FAQ these days: how’s married life?

I can’t speak for Matthew but my answer is: married life (so far) is so much calmer and so much more fun.

It’s calm because we have had our fair share of fights and necessary friction when we were just engaged. Well, to be fair, we had fights since the first time we had to share a bathroom. But yeah, the disagreements were settled before we’re married.

We’re also blessed to have the opportunity to live together 3 months before the wedding. Some would argue that cohabiting out-of-wedlock would drive the couple to break up or lead to a fail marriage. But we decided to live together after we’re engaged. So 1) there’s no tension for whether or not he was going to propose; 2) living together was not “to test the water” or “an alternative to marriage”.

If you ask me, it was mostly logistical reasons, as I decided to move to Jakarta 3 months before the wedding. It was a bit pointless for me to get my own apartment merely 12 weeks before the big matrimonial move-in. But I will post a separate story on what we think on that subject matter, so let’s skip any questions or judgement on this one ya!

Back to the topic. Yeah it is more fun because we get to do more stuff as husband and wife. We started a bible study group with our pastor and other couples. We have road trips with the extended family. The Indonesian ones first and hopefully in a few months the British ones. Of course, we get to have our own travels together. In April alone, we travelled (back) to Bali for a weekend, to Singapore for a few days and this month we will go to Cebu, Philippines.

M’s first time to see a volcano! At Tangkuban Perahu, West Java.

As much as I enjoyed solo travelling, I love having Matthew by my side, if for no other reason than having someone to kill time with during unreasonable 2-hour wait at the airport. By the way, whoever said “it is not about the destination but the journey” is wrong! Try being delayed from 7PM flight to 5AM only for a 90-minute flight. Or try running for your life through arrival – baggage claim – check in – immigration – gate ONLY because your connection flight is going to leave you ONLY because your first leg flight was delayed. Or simply try sleeping in a security guard post on a deportation episode.

One blurry night at Changi Airport, Singapore.

Anyway, it is always better to have somebody with you. And when s/he is annoying, just move to another row. Hehe.

So, there is your answer: married life is good. Not just because you won’t likely to die alone, but also because you won’t have to LIVE alone.

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Alive and scratching!

I caught myself swearing, “Bollocks!” over an accidentally unplugged cable. It was then dawned on me that I am officially a Briton missus.

It’s been a month since we exchanged vows. But it didn’t take long to test Matthew to stay with me in sickness. I’ve developed an autoimmune disease the week before the wedding. I have a chronic case of urticaria and it has been more than 6 weeks now. My case is not fatal, if anything it is a major discomfort and embarrassment.

I have exhausted every antihistamine drug known to men, ones prescribed by doctors and some smuggled from Singapore. I have finished bottles of diphenhydramine smeared all over me. On top of that, Matthew insisted to pour prickly heat powder on me every night before bed. During the day, we put the AC on 16 or 18 degrees and apply ice-cold compress on me.

Anyway, I just wanted to check in with the blog readers, that I am still alive and scratching!

The blotching bride!

Oh, Matthew and I came up with this joke:

What do you give a Latina for her allergic reaction: an antihispanic! XD

Introvert? Moi?

Many people don’t take me seriously when I say I am an introvert. Only a few know me well enough to know that I am. Those that don’t should click this The Guardian link and take another look at me, for I’d rather stay in and read a book than attend a party. I’m also the type of person who seeks out a few close friends rather than be lost in a crowd. And I’m the sort of person who avoids conflict if I can, even if doing so causes me short-term discomfort.

On the other hand, I can be very dominant in a group situation, especially if I am an expert on the subject being discussed. (Other introverts take note: one way of beating the jitters you get when speaking in groups or to the public is to sink yourself deep into the pursuit of knowledge and absorb all you can.) I can also lead by example, motivating my subordinates by mucking in, and I am very happy in a senior management role that calls for quick thinking and snap decisions (it appears I’m like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and other introverted leaders in that extent).

But how do I then manage my relationship with an extrovert like Rebecca? After all, she is the life and soul of every party she goes to, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Watching her work a room from a quiet corner and seeing her sparkle, smile and laugh, and lead each group she flits to is one of my joys in life.

Well, it turns out that introverts and extroverts are often relationships made in heaven. The introvert can taper the excesses of the extrovert and help him or her be more reflective and quiet, while the extrovert can help the introvert function better in social settings and get some self-confidence in a world that tends to shout.

But it’s not always easy and there has to be some give and take. As an introvert, I tend not to want to do basic stuff, like go out and meet new people, which can be upsetting for Rebecca if I voice my discomfort or disquiet with a simple social engagement. I also take comfort in routines and in the familiar. So not surprisingly, she is then reluctant to tell me about certain things until the last minute, as she knows I will feel this way. This does not an easy life make, but I feel we’ve turned a few corners recently.

An good illustration is the past few weekends. The one before last, we were in Bali preparing for our wedding, during which I was comprehensively ill with Bali belly and overloaded with meeting people and doing tons of stuff. We then flew back to Jakarta on the Monday morning and I went directly to a meeting and then to the office.

The next day was the 16th birthday of Rebecca’s brother, Aldo, so her mum and auntie were here, along with the birthday boy himself. Thursday saw Rebecca staying out all night so she could be ready for the wedding itself on the Friday morning (the first night we’ve been apart since mid-December).

Then on the Friday, after a stressful Friday at work, we rushed onwards to sign some legal documents and were late(ish) back. On Saturday we were up at 6:30am with hair/makeup and a photographer in the room for our pre-wedding photo session that day. On Sunday night, we attended the wedding reception of one of Rebecca’s best friends—a traditional Islamic wedding, so about a thousand people, plus dancers, band, speeches and all sorts of sober merry-making.

Work has sent a few challenges my way, too, just to keep me on my toes. But this is all me, me, me, it seems, and Rebecca and I are not a “me”, we are an “us” (I will resist the “no ‘I’ in team” cliche). And so I always support her when I can, and with good reason, of which this past weekend was an excellent example of lessons to be learned.

I had the BEST time of my life at the pre-wedding shoot, made a great new friend and we took some fantastic, amazing photos. At the end of the day, we relaxed together and I swam while Rebecca had a massage. On the Sunday, even though I was sick, we went to the wedding reception together and I had some fun and laughs with Aldo, who’s a wise but somewhat cynical old soul (like me). And at the end of the day, we got to relax and be together and watch CSI Supreme Sunday.

The point is, I made the effort and was rewarded. If I’d followed my introvert instincts and stayed away I might not be getting married in three weeks. But I did both and was happy; I even feel less sick now since I forced myself to go out, had some good food and fresh fruit and then slept well.

Most of all, I know I need to worry less and to trust Rebecca more in the way she organizes our life. And while this sometimes takes effort for an introvert like me, I know she goes out of her way to ensure that I am not overwhelmed, especially after a hard day’s COO-ing. She knows I need my space and my quiet time, but at the same time, I really do know now that she needs me to be at her side and supporting her and to be the husband and partner I need to be from time to time. And when I do and am, I get a shot in the arm of confidence, too.

All these things need to be win-win situations for all. In our case, without knowing each other as well as this, our relationship might fail or falter. And knowing this sort of emotional detail about each other simply brings us closer together, which is all we can ask for from each other.

Matt

At Rebecca's friend, Rieska's wedding on Sunday 17th. My first Islamic wedding!

Confession of a discount shopper

Just wanted to share my luck lately. I’m not being sarcastic, I really have been quite lucky with my shopping. As you know, throwing a wedding is hard on the wallet. So I do need some luck to help me stay afloat with my regular shopping. Here are some of the best offers I’ve got in the past couple of months.

In January, we went to Singapore and naturally we trolled around malls. On our first day we were just looking at some suits from outside a random tailor at Far East Plaza and suddenly the Indian owner popped out and offered to make Matthew a suit. I said, “But we don’t live here. We will be gone by Friday.” He said, “The suit will be done by Thursday.” Wow. The three-piece suit with a white shirt and two bow ties that took only 3 days to make cost us S$900 (about 6 million Rupiah).

The next day I visited every jewellery store at Lucky Plaza and like fate, I found the right rings for me. Yep, two rings. I couldn’t decide which one that will be it. One ring is simple and small, very understated, much like our relationship. The other one looks royal and sparkly, much like me. Matthew said, “I prefer to marry you with the smaller ring. But if it makes you happy, you can take the other ring too. I won’t mind saying at the altar, ‘with these rings I thee wed’.” I think the owner overheard and told the saleswoman to give a package for my rings plus Matthew’s ring at S$3150 (about 22 million Rupiah).

Two days after the shopping spree we headed home and at Changi airport we stopped for perfumes. I picked up a bottle of Elizabeth Arden Green Tea Lotus just because I liked the notes when I first reviewed it for a round up of Asian-themed scent in DestinAsian 3 years ago. The shopkeeper said that it’s a buy-one-get-one item. Alright, I’m gonna be fragrant for the next 6 months!

A week later Matthew and I shopped for groceries at our usual place, Sogo Food Hall Plaza Indonesia. When we’re making our way to the cashier, I spotted a “buy-1-get-1” sign on the rice rack. The price tag was about 15% more expensive than our usual brand, but at that offer I was sold. Praise be to God, we’re good on the rice front for the next 3 months.

A few days after Matthew had a meeting at Forbes Indonesia office. Their secretary mentioned that there was a surplus of wine and they would be happy to sell 23 bottles of Chilean wine to us at half price! Now you know what you’re gonna be drinking at the wedding 😉

We were scheduled to go to Singapore again at the end of February. It’s Matthew’s secretary’s job to book the tickets for us, but as a budget traveler, I always monitor airline promotions. Only a couple of weeks before our scheduled departure, I found out that AirAsia was selling CGK-SIN-CGK for cheap. I contacted the secretary and she said the travel agent hadn’t issued our tickets for some reason and by then, their AirAsia booking went up to 2 million Rupiah per person return. I said, “Cancel it! I can use the same amount of money for both our return tickets.” Phew.

I was due to send out wedding invitations overseas before we leave for Singapore. But because the estimated cost of postage was millions of Rupiah, much more expensive than printing the actual invitations, I hesitated for a few days. I knew hesitation would not make the price go down. But somehow by the grace of God it occurred to me that I could send those overseas invites out of Singapore while we’re there! Lo and behold, it cost us only S$52 (about 370 thousand Rupiah) to send invitations within Singapore, to Bangkok, Hong Kong, and England.

I believe a few hundred people have received it by now!

That certainly put me in a happy mood. So happy that I decided to shop for shoes, plus I still hadn’t got the “something blue” for my wedding. And voila, I found a cute Steve Madden pair of blue shoes at 50% off!

Something blue, something half-off

The day before going back to Jakarta, I told Matthew that we should find Nuts ‘n Nibbles, a shop that quite obviously sells all sorts of nuts. As an aside, Matthew and I like to snack and there’s no better snack than fruit and nuts. Matthew doesn’t like the texture of fruit but he likes fruit juices, which is why I’m in the market of a good juicer *ahem, hinting for wedding present*. In the past 5 months, we had spent 4 million Rupiah to buy almonds, macadamia, and Brazil nuts regularly. They are incredibly expensive in Indonesia! So I had an idea to buy lots of nuts in Singapore. We got to Nuts ‘n Nibbles at Takashimaya and purchased 3 kilograms of our favourite nuts plus a hundred grams of walnuts to nibble on the way out. We spent S$176 (about 1.3 million Rupiah). We have a 5-month stock of nuts. And we received S$10 of Singapore government tax refund at the airport. I am proud of myself.

Nuts for nuts! You can't see the long line I caused!

Last Sunday we went to the Pacific Place to exchange the lingerie my best friends gave me at my bridal shower the day before. It was two sizes too big. Not bragging here. I just don’t have enough to fill up the cup. Matthew thought while we were there, we might as well shop for groceries at Kem Chick supermarket. On a mandatory stop at the tea aisle, we saw there’s a 25% discount for Dilmah chamomile tea. We still have some chamomile (and other kinds of tea) in stock at our British kitchen, but at that price I’m willing to stock up. At the register, the cashier said, “Maam, you picked up two cans of Campbell broccoli soup that is at a buy-1-get-1 offer so I’m going to give you two more of these.” Why thank you!

You see now how I am a happy housekeeper.

Banged up abroad!

Matthew posted a three-part story about our Southeast Asian adventure that started the day he got deported. He promised himself to blog about it… but because it’s a long story and he’d been back traveling since then, it took him 4 months to finish the story. Here, I’m going to help you with a synopsis and links to read his posts.

This is a story about an editor-in-chief of the bestselling travel magazine in Asia, a British passport holder who was based in Bangkok and had a girlfriend who lived in Bali. Obviously, he traveled a lot to Asian countries, namely Indonesia, China, and Cambodia, all of which give out large visa stickers on visitor’s passport. Even though his passport wouldn’t expire until 2019, it’s a no brainer that he would need a fresh one much sooner than 2019.

Naturally, this series of unfortunate events include the British government issuing a new regulation that says all British in Asia that wishes to renew their passport shall send it to Hong Kong office and wait for 4 weeks to get a new one. This regulation was issued in 2011, just the year when Matthew travels fortnightly.

(rather) fresh passport but full of stamps

Around the time when there was no blank full-page in his passport, we were planning to get engaged in the UK, so he thought he might as well renew the passport in London. But *long sigh* since Matthew doesn’t live in the UK, he cannot renew it in London. God save the Queen!

Change of plans: Matthew secured a job in Jakarta (Hallelujah!), so why not just go to Indonesia with what was left in his passport page and stay there for a month till he gets a new one out of Hong Kong (*rolls eyes*).

It was the Muslim’s Lebaran holiday that week. Since I tragically lived in Bali at the time, we both flew from Bangkok to Bali to unwind for a few days before Matthew starts his first day.

I got my baggage and waited for Matthew’s long immigration queue. It was way too long. Apparently, he had been moved to detention. It’s official: Matthew Beech Leppard is being deported.

You would think two people with connections like us could have asked someone to help out, wouldn’t you? Well, it was August 29, a public holiday in the UK and the next day was August 30, a public holiday in Indonesia. All of our friends in the “high places” were on a nice long vacation and incommunicado.

De.port.ed.

It means, he would be sent to his last port, the one city he had grown to hate: Bangkok.

Since I was innocent, immigration wise, I was free to go. But looking at my poor refugee, I guess I could be the Good Will Ambassador and stayed with him. But staying in an airport requires one thing: a flight ticket. That’s right, I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok, while canceling all my meetings and gatherings for the following weeks.

The Terminal

He needed me. I have never been certain about anything else. He needed a translator while being held captive for 24 hours in Bali airport. He needed a personal assistant while his big-move suitcases were scattered in Bali, Jakarta, and Bangkok. He needed a mother to protect him from cockroaches or just cocks. He needed a secretary to book his next flight, appointment with multiple embassies, find a room to decamp, and an ongoing flight to ensure any immigration we would have to encounter that Matthew was not going to permanently stay there, where ever “there” is.

So we went back to Bangkok...  Thank goodness Muslim holidays are not celebrated in Thailand. The UK embassy was open! Matthew got his single travel emergency passport.

One.Single.Travel.To.Indonesia. Alright!

Short of cash and short of breath. We decided to take a road trip to Pattaya and have a taste of backpacking.

Of course, with Matthew’s bad back and my menstrual period, we ended up dragging suitcases on the streets. I managed to feel good about myself. Easy. Just look at every single woman in Pattaya.

I celebrated my birthday in Bangkok, on our way back to Indonesia. This time, we opted for a direct flight to Jakarta.

We arrived midnight, buying us enough time in the morning to get Matthew’s photo taken for his new passport application. But the British government asked someone in Jakarta who is not a family member to write a statement that they have known Matthew for over 2 years. Man, he just arrived 7 hours ago! C’mon!

Well, the following day I was due to fly back to Bali. I had to wrap it around my head that I actually have a job to keep. So I left Matthew in Jakarta without a single paper that says who he was.

Today, he has about a dozen of papers, books, and cards that say: Matthew Beech Leppard, subject of the Queen, resident of Jakarta, technical advisor of a media mogul, fiance of Fredina Rebecca. Phew.

Fugee fun, part 3: Back to Bangkok and beyond

August 28–September 7, 2011

We arrived back in Bangkok that day and headed straight to backpacker heaven. Yep, we’d arranged to stay in the Khao San Road area—where old hippies don’t die, they just start up pad thai noodle shops bars serving younger, hairier hippies. Anyway, the Fortville Guest House (fortvilleguesthouse.khaosanroad.com) would be our stay for the next few days, with a short break to Pattaya, the self-styled “extreme city.” Hmmm.

Fortville served THE best coffee.

But first things first: a same-day, mind-warping trip to the British Consulate via a splashy water taxi to get an emergency travel document (in this case, an emergency passport), all of which was unusually easy (administrative and bureaucratic nightmare stories will resonate with many expat readers). Actually, I have to give full credit where it’s deserved: Rebecca shouldered a lot of the organizational work and much of the stress; she even picked up the forms I’d need for a new passport when finally in Jakarta. Assuming I got there eventually without further deportation issues…

River taxi for the penniless. Only 11 baht per person one way!

Bless her heart, Rebecca also arranged our time there in Khao San, making logical and informed purchasing decisions on everything from new luggage to sun hats. (The latter a challenge for me as I have a big head. No, I mean it literally: my head is huge.) The room, while functional, was a lot better than an airline security office floor, and since that time I’ve started to see a bed to lie on and a working pillow as a God-given reason to count my blessings.

Matt, with the only hat that fit his large head.

We even managed a few nights out in Khao San Road, including Rebecca’s birthday, singing along to a local duo in a packed second-story bar in which I was perhaps the oldest person there (notable favorite: Wonderwall by Oasis).

Khao San's answer to Hard Rock Cafe

In between, and also organized by Rebecca, we managed a trip to Pattaya (“Good Guys Go To Heaven, Bad Guys Go To Pattaya,” or so the T-shirts say). We almost didn’t make it, though. Our driver, arranged by the guesthouse, drove literally at breakneck speed (I have what is medically termed ankylosing spondylitis, or, as we sufferers like to know it, a pain in the neck) and I really did fear for my life—so much so that I complained to him in my best Thai. We ended up at the port for the island of Koh Samet, about an hour from Pattaya. Total travel time: five hours. Still, we saw the X-Men movie prequel.

Hilton Pattaya, NOT where we stayed.

In Pattaya, we managed to fit in all the cultural and intellectual activities on offer and after those 30 minutes were up, we hit the strip bars and go-go joints. Well, when in Rome…

We returned, packed, checked out and headed to the airport. To be honest, my memory of that time is now a little hazy, partly as I was so spooked that I’d somehow get turned away at Jakarta airport, and partly due to lack of sleep. I shouldn’t have worried. We departed Thailand early morning with no fuss and arrived in Jakarta a few hours later.

Needless to say, our arrival was somewhat rushed and hectic. Rather than check in to my serviced apartment, I headed straight to the office where some of my luggage was stored from a previous trip. Along the way, we took some musghot photos for my new passport application, and on arrival, I filled in the form and had it ready for posting. And without pause for breath or thought, I launched straight into a full-fledged magazine proposal that very afternoon.

At the time of writing this, I now have a new passport, ID card, KITAS, work permit, police book and police registration card. I’ve even registered with the embassy. I am the most legal expat in all of Jakarta. Life, at last, is good.

*The Fugees were a band in the 90s who had a brief but shining time in the spotlight with a cover of  “Killing Me Softly,” originally by Roberta Flack. The band name is a contraction of “refugees.”