Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Island

This was what happened. I lost a two-hour job because I had to go to deliver some money donated to some Indo fishermen at a detention centre. And because of that I also lost a one-week trial booking. As far as I am concerned that’s the end of the story. But there was more. The friend who got me the one week booking accused the interpreter who took the job of stealing it from me. Actually, she saved me a lot of trouble because I had already accepted the booking to Christmas Island before my one week booking was cancelled. I was wondering how to solve the problem and then it solved itself!

Anyway, off I went. From Sydney to Perth and then from Perth to Christmas Island. The first few days was very hard, because I practically knew nothing about the locations and procedures. There were many other interpreters there, most have been deployed to the island many times, so I felt like a new kid at school. But I was very lucky because the other Indonesian interpreter was very kind to me. We talked a lot. Actually, she talked and I listened, but it was fine, she also listened when I felt like talking.

I loved the island. I loved the view of the Indian Ocean, the fishies at the jetty, the robber crabs, the sea birds. Funny that the animal feared the most on the island is the centipede. And the one most hated is the crazy ant.

My fellow interpreters come from all over the world. Some of them I dislike, but most of them I get along with, and some of them I get along very well with. There was one handsome interpreter who used to be an actor in his home country. I once asked him a question, he looked up, and I saw a very beautiful pair of olive green eyes. No wonder he worked as an actor. One day I was stationed at the jetty because a new boat was coming. It was a Sunday and there were people swimming at the beach. A swimmer emerged from the sea and it was him! Slim and tall and well built, glistening in the afternoon sun. Now I have my own Daniel Craig moment to remember.

I met a local there who was a good friend of my roommate. One day he took us to his small plot of land where he had pet robber crabs. The crabs roamed freely, were not cuddly in anyway and did not come when called, so they were not ideal pets. But they looked like prehistoric animals and to me they were amazing just to watch. I even tried to lift one, but it clung to the table very, very firmly, so I let it go.

There were annoying colleagues, of course. One person had to be the first in everything - first to look at the daily schedule, first to use the computer, first to sit on the bus, etc. etc. One time he made comments about me to his friends (in Arabic) and they laughed. I didn't say anything but I stopped speaking to him at all for a week. Finally he spoke to me and tried to be nice. Huh!!

Still, I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to go there. And as I am writing this blog, I am not even angry at those annoying colleagues anymore.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Being Chinese

I was waiting at the lounge in Cengkareng airport. A woman stormed into the lounge and hurled her back pack onto the scale.

“Is it light enough NOW?!!” she shouted. [What a rude woman, I thought. Oh dear, I know her. She was a client. She thought any rules should be bent for her convenience. I hope she doesn’t see me.]

“Not yet Ma’am,” replied the airline’s ground staff.

“So what on earth do I have to DO?!!!!”

“You have to choose what to bring and what to leave behind, Ma’am.”

“Then I will just carry these and leave the rest in the back pack!” [That would be pointless, wouldn’t it?]

“But that means you are still carrying excess baggage, Ma’am. You cannot do that.”

“But this cake is for a little boy!! A friend asked me to bring it for her son. The boy would be so disappointed!” [All this fuss is over a cake? I doubt it.]

The airport staff didn’t say anything.

“Fine!! Fine!!!” screamed the woman.

She threw the box on the floor and stomped on it.

“Biarin!! Biar kalian juga ga bisa makan tuh kueh!!” plus several other expletives. Then she threw the box into the bin.

“Sudah??? Sudah cukup sekarang????!!!!”

“Masih lebih, Bu. Tapi kali ini kami bolehkan.”

Gosh.. money, living abroad, children in America and Europe sure can’t buy manners. And what a typical Indonesian Chinese of olden days. Rich (and even the poor ones too), above the law and regulations (or so they think), arrogant and chauvinistic and proud of it. I am Chinese myself but at that moment I would rather be any other colour than yellow.

After that tantrum, with most people’s eyes still on her, the woman looked around and spotted me.

“Eh, it’s you!” she said and smiled. She walked towards me and sat next to me and started to complain about the situation. Then she asked me to carry gadget for an aquarium [What the...?] It was just a small item so I said yes. When we started the boarding process the same airport staff still looked at us as if we were smelly dog poo.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Last Lebaran

On Lebaran Day last year I accompanied a lawyer to visit 4 Indonesian fishermen in jail. (Yes, Lebaran is not a public holiday in Sydney, folks.) They had been arrested for people smuggling and were waiting for their trials. We were sitting in a conference room and the lawyer had to go out for a minute. As a (very insensitive) icebreaker I said, “Hari ini Lebaran kan, Pak?” They all said yes in various tones, laughed and started to cry. What an excellent icebreaker that was. I just found out that one of them received a Not Guilty verdict today after weeks and weeks and weeks of trial. Even though I wasn’t there in the courtroom, I could imagine how happy he was. I am very happy for him too. If I could say this to him I would say, “Happy Lebaran Pak Txxxn!!! Have a safe trip home!” (And tell your friends at home to be careful if a stranger offer them big money to take “tourists” to Christmas island! The biggest holiday resort there is a detention centre!)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Friday, March 02, 2012

A few months ago one of the neighbours started renovating their house. We don’t live next to them. We don’t share fences. Let’s just say that their backyard is almost adjacent to ours. Almost.

Some time after they started the work, I began to hear a dog whimpering from time to time. Usually at dusk or at night. I thought it was just a puppy at a neighbour’s house and was whimpering and crying because it was left to sleep outside the house. I thought the puppy would soon get used to it and would stop crying. Unfortunately it didn’t.
When I got back from Indo the weather here was not too good. It often rained and the workers could not come to continue the renovation at the neighbour’s house. The dog’s whimpering got worse. One day it went on from morning to night to the next day. I began to worry about the dog. I tried to peep through the high wooden fence behind our house. I couldn’t see anything. The crying and whimpering got more desperate. I listened from our backyard, trying to locate it from the sound. I heard chains being tugged against something. It felt really horrible. I suspected that it was in trouble, but I couldn’t do anything because I didn’t know where it was.

In the afternoon a good friend came. She works with dogs so I thought she probably knew whether the crying dog was really in trouble or just looking for attention. Straight away she said it was probably in real trouble. I asked if she would accompany me to investigate. She agreed. We went to my next door neighbour and knocked on the door. The neighbour came out. She knew before we spoke that we were looking for the dog. She told us the noise came from the house next to hers, the one that was being renovated. Her own side fence had been removed by the other neighbour so she could see everything next door. She took us to her back yard. We could see the half-done building. Nobody was working there that day. She asked us to follow her as she went into the construction site. Right at the back near the fence, chained to a post, was the dirtiest, smelliest, ugliest dog I had ever seen. It’s coat was caked with dried mud. There were flies circling over its head and back. It went quiet when we approached. The neighbour said probably the owner did not feed it properly. That was why it cried from time to time. The last day the workers came was Friday, and it was already Monday. So it had not been fed for a couple of days. (In Indonesia the workers usually spend the night at the site, not is Sydney.) She didn’t dare feed the dog because she was afraid of the owner of the house. My friend and I left feeling horrible. I called RSPCA immediately to report the condition of the dog. Then we left to have lunch, but it was difficult to eat when you know a creature was starving to death right next to your doorstep. I bought some bread to give to the dog. We knocked on the neighbour’s door again, but this time she wouldn’t open the door. We came back to my home and I called RSPCA again to ask when they were coming. Definitely not today. So I asked them what I could do to help the dog, without doing something illegal. I was told I could throw food for the dog. And that was when the mini saga began. My friend called our area Council. I talked to other neighbours and planned to submit a petition to our Council if RSPCA could not help. I did everything except talk to the ‘preman’owner. I threw in bread, boiled sausages, and at one point I even made meatballs for the dog. I didn’t feed it everyday, of course. Only when the crying was really bad, usually during the holidays. This went on for a few weeks, until even my next door neighbour stopped opening the door when I knocked. I got a bit desperate and tried to find another way. I put a chair next to our backyard fence to see if I could throw food over our fence, past the neighbour’s back yard, over the neighbour’s fence, and on a spot reachable by the dog. I cut the branches of a couple of trees to clear the way. I threw a meatball. Not far enough. I asked my niece’s help. We cleared a few more branches and she threw a meatball. It landed on the other side, at a place near the dog! She threw a few more and we could hear the dog moving around trying to reach them. The rest of the family came out to look, and somehow decided it was time to prune the trees some more. I went inside and let them do it. I went to the bathroom and when I got out of the bathroom one of my nieces was sitting back on the sofa, holding a bandage to her eyes. There were drops of blood on the bandage. A branch had swung back and hit her in the eye, shattering the glass of her spectacles and showering the glass bits into her eye. We took her to the emergency ward at a hospital. It was boxing day but thank God an eye specialist agreed to come to the hospital and the injury wasn’t too serious, just a small tear on the white of the eye. But needless to say, it totally ruined our holiday period and holiday mood.

From that moment on I stopped feeding the dog. I was angry. My niece got hurt partly because I was too chicken to confront the owners. No dog is worth the safety and well-being of my family. Feeding it is the responsiblity of the owners, no matter how busy they say they are. My niece wrote an email to RSPCA, they called me and I tried one last time to ask them to do something about it (an ispector did come to the site a couple of weeks before but the owner gave her all kinds of excuses and she let them be). After that the dog still cried a little, but not as pathetically as before. I gritted my teeth and mentally closed my ears everytime I heard the cry.

One day when I went out to get the mail, I saw the dog. It was with one of its owners. My neighbour was right, the owner really looked burly and ‘preman’. The dog did a poo poo in front of my next door neighbour’s house (the one that refused to open her door), and the owner didn’t bother to clean it up. These people deserve each other, I thought. I made brief eye contact with the dog (hahahahahaha) but kept a poker face just in case it came to me. It was as dirty and muddy and ugly and surrounded by flies as the last time I saw it. It looked very thin, but other than that, it was okay. I threw a few expletives toward the owner (in my head, of course) and went inside.

A few days later it was all quiet. No howling or whimpering anymore. No sound of chains being pulled and dragged. I waited a few more days. Still quiet. I saw my next door neighbour one day and she said the dog was no longer there. I hope the owners have put it in a safer and cleaner place. And I hope it’s no longer left hungry so often.


All those things happened during the Christmas and New Year holidays. It’s early in March now. Still no sign of Dog. Yesterday I passed by the construction site and stole a look through the plastic covered fence. The basement was filled up with water, like an indoor swimming pool. Well, it has been raining almost everyday for a week, and the weather forecast says that out of the 28 days in February, 21 will be rainy. I am sure that that is very bad news for the owners. Then another thought crossed my mind – maybe this is God’s punishment for those cruel people who tortured a helpless animal for months and months. And later I remembered who used to think like that all the time. My mother. She always always always connected good deeds with good rewards, bad deeds with punishments (no matter how remote and how illogical). And I used to giggle inside (if anyone can really giggle inside) when I listened to her stories while keeping a very straight face. I can’t help but smile. Now that’s one thing I inherited from you, Mom.