrow and winding with mostly motorcycle traffic.  The driving is insane, but I’ve learned how to drive in the chaos and insanity too.  It’s two lane, at most, but the traffic is so mixed and there isn’t any kind of law enforcement.  You have to pull out into oncoming traffic to pass bicycles, motorcycles carrying 4 or 5 passengers, pedestrians, vehicles parked in the middle of the road, huge potholes, trucks, and other cars that are just driving slow for whatever reason.  It’s a bit nerve racking until you get used to it.  I’d rather drive this back road than the main road because it’s less traffic and I haven’t seen accidents here like I have on the main road to this village.

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A mudslide that’s been partially cleared on the road to Tretes

We pass by rice paddies, small businesses of all kinds, houses built really close to the road, many mosques, and a few graveyards.  A lot of the men on the motorcycles are wearing Muslim hats.  It’s not unusual to see these, but it’s unusual to see so many at once.  Soon we see the reason.  We notice that the graveyards are full of people.  Ramadan ends at sunset on this day, so in the Javanese tradition, people are going to pay their respects to their dead relatives.  Most people wouldn’t find this very interesting, but I recognize the anthropological significance.  What they’re doing isn’t Muslim, it’s from the old religion of this place, a kind of Buddhist flavored Hinduism that survives in the smaller, more remote villages and was widely practiced back before Islam made it to this island.  I tell my wife all about this as I’m driving.  She pretends to listen, but I can tell she’s just being polite.  She grew up in this province so it’s kind of like telling a Baptist girl from back home in Virginia that Jesus never saw a Christmas tree in his life.

We arrive in the village of Tretes just before sunset and the streets are as deserted as I’ve ever seen them, but still kind of busy.  This is a resort town attracting many people from the nearby city.  The main attractions are food and cooler temperatures.  We came for the food and the pony rides.  We have a routine established.  I park the car wherever I can find a place, my wife goes to order food, and then I take the baby over to the queued up ponies.  We climb up on top of a useful concrete ledge in front of the 24 hour convenience store that just happens to be about the height of a saddled pony and wait.  One of the men brings a pony near and I climb on and sit the baby down in the saddle in front of me.  I hold the saddle with one hand and the baby with the other.  I don’t know a whole lot about horses, but I grew up on a farm and I’m comfortable enough around large animals.  Falling off with a one year old baby might be catastrophic.  I worry about that, but I don’t want to be scared to do fun stuff either.  The baby chants “da da da da da” as we start the ride.

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Pony queue in Tretes

I’m not sure the baby knows about the horse at all yet, but he likes to sit up high and ride down the street waving at people and looking at things.  We’ve been riding these ponies since he was about six months old, so we know the Tretes pony ride routine.  It costs 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($4 USD) for a 5 to 10 minute lap around a short loop through the village.  Today a younger guy with a pony tries to scam us for a larger pay out.  I already had this scam happen before, so I immediately recognize it and decide not to fuss with him about it, we’re just going to enjoy the longer ride.  So we go in a giant loop around the village that takes 30 minutes or so.  That’s the scam.  Since we went 4 or 5 times the distance, I should pay 4 or 5 times the usual 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah price.  I know these guys will stand there with their pony all day long to get one 50,000 IDR ride, so after arguing, I’d end up paying 100,000 IDR because I felt a little bit guilty.  Now he’s doubled his wage and left me feeling annoyed.  I already know this scam and I’m happy to go on the longer ride today and cut to the double payment when we get back, so I just enjoy the ride.  The baby babbles and squeals at the people in the warungs (food stalls) along the way, birds that fly by, or cats running along the gutter.  The man walks in front, holding the pony close and smiles and talks to the baby.  He seems careful and I’m glad about that.

When we get back, I tell the man “Tunggu untuk istri saya (wait for my wife)” and I go to find her.  I only have 50,000 IDR in my pocket and I’m not in the mood to argue about the $4 extra. I find my wife at our usual warung (a food stall, like a tent beside the road).  She already has our food and she’s worried.  She thought maybe we’d had an accident because it took so long.  I tell her I got scammed again, but just pay him 100,000 IDR (about $8, not bad for 25 minutes or so on a pony I guess) and tell him never to try that with me again.  She’s angry with him, so she says a bit more and he doesn’t argue with her.

My wife has already eaten half her food, so I give her the baby and I start on mine.  I’ve got grilled rabbit satay (on a stick), rice steamed in a banana leaf (called lontong), and sweet grilled corn on the cob with garlic butter.  I get them to scrape the corn off the cob with a knife on to a plate.  My wife has pretty much the same meal.  We wash it down with iced tea.  Altogether, our food and drink cost less than the pony ride.  Some ethnically Chinese Indonesian people came in the warung with two tiny little dogs and the baby wants to see them.  The little dogs are smaller than cats and one of them is super aggressive.  I let the baby look for a while and the mean one growls and barks, so I tell my wife we’d better get going before our luck runs out and the baby gets mauled by the little dog.

We stop by the Tretes market to buy some produce before we leave.  Chickens peck around along the footpath as we enter.  My wife is specifically after the mangos today.  After the shopping is done, a man in charge of parking directs me in a 27 point turn to get the minivan out of the overflowing parking lot. He shouts at me “Kanon, kanon, kanon (Right, right, right)! Keri, Keri, Keri (Left, left, left)!  Terus, terus, terus (go, go, go)!”  I’m sweating from that drama and I give him the required 5,000 IDR (40 cents).

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Produce shopping in Tretes

On our way back home, we drive on the main roads and stop in a different village with a few department stores.  We’ve been frequenting one of them lately because the top floor is a kids’ playground and arcade.  They’ve installed the padded floors over a pretty large space and it’s the best place I’ve found for the baby to practice walking.  It’s also the least crowded we’ve ever seen it, because of the holiday, and we get the whole playground to ourselves for a few minutes.  Nobody takes our picture today for being white, but that usually happens here.  Sometimes people will ask my wife to take the picture while they stand beside us and I think she finds it slightly annoying, but I think it’s sort of funny.  I’m not famous at all, but I call them my fans and happily take a photo with anyone who asks.

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At the arcade, 15 tokens for $1.  We spend all of it on this one ride because the baby doesn’t have the patience to move from one ride to another.

The playground attendant is a young woman with a little girl who’s three and a little boy who’s one and they show up after a few minutes.  They’re always at the playground.  The baby tries to interact with them, but the three year old girl doesn’t like him.  She keeps telling him, “this is my brother!”  Their mom brings us a balloon on a stick and we go to practice walking.  I take him by the hand to the other side of the room and let him stumble back to his mom. He falls twice and cried a little bit once, but mostly he just does it.  He can walk when he wants, he’s just not confident yet and likes to have me hold his hand.  I try to remember that I’ll miss this caution very soon, probably by next week.

My wife had to pee really bad because we’d just finished dinner and she’s pregnant, so next we headed home.  Public toilets in SE Asian villages are horrifying, even for my Indonesian wife and she only uses them in absolute emergencies.

After dark, we have lots of toads hopping around the yard and our neighbor’s yard.  The baby loves it when they hop and tries to kick them when he sees them in the grass.  He’s gotten pretty good at it and nearly killed one the other night.  I call them frogs, but I’ve just looked them up and they’re actually cane toads, an invasive species native to South America.  Oh, and now I see from Wikipedia that they’re poisonous.  They’re slow moving and when attacked their strategy is to just sit still until the venom works on their predators.  Well, I guess that makes sense.  I wondered why they are so slow to hop away from a clumsy baby.  The baby and I have been going out in the yard and kicking them along the grass for about a month now and nothing happened to us, so I think the poison must only be dangerous when a cane toad is eaten.  I actually just found out they’re poisonous as I was writing this and trying to figure out what kind of frogs we have in the yard (I mean toads), and upon reflection, I think that’s the last time we’ll play this kick the frog game. Now I understand that they’re moving so slow as part of their strategy to kill us with their poisonous skin!  You’re probably horrified, but don’t worry.  Kicking cane toads probably doesn’t even make the top 10 list of dangerous things for babies around here.  Driving the car here, hanging naked and upside down from the edge of the swimming pool, mixing baby formula with water from a roadside food stall, and riding a pony on the street are probably all much more dangerous for babies than kicking cane toads around the yard.

Next we decide to drive around the neighborhood.  We can drive a 10 km loop without going outside of the secure area inside the communities adjacent to the golf course.  I don’t know any other place like this in Indonesia and I didn’t find this one on purpose, but we take full advantage of it and take the baby for a ride most nights to help him fall asleep.  We drive the familiar loop and my wife gives the baby a bottle.  There are fireworks everywhere, like the kind in the park on the Fourth of July in America or the kind they fire off the Sydney Harbour Bridge for New Year’s Eve in Australia.  Those big, dynamite loud, bombs bursting in air type of fireworks, and all of them being set off by amateurs.  I tell my wife the hospital will be doing some amputations for sure tonight.  It’s cool to see so many fireworks at once though, and you can’t tell from a distance if someone’s finger got blown off in the process, so I just enjoy the show as we drive along.

When we get home, I carry the baby up to his room.  He sleeps in a real bed already.  I’ve turned the bed around backwards with the headboard towards the door instead of towards the wall and pushed it in the corner.  That just leaves one side of the bed open for him to roll off on to the floor.  The bed has a spare mattress underneath, like a guest bed for kids, but I use it as a safety feature so when he rolls off, he just lands on the mattress instead of the floor.  He’s only rolled to the second mattress one time so far and it didn’t even wake him.  I turn on the air conditioning in the room, set it on 23 degrees C, and I leave the door cracked so I can hear him wake up.  He’ll be up in a few hours and in our bed again for the rest of the night.  I check to make sure the tablet is charging so it’s ready to watch Baby Einstein again in the morning.  Fireworks are still going off and they’re apparently reading the entire Quran, cover-to-cover, over a loudspeaker in Arabic from the mosque behind us tonight.  It’s not a bad sound though, kind of like singing, and we’re all used to it.

Tomorrow we’ll go to the zoo.  Since it’s the holidays here, I think the zoo might not be crowded.  It’s a pretty cool zoo with a waterpark and rides too.  Maybe I’ll write about that someday soon if people like reading about what I see and do with my wife and baby in Indonesia.

Becoming a Dad in South East Asia

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Cutting the umbilical cord as part of the VIP package I didn’t know I’d bought yet

I came home from work last June and my wife was having some cramps.  In hindsight, it was probably Braxton-Hicks cramps.   Pregnant women get these cramps near the end of their pregnancy.  My wife said it was time, that the baby was coming tonight.  I did not agree that it was time, but I wasn’t pregnant, so her opinion naturally counted for a lot more than mine.  So I did my part and drove her to the hospital.

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Hospital #1

I’m American, but I live in East Java Indonesia with my Indonesian wife.  We’d been married about 8 months at the time.  It was too early for the baby.  I’d talked to some other guys about what to expect.  How would I know when to take her to the hospital?  This was kind of important because we lived anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours’ drive to the hospital, depending on the time of day and traffic conditions.  I was given some solid advice.  I was told that there would be no doubt when it was time.  They said if I feel any doubt, it’s not time.  So as I was driving my wife to the hospital that night, with considerable doubt that it was time, I knew that it really wasn’t time yet.  I had complete confidence in the doctor to check her out and send her home.  I figured this happens all the time, especially with first time moms.  Since we’re uninsured and living in another country, I was paying for all this out-of-pocket and my wife had chosen a popular hospital that approached American/European standards of obstetrics.  I figured they’d check her out and tell her it wasn’t time yet and we’d go back home to wait.  I was sure that’s what would happen.  I thought we were getting close, but it was still too early.  We might wait weeks longer.

And I was right, at least right about it not being time yet.  What I was wrong about was that the doctor would send her home.  My wife wanted to have the baby naturally, if at all possible.  So she picked a well-known doctor who was supposedly the man to use if you wanted a natural birth.  When I first met him, he invited me to play golf in Bali.  That should have been a clue.  I’d imagine it’s hard to be a golf enthusiast on the natural schedules of childbirth, but I didn’t think twice about it since it’s common that doctors enjoy playing golf.

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Arriving at the hospital, Facebook photo.

They said the baby was coming, so we were pretty excited.  I posted a picture on Facebook of my wife being rolled to the elevator in a wheelchair.  They parked her on a wheeled hospital bed by the nurse’s station to keep a close eye on her.  We were there about 36 hours, give or take.  It was just miserable.  There was no need to be there.  There was nothing to do.  The doctor checked on her once or twice during that time while he was making his rounds.  He said if the baby didn’t come a little faster, he’d have to induce her with a drug called Pitocin (sounds like pah-toe-sin when they say it).  We objected for a while, but the doctor eventually wore us down and my wife accepted the Pitocin.  They gave it to her on an IV drip.  The doctor said the dilation was taking too long.  My wife was one centimeter dilated and the doctor felt she should have been four or five centimeters dilated by then.  He told us that this was bad for the baby and stressful.  The way he said it was that it was if the baby was being hit each time there was a contraction and that we were prolonging his beating and we should move the labor along with this drug, which is apparently the same exact hormone that women’s body produce.  The doctor described it as a love drug that would have pleasant side-effects and make my wife feel happy.  That was not her experience, but that’s what he said at the time.  We should have said no and gone home, but this was our first rodeo.

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Hanging out by the nurses station, waiting on something to happen.

So the Pitocin worked.  My wife definitely started having cramps and things changed a bit.  I think it was then that she realized she probably should have stayed at home in bed, but that ship had sailed.  We felt less and less trusting of this doctor and since I’d posted that picture on Facebook of my wife arriving at the hospital and being moved in a wheel chair, advice from  American, Australian, and English moms, doctors, nurses, and midwives began to roll in that reinforced our resolve.

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Looking at the newborn babies while on a Pitocin IV drip. Every baby that turned up in the viewing gallery was delivered by cesarean at this hospital.

After a while, the cramps kind of eased up some, so they gave her another dose of Pitocin.  After a while longer, they wanted to give her a 3rd dose of Pitocin. The doctor said it had been long enough and that my wife should have a cesarean.  He told us this was dangerous for the baby and described again how the contractions of the muscles causing the cramps were sort of like punching the baby.  He gave us a deadline and told us it was derived from a UNICEF standard timeline.  My wife had been in labor too long and now it was necessary to perform a cesarean. We weren’t convinced at all.  Nothing seemed wrong.

Another factor I began to suspect at this stage was religious in nature.  It was around the 10th day of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month.  Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country and most or all of the hospital staff were fasting.  During the fasting month, everyone wakes up around 3 am and eats breakfast, followed by prayer.  Then they don’t eat or drink again until the sun sets.  This lasts for 30 days.  People become very lethargic.  Sometimes people faint.  It’s very difficult to focus at work, especially later in the day.  I’ll never know for sure, but this seemed like more incentive for pushing moms to agree to a cesarean. Not only are cesareans more predictable, they are more profitable, so that too.

The decision to leave the hospital was one of the most difficult in my life.  By then, my wife was relying on me to help her make the right calls.  I didn’t trust this doctor at all, but he was a doctor with considerable experience delivering babies.  I had none, but I had some facebook friends with considerable experience too.  They were sending us articles to read and videos to watch.  There was one documentary in particular called “The Business of Being Born” that really impacted us the most.  Everyone who’s never had a baby before should watch this on YouTube.  Another key piece of evidence was the ratio of natural births to cesareans for the babies being born over the 40 hours we were there waiting by the nurses station.  Nearly 2 days had passed and every time a new baby appeared out by the viewing window, we’d ask about the delivery.  Every single baby out there was delivered by a cesarean.  There were 7 or 8 in a row by the time we left the hospital, all cesareans.  I know cesareans are sometimes needed, but it was clear to me that the staff in this hospital believed that cesareans were always necessary, so paying attention to that metric gave us a bit more confidence in ourselves to make the decision to leave against the doctor’s advice.  He wasn’t suggesting we stay and get a cesarean, he was very adamant that we were making a big mistake.  Being nearly 40 years old when this happened definitely helped.  I don’t think I would have had the confidence to override a doctor’s orders if I was much younger or if I’d have been in a western country where I unquestioningly trust doctors.

My wife wasn’t in great condition, but she could walk around and she was so sick and tired of that stretcher bed by the nursing station.  I paid $800, mostly for the Pitocin IV’s, and we left the hospital with the plan that we’d return when she was nearer to delivering.  We wanted to get away from the high pressure for a cesarean.  My wife signed a paper that released the hospital of liability for the decision and we left.

At the time we had a house outside of the city near where I worked that I described in the beginning of this story, but we also had a small apartment in the city.  It wasn’t much bigger than a hotel room, but it was new and comfortable.  Since the house was an hour away, at best, and my wife was definitely in labor now, our plan was to sit there in the apartment until she progressed a bit farther along.  We didn’t want to go back to the hospital until all they had left to do was catch the baby.  We figured they could manage catching a baby.  We were worried that if we went any earlier, they’d do an unnecessary cesarean.

I definitely didn’t have 100% confidence in our decision to leave the hospital, but it wasn’t a good time to doubt and second guess.  It was becoming apparent that husbands sometimes do more than drive their wife to the hospital.  She was relying on me to help her make good decisions.  She only trusted me.  She didn’t even want her mother around, just me.  Being in a conservative, Muslim country, I husbands weren’t welcome at the breathing classes my wife attended to prepare for her labor, so I was doing what I could to catch-up by watching YouTube videos and asking questions on Facebook.

Nothing really happened for another 10 hours, except that we kept further educating ourselves.  I remembered that my sister-in-law in Utah tried to walk her second baby out.  Near the end of her pregnancy, she walked around the neighborhood often.  The apartment was right next to a shopping mall, so we went to the mall and walked around.  When my wife had contractions, she’d just squat down there on the shiny, waxed floor of the shopping mall.  Nobody stared or even seemed to notice.  It was a weekday, during working hours and the mall wasn’t so crowded.

After a while, we went back to the apartment and the contractions started getting more intense and closer together.  I’m not a real private person and I share most everything on Facebook, so people were following along from Chicago to Sydney and trying to help as best as they could.  We were in somewhat unusual and unique circumstances, so I think people found it interesting and worried about us.  Someone suggested that we download a contraction timer app for our phones.  That’s another key point if you’re a dad-to-be.  Download a contraction timer app, there are many to choose from and probably most of them are about the same.  It’s essential for accurate data collection and the frequency of the contractions is the real clue about how close a woman is to giving birth. I suppose you could just use your watch too, but this makes it easier.

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Contraction Timer App.  Looks like I timed the last one around 1 am.  The baby arrived a little over an hour later.

My brother and his wife used a doula (another word for mid-wife) when they had their second baby in Salt Lake City, Utah and they were following along on Facebook.  My sister-in-law got in touch with the doula and explained that I was in South East Asia in a Muslim country during the fasting month with a first time mom-to-be doing my best to avoid hospital billing and scheduling scams while trying to figure out how to deliver a baby myself if that’s what was necessary.  I didn’t really think I’d have to deliver the baby, but I figured there was a higher probability of that scenario given the circumstances I found myself in at the moment.

We got the doula on the phone and in summary she was awesome.  Here’s a link to her if you’re in Salt Lake City and interested in doulas.  I’d highly recommend a doula, even before a doctor now that we’ve been through it.  A pregnant woman isn’t sick, but she needs experienced help and these doulas seem like the best option.  We still feel fortunate that we connected with her halfway around the world in our time of need. She told me some things I could do to make my wife feel better.  She said my wife should get on the floor on all fours and whenever she had a contraction, I should press her hips together.  My hands went on each side of her hips and I just squeezed her hips back together as hard as I could.  My wife said this felt really good.  I don’t know if it felt really good or just made it feel less bad, but I did this as often as she wanted.  For a woman in labor, it must feel like her hips are exploding outward, so pressing them back together must give her some temporary relief.  The other move that helped was pressing down on her tailbone while she was in a squatting position.  The doula told my wife to growl like a bear.  She said to make an “aaaaarghhh” sound to help release the pressure.  It was kind of weird, but it must have helped because she kept making that bear sound during her contractions from then until the baby was born later that night.

The doula was pretty calm and didn’t think we needed to worry.  She said that when the contractions were 3 minutes apart, 1 minute in length, for 2 hours, that’s when we should go to the hospital (remember that ratio, 3-1-2).  My wife hadn’t lost her mind and wasn’t crazy, but she’d definitely gone into some sort of primal mindset.  She stayed down on the floor on the new shag carpet we’d gotten as a wedding gift and was on all-fours, growling like a bear.  I remember the advice the experienced father’s told me and I shared earlier in this story, if you have any doubt, it’s not time.  As I was watching her there on the carpet on all fours, growling like a bear, I no longer had any doubt.  I knew the time was near.

The miserable experience of sitting by the nurse’s station on an uncomfortable mobile bed for 2 days on Pitocin IV drips must have affected my wife.  She wasn’t in a hurry at all to go to the hospital now.  The hospital she picked was across town, but there was another one less than 5 minutes away.  I liked the close hospital better and she’d been to all of her OBGYN appointments at this hospital because it was close to the apartment.  It was very new and is the most popular hospital for expats in this city.  It’s also the most expensive hospital in East Java.  The same doctor would deliver the baby at either hospital, so my wife felt that we should save the money and go to the cheaper hospital.  Her choice was definitely a more popular choice among the moms in town.  I didn’t question her decision, but now I was starting to wonder if I’d have time to drive across town.  I didn’t want to end up delivering a baby while trying to save a few hundred dollars.

Contractions were 3 minutes apart and 1 minute in length for 2 hours.  We crossed that milestone.  I kind of changed too, maybe not in the primal way that my wife did, but I was unusually calm.  I felt like a quarterback driving down the field, down by a touchdown, and the clock was running out.  There was plenty of reason to be stressed out and to freak out, but I knew that wouldn’t help my wife and more than anything, I wanted to help her however I could, so I stayed cool as ice.  My tone of voice was relaxing.  I stroked her hair.  I told her everything was just fine and she was doing great.  I really wasn’t sure that was all true, but I made sure that there was not a hint of doubt in my voice.  For the 2 minutes between every contraction, it was pretty chill.  I tried to emphasize that this was most of the time and during the intensity of the contractions, I’d countdown how close she was to that calm period every time.  “Already half way.  Nearly done.  Keep breathing.  I’m proud of you.  You’re doing so good!”

We’d kept my wife’s parents in the dark until then, but I didn’t have any confidence that I could find my way around this big city through the lawless and congested streets back to the hospital at midnight, so I called my wife’s mom and dad and asked them to come help us get to the hospital.  I said not to worry, we have plenty of time, but I was hoping they would hurry.

They came over straight away and walked into the room to see my wife on the floor on all fours, growling like a bear and completely flipped out, especially her mom.  I guess I kind of get it, but they weren’t being calm and telling my wife she was doing a good job and not to worry.  They were very distressed and frightened. My wife told me later that she’d decided she’d have the baby there on the floor before she went back to that terrible hospital, so her mom’s hysteria proved useful.  My wife finally agreed it was time to go to the hospital and I went down and moved the car to the door.

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My wife’s water broke right there on this rug where the baby plays now.  He’s 11 months old this week.

Then her water broke, there in the apartment on the new carpet we got for our wedding.  She immediately thought the baby was coming out.  The pain must have been immense.  It went from loud moaning and screaming every few minutes to just constant crying and pain.  She couldn’t think straight and could barely walk, even with assistance.  There was no way I was going to attempt to drive her across town, so I drove her straight to the hospital I could see from the apartment.  It took about 3 or 4 minutes and I think I caught some air on a speed bump. I pulled up to the emergency door and dropped her off with her mom and dad and I pulled around and parked the car.

I was gone 2 or 3 minutes parking the car and when I walked through the door, I went almost immediately to the delivery room after waving off a guy who wanted to shuffle papers with me.  The delivery room was very spacious and nice.  I was pleased that we were at this hospital and not the first one.  It seemed so much nicer.  My wife was up in a chair/bed sort of thing that was clearly designed for childbirth.  A nurse was between her legs.  I only found this out later, but she had her finger pressing on some muscle to keep my wife from pushing.  The doctor was on the way and they didn’t want the baby coming out until he arrived.  The baby was ready to come out, but maybe they weren’t confident delivering the baby or maybe they thought they couldn’t charge us the full fee if the doctor wasn’t there?  I don’t know for sure, but to his credit, he turned up pretty fast.  My wife had sent him a message that we were leaving and going to the hospital, so I assume that he was already en-route when we arrived.

We arrived at 1:51 am and the baby was born at 02:19, so it didn’t take the doctor long and as soon as he arrived, the baby came out.  It was a Friday, the best day of the week.  I stayed up near my wife’s head and never looked down to see what was happening.  I didn’t really want to see.  I smelled poop at one point, so I stand by my decision.  I’m pretty sure there was poop, but it’s plausibly deniable that there was not and I didn’t look at it directly.  There was a garbage can right beside here where the collected all the blood and guts and probably the poop.

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This white baby came out of this brown woman. She dreamed of him before and told me that he looked like this in the dream and I told her it was impossible because of the laws of genetics.  I was wrong.

My wife is brown, so I expected a brown baby to come out, but he was as white as snow, like me…maybe slightly grayish.  He cried almost straight away, but for about half a second, I held my breath but he didn’t keep me in suspense for long.  When he cried, I knew everything was ok.  I was just really happy and relieved.  Maybe the happiest I’ve ever been, but I don’t want to get too mushy about it.  The doctor handed me some scissors and directed me to cut the umbilical cord.  I hadn’t planned on doing that and wasn’t excited to do it, but he was really insistent, so I cut the cord and assisted with the removal of some of the afterbirth still inside my wife.  I remember laughing to myself, what am I paying this clown for if I’m even removing the afterbirth?   Someone was there taking pictures of all of this.  Turns out I was the clown.  I was paying extra for this part of the experience!

IMG-20160611-WA0003My father-in-law came in the room and started praying over the baby in Arabic.  Within about 10 minutes they took the baby away and the nurse motioned for me to follow.  They didn’t need to ask me twice.  I’d resolved to keep my eyes on him because I didn’t know what happens next and I didn’t trust anybody.  They gave him a vaccination in his leg for Hepatitis B.  He didn’t seem to notice at all.  They asked me how to spell his name.   I caused an error that probably will haunt him for the rest of his life at that point.  His name is spelled just like mine, he has the same name as me, with a “II” on the end.  I insisted that they put “II” and they seemed hesitant.  I thought he can’t have the same name as me, it needs to have “II” on the end to denote that he’s the second.  I’m senior and he’s junior.  I’m a dual national citizen of Australia and America, so a few months later that caused some drama when I was working on getting his Australian passport.  It seems that Australia doesn’t recognize suffixes on names.  It’s a very minor issue, but I wouldn’t put that “II” on that form if I had to do it again.

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The recovery room we planned to use at the first hospital, but things didn’t go to plan. It had a bed for the dad and a couch too.  I think it was $250 a night with no insurance.

Then they moved my wife to a big fancy room.  I wondered what was happening because this hospital was significantly more expensive than the other hospital where we’d planned to deliver the baby (pictured above).  It turns out that in the 2 or 3 minutes it took me to park the car, my in-laws had signed us up for the “VIP Delivery.”  The nurse asked does she want the VIP delivery and they said yes.  I walked in and signed some 20 page form at the bottom and went straight to my wife.  I got annoyed with the man because my wife’s water was already broke and he wanted to sit in the office downstairs and fill out forms?  So at around 3 am, when our baby was about 1 hour old, I got angry with the billing guy for tricking us like that.  All the photography and the big, fancy delivery room were part of the VIP package, so we’d already consumed part of it.  My wife didn’t want it either so they moved her to a shared room, which was empty except for her, so it was just fine.  I had to pay for what we’d already used, but not the fancy recovery room.  I wasn’t too mad about it, but it was annoying that we were taken advantage of like that in those moments.  I was a little disappointed in her parents for approving the VIP delivery too.  I mean really?  It was 2 am and her water was already broke.  There’s no VIP in that situation.  We were getting whoever was on night shift.

Twelve other babies were born during the time my wife was in labor, between the first hospital and the second.  All twelve of them were cesareans.  My wife was the only mom to deliver naturally.  The next morning she was walking around and in good spirits.  Not a single one of the other moms could get out of bed because they were healing from surgery.  Most of the other moms were Chinese and they prefer cesareans.  My wife was kind of the rock star of the new moms, the only one who’d pushed.  She wasn’t in the hospital even a whole day for recovery.  She checked out the following evening and took the baby home.  It might be harder and more painful to have a natural birth, but after it’s over, the recovery for many women is mostly instantaneous, like it was for my wife.  She didn’t miss a beat when we left the hospital.  She was out walking around with the baby, no bed rest at all.  Within a month, she was back in the gym.  That was worth all the trouble she went through.  We were both very happy that both my wife and the baby were healthy.  I remain proud of her for managing to have the baby mostly naturally in these very unnatural circumstances where everyone was trying to talk her out of it.  It was definitely our greatest bonding experience as a couple.

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Walking around the hospital a few hours after delivering the baby, maybe the greatest benefit of natural delivery.

The doctor told me we were very lucky before I shook his hand and he left the hospital.  I wasn’t even mad at him, just happy my wife and baby were doing so well.  I think he’s kind of an idiot, but I don’t know that he did anything on purpose.  I think it could just be the system.  I was much more impressed with the doula on the phone than the doctor.  We agreed that if we were in America, we’d just use her or someone like her for the whole pregnancy and deliver the baby at home.

The second hospital charged me $2,500 (that included the VIP stuff), and I paid $800 at the first hospital.  We anticipated that the cost would be less than $2,000 if nothing went wrong and maybe $4,000 if there was a problem and she needed a cesarean.  So in the end, nothing went wrong and I used most of the money allocated anyway.  I was still reasonably happy that it was within the budget and since it was our first experience, I was forgiving.

In Javanese culture, the placenta is buried or thrown in the river.  My wife’s family buried her brother’s placenta in the yard and they threw my wife’s in the river.  The hospital puts the placenta in a clay pot that looks like a flower pot so the family can take it home.  It’s really common here.  The superstition is that what you do with the placenta affects what becomes of the babies life.  Since my wife’s brother’s placenta was buried in the yard, he would stay home all of his life.  He’s 32 years old and still at home, so maybe it’s true.  Throwing the placenta in the river, like they did when my wife was born, means that the baby will travel places.  She married an American, so maybe that’s true too.  I’d climbed a mountain an hour outside of the city a few times and I had a spot picked out on the top, near the grave of an ancient Hindu king.  After a day or two, I hadn’t gotten away to climb a mountain and we got worried the placenta would start to smell, so I changed the plan and went down and threw in in the river.  My father-in-law went with me and we threw in approximately the same place where my wife’s placenta was tossed off a bridge by her uncle 28 years earlier.  There was a tall fence, probably designed to keep people from throwing things into the river, but I was able to do a basketball move and sort of launch it over the top.  The placenta filled clay pot made a satisfying splash when it landed right in the fast current in the dirty brown river.  It was kind of cool, a Javanese cultural experience.  Something different, something to talk about.

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Junior and Senior taking our first nap together.