On the loose in East Java

I was invited by Koming, Maya and Mira to go to Surabaya in East Java to go to a conference. I’ve met many people over the past year or so, but I would definitely call Koming, Maya and Mira friends, so of course I said yes. We laugh a lot. I can be myself with them. And I know their families and their lives. Also the conference was going to be on leadership so I thought it might be interesting to hear about that too. And I also thought it would be my final opportunity to go away with them before I leave Bali.

We all departed Denpasar Friday morning (except Koming who came Friday night). Mira took her family (husband Made and their 6 month old boy Putu) and Maya took her family too (husband Dewa and 6 month old baby girl Nova and 7 year old Gita). Koming flew on a later flight that evening. It is always a beautiful morning flight to Java….across volcanic mountain ranges and lush jungle, but this time the clouds were equally spectacular.

Mira and everyone ready for take off

Last conference, in Sumatra, I shared a room with Nining. This was like my worst nightmare. I’m very fond of Nining, but she was difficult to share a room with and I didn’t get much sleep due to her constantly coming and going, constantly packing and repacking, scrunching plastic bags, and constantly praying to Mecca! Anyway, I survived, but i said I’d never do it again.

Koming arrived later that evening about 9pm. I opened the hotel door with excitement, as I was looking forward to seeing her…..and she was standing there with Nining who had decided to gate crash the conference and stay in our room. Nooooooo!!!!! Nining pleaded and said it was only for one night. I looked at the two single beds and at Koming and said “She’s not sleeping in my bed”. So Koming and Nining shared a single bed for one night. Koming got 2 hours sleep. We actually laughed a lot. There was one priceless moment where we all realised how different we all were and we were stuck in this room together. Nining was dressed in her islamic prayer robes and was attempting to pray, but none of us could stop laughing. There has to be a joke somewhere about a Muslim, a Hindu and a Catholic in a hotel room with two single beds? It felt like a teenage slumber party.

Off we went the next day to the conference. It was nice to see people that I had previously met at other conferences and other places around Indonesia. However, the focus was not so much on the conference but on shopping. I was dragged to so many shops and markets and all with two 6 month old babies in tow as well. We also went to the Surabaya zoo which I had heard through my language teacher was quite good. I’m sorry to report, that the conditions were appalling. Even my fellow friends were disappointed, even though they didn’t say anything, as they made an excuse to leave within 30 minutes. A large black bear had scabs all over his legs. The cages were so bare with no vegetation or comfort for the animals. They smelt like they had not been cleaned for a while. The animals looked very lethargic and just very unhappy. It’s up there with the saddest places I have seen in Indonesia. Other photos I took, I just cannot even post here.

Surabaya zoo

Mira with her husband Made and son Putu (in shock about zoo conditions)

Maya with her husband Dewa and kids, Gita and Nova

Evidence that we did attend the conference....once. Me, Maya & Koming.

The second night, Nining had vacated and all seemed to be going sweet. I managed to fall asleep at a fairly reasonable time, only to be woken by Koming watching TV at 2am and then waking at 5am, because she thought it was 6am (and her watch was still on Bali time). Oh well….when in Indonesia!

I had a cunning plan to stay in the hotel that morning and just sleep, as I thought they would be going to the conference, but no. I was informed that we were going to pack up all our stuff and check-out of the hotel and go SHOPPING and sightseeing again and then go straight to the airport, so that ruined that plan.

We visited a district called Porong in Sidoarjo, which I have blogged about before. In 2006, a gas and oil company caused an underground disaster when they allegedly drilled using inappropriate equipment, causing what can be only described as a mud volcano and Indonesia’s biggest ecological disaster. Since I saw it a year ago, I can see how much it has grown and deteriorated. The 15,000 villagers which were displaced have still not been compensated. They lost their homes and their land and some lost family members. It’s a huge problem which no-one seems to be wanting to tackle, leaving the local community extremely desperate and vulnerable. And it’s only going to keep getting worse. The noxious gas being emitted is also dangerous and flammable. The locals are surviving by turning it in to a tourist attraction and selling souvenirs.

The video footage shows you the plumes of mud that just spew out from time to time.

Remnants of the village and mud as far as 7km wide

After this sobering ‘tourist attraction’, we went to a another shopping mall, to while away the hours until our flight. At least I got to hang out with little Putu in a coffee shop.


In true Indonesian style we arrived at the airport to find that the check-in had closed. We didn’t have the right flight time. We thought it was at 4.20pm but it was actually 3.40pm. We turned up at 3.30pm. After much begging and pleading, and flashing two 6 month old children at the Garuda staff, they allowed us on the flight. It had been delayed, which was the only reason we got on that flight. I was so relieved. Another night in Surabaya would have finished me off.

Lesson learnt. Ask to see an itinerary well in advance.

Even though there were times I was so unbelievably bored and a little frustrated, I loved spending time with my friends, who have been there for me this whole time. Just because we don’t relax and enjoy ourselves the same way or sometimes even think the same way, doesn’t mean the time spent together crammed in a car, driving from shopping mall to shopping mall, wasn’t greatly appreciated and cherished.


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Clean Hands Save Lives

Last week the hospital celebrated international hand hygiene day. This was organised by Pak Arnata, nurse in charge of infection control who I sent to Jakarta for advanced training last year. He has really gone from strength to strength since I have known him. And such a lovely gentle man he is too.

I heard on the grapevine that there was going to be a ‘hand hygiene dance competition’ in the car park.

Again, I was surprised by how good the Indonesians are at organising an event. Event management is their “thing”. They love it. I really should know this by now, but I am always pleasantly surprised. I would hesitate to call it an event….it was more an extravaganza! All hospital departments were encouraged to enter a team of 5-6 people to perform a dance using the World Health Org’s steps of hand washing in their routine.

There was a stage, sponsors, prizes, food, drinks and 17 teams. It went for the whole morning. It felt like the whole hospital was there and at times I was a little concerned at who was actually caring for the patients.

I tried my best to get radiology enthusiastic about entering a team, but they said they wouldn’t enter without me. So I agreed, but when the conversation started to lean towards wearing hotpants, I started to get a little nervous. Luckily, for me, radiology is hopeless at organising things like this, so I escaped public humiliation.

And I’m sooo glad we didn’t enter a team, as the competition was very serious and very professional. The routines were amazing. My face hurt from smiling so much. So much effort had been put in to them, particularly the costumes, hair and make-up! Honestly, it was like nothing I’d ever seen before….brilliant. There were so many creative themes, all incorporating hand washing. Bollywood was probably the most popular theme. Everyone had a lot of fun.

One group even sang!

After watching 17 teams dance I was extremely confident that the steps of hand washing were well and truly implanted in to everyones minds. As I sat watching the dancing, I felt that we’d achieved something worthwhile. I was really happy to see that our ideas from our radiology infection control project had been rolled out as well, like our poster of the CEO using alcohol hand rub and a similar design was used for t-shirts too.

Our modified poster

Huge poster out the front of the hospital

Again, it showed me that we, as outsiders, don’t always know what’s best outside our own culture. If this event had been left to me to organise it would have been a big boring disaster. I was so proud of Pak Arnata too and when I went up to him to shake his hand and congratulate him on such a great idea… he simply said ‘Thank you for your inspiration Angie”. That was enough for me.

Pak Arnata


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Rafting the Rapids

Finally got to go white water rafting….I’d never done it before. Very happy newly weds, Heather and Kate were in Bali for their honeymoon so we decided to give it a go. Kate booked us for the fastest river in Bali, the Telaga Waja river at the base of Mt Agung, Bali’s tallest mountain. And my friend Jane came along too. It was probably one of the best ‘adventure’ things I’ve done in Bali so far. The scenery was amazing.

Preparing for take-off (Me, Jane, Heather & Kate)

In action

The four of us were in one boat with our Balinese guide, Molli. It was classed as level 3 rapids but it was fast enough to get a thrill and make us release a few girly screams from time to time. Most of the time we just pissed ourselves laughing to be honest. It was so much fun.

Half way!

Loving it!

From time to time, Molli would yell out instructions…..”forward paddle”, “back paddle”, “duck” (overhanging tree branches or bamboo bridges), “boom-boom” or “shake your body”.

Boom-boom meant that we had to stop paddling, lie flat in the boat, try no to hit each other in the head with our paddles, and hang on because it meant we were about to hit a huge rock. At times, one of us or more would go flying, and catapult usually backwards and get stuck with legs in the air. We laughed so much that we couldn’t get up without assistance. Stomach muscles are not what they used to be. Shake your body meant exactly that….we were usually stuck on a rock and we needed to ‘rock the boat’ to get us going again. There was also water fights with other passing rafting enthusiasts.

We got to enjoy the most beautiful scenery, rafting through Bali jungle, past large rocky cliffs, narrow gorges and heaps of waterfalls. As we floated by, we saw locals bathing, kids playing and farmers tending to their crops.

Two hours and 14 kilometres later we had almost finished, apart from the pièce de résistance ….the 4 metre dam drop! Damn!
Molli prepared us physically and mentally. We had to sit down in the boat and just hold on. They were our only instructions. The dam drop was at a 45 degree angle and there was no time for retreat.


Slightly battered and dizzy from laughing so much, we alighted and climbed up out of the canyon to enjoy a delicious Balinese lunch over looking the rice paddies. The rest of the day was spent drinking gin & tonic’s watching and waiting out an Ubud afternoon thunderstorm.

Brilliant day gals! Thank you…I’d do it all again.


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The beauty of a life

One of my colleagues, Puspawan, invited me last week to a very special Balinese ceremony called Ngaben which is basically the Hindu cremation ceremony. A woman from within his family who he called ‘aunty’ had died 3 days prior. It’s one of the most important ceremonies in Bali as it sends the deceased to the next life. I felt very privileged to be there and to watch this ceremony of amazing commitment, love and devotion and of overwhelming community spirit.

At first I was a bit tentative. I felt like I was intruding on a very private thing. I certainly did not want to take photos of the deceased or during any of the special rituals. But Puspawan insisted, saying it was okay and I also noticed lots of other family members taking photos and also videoing!

It was a beautiful experience to watch. When I first arrived, the body was wrapped in a plain cloth and lying in the family compound alter. The men carried her down to a special bamboo table and uncovered her head and washed her hair. After this, the rest of her was uncovered and many many people from the family gathered around to wash the body, using a strange yellow paste.

Family surrounding the body

Hands, legs, feet, and her whole body was washed from head to toe. She was then wrapped in beautiful batik material and her hands were filled with coins and rupiah notes. Elaborate gold jewellery was placed on her fingers and she was sprayed with perfume. Ready for her next life.

She was then wrapped in more white cloth and then in thin strips of bamboo. More sheets were placed around her and then they carried her to the family alter again whilst everyone sat in front of the alter and prayed. There was a high priest there conducting the ceremony and this went for about an hour. So much noise….singing, chanting, gamelan music, bells….to wake the spirits.

Wrapped in cloth and bamboo and in the family alter

The high priest

The family compound was packed tightly with people from the community. From the elderly to the young. Everyone was involved in some way. Children are not shielded from death and actively participate. There is no fear of death. There are few tears. There is a true belief in reincarnation. There is faith.

After the hour or so of prayer the body was carried out in to the street. It was placed in a temple structure called a wadah made of paper and wood. And then this was carried by the young men of the community down to the cremation site about 1 km away. At street corners, the body is spun in circles to confuse any evil spirits and keep them away from the deceased. A child, in this case, her grandson, sat atop with her in the wadah. The whole community followed the body to the cremation site.

She was removed from the wadah and placed in a sarcophagus which had the head of an elephant on it. The whole structure was then set on fire, enabling the spirit to be free from the body. Before cremating, close family members stood around the sarcophagus placing more offerings and more cloth on her. As the sarcophagus burned everyone sat under the banyan tree sharing a simple lunch. The ashes were collected later and taken to be thrown in to the ocean.

I found it quite amazing and at times overwhelming and had to suppress my emotions, particularly when saying thank you to Puspawan. I was extremely grateful for the experience. In comparison to my own culture, this was raw, real and in your face. There was no hiding from death behind a curtain or a wooden casket.

There were no words about her or her life already lived, but just a devoted community doing all they could to ensure she would journey easily on to live another good one.



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Pounding pavements in Singapore

I just got back from 5 days in Singapore. I had to renew my Indo visa again and I wanted to get out for Easter. I really had no idea what to expect so was pleasantly surprised by what Singapore had to offer. After 13 months in Indonesia, Singapore’s systems and attention to detail really impressed me. Singapore has really got it’s shit together, even in it’s very totalitarian way. A lot of people find Singapore too sterile, but I loved the blend of so many cultures coming together. Out of the 5 million people there, about 75% are Chinese descent, 15% Malay and 10% Indian tamil. Buddhism is the most widely practiced religion, followed by Christianity, Islam, Taoism and then Hinduism. It also has four official languages – English, Tamil, Malay and Mandarin. I loved that it is so clean and everyone drives in their lanes and obey road rules!! No traffic jams. Everything is so colourful. I love how there is a functioning and sophisticated underground system. Australia could also learn a few lessons from Singapore.

By foot, I explored Chinatown and Little India districts for two days. Oh my god, my feet were so sore but it was worth it. Both areas were like stepping back in time. Walking through Chinatown I discovered an old Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple and an Islamic mosque all within 100 metres of each other.

The food was also a highlight of the trip….and I sampled everything I could….chapati, Indian curries, duck noddles, chilli crab, Hainanese chicken, sushi…it was sooooo good!

After two days in the hotel, I met up with Priya and husband Sachin who moved to Singapore from Melbourne almost 3 years ago for work. I stayed with them for 3 nights in their apartment on the 28th floor, overlooking the Singapore Strait and back across to Indonesia. It was lovely just spending time with them and their two kids, Maya and Annika, and lots of fun.

I could go on and on about Singapore…but I won’t. Hopefully you understand when you see some of my photos. Singapore rocks!

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The energy of Bali

There is a spirituality here that permeates throughout every aspect of daily life and culture. Many people come to Bali and say they experience a profound energy and a positive effect on their mind and body. Some people come to Bali and hit rock bottom and get caught up with drugs, alcohol or gambling and have negative experiences. I’ve mentioned it before….in Bali they believe there are always opposing forces – black & white, good & evil, yin & yang – and the opposites seem to compliment each other and create a balance in life. Good cannot exist in life without evil. These opposites must exist for the world to be balanced. I suppose we all have elements of good and evil within. Maybe Bali has a way of bringing one of these elements to the surface in a more resounding way?

Lately I’ve been experiencing a myriad of different coincidences and life experiences and it got me thinking about the concept of coincidence and random uncanny unexpected and inexplicable happenings.

Are coincidences just clues that are supposed to give meaning to certain events? Is the world connected by a universal energy – an awareness and connectedness that sometimes translates in to energy? Think about how the moon affects the tides of the oceans and the amazing forces of gravity. There are infinite possibilities in life and sometimes we defy logic, reason and probability by reaching out through time and space to create our own reality. Thoughts soon become things and events that shape our lives. Have you ever thought about something so hard, and then it just happens. Sorry, this is starting to sound a bit like “The Secret” but I do believe that sometimes there are forces greater than us, greater than we could ever imagine, guiding us and teaching us. Maybe it’s just, purely and simply, positive thinking?

We are all connected they say, at the most, by six degrees of separation….a human web. And now, with social media and the like, that web is getting smaller and smaller. It also got me thinking about all those “sliding door” kind of moments….the ones where a decision or an outcome changes your life path completely…..the “what if” moments in life. Every decision, turns the path in a different direction, but also alters someone else’s path, and someone else’s path, and someone else’s path…..and so on, like a domino effect. Some think that this path was always set out for us from the moment we were born….but I don’t agree. I think we choose our own path and create our own reality. We make choices. Thoughts become things….so we better make them good thoughts. Negativity just breeds more of the same, right?

During the summer between primary school and high school (I was 11 years old) I was invited to swim at my best friend Melissa’s house with another friend Lyn. For a reason I can’t remember, I wasn’t allowed to go.  I remember being pissed off with Mum. Later that day a phone call came through. Melissa had died. Tree branches were over hanging in to the above-ground Clark pool. She had grabbed some gardening sheers and whilst standing in the pool, she trimmed the branches, unknowingly cutting through a cable that supplied electricity to the pool filter. Lyn had just entered the pool at the time, was coming down the ladder, and was thrown out of the pool by the pure force of the electric current, but survived with leg bruising. I often wonder where I would have been standing in that moment. Maybe I would have been standing along side her to give her some help? Or maybe I might have seen the wire before she cut it and prevented her death?

All I know is that, right now, this is exactly where I am supposed to be. I feel it with every inch of my being. Time will tell what my future path will be but living in the now is the only way to live.

“Choose feelings over logic,

adventure over perfection,

here over there,

now over then,

and always,

love, love, love.”

Mike Dooley


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Forging on

The issues of last week have resolved and the outcome was positive. There was an initial few days of quietness but now I feel my relationship with this person is stronger than ever and it has also opened up an avenue for me to be able to talk with her more openly and honestly about some of the other problems.

We have commenced our weekly in-house education sessions and so far they have been outstanding. Mira, one of the senior radiographers, presented the first lecture on skull radiography. I gave her no guidance at all for her presentation. It was brilliant and so thorough. Not only did she cover all aspects of radiography of the skull, she also included radiation safety and infection control. I was rapt! The class was interested and engaged and the hour long session was interactive and well received by the staff. The committee has decided to educate the radiographers in small groups (up to about 10-12 per session) due to the nature of the roster (afternoon and night shifts) and so far it seems to be working well.

Mira doing her presentation

My personal bug bear in Indonesia is the constant talking during presentations and also the answering of personal phone calls. It drives me crazy but it’s part of the culture here. No-one seems to bat an eyelid if people are talking loudly during a meeting or presentation. And people don’t think twice about answering their phones and talking loudly on them during a meeting. I have suggested a few times that we make a rule about talking on phones during meetings, but so far no one has been game enough to implement it. I think they’d have a break down if I asked them to switch their phones off.  I was really happy that people seemed to be listening and not talking too much during Mira’s presentation and there were only two occasions where people answered their phones….might have been due to luck more than anything, but none-the-less, I was happy with that.

In-house education session

Mira's very professional presentation

Everything is go go go here at the moment. We’re about to start renovating the emergency x-ray department, particularly the hand washing facilities which is still part of my on-going infection control project. We also met with the Doctor in charge of Emergency department to discuss the incident last month of the bleeding patient. Unfortunately you cannot do anything, like use your initiative, around here without having a ‘Standard Operating Procedure’. So we met with the Dr in charge to discuss the issue of bleeding patients being ‘treated properly’ (ie. stop the bleeding!) before coming to x-ray. So we’re drafting a document that will hopefully give the radiographers a little bit of power to be able to say no, ie. send patients back, until the patient has been cleaned up properly. This could be a complete disaster, but we’ll see how it goes.


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