All Indonesians have staff unless they ARE staff, and expats consider having staff one of the main reasons to live here.
Except we don't.
is an instant rise in my blood pressure whenever I'm speaking with an
expat who wants to commiserate about trying to live life normally with
an audience (sorry, can't relate- pathologically private, don't have
staff) and who simultaneously whines about the calamity of not having staff
for holiday periods or on Sundays.
This love/hate relationship with staff is something I'm completely hate/hate about.
need to be comfortable in our own home. We need to fight and sweat and
be amorous or unreasonable without witnesses. We are private to an
extreme about so many aspects of our lives and value time alone together
without censoring ourselves or having to behave in a manner that would
make our mothers proud.
So no house staff. Period.
Household staff is such a common thing here that my security guards are the talk of the street because we have no staff and they are considered both lucky and underprivileged.
They get to run their own space, but they also have to clean their own toilet and care for the floors and wet kitchen.
They don't get treats and leftovers from our cook because I'm the cook.
They don't get to flirt with the pembantu (pem-bahn-too)- the maid, because I'm the only maid that works here, and I'm the Ibu!
But no bossy woman is telling them what to do in their work space. They decide how to set things up and when to take care of their business.
Hardest of all for them, we inconveniently leave them to explain to tradesmen, service workers, and others that they will have to return when Pak and Ibu are home because there is no one to let them into the house or watch them while they work.
This sounds easier than it is because they are speaking with people completely unfamiliar with the idea of NO household staff. We imagine they often have to give us up as crazy people in sheer exasperation.
The landlord provides outdoor help as part of our lease (as much to protect his investment as for our convenience). We have a pool man who comes three times a week and waves to me cheerfully through our wall of windows as he circles the pool.
We have a gardener who is perhaps the laziest, least qualified employee on Java who spends his time listlessly sweeping leaves while checking his texts.
And we have an army of repairmen who service the ACs, repair the leaks (a never ending stream of new ones each rainy season), and basically take care of the household tweaks.
While it's nice not to have to mow the grass or sweep the pool, even having people outside the house is an invasion for us... especially in this house o' windows.
These are the guys with virtually no English language and when I speak Bahasa Indonesia to them they either act like I'm speaking Venusian or get all happy and start jabbering back to me at lightning speed while I helplessly repeat single words I've caught in their monologue.
The best and worst example of this is The Day the Oven Repairman Came...
We have a monstrous stove/oven combo, the pride of our landlord who apparently buys them in bulk for his rental homes and considers them the SubZero equivalent of gourmet stoves. It has five burners and a glass cover and takes up way too much real estate for its purpose, but oh well.
We move in, I cook, all is well. Flash forward two years and a month.
Oven stops heating enough to even melt cheese. We go to Ace, get an oven thermometer, test oven.
Preheat one hour at 200º C; actual oven temperature: 100º C.
Call landlord. Landlord sends regular appliance guy on landlord payroll. We do some binglish conversation and he realizes he is out of his depth, ovenwise.
Landlord sends repairman from oven manufacturer. Forget the binglish, he is all Bahasa Indonesia.
He and I sit on the floor in front of the stove. He lights the oven and the broiler at the same time. Leaves my thermometer in oven, adds his own. Shuts door. We wait.
45 minutes later, oven is 100º. An hour later oven is 115º.
I explain that for a casserole I will need 150º and for baked potatoes I would need more like 200º. He shows me a drop down door at the bottom of the oven that I had never seen and which was never mentioned in the instruction book that came with the oven. He tells me to open it for "macaroni" and close it for "daging" (dah-ging)- meat.
Whatever. Not the problem. 115º after an hour is the problem.
He looks at the thermometers again. 120º after 1 hour 15 minutes.
He nods his head, looks me right in the eye and says in his Bahasa, "You didn't understand how to use the oven. Now you do."
Because of the little door at the bottom.
I explain that I knew how to use the oven very well for two years, but now it's not working properly.
He explains that the oven is older now and will take longer to heat up.
I explain that 90 minutes to reach a lower temperature than I need is not acceptable.
He explains that I just need to open the little door for macaroni and close it for daging.
Tunggu. (toon-goo) Wait.
I call Ted's office and have him grab a bilingual speaker for me. I explain the morning's activities and ask her to give him my side of the story.
They speak for 4 or 5 minutes.
He returns the phone to me and my translator says:
"He says you don't know how to use the oven."
Oh. Okay, thanks.
To credit the guy, even though he has no clue what is wrong and prefers to place the blame on me, he also figures I'm a moron because in his lifetime, he has never seen an expat cook. We don't know how, that's what people have staff for. Obviously if I'm too stupid to hire staff, I'm really too stupid to cook.
Polite goodbyes all around. New call to landlord- technician come and gone, oven not working, technician an idiot, don't know what to do.
Landlord sends personal payroll guy back. He and I sit on floor in front of oven and watch it not heat up.
He points to the timer dial and asks me what it is.
I explain and try to keep the dismay off my face.
We go out to the garage and mess with the regulator hose from the propane tank to the house.
Oven heats up almost imperceptibly faster. Hrmm. Regulator/tank problem?
Payroll guy jumps on this solution. We agree to say it's the regulator.
Oven is still not working right, but I made meatballs last night. Slow cooked, dessicated meatballs, but safely done to medium well.
I have no doubt that if I had a cook like I'm supposed to she would have harangued the technician until I had a working oven, even if it took 6 months and an endless parade of useless repair men, but in the big scheme of things I think I will just bone up on my grill skills and get better at microwaved baked potatoes.