I am not really sure what a buffalo nickel is but liked today’s WordPress daily prompt which is:
Dig through your couch cushions, your purse, or the floor of your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find. What were you doing that year?
I was in the kitchen when I read this and the nearest source of coins was my husband’s wallet (actually quite amazing as he usually leaves a trail of change everywhere he goes).
The coin I pulled out first was a 50 cent piece from 1996. Anyway, the reference to buffaloes in the title is actually quite fortuitous as 1996 was the year I first started ‘gathering like waterbuffalo’ (kumpul kerbau is an Indonesian expression to refer to couples who live together without being married) with my then boyfriend/now husband. It was the year I got selected to go on a 3 month posting with work to our counterpart office in Jakarta, Indonesia. I left to start posting in late February (after Ramadan and the annual floods). Before leaving I had to cast my vote for the forthcoming Federal Election, knowing with a sinking heart that I would probably be returning to an Australia with a John Howard Liberal government (which of course, I did). I had been seeing my boyfriend for about 9 months at that stage and it was getting pretty serious. We decided that he could move into my place when I left (to look after the dog etc) and stay on after I got back. We also arranged for him to come to Jakarta towards the end of my work stint and to spend a few weeks travelling together before coming home to start our waterbuffalo lives together.
One of the main reasons I had been selected for this posting over other candidates in my office was that I was already reasonably fluent in Indonesian. This was quite fortunate as, for the first part of my posting, I was placed in the engineering area where very few of the staff could speak English. I actually didn’t have a lot of meaningful work to do in this area so was able to busy myself helping others with their English translations for international meetings etc. I also had to help my Indonesian ‘mentor’ maintain the facade that he actually could communicate in English following his completion of a (government funded) Masters degree at an Australian university. It is still quite amazing to me how he managed to do this. It must be true about university standards slipping so as not to miss out on a slice of the lucrative overseas students tertiary education market.
The second part of my posting was much more fun. I was in the international area with a lot of educated women (lawyers etc). I made one really good friend who had recently returned from completing her MBA in Australia (with two very young children in tow). We worked together on joint papers and she also became my ‘cultural interpreter’ on all sorts of matters such as how to frame advice to senior management (so it didn’t look arrogant or presumptuous), when to tip people, how to act at a Muslim wedding and all sorts of things.
My other main Indonesian friend was someone I had known since university days. He lived just outside a city called Bandung which was about 3 hours by train from Jakarta. Since I had seen him last, he had lost both his parents and had taken over his mother’s antique business. His house, which was packed to the rafters with Asian and European antiques, was high in the hills and very like a castle looking out over the city of Bandung. This was a great place to go to get away from the Jakarta chaos on weekends (it was before the freeway and international airport had opened which later turned Bandung into a major shopping/weekending destination for people from Jakarta, Singapore, KL etc). We would swan around the old parts of Bandung eating martabak and having ‘cream baths’ at the hair salon. My friend would also host parties with a diverse mix of Indonesian and European guests (mostly gay – although being gay was not something you really talked about too openly in Indonesia, even in 1996).
I had quite a few visitors while in Jakarta – including my old flatmate from Canberra and my dad who I took to visit Solo and Yogyakarta one weekend and to one of the Bandung parties on another. My boyfriend and his brother turned up towards the end of my work posting and the Muslim women in my office were deliciously scandalised at the idea of him staying with me without us being married. I think it was like having a real live South American soap opera (all the rage at the time) in the office.
We had a brilliant trip to Sulawesi after I finished work. I had always said previously that it really pays to travel with someone before deciding whether you can commit to living with them. For the most part, we got along pretty well on the road – although I do remember him getting a bit cranky in one town where I became quite known for my connection with one of their most famous sons who was also my boss in Jakarta. People would come and sit down at our table at restaurants and start chatting to me in Indonesian and he would be completely excluded. He got over that though and we enjoyed a very relaxing week up in the north of Sulawesi where we travelled out to a little island and stayed in a bamboo hut and paddled around in a little boat to go snorkelling and visit other island. I think this is where we first talked seriously about getting married. We returned to Australia and gathered like waterbuffalo in Canberra for another year before moving to Sydney and eventually getting married.
This is us taking in the Jakarta nightlife in 1996:
ON the political front, 1996 was not only a year of change for Australia but also for Indonesia. I think it was my second last or last day that the protests against long serving Indonesian president, Suharto, started in earnest. We managed to avoid these but followed the news with great interest after returning to Australia. Suharto eventually resigned as president two years later in May 1998. He had been ruling the country for 31 years at that point.