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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

Regime change, old school

The magic bullet.

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA -Perhaps the thorniest problem for theoretical political scientists is the question of how to accomplish regime change within a democratic system of government. The constitutions of democratic states all include specific mechanisms for the succession of power from one head of state or head of government to the next; every elected official occupies a position, the term of which is proscribed by that mechanism. However, no matter how well thought out is the system and its mechanisms, there will from time to time arise a situation that calls for regime change outside of the normal parameters.

parliament1

Parliament

There are various types of democracies with varying degrees of success; each works reasonably well when all goes according to expectations; it is when things go wrong that they are really tested.

Parliamentary systems generally have an open-ended mandate; only the maximum time for a government to sit is determined by constitution, allowing the government to call an election at any time that seems suitable. Such, for example, is the Canadian system in which a government is formed by the party that elects the most candidates to parliament. The mandate is set at five years during which the majority party led by the Prime Minister may call an election at any time it deems appropriate. Outside of that, in the event that things do go awry and the country loses confidence in the current party or Prime Minister and cabinet to govern the country, a simple majority of sitting house members may, by way of “vote of (no) confidence”, force the Governor General to call a new general election.

Congress

Republican systems, in contrast, usually have a fixed term for the head of government to hold power, and an election date is fixed by the constitution. This is the system employed in the US. There, an individual and his/her running mate are elected president and vice president for a fixed four year term. Should something go amiss, should the country become utterly displeased and wish to see the head of state and government (the President is both, unlike in Canada where the PM is head of government, while the head of state is The Queen by way of the Governor General), there is little that can be done. A President can only be removed from office by way of the process of impeachment, an onerous, acrimonious, quasi-judicial undertaking that combines the qualities of a public lynching with those of a Third World show-trial.

Lincoln assassination

Of course, in either system, if the nation’s leader has sufficiently frustrated and angered the
people, there is another way of accomplishing regime change: assassination.

In the US there have only been two full attempts at impeachment, those of Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton. Neither attempt was successful, as at the senate trials neither was convicted of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that form the benchmark for removal from office. A third, arguably successful, impeachment attempt was that of Richard Nixon who, knowing he would be found guilty by the Senate, resigned immediately before the House could vote on the full articles of impeachment.

However, there have been four successful removals from office of a US President using the old-school method of assassination. Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and of course, John F Kennedy all died at the hands of assassins. So effective is this method that it has become the regime change mechanism of choice for the United States. Since the Kennedy assassination, every single US president, with the exception of his immediate successor Lyndon Johnson, has been the target of an attempted assassination and most of them have dodged the bullet (or bomb, or poison) several times.

This week, as we observe the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s removal from office by way of a bullet that tore through his skull and brain, it would be worthwhile to remember that the killing of a head of state is, by definition, a regime change. And we must never forget that the shots that were fired that sunny morning in Dealey Plaza in Dallas Texas not only ended anKennedy magic bullet era, they introduced a new one. The magic bullet in the Kennedy assassination was magic in more than the way it defied the laws of physics (according to the official investigation) but in the depth and breadth of the consequences those few grams of copper-coated soft lead wrought.

Despite the acrobatic contortions the defenders of the conclusions of The Warren Report are willing to put themselves through, the notion that Lee Harvey Oswald, a troubled and angry lone gunman, planned and carried out the assassination of the President of the United States doesn’t pass the laugh test. The impossibility of the shot, the fact that there were, by most eyewitness accounts,

Kennedy bullt

a second shooter, the fairy tale of Oswald’s defection to and repatriation from Russia at the height of the Cold War, the enigmatic involvement of Jack Ruby, the disappearance of witnesses who contradicted the official version of the events, the missing security detail, and so on ad infinitum all combine to tell us, not what really happened or why, but to give us absolute assurance that the official version is simply false.

Nevertheless, the official story stands and The Warren Report remains the version that will go down in history as the accurate accounting of that regime change. Despite the fact that a second official commission, The House Select Committee on Assassinations, conducted largely in secret, concluded that Kennedy’s assassination was, in all likelihood, a conspiracy and then promptly sealed its findings for fifty years, The Warren Report remains the official story. Those who find its conclusions absurd are labelled “conspiracy nuts” and risk being portrayed as paranoid fantasists; and this despite the fact that the majority of Americans don’t buy it.

In any case, the assassination seems to have worked. Whoever was at the bottom of the conspiracy, whether the real responsible party was the CIA, the military industrial complex, the Mafia, Castro’s Cuban forces, anti-Castro Cuban forces, a homegrown private militia, white supremacists, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lyndon Johnson supporters, or any combination of those, the country and the world changed in the aftermath of the shooting.

Kennedy, at his inaugural address said, “…ask not what your country can do for you; ask kennedy inauguralwhat you can do for your country!” That was on January 20, 1961, just weeks into the new decade of the ‘60s that would see the most radical social change and turbulence, perhaps in the history of the world. Today, such an idealistic and patriotic remark, if spoken as Kennedy did, in sincere, ringing tones and not ironically, would elicit gales of cynical laughter. Words like these, from the same speech, would be dismissed as liberal cowardice:

“So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Although those words are more apt than ever in today’s world, the world has changed so much since the death of the man who spoke them that today the only tears they would bring to people’s eyes would be tears of derisive laughter.

The roots of today’s malaise and cynicism regarding government integrity and even the value of any sort of government at all can be traced back to Dealey Plaza, and from there through the Warren Report, the results of which showed the people just how much one could believe and trust their leaders. The patent hypocrisy and manipulative prevarication that runs through the official story was clear evidence of the dishonesty that manifests itself when the preservation of power is at stake.

During the Kennedy era, the one brief shining moment of “Camelot”, the zeitgeist was one of optimism, ambition, it was a time of confidence, it was a time when the future held endless possibilities.

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

WeChooseToGoToTheMoonAnd what a time it was.

But after Dallas things were different. Johnson escalated the Vietnam war, social unrest became the order of the day, and although Kennedy’s dream of sending a man the moon and returning him safely to earth had been realised ahead of schedule, one could no longer make a commitment like he had with a straight face. And because of the nature of the regime change, perhaps never again.

frame312frame313

Thus began the long winter of discontent that is the new zeitgeist. Cynicism has replaced optimism; one’s intelligence is measured by the depth of one’s pessimism. Patriotism now means xenophobia and isolationism. The United States is now a country where it is not even possible to imagine a president or anyone else creating an organisation like The Peace Corps. Despite the tremendous collateral advances in science and technology bestowed by the space programme, the prevailing view would be that its revival would be a waste of time and of money that could be better spent on building an impregnable wall along the Mexican border.

Kennedy autopsy

The coup d’état succeeded. The United States of America is now a bleaker, drearier, uglier place.

Oh, there have been other coups d’état in the US since the Kennedy assassination; the election fraud that saw George W. Bush steal the presidency from the candidate with the greatest popular vote comes to mind. But for sudden, radical change for the worse, there is nothing to compare to the abrupt reversal of much that was good, respectable, and honourable in American society that occurred as the direct result of the killing of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Rest in peace.

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Political Mass Suicide

Some random thoughts on the 2011Republican primaries

Patrick Guntensperger

 

We are the champions, my friend!

Mitt wins home state by 3 whole points

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – On the eve of Super Tuesday, there is no front runner; there are only those who are less despised by some. At this point, mid-March, although Mitt Romney is nominally in the lead, nobody really wants him. They just dislike him marginally less than his opponents. Mitt’s famous proclivity for flip-flopping (latest example: within just hours he came down firmly on both sides of the “Blunt Amendment”) is actually working for him in this instance. People can vote for him by persuading themselves that he is in favour of anything they want, because at one time or another he has supported it; they can disregard his rejection of that position as mere political expediency.

 

Newt Gingrich is like a freak of nature; he makes you shudder, but you can’t

a newt is some kind of lizard, isn't it?

Isn’t it my turn?

take your eyes off him. Sort of a Terminator-cockroach, he is apparently unkillable; no matter how many times you step on him, he just pulls himself together and keeps on coming after you. Hard to take seriously because of his history of ethics breaches, he is a favourite of political commentators who can’t help but note his corpulence combined with his quixotic doggedness; he has been described as an “angry attack muffin”, and in yet another sci-fi reference, “The Blob”. He knows that he doesn’t have a chance. He can’t win the nomination, and if, in some alternate universe, it was handed to him, he couldn’t possibly be credible in a general election. He is no passionate ideologue. What the hell is he doing? Why does he keep going? The only reasonable answer seems to be that he is milking his billionaire supporter for funds to cushion his inevitable and imminent retirement.

 

Every election needs a madman

But seriously, folks…

Ron Paul is, quite simply, nuts. I’d like to think that he just started advocating his brand of libertarianism because at first glance it seems reasonable, and then, having failed to think it through to its logical consequences, realised he had a tiger by the tail and couldn’t let it go. But I don’t really buy that. No; he really does believe in his concept of radical libertarian political philosophy, along with all that it entails. Among the things he would eliminate along with intrusive legislation are: anti-segregation laws; gun control laws; anti-drug (up to and including heroin and methamphetamine) laws. However, he doesn’t see it as unduly intrusive to outlaw abortion and even contraception. He is running far enough behind that his campaign is really more of a sideshow; no one expects anything from his camp other than the occasional belly laugh. He, of course, realises this and seems to see himself as the conscience of the Republican Party; not a viable candidate but someone who reminds the real candidates of issues that need to be addressed.

 

And then there’s Rick Santorum. The impression that Santorum leaves is that of a hate-filled, intolerant, theocratic demagogue.

Santorum the once and future footnote to history

Contraception? C’mon, I dare you!

He is openly contemptuous of everyone who is not a bigoted, narrow minded, religious fanatic; he seems to despise everyone from foreigners to college students, from women to Muslims. Of course, this evangelical Catholic is a favourite among the Republican base. He is utterly unelectable outside of the Republican hard-core electorate, but that won’t stop Republicans from trying to get him nominated to run against Barack Obama. My favourite moment in Santorum’s chaotic shoestring campaign was when he referred to JFK’s great speech on the necessity of an absolute separation of church and state. Santorum, insisting that theocrats ought to have far more power within the halls of power said that the speech made him, “want to throw up”. That he, as a Catholic, would even be permitted to contend in the Republican primary is largely due to that speech seemed to have escaped him. Equating the use of contraception with sin, his attacks on the country’s most beloved president, his calling Obama a “snob” for encouraging young people to go to college; all help him as he systematically alienates voting blocks, including Catholics, women, students, and rational people.

 

What we are witnessing is the implosion of the GOP. At this point any reasonable Republican strategist would write off any presidential bid in 2012 and encourage the candidates to continue to self-immolate; the Republicans should recognise that their national party is hopelessly out of touch and cannot conceivably slither into the White House without a complete overhaul. They need to concentrate on winning as many seats in Congress as they possibly can, so that they have some influence over the next 4 years; meanwhile get the backroom boys together and anoint some new faces with the snake oil they sell in the marketplace of ideas. Maybe in’16 they’ll be in a position to field a candidate that doesn’t make the rest of us want to throw up.

 

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People Who make a difference

I have seen the Future
And it is Good

Patrick Guntensperger

Parksville BC

Just recently I received an email from one of my oldest friends in the world. Dave was a classmate, occasional wingman, and drinking buddy at York University. He was my best man at my brief and ill-thought out first marriage and, with lapses, we have stayed in touch now for three decades. We haven’t actually been in the same room – or even part of the world – for over twenty years but I still think of him as one of my dearest friends.
Dave has a daughter named Alice. She’s ten years old and I hear from her once or twice a year; each time she says hello and enquires about things but she always has a an agenda. Since she was tiny, she has always worn her social conscience on her sleeve. For the last several years she has run an annual lemonade stand at which she sells lemonade by donation, the proceeds of which go to cancer research. In the autumn she donates her hair to a charity that sells quality human hair for the manufacture of wigs for childhood cancer victims; (Her hair is beautiful, what with a mother who could have been a Bollywood star and a father who could have auditioned to play Thor.) All of her efforts go to support those whom she feels have lives that could benefit from the caring and efforts of other people.

This year she managed to catch me at a particularly fortuitous time. Once again I can’t go to Ontario to buy a lemonade but I am in the process of executing my father’s will, and although I am virtually destitute, having been without an income for close to two years, my father’s will allows for a substantial legacy to be donated to charity. Naturally, I earmarked some of that for Alzheimer’s research, but because of Alice’s dedication to her campaign and because of my mother’s death by cancer, I will be donating $10,000 as my father’s legacy, largely inspired by Alice, to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Alice obviously makes the cut as one person without whom the world would be a bleaker place.
This makes me think of one class I taught at the Monash University campus in Jakarta.
As the Jakarta campus is a small one and most students tend to want to specialise in pre-law or business oriented classes, my intro to journalism class was usually sparsely attended; moreover, all too often, the students who did register were only there because they thought it would be a walk in the park and a break from real studies. But one stream of students really stands out.
L -R : Ghian, Alyssa, me, Miriam
I had only three students, two girls and a boy, registered on the first day of class. They were Ghian, a frighteningly smart and very charming young man; Miriam, a somewhat enigmatic and very bright, beautiful young lady; and Alyssa, a bright, hard-working and stunning sixteen year old, whom I later found out was Indonesia’s best known and beloved teen movie star. I was somewhat taken aback when I gradually discovered that all three of my prodigies were there not for the usual reason, but because they had considered journalism something they were interested in largely because they felt that it was a medium through which they could bring about positive change in the world.
Miriam, the professional journalist

The class was great. We were able to tackle the nuts and bolts of fact finding and verification, cultivating contact/source lists, newsworthiness criteria, lead writing, pyramid structure, quote attribution, source protection, copyediting and all the rest quite easily; no small feat since English was the language of instruction and evaluation and it is a second language for all three of them. We were thus able to spend time on those aspects of journalism that I believe are the real core values of the profession.

While the technical aspects – fact finding and verifying etc. – are the indispensible tools of effective journalists, these become habitual mechanical details with experience. While writing is an ongoing learning experience and one improves it daily, it is the personal approach, the bringing of one’s essential character to the table that separates the competent from the true greats. Because Ghian, Miriam, and Alyssa absorbed the basics so readily and their English writing skills progressed so steadily, we spent that semester, and the following one in which we specialised in feature writing, focussing on those core values.

The glamorous Alyssa Soebandono

We talked about the history of journalism; we discussed the relationship between democracy and the press; we examined journalistic integrity and posed and attempted to solve journalistic ethical dilemmas, we looked at journalist heroes, we brainstormed on the impossibility of pure objectivity versus fairness and even-handedness in reporting. While the basics of journalism were absorbed and given a workout every class, journalism in all of our minds became accepted as a low-paid higher calling. By the time the final semester was over and the three students moved on to pursue and finish their degrees at the mother Monash campuses (Miriam in Malaysia, Ghian and Alyssa in Melbourne, Australia), all three had a concept of journalism as a force for bringing about positive social change; a far cry from the not entirely inaccurate Indonesian view of local “journalists” being little more than hacks who slant their stories for cash and act as the bottom feeders they are paid to be. This must have been a particularly difficult paradigm shift for Alyssa whose prior experience with the press had been restricted to a lifetime of unpleasant encounters with paparazzi.

Ghian, our social conscience

I learned as much from them as they learned from me; maybe more. I know that I am a much better journalist for having worked with them.

I’m pleased to report that I maintain a degree of contact with all three of them and that we consider ourselves friends. Miriam has gone on to become a television reporter (a métier she confided she would never have considered prior to Monash) in Surabaya, one of Indonesia’s largest cities. Ghian is a frequent youth ambassador to UN environmental and democracy conferences and conventions where he acts as press liaison and communications point man. He came to visit me and my dying father on one of his international trips. Alyssa meanwhile has put her multimillion dollar career on hold while she pursues her education and social conscience in the UK.

These are people that I will always be proud to have known and whom I know will make a difference in the world. Like little Alice, they make the cut. The world is already a better place for their being in it.

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Farewell

Rest in Peace, Dad

Well, if there are any of you still out there, it’s time for me to let you know that I’m back in town! Not Jakarta; I’m still in Parksville, British Columbia, Canada. It’s just that after more than a year of complete absorption with the care of my parents, I now have the luxury of having the time and the focus to begin to post here again.

Over the last year and several months, it was always my intention to post as regularly as  I had done in the first few years this blog was up and running. However, I underestimated the amount of time and energy it would take to provide full time care for two elderly people with terminal illnesses. For twenty four hours a day, seven days a week since late 2009, I had been occupied with feeding, medicating, bathing, grooming, comforting and otherwise caring for my Mom and Dad. I, and Yolanda when she was in Canada and not with our son JJ in Indonesia, handled their finances, did all the shopping, cooking, the yard work, the housework, brought them to medical appointments, did their laundry, ensured that oxygen, walkers, and other assisted living aids were used. Our lives were entirely absorbed with the day to day realities of caring for dying people whom we loved very deeply.

Both of my parents have now passed away.

In so many ways the time we spent together was profoundly rewarding, but it was very sad, too. My parents got to know my wife and appreciate her inner and outer beauty. My wife got to know and appreciate two of the kindest and most loving people in the world. And I got to appreciate all over again the strength of character and the complexity of these two marvelous people.

My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in early summer of last year; a cruel irony as she had never smoked and found others smoking in her presence objectionable. Nevertheless, she was sufficiently gracious that she never made an issue of it, and it is entirely possible that her graciousness killed her with second-hand smoke. Mom was extraordinarily stoic about her inevitable death; she insisted on doing as much gardening as her pain would permit for as long as she could. Later on, as the pain increased, she became steadily more and more housebound and dependant on pain killers and oxygen. Mom wasn’t ready to die in November; there was so much left undone.The tragic circumstances that had cost her her daughters remained unresolved (see posting of May 11, 2010…Cruelty as a Way of Life) ; neither of them had recanted or even acknowledged the vicious cruelty with which they had tormented my mother for the last twenty years of her life.

By October, Mom was in such brutal pain that she was unable to get out of bed for any extended periods of time; her appetite had diminished to the point that she was surviving almost entirely on meal replacement liquids and morphine. Morphine addiction has the inevitable side effect of causing paralysis of the bowels, requiring that she have regular enemas, robbing her of one of the few remaining vestiges of her dignity. She was at home until twenty-four hours before she passed…she knew it was coming, but she was very much afraid of not knowing what was coming.

In the hospital, the night before she died,we tried to give her some relief and let her sleep, but she had built up a need for and tolerance of opiates that would make Keith Richards shake his head in disbelief. Finally, as she had previously requested, we filled her with enough morphine to dull the pain and shut off her life support.

The next few weeks were not a great deal of fun either. My father’s Alzheimer’s was progressing.

I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but if I had to come up with a good definition of the latter, it would be what my Dad went through in the weeks following the death of his love and life partner of over sixty years. For weeks he would ask at least once a day, “Where’s Mom?” or “When’s Mom coming home?. Having had to have her death broken to him daily was as painful an experience for Yolanda and me as well as for my father as I could ever imagine. Eventually, he came to accept her passing: we had her urn put in the living room and he would spend hours staring at it. Occasionally a tear would escape.

When he seemed to be sufficiently reconciled to the reality that Mom was never coming home, Yolanda had to return to Indonesia to be with JJ while we continued the fight to get him out of Indonesia, so Dad and I were on our own once again. We spent the winter together watching television, as his ability to remember what he was reading had diminished to the point that he could read the same page dozens of times without realising it.

He was experiencing depression, accompanied by ever increasing fatigue. Nevertheless, he kept planning for the future. I’d take him for a walk every day that the weather permitted and the walks became shorter each day. Fortunately, though, he never remembered that and was certain that each day he was improving. He expected to graduate from his walker to a cane and then to recover completely.

Now he would ask daily, “Where’s Yolanda?”. And when I told him she’d be back in a few months, he would have plans to travel across the country so he could show her more of his Canada. Each day he slept more and more. Always a disciplined man, it was unthinkable for him to lounge around the house in pyjamas and a housecoat; each morning I would help him bathe, shave, and dress for the day. By then he would be so tired from the exertion that he would need to lie down. I’d cover him and make sure that he had his cat on the bed with him. By early afternoon, he would be sufficiently recovered to get up to eat: he always refused to take his meals in bed.

One morning at the end of March, I helped him bathe, brush his teeth, and shave and took him back to his room to dress. He told me that he was too tired to dress right now and wold take a nap first. I laid him on the bed, covered him, got Marley the cat settled at Dad’s feet, then sat with him stroking his forehead and holding my hand over his folded ones. He took a deep breath and said, “Boy, am I ever tired!” He breathed softly for a moment and then he died. I could feel his life slipping away as I sat with him; he released a small death rattle and his suffering was over.

I didn’t try to resuscitate him (he had long ago signed a “do not resuscitate” order), but sat with him for a while. I then called for the medical techs and the coroner; within forty five minutes my Dad was in a body bag being taken to the mortuary where he would be cremated and his ashes put into an urn that matches my mother’s.

Yolanda took the first flight back from Indonesia that she could arrange and was here to see him laid out in the mortuary. There was no service ,as he had requested, but some very close friends came with us for our final good byes.

It has taken since then for Yolanda and me to get past the acute part of the grief process. The pain is still there and probably always will be, but it is tempered with memories of happier times and gratitude that we had these last months with them. I, at any rate, will probably never be completely over their deaths; I still find myself occasionally turning to my father’s chair to ask him what he thinks of something I’ve just read or seen on the news. I still ask what my mother would do when confronted with a dilemma while cooking something new. But it gets better each day.

Now Yolanda and I have to consider our own lives. We have at least tentatively decided to stay on in Canada, assuming we will be succesful in extricating JJ from Indonesia; we want our son to be brought up and educated here until he is old enough to decide for himself which country he would prefer. Yolanda will go back to Indonesia to pursue the holy grail of having our son with us while I try to reestablish a career. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, being fifty-five years old with no recent working experience in Canada and a distinct lack of contacts in the publishing business.

Nevertheless, I am in discussions with Vancouver Island University and I’ve been in contact with a number of editors of a number of publications, with whom I’ll sit down and go over my portfolio of published work…an excersise I haven’t had to engage in for decades.

Of course if none of this works out, I’ll probably sell the house and move back to Indonesia. I could always start writing about Southeast Asian politics again; there’s never any shortage of material there! In the meantime, I promise to try to post regularly again.

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Cruelty as a way of life

 

 

“Only one. But ze light bulb must WANT to change.”

False Memory Syndrome

Patrick Guntensperger
I used to have a sister. In fact, I used to have two of them. I don’t anymore.
Oh, it’s not that they died (would that they had; the world would be a somewhat better place); no, they explicitly chose not to be part of this family. They had decided to “divorce” my parents, is the way it was put in the letter which brutally severed any relationship and all communications for the last twenty years.
You see, for reasons of their own, and spurred on by external support in the form of pop psychology and hack “therapists”, my two former sisters decided that the best way to deal with their own internal demons and neuroses was to eliminate accountability, blame others, and destroy the lives of those who cared most for them. And the latter two things, they did.
As for their internal demons and neuroses, recent events suggest that they are thriving.
The whole sordid story started a little over two decades ago. There were at the time four siblings; besides me there were three siblings; one was my brother Norman, and the other two were women, sisters whom, as a courtesy, I won’t bother to name.
Both had had minor psychological issues all their lives; in both cases those issues always appeared to me to be a manifestation of their most salient shared personal characteristic: their staggering self-centredness. The older of the two (I’ll call her “A”) was a chronic failure. She had several failed marriages, she had gone to university on a military scholarship which she lost when she flunked out, she was an alcoholic and almost pathologically promiscuous, and she was irritatingly arrogant, condescending, and self-righteous with virtually everyone. That personality naturally rendered her virtually friendless, a condition for which she apparently compensated with her promiscuity.
The younger one (I’ll call her “J”) was, and apparently still is, a user and a manipulator. She learned at a very early age to get others to do everything for her, using pity, sex, lies, anything…and this talent fed into her astonishing laziness. Her various boyfriends and her husband, from whom she is now divorced, all found themselves catering to her every whim and waiting on her hand and foot; J never gave an iota of courtesy or kindness to anyone, yet demanded excesses of each for herself. She wisely selected boyfriends and a husband who were less intelligent than she was; fundamentally, she is easily manipulated by anyone smarter. A is smarter.
Some time around 1990, A and J’s letters to my parents began to take on a tone of coldness, bitterness, and vague hostility. Up until then they had been full of warmth, hope, and thanks for the many kindnesses, financial and otherwise, my parents had shown them and their children. After a year or so, the antagonistic tone of the letters dominated and it culminated in a letter from A in which she spelt out the problem.
It seems she had read a book called The Courage to Heal. (More about that in a later post.) And she and J had both been seeing therapists. Apparently, following the guidelines in the book and with the help and guidance of the “therapists”, they had begun to uncover hidden or “suppressed” memories.
In a series of letters and vitriolic phone calls, A and J fleshed out these “memories” and recounted them to my parents as fact and demanded “for the sake of healing” that they acknowledge their validity and beg forgiveness for their actions.
At first the co-dependent neurotic women insisted that they had suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of both parents; a claim that is palpably untrue. These accusations gained momentum and lurid detail, and, as their therapy deepened, became claims that we, as children, had been routinely subjected to forced participation in group sex, and were the centrepieces at regular orgies my parents organised and led (are orgies led? I don’t know).
Eventually, these bizarre fantasies ripened into specific memories of satanic rituals at which the children (presumably me too; I’d hate to have been left out of that kind of fun) were regularly ravaged and forced to participate; there were even specific descriptions of chanting, candle-holding black-hooded figures forming a circle inside a pentagram. At each stage of the development of the fantasies, there were demands that my parents acknowledge their culpability for their evil treatment of their (then) daughters.
Reason didn’t work; expressions of love didn’t dissuade them from the course their therapists were guiding them on. There was sporadic communication; each time, either A or J would repeat the mantra that they were only being “assertive” and “forthright” in their demands that my parents step up and admit that their evil ways were the cause of A and J’s neuroses. Only in that way, the women insisted, could “the healing begin”.
Each of these communications was deeply painful to my parents. My mother developed a sleeping disorder and could often be heard mumbling about her love for her children and grandchildren when she was able to find what should have been the balm of sleep. But making matters even worse was that my parents would receive calls or letters from distant family members.
It seems that A and J had made the rounds of my mother’s family, and those members of my father’s family that they could find, and had repeated their vile fantasies as truth and historical reality. One of my mother’s sisters contacted us to tell us that J had related her disgusting accusations and then promptly tried to turn the pity she thought she had garnered to her advantage in acquiring a place to live, free child care etc. Most of our relatives and friends didn’t accept it as anything but the ramblings of disturbed people, but the seed of doubt had been planted. I heard the expression “where there’s smoke there’s fire” more than once from people who were trying to absorb the idea that two of the world’s kindest and most decent people could have committed such atrocities on their own children.
Among the more painful communications received during this time was a call from one of their grandchildren. A’s eldest daughter, now at college age, called to ask for money. The gist of the conversation was that she wanted to know if they would turn over the college fund they had started for her when she was born or whether they would betray her as they had her mother. They sent her the entire fund, to which they had faithfully contributed throughout the time A had renounced them as parents, with a warm letter of congratulations on her academic success. Their granddaughter neither replied nor thanked them.
Perhaps this was for the best because each time the phone rang at an odd hour, my parents would jump, their hearts would race, and there was profound anxiety that on the other end of the line would be one or the other of their “daughters” with yet another accusation. Perhaps it would be a lawyer announcing a lawsuit, something A and J had suggested was a possibility.
Never… not once… did either of them offer an apology, let alone recant an accusation.
Eventually my parents had to move because they were uncomfortable where they lived. My mother had developed a sense that people were looking askance at them, thinking, “There go those Satanist child molesters”. They moved more than once for the same reason; what should have been their golden years had become a nightmare of paranoia, bewilderment, and hurt. At length they gave up hope that A and J would ever come to their senses and see the damage their hate-filled fantasies had caused.
They realised that even should A and J should recant, there was no way to undo the damage done. The people to whom they had told their fantastic tales couldn’t be untold. Some indeed had gone to their graves accepting that there was some truth to the fantasies; neither was there any way to regain the lost decade and more of suffering caused by the vicious cruelty of A & J. They talked seriously about what to do, then, years ago, they told me of their decision. A and J were now dead to them. They had to take the position that they had no daughters and put them firmly out of their minds as though they no longer existed. Their health simply couldn’t withstand the torture any longer.

They did their best to create a new life for themselves. They even took under their wing a young single mother from China and her daughter; today the daughter is in university and her mother calls my parents Mummy and Daddy while the young lady addresses them as Grampy and Grammy. The mother has graduated with an MBA and is as sweet and loving a daughter as can be imagined. I think of them as my real sister and niece.Both live in different cities but visit when they can and call frequently. Of course, somehow A caught wind of this relationship and apparently called Children’s Services and reported the young girl who was about 13 at the time as a “child in danger”. The report was investigated and dismissed as a vicious prank. Apart from that neither A nor J has demonstrated the slightest interest in my parents.
Nevertheless, at extremely long intervals my parents would receive a phone call from one or the other of the women. The content of the communication varied from an insouciant chat as though the intervening years and history had not occurred, to drunken, shouting, belligerent repetitions of their more outrageous fantasies. Each time both of my parents was devastated for weeks afterward. My mother was hospitalised when it was thought she might have had a stroke as a result of the stress and anxiety caused by one of those psychotic calls. When I was in Indonesia, they called me, utterly devastated, several times to ask for advice on how to keep what they described as “those monsters” out of their lives.
To bring this awful story up to today, I am here in Canada again. I came here to take care of my father who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my mother whose health is increasingly fragile. In February of this year, my mother was again hospitalised and I was spending every day with my father and caring for him. I wrote and published an article on living with Alzheimer’s and then posted a somewhat modified version here on my blog. Apparently A reads this blog because shortly after it ran, she tried to reach my mother by telephone in the hospital. My mother refused the call, saying that she had no daughter by that name and immediately relapsed and required several weeks more hospital care because of the anxiety caused by the call.
Once things had settled down and my mother was home again where I could care for them both, we all tried to get back to normal; we had nearly succeeded in doing so when three letters arrived in the mail. From A.The letters, one to me and one to each of my parents, were written in a sort of faux-solicitous tone and suggested that she was all concerned because she had come to understand that my parents might be approaching their deaths, and wanted offer to help with their care. She also deigned to allow that she had “long since forgiven them” for the crimes she had confabulated. Clearly smelling some kind of legacy in the offing, she allowed as she was willing to put the past behind her and do what was needed at this crucial time. There was no recanting, no apology for ripping a family apart, or destroying my parents’ lives. My mother tore her letter into pieces and went to lie down sobbing.
Later that evening I saw my mother reading the letter A had sent me. She then collapsed with what seemed to be a stroke and I called for an ambulance. My mother spent Mother’s Day in the hospital where, once again, my father and I visit her every day. We don’t know when she will be released. She begged me to keep “that monster” away from her.
I sent A an email explaining that her communications were toxic and insisting under the power of attorney my parents had assigned me that she desist from attempting to contact them directly. Her reasoned and loving response? That she would raise a legal challenge to the power of attorney, as she argues that my father was not mentally fit to have given one. And all this because she claims to be interested only in the welfare of my parents. A “concern” that is demonstrated by harassment of a desperately ill patient – one who was put in the hospital in the first place, a day earlier,  by exactly the same harassment
Today, in fact, my mother called me from her hospital bed in tears. Why? Because after my telling A that her attempt to communicate with my mother caused her grave suffering, A had called the hospital to pursue whatever her agenda is. I have begged her to leave my mother in peace. I have emailed her a scanned copy of a handwritten letter from my father in which he begs her to stop tormenting them.
Mental illness is a sad thing. It devastates families. It is brutal both on the sufferer and on those who care for those with an emotional or cognitive infirmity. I pity, but I respect, love, and admire my father for his manner of dealing with his cruel disease.
But as for the mental illness manifested by both A and J, I have little pity or sympathy. They are both purely self-indulgent, and have nothing wrong with them other than unbridled self-interest and an utter indifference to others. They know that their accusations are made up whole cloth and are complete and utter fabrications, invented for the clear purpose of saving themselves the trouble of looking at their own failures and character flaws. Rather than looking at themselves, acknowledging their defects and working on them, they chose the cowardly and hateful route of blaming the only people in the world who loved them despite their considerable shortcomings. That they destroyed the remainder of those people’s lives means nothing to them, as long as they never have to shoulder any accountability.
If there is any truth to A’s missive in which she claims to have no interest in anything beyond my parents’ welfare, let me try this, since she apparently reads this blog: In the best interests of my mother and father, and in accordance with their express wishes, please, please, please stop contacting them. You will kill them. Unless that is your intent, you will abide by their wishes and leave them in peace; you have caused more than enough pain for a series of lifetimes. Just go away and let them live out what time they have left without the agony you insist on putting them through.
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Alzheimer’s

I apologise to anyone who has been waiting for me to post something new. I hope the following will help explain my neglect.

 

 

Endgame
Patrick Guntensperger
            This old guy walks into his doctor’s office to get the results of some tests. The doctor says, “I have some bad news and some worse news.”
            “Wow!” the old guy says, “Tell me the bad news first.”
            “Okay,” the doctor says, “you have cancer. It’s of a particularly painful kind and it’s usually terminal. I’m very sorry.”
            “Wow!” the old man says. He puts his head in his hands for a while then he looks up and asks, “Well, what’s the worse news?”
            “I’m very sorry, but you also have Alzheimer’s. That, I’m sorry to say, is always terminal.”
            The old man holds his head in hands for a while, then looks up and says brightly, “Well, at least I don’t have cancer!”
My Dad doesn’t have cancer.
***
After having lived for the better part of a decade in Jakarta, I came back to Canada because my parents, both in their eighties, wanted to meet my newly adopted baby, JJ. I knew they were getting a little frail and, my father particularly, getting a bit forgetful. What the hell; they’re old, that happens.
Before we had waded all the way through the bureaucratic morass to try to get my wife and son out of Indonesia and into Canada, the situation was worsening. I had to leave my family in Indonesia, and come here to take care of my parents. My wife, Yolanda, will pursue the paperwork in Jakarta with my son, JJ, while I do what’s needed here on Vancouver Island.
Shortly after I arrived, my mother had a health crisis, and her kidneys shut down. As I write this, she’s in the hospital in Nanaimo, a city about 25 kilometres south of here, while I take care of my father. This time I’m spending with my father is about the most heartbreaking I’ve ever had, but at the same time there’s a bittersweet shadow over the experience; there is a touch of joy that comes from giving a little bit back to someone who has given me so much. And there is real sweetness in getting to know someone I thought I knew thoroughly.
My father, you see, has Alzheimer’s. Not a little forgetfulness, as I had been led to believe, but serious dementia.
Alzheimer’s is a brutal disease. It’s degenerative, and it’s always fatal; the mean life expectancy from the time of diagnosis is about seven years. As it progresses, which it inevitably does, it robs the sufferer of dignity, and any pleasure or joy of life. Cruelly, it most commonly strikes people in their mid-sixties, imposing a terrible burden on the victim’s spouse, who, typically, is also elderly. By the time the patient slips into the final stage before death, which is a certainty, there is little left of the former personality; the patient might not even recognise the caregiver, and is unable even to feed or bathe him or herself. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is a sentence to death by slow torture.
Julian Guntensperger was born on December 21, 1926. He was the son of a Swiss Ph.D. who was at the time the Dean of Sciences at Laval University in Quebec City, and of an Irish/Scottish mother, who was a bookkeeper at the Royal Bank of Canada. He was brought up during the Great Depression and, while still in high school, he enlisted in the militia at the outbreak of World War II in 1939. He enlisted in Canada’s regular army as soon as he became eligible at the age of eighteen; he was a corporal in the infantry, heading for the Pacific on a troop ship, when news of the atomic bomb blasts in Japan came down.
After he was mustered out, my father took a degree in forestry engineering at University of New Brunswick and became a forester upon graduation. While in hospital after having been injured in the woods, he met a beautiful young French Canadian nurse and determined on the spot that he would marry her. Such was his determination and their mutual infatuation that they were indeed married soon thereafter and, after a few idyllic years of deep bush country life, Dad decided that he would re-enlist in the armed forces and become a career military officer. This time, the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) was mounting a recruiting drive, and they jumped on his application.
Mom and Dad in happier times

Four children and an exciting career as a Cold War Air Force officer with postings to radar stations in Europe were the result, and Dad took early retirement in the early ‘sixties to start a new career as a business executive. He went from managing an international airport to a two year stint as a senior organiser for Expo ‘67 in Montreal during Canada’s centennial celebration, then on to an outstanding career in shopping centre development, pausing for a couple of years as a bank vice-president, and then finally retiring as a consultant in commercial property development. Retired, he took up and subsequently became a teacher of Tai Chi, and had fiery career as a local representative for the small community of Gabriola Island in the Georgia Strait, off Vancouver Island. He left the island after a decade or so and moved to Victoria where his wife of over 50 years, my mother, Lucille started to notice occasional forgetfulness. He wasn’t diagnosed yet, but he had Alzheimer’s.

Here in Parksville, where we now have a house that has been modified for assisted living, my father and I spend 24 hours a day together. My mother is expected to be home soon, as soon as they can cure the pneumonia they discovered when she was admitted with kidney failure, and I hope every day for success in Yolanda and JJ’s quest for documents to get them here from Jakarta. Meanwhile, I’m getting to know my Dad all over again.
It’s not the old, dynamic, and indefatigable Dad; now he has long stretches of lethargy, and the apathy that is characteristic of Alzheimer’s needs to be fought every day. He has very little short term memory left; each day as we drive down to see my mother in the hospital, he makes the same remarks at the same places on the road; he relates the same anecdote sometimes as many as three or four times in the twenty minute drive, and he asks several times a day where Mom is.
Nevertheless, I’m relearning what a decent, kind, and tough guy my father is. Even though he walks with a cane in a slow shuffle, he holds doors open for others; he pauses to chat with little children, most of whom appreciate the effort; he apologises for the work his disease puts others to. Even though he is aware that he has a fatal disease, a sentence from which there is no reprieve, he faces each day as a new challenge. Although he knows that he will never get better – he will, in fact, get worse each day – he summons his determination and gets on with it; even as his resources, his strength, and his once formidable brain power abandon him.
He knows that he will deteriorate until he dies; there is – for him, at any rate – no hope of recovery. Even if the religious right, which has effectively thrust a stick into the spokes of the best hope for finding a cure for Alzheimer’s (and Parkinsons, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and half a dozen other neurological diseases) were suddenly to come to their senses and stop demonising stem cell research, it’s almost certainly too late for my Dad. No, like every other sufferer of Alzheimer’s he will die, and he knows he will die, in a cruelly undignified manner. Nevertheless, he gets up each morning and fights for another day of lucidity.
He sleeps a lot; this is a relief for both of us. For him it’s a bit of a respite from the constant struggle to remember, to stay cheerful, to face a grim future. For me, it’s an opportunity to slip out and get some groceries or other necessities, to mop floors, or to do laundry; I’m writing this during a short nap he’s taking.
But sleep is also a curse. We both know his days are numbered and he hates to sleep through the few he has left; even more poignantly, he is aware that every time he sleeps, he is likely to wake up just a little bit more affected by this disease. He never knows which of his naps will see him awaken to a world in which I and, worse still, my mother, his beloved wife of nearly sixty years, will be a stranger.
For now we make the most of the time we have together. I help him bathe, then I prepare his breakfast; I help him dress, then together we go visit his wife in the hospital. After a few hours we drive back home, each time with my father asking where we’re going. My mother brightens visibly when he walks into her room, but cries when she finds herself having the same conversation with him every day. She never knows if this visit will be the last one, or the last one at which he will recognise her.
After My Dad has lunch, he is usually exhausted. After I answer his bewildered “Where’s Mom?” several times, I give him his meds and he lies down to sleep. He usually gets up in the early afternoon and wants to do something physical, so we spend some time getting his outdoor clothes on, and he goes to the back yard to rake leaves or otherwise putter about while I watch like an anxious parent from the kitchen window. Occasionally he starts to panic because he doesn’t know where he is. We’ve only been in this house a short time, so the memory of this place hasn’t been etched in.
 After a brief stint in the fresh air he comes in while I cook and we converse by shouting from one room to the other while he watches television until an early supper. In the evenings, we chat a little, but his spirits tend to sink as his energy wanes. We’ll have a beer and watch a hockey game or something else that’s lively – he can’t watch a whole movie because he loses the plot after about ten minutes – and maybe chat a little.
Our chats often consist of my father repeating an anecdote about when I or my brother or sisters were little children. These anecdotes are almost always about something bright or funny or triumphant we did and, because they come out as word-for-word repetitions, I know they’re etched deeply into his memory, and are incidents that he has thought about often over the years. I listen to him telling me for the twentieth time about my little sister’s first steps, taken immediately upon disembarkation from the passenger liner that took us to Europe in 1959, and my eyes fill with tears.
Dad will go to bed early. I’ll lay out his pyjamas, help him into the bathroom to brush his teeth and then help him dress for bed, ensure he has a book to read, and give him his night time meds. And like he did for me when I was a little boy, I tuck him in and assure him that everything’s going to be just fine. We both choose to ignore the fact that somewhere inside of us; we both know that whatever kind of day we had tomorrow is going to be just that little bit worse. His last words before I leave him to read or to sleep are invariably, “Where’s Mom?”
Julian Guntensperger is a particularly good Alzheimer’s patient. He came to the party as a powerful, intelligent, and self-confident man. So far these characteristics are still in play. He is strong enough to look this curse in the eye and persevere. He is intelligent, and his intelligence has not diminished along with his memory, so he understands what’s happening. His self-confidence allows him to confront this brutal disease without pretending it’s not happening.
He’s my father and I’m watching him die.
Normally in this type of article, the piece closes with a few helpful hints as to how to prevent the disease, on new cures, or ways to alleviate the effects. Sadly, I can’t offer any of those. Nobody can say what causes Alzheimer’s; there is no way of predicting it, preventing it, or curing it. There aren’t even any medical ways of alleviating the symptoms. For those who have been diagnosed, all that remains ahead is an increasingly bumpy road until the relief that a death surrounded by loved ones may bring. But for those of us who are alive and undiagnosed, there is only one direction that research suggests might lead to a cure. Stem cell research. And that road is being blocked.
Until compassion and wisdom enters the souls of those who would prevent millions of people worldwide with neurological diseases or trauma from being treated there is little hope for people like my Dad. So, to close, I can only offer this bit of advice to those who have a loved one who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Love that person, share as much time with him or her as you can, get to know what makes him tick, record what you can for a legacy. And, as the personality is being slowly and systematically dismantled, focus on the great moments before the sentence of death was passed.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas
 I love you, Dad.

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Didi Petet

I’m posting this one because I’m currently helping some students develop techniques for writing profiles of newsworthy people. This is one I wrote a little while back for The Jakarta Globe about a man I admired and then got to like very much as a person; getting to know nice people is a bonus that comes with being a journalist.

Didi Petet: Actor

Didi Petet, when he’s out in public, does not draw hordes of fans soliciting autographs. People recognize him all right; his face is part of Indonesia’s iconography. But people seem inclined to treat him as a regular guy. They nod when they catch his eye and surreptitiously point and whisper when they spot him at a cafe table.

Recently, over a bowl of es campur, an iced mixed fruit dessert, Didi spoke of his career, his roles on both the big and small screens, and his pet peeves — one of which is when he’s described as a comedian. He’s not a comedian, he insists, nor is he a comic; he’s not even entirely comfortable with being described as a comedic actor. He wants to make it clear: He is an actor. Period.

In the film “Jermal,” which premiered on Thursday, Didi plays Johar — the reclusive, brutal fishing station manager with a haunting dark past. He depicts the character brilliantly, proving his acting is no laughing matter.

Born in 1956 in Surabaya and brought up in Bandung, Didi Widiamotko almost missed out on becoming Didi Petet, actor. His family instead saw a bright future for him in a technical or professional field after he graduated with good grades from his high school in Bandung. It was with high hopes that they watched him enter the doors of the prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology. It was with fear and loathing that he instantly fled. The briefest of glimpses told him that he wasn’t cut out for that kind of life. A scholastic career at the university would have been boring, he says.

Instead, Didi enrolled in the Jakarta School of the Arts in 1977 to study acting, and there he met Harry Roesli, a progressive rock icon and a music teacher. Harry took the young Didi under his wing, putting him on stage in both student and commercial productions of everything, from musicals to operas, to showcase his untrained but rapidly developing vocal skills.

Didi said that from the moment he stepped on to a stage, “I knew I was at home. For some reason, I had a relationship with the audience whenever I walked on stage. I knew I could touch them.”

He was so taken with the profession that he chose to take every class he could and even slept at the school, with the boards of the stage as his bed.

“My brother lived here in Jakarta, but I never stayed with him…I slept at the school, on the stage. I never wanted to miss a moment of what I was learning. I studied physical movement, technique, the classics, but most of all, I studied voice. I could have been a singer, I suppose.”

After he graduated in 1982, it did not take Didi long to become a nationally recognized actor.

Although many filmographies list “Catatan Si Boy” as his first appearance in a feature film, it was actually in “Semua Gara Gara Gina” that Didi made his feature debut, playing a small role. Nevertheless, “Catatan Si Boy” — a slapstick comedy about the misadventures of a group of teens growing up in Jakarta — was a phenomenal success and launched his career.

Onky Alexander played the title character, but Didi, playing the lead’s campy sidekick, stole the show.

In fact, his character “Emon” was such a popular success that sequel after sequel was made with Didi mincing his way through the films; eventually, they were more about the sidekick than the central figure. In 1991, he made two more films in the series.Didi says, though, he never saw the character Emon as gay.

“I think everyone assuming that Emon is homosexual is one of the funniest things in the movies. It is a joke, the way people jump to conclusions about people.”

In 1994, Didi introduced us to another iconic character, Kebayaran. “Si Kebayan Mencari Jodoh” told the story of a lovable Sundanese layabout who etched a permanent place in the hearts of Indonesians. Both Emon and Kebayan are Indonesian icons — the two characters are as identifiable with Didi as Rocky and Rambo are with Sylvester Stallone.

He has played a variety of similar characters in more than 20 films since the first “Boy” pictures. Didi has also found himself flogging everything from Yamaha motorcycles to a patent medicine called Puyir 16 Bintang 7 in humorous TV commercials.

With this film and career biography, the serious role of Johar in “Jermal” may seem to be a stretch. But Didi’s performance has helped the film garner high praise at its festival screenings in South Korea, the Netherlands and Italy.

The film spans about three months, depicting the lives of laborers on one of Indonesia’s many jermal , which are wooden fishing platforms that dot the waters off Indonesia’s coastlines. The story begins with Jaya, who is sent to the jermal after his mother’s death to work with his father among a veteran crew of mostly illiterate teenagers.

Jaya, played by Iqbal Manurung, is a soft, thoughtful 12-year-old, unprepared for his new life. Johar is the manager of the facility and surprised to find he is Jaya’s father. The story explores the developing relationship with Johar, who is hiding out on the jermal to escape problems back home.

Was Didi nervous about playing such a serious role?

“Nervous?” he chuckles. “I’m an actor. Comedy is just one of the tools of the trade. I have many tools in my toolbox. I loved the character and I loved the challenge of playing him.”

Tara Savaheli

Recently my wife and I were fortunate enough to have a wonderful houseguest, although under very unfortunate circumstances. Kester Evans, someone I consider to be as good a friend as I’ve ever had, or could ever imagine having, lent us his fiance for a few weeks while he languished in a Korean hospital. Tara is a blessing and quite honestly one of the sweetest people Yolanda or I have ever met. This is a glimpse of her.

PG

The Jakarta Globe

April 26, 2009
My Jakarta: Tara Savaheli

By Patrick Guntensperger

The first glance confirms the reputation of Persian women for their beauty. Tara Savaheli’s radiant smile defines her and lets you know right away that she’s having a great time on her first visit to the Big Durian. Savaheli came to Jakarta from Gorgan, in the northeastern part of Iran, where her family lives, for the specific purpose of meeting her fiancé, Kester, a Scottish expatriate who lives in South Korea. They met in Thailand and plan to get married in Bali.

Just to make the story even more complicated, her fiancé was injured in a motorcycle accident in Korea on the day he was supposed to fly here. Savaheli is working on getting a visa to visit Kester. Always cheerful, she takes some time away from the bureaucratic grind to get to know the city.

I know these aren’t the best circumstances to be visiting Jakarta, but what are your first impressions?

Being a Muslim woman, I really like being able to walk about on my own, dress as I please and not have to feel as though I’m always being scrutinized for misbehavior. The moderate Islam in Indonesia is very refreshing.

In between your visits to the various embassies, what have you done while you’ve been here?

Today I went to Carita with my fiance’s friends. We could see across the sea to Krakatoa. I ate otak-otak [fish fillet wrapped in banana leaf and grilled], we played in the surf and I didn’t have to be covered from head to toe! I met a monkey who was jealous of me! She was happy to take fruit from me, but she was only nice to men … me she growled at!

Tell us a bit about the food in Jakarta.

I love cumi-cumi [squid] and mie goreng [fried noodles], and I’ve eaten a lot of satay. I have been living in India for over a year, so I really like spicy food. Some people have told me that Indonesian food is very hot, but I find it just delicious. I love all the street food. It’s nice to be able to get the best food in the city without having to go to expensive restaurants.

So will you be back?

I’ll certainly be back when I marry Kester! We want to get married on a beach in Bali. But after that, I think I might come here to live while I continue my studies. Kester has lived here before and he loves it too. If I can find a university that has the right kind of courses in environmental studies — I want to do more work in natural science. I don’t live in Iran anymore because I couldn’t live under the restrictions that the government places on women. Can you believe that even if you wear full body covering, a young woman can be arrested simply because a policeman finds her attractive?I can’t understand women, particularly younger women, who want to see more or stricter religious-based laws. I’ve lived under them and I don’t understand why anyone would want to if they didn’t have to. So for a young Muslim woman like me, living in Jakarta with its religious tolerance and moderate form of Islam feels so much healthier.

What about Jakarta’s legendary traffic? Don’t you find it really frustrating?

It’s worse than Tehran, but have you even been to India? Once you’ve lived there for a while the traffic in Jakarta starts to look almost reasonable. I rode a motorcycle there when I lived in Pune [near Mumbai]. I can take any kind of traffic, I think. The two countries have a lot in common actually, even beyond the food and the traffic. I love the cultural diversity, the way different religions can live side by side … even if they don’t always do it completely peacefully. And I like the climate!Iran is a desert country and it gets quite cold.

Don’t you miss that?

Really, I hate cold weather! I love the way it’s always summer here and I don’t have to wonder what the weather will be like in five minutes, whether it will rain, snow or hail today. Here it is hot and sunny or it is rainy. That’s it. And it always goes back to hot and sunny. I love it.

So what’s next for you today?

Some bureaucracy and paperwork. Then I have to wait for my fiance to fax back some documentation from Korea and while I’m waiting, I’ll go around Jakarta and see more of the city. I don’t really like malls but maybe we’ll eat some gado-gado [mixed vegetables with peanut sauce] or some other street food, and maybe I’ll even sit in a cafe with my Indonesian friend Yolanda and have a beer! Legally!

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