Wednesday, August 02, 2006

EXPATS AND THE BLACK DOG

As all regular readers of the Indonesian Blogsphere will know expats have been the topic of the week so to speak, so I will continue the trend.

Some of the more prevailing (incorrect) perceptions radiating from some of the posts and comments was the Expat lifestyle was one great party that of consisted of booze, birds and bucks. As usual, a fair bit of envy provided a unpleasant undertone in number of comments, but that is to be expected. The grass is always greener!!

Indcoup touched on a another Expat suicide the other day. This is another uglier/sadder side to consider in one of your more compassionate moments. As Indcoup’s post indicates, far from being a life of endless fun and frivolity, the expatriate life can also be one of intense loneliness, incredibly long hours and intense periods of homesickness. This applies to Indonesian expats as well as your standard variety or as Treespotter would say “bule” version.

However, for the sake of a reference point I shall restrict this point to us ‘bule”. The point is often brought up why are you here? Well for most it’s easy, a combination of the following:

1. Money;
2. Adventure;
3. Challenge;
4. Personal or Professional Crisis at home;
5. Normal Career Progression.

Now the bias attached to any one point is dependent on the person involved but it will nearly always be a mixture of the above.

The new expat will arrive bright eyed and bushy tailed, gazing with wonder at everything new that assaults him immediately upon arrival. Soon however, (unless he is lucky enough to work for one of those generous (?) companies that allow whole families to be uplifted) He finds him (her) self looking for someone to talk to as the loneliness begins to set in.

If he is the only expat in his company this will be interesting and at the same time further depressing. Whilst most of the local staff may speak English of sorts, rarely is it nuanced enough for that inimate conversation he so desires and needs. With his own Bahasa barely above ordering a taxi level, he will seek out the others of his kind in similar situation.

Now comes the most dangerous time for our newbie, the older hands are normally safely tucked away with wives (national or expat) and support networks that have taken sometimes years to build up. Our newbie invariably ventures out and gravitates towards the kinds of places that cater for the lonely guy with time and money on their hands. Contrary to the popular (PC driven twaddle) he is not the hunter but the hunted, like a lame wilderbeast that has wandered from the herd, easy prey for the streetwise and cunning.

If he is lucky and does have a semblance of a support network back home or elsewhere this may just be a phase and he may yet adjust and move on. If not, he may well find himself back at the same place very other night, seeking solace in the bottle and the pretty faces that smile but little else. Both the bottle and the pretty but shallow face (that smile is just her means of getting through the day as well), provide only a temporary, fleeting patch on the loneliness which is now gnawing at his gut.

As time goes buy, he will find a way to feed all of his physical needs. The more he does so, the more his soul will crave that companionship all humans need to grow but is so hard to find. This is the time when that “black dog of depression” can really get his teeth into him.

It’s a testament to the human condition the vast majority of expats manage to progress through these times and nearly all find their place in their new society. A few don’t and some seem to even relish and thrive on the superficial (although none of us are around when the black dog comes calling on them in wee hours).

Whilst the post is about the expat in all of us, I can say the Indonesian Expat if anything feels it even more acutely due to his/her strong family ties.

The partners of these expats, well to that’s another post..perhaps not from me

A few pointers for the new expat (my opinion only)

1. If your relationship at home has fractures, here it will shatter.
2. If you get involved with a local girl, you are involved with her family.
3. Security may be the compound but its not living in Indonesia.
4. Join a club, play golf..anything ..you have to make the time.
5. What you think you said, what they think you said and what was actually said never ever met.
6. Beware the black dog he is always waiting to feed.

So next time you see one of those "hell raising, over paid, expats" and you go home to your loving wife, family and place of comfort. Perhaps you may wish to consider that the grass is not always greener.

4 comments:

Collective Soul said...

Interesting and precise observations about the Expat life. Have spent the last six months blurfing the HongKong expats and find many to be emotionally adrift or agressively self destructive. It appears you can get through the first couple of years if you can develop a social network of somekind. Blogs seem to be at the top the networking, along with Find a Friend and the less hopeful dating devices. I have looked in on one particular soul who has now been in HK for 8 years. I think he has hit a wall of some kind. Unless you are one of those that you are your own island, the social going is brutal and it seems only the surface of trouble to follow.

treespotter said...

oh shoot, EVERYWHERE people are talking about this shit and i been trying to talk of this totally out of context. this will be the very last time i will try to respond individually - i think i will have to do another post and clarify things a lil.

This applies to Indonesian expats as well as your standard variety or as Treespotter would say “bule” version.

Where in my post that i point to standard variety 'bule'??? if anything at all - and i'm also judging by from the 40+ people that commented around it, i think i was clear enough that i was talking about 'strangers in strange land' - i won't quote myself, but i'm pretty sure there are at least two explicit instances in the post where i made clear who i was talking about.

people far away from home feel homesick. there's nothing to be ashamed of that at all. there's nothing unnatural about it. there's nothing bad about it. only that it's not a good excuse for bad behaviour, that's all.

c'mon... there were expats from everywhere around the world from all colours, ethnics, religions, countries and all that responded and resonate with it, so obviously i was clear enough i wasn't pointing at any particular group????


*banging head against the wall desperately*

i feel so misunderstood.... is my english really that bad?

treespotter said...

the point about the expat being the hunted, that's a very interesting bit that i would probably do something about. i totally agree - which is the main reasons why i avoid those places.
but what do you call a willing prey?

good post tho, i appreciate the gesture. wished we could avoid the personals all the time. thanks man.

oigal said...

Hey C/S..

Thanks and you are correct, there is the next stage where the expat after few years can really find himself stuck between two cultures and belonging to none..or wishing he could go back but often it is too late due to the relationships, commitments has has made by this time..a sort of expat mid life crisis..?

T/S.. Hey sport..whoa whoa slow down the bus...the reference to you was for the word "bule" nothing else. I am not big wraps on it but on your advice it is acceptable, I thought I would use it this time hence the link. It was not meant to be an aside to your opinions on Expat..what is it you say...chill...

BTW...STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND ..GREAT BOOK..

I agree it effects all expats.

"willing prey" fair point along with a self destruct gene. Again whilst we all know there are places where the poor naive Kampung girl gets exploited.

I suggest that the most of the joints the average expat would stumble into in Jak are not staffed by naive country girls.

I would still venture to say that in new expat who walks into the average joint in Jakarta is going to be outfoxed each and every time.

(and i am not making excuses for the scum that travel to remote villages to do evil, something I can assure you most of us find replusive in the extereme)