Our Start-Up Life

Anyone still here? I know this blog has been quiet, and I’m sorry for that! Over our time in Indonesia, this evolved into a travel blog and the last 16 months of our lives really haven’t been much about travel – they’ve been about settling into one place. We’ve also been very focused on 2 main projects. 1)The baby project and 2) the start-up project.

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When I met Bjoern, I can say that I was equally attracted to his line of work. I was working in energy regulation, and wishing that I could work on the issues closer to my heart, environmental protection and climate change. We’ve always shared a passion for empowering disadvantaged communities, and creating a more sustainable planet.

While we were in Indonesia, Bjorn had this brilliant idea to transform the way that climate change projects are developed and funded .

When we moved to Germany in 2015, it became clear that it was the right time for him to focus on his idea and develop it into a business. A few months ago, our other project (the baby project) started needing a little less attention because we got the support of a really great daycare/preschool (in Germany, they are called kitas). I can now work half-days while Riva plays with her friends and goes down the toddler slide 100 times a day.

Bjorn has now developed his idea to where it is ready to be shared it with potential funders and partners. That’s where I come in. In Indonesia, I helped Bjorn write documents on climate finance – a great learning opportunity for me, because this is a field that’s sort of parallel to my education – and we wrote documents that communicated technical information in a relatively clear and understandable way. I also did similar work during my time at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in DC. Now, we’re working together to communicate his vision for climate finance, and achieve our goal of getting funded this year.

So, that’s what we’ve been up to. As life allows, I will update on our “start-up life” and maybe any other little travel we’re doing in Germany or elsewhere.

Expat Parenting

We’re only a short ways into our parenting journey – Riva is now almost 6 months old, but I’ve already learned about parenting in two foreign cultures. Being pregnant in Indonesia (I think that parenting begins during pregnancy, since this is when you start to make choices about your baby), Riva’s birth in Germany, and the first few months of her life here in Frankfurt. There are some similarities, but quite a few differences from parenting in the US.

In Indonesia, children are really treasured, and it’s common for families have many children well before the parents are 30. While there are many women working in offices, and in the government and politics, the ultimate goal of most Indonesian women is to have a good husband and a family. Most families have some staff members (my maid even hired a woman who cleaned her house and watched her kids while she was cleaning my apartment) so it’s also common for most upper-class and expat families to have either one nanny for all kids, or one nanny for each kid. Nannies tend to coddle the children, since they are afraid they’ll be fired if the kids don’t like them. I’ve even heard horror stories about nannies spoon-feeding older children in public.

maternity

My experience being pregnant in Indonesia was that the culture is very child-centric (meaning: the mother should do the best thing for her baby, whatever sacrifice is necessary) but attitudes are more based  on folk wisdom than science. Most people believe that any exercise during pregnancy is dangerous. One of my friends had a random “do-gooder” give her unsolicited advice in the gym, and I had a difficult time convincing my personal trainer that exercise during pregnancy was healthy. When I walked around the city, which was relatively often, I was usually greeted with “Hati-Hati!” or “be careful!”

Pregnancy and childcare in Germany is also very child-centric. Doctors and pharmacies are pretty strict about giving medication to pregnant or nursing women. In the US, the standard is that if medication has proven safe during animal trials, then it’s considered safe. It’s not ethical to do studies on pregnant women, so generally animal trials is the best you can get. In Germany, drugstores are for vitamins and other self-care items, but to get simple Aspirin you need to go to a pharmacist. When I was pregnant, for any simple medication I needed a prescription from my gynecologist.

While I think having a child-centric mindset can often be good, there have been times when I’ve been upset that I feel like I’m treated as only as a caretaker or vessel for carrying a child, not as a woman who can make her own decisions regarding her body and her child.

Germany is somewhat similar to the US, in that there are pretty popular ideas about the “correct” way to raise a child. People have pretty strong opinions about how babies should be dressed (always with socks!) how they should be fed (always breastmilk!), and most women seem to follow the advice of their mothers or their friends on most matters. Riva and I go to a baby class (it’s called PEKIP, or “Prague Parent-Child Program”)  and I’ve been surprised at the advice that women ask – for example, “is it OK to dye my hair while breastfeeding?” While I definitely have moments where I feel like I need advice, or I have no idea what I’m doing, most of the time I feel comfortable following my own intuition (or the advice of Dr. Google).

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One major difference between the US and Germany is that here it’s really common to take small babies outside. Pediatricians typically say “the baby needs some air!” I don’t know about that, but I know that I enjoyed taking Riva for walks as soon as I was able to. And babies are welcomed into cafes and restaurants (it’s unusual for us to go out somewhere, and for no one to say “what a cute baby” or “how old is she?”). Most German babies seem to have been trained into riding in strollers, something that Riva has never tolerated well. She needs to be carried in a BabyBjorn.

Another big difference is that it’s typical for women to take months or years off after the birth of their child.Women have a right to large percentage of their salary (60 or 80%?) for up to 3 years. Which is great for the baby, and great for the mother-child bond, but not great for women’s careers. I’ve heard that there is a lot of discrimination against hiring young women, because employers are  afraid that they will have to pay someone to not work for multiple years. It’s nice for me that there is this culture, because there are a lot of choices for baby activities in Frankfurt – playgroups in German and English, and various classes for mom or mom and baby. I’m planning to spend a year at home with Riva, and go back to work sometime in the fall or early 2017 (hopefully!). There are days that I can’t wait to get back to work (especially after more than 2 years outside of an office!), but I know that this is ultimately the best thing, that I have time to bond with my daughter, to give her the attention she needs, and to adjust to life in Germany.

 

Wiesbaden Christmas Market

Wiesbaden

Germany is a really magical place to spend Christmas. Most towns have a Christmas market in the city center during the month of December. Stalls sell fresh sausages in rolls, candies, gingerbread cookies, and hot spiced wine. Local shops set up stands selling handmade goods, for example: hats, mittens and scarves; wooden toys; wooden Christmas ornaments from East Germany; and local honey. It’s fun to go shopping, enjoy the tasty treats, and to soak in the warm atmosphere.

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We recently took a trip to Wiesbaden to visit the Christmas market. Wiesbaden is one of these cute old towns that surround Frankfurt, and it’s also our state capitol (Frankfurt is in the state Hess).

It’s a challenge taking a small baby to the Christmas market. Riva loves to ride inside of her BabyBjorn carrier when I’m walking, but she doesn’t often tolerate when I stand still. When we stop to get something to eat, I have to sway back and forth to keep the movement going. I’m sure I look crazy, but I don’t care!

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The Wiesbaden Christmas market was a little bit unique in a few ways. I found gluten-free stoellen! The stand from local gluten-free bakery, NoGlla was fabulous. Another stand even offered a gluten-free roll with my sausage. I also spotted vegan sausages! Wiesbaden is also home to 19,000 Americans, mostly associated with the Army. We were a little surprised to find kids from the local international school singing Christmas carols in English.

We capped off our visit to Wiesbaden with a stop in Maldaner Cafe to warm up. As a Viennese cafe, they specialize in fancy cakes.

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Christmas is just recently over, but I’m already looking forward to visiting more Christmas markets next year.

Changes!

Hello again! It’s been a long time since I’ve updated because of various life changes. But I intend to keep up this blog in some form , eventhough I expect our travel schedule will slow down quite a bit. But this blog is a fun project for me, so hope to continue posting at least semi-regularly.

Anyways, more about our life changes. We moved to Frankfurt, Germany! The move itself was uneventful, except that our stuff was stuck in Jakarta for 2 weeks because of inefficient staff. The delay of the arrival of our stuff was a pain, but we still managed to get settled relatively quickly after it arrived.

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Also, we had a baby! Riva Azure Fischer was born on October 17 (13 days overdue!) at 4.2 kilograms, and 46 cm. She’s our little giant.

Riva

Because of the baby, we haven’t explored Frankfurt too much. But we did go on 2 tours of the city during time we waited for labor to start  (to no avail – we ended up inducing labor at 11 days overdue). Bjorn was too anxious to work, and I needed occasional breaks from watching Netflix and reading in bed (ugh, third trimester pregnancy!) so we took a bus tour and a boat tour. The boat tour on the Main river was really fantastic. Such gorgeous scenery!

Main River

The transition from Jakarta to Frankfurt was pretty significant, but it’s  been mostly pleasant. Jakarta was always kind of a strange and foreign place that we did our best to make home for 2 years, but Frankfurt has felt a bit like home from the start. It’s an international city with immigrants from around the world (there are a ton of Americans here working in finance or in the military) but it’s also a small-ish city with a population of fewer than 700,000. We live in Sachsenhausen, which was formerly a separate city across the river from Frankfurt and it still has its own “downtown” area with a cluster of shops, cafes, and pubs. I love that I can walk to so many things in a short amount of time. I just strap Riva into her BabyBjorn and we’re off!

There are definitely some things we still need to get used to in Germany. It’s awfully expensive to eat out here (sometimes I miss the $10 lunches at exclusive Jakarta restaurants!) but supermarket food is very high quality and cheap. Another major difference is the quiet! Frankfurt is SO quiet for a relatively big city.  Such a huge difference from the herds of motorbikes in Jakarta! But the main adjustment for me is the language barrier. Compared to Jakarta, where people were sometimes afraid to talk to me because they were sure I didn’t speak bahasa Indonesia (which I do!), in Germany, most people assume that I’m German and start speaking German with me. And my German is extremely rusty.

Getting settled with the baby has been a separate trial. First, it was surprising how long it took to recover from the birth.  For days, I had a huge amount of pain, and I was constantly hungry and exhausted. But these are the things that new parents deal with anywhere in the world. We went to Aachen to visit Bjorn’s family when the baby was about a week old. I was afraid it might be difficult to be away from home with such a small baby, but it turned out to be great – there were enough people in the house I didn’t have to do any cooking or cleaning, I just rested and took care of the baby.

Bjorn has been sort of on a “baby break” but still keeping very busy, preparing for his next professional move. Nothing is at a stage where I can mention it, but with the recent agreement reached at the COP21 Climate Conference in Paris, there is a lot to be optimistic about.

We are getting settled with the baby, and settled into life in Germany. I take daily walks, and occasionally study German at home, and I’ve made a few fellow “expat new mom” friends, and we continue to settle into our new normal.

 

 

 

Better late than never!: Remembering our Flores adventure

Wow, life has changed in the last year. Around this time last year, at 5 months pregnant I had just returned from a trip that included three (!) 4-hour-long hikes in remote areas in Indonesia, before jetting off to Singapore to get a 3D scan of our baby and enjoy a few days of civilized life. Now, life is very civilized here in Frankfurt. Drinking tap water doesn’t seem strange anymore, and now all of my adventures are with our smiley little baby, Riva. My adventures these days are pretty tame in comparison these days – normally lunches, walks, playdates, and the occasional tour of a small nearby town.

When I returned from Flores, Indonesia about this time last year, I got busy planning our move and my energy quickly dropped off as I entered the third trimester, so I continued to put off writing a blog post. But it never entirely left my mind because this was one of the most special trips I took in Indonesia. It was special because it included one of the most picturesque sights I’ve ever seen – Wae Rebo village  (pronounced “Vye Raybo”), a primitive Manggarai village nestled into the clouds, deep in the forest. It was also special because one of my best and oldest friends, Johanna, came all the way from Washington, DC with her then-boyfriend Zach (they got engaged during their trip!).

Wae Rebo

It was during this trip that I met someone who left a deep impression  – Martin.  About 15 years ago, the unique traditional houses of Wae Rebo were in ruins. Martin was away in the Phillipines studying to be a priest, but he found that his calling was to return home and preserve his native culture. Under the leadership of Martin and the village elders, Wae Rebo became certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the first tourists arrived in 2003. About 1,000 tourists visit every year from other islands in Indonesia and countries around the world. Impressive statistics aside, Martin seemed happiest that his village is still standing, and that they can now live a relatively luxurious life, in that they can afford to eat rice and chicken.

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Martin runs a basic homestay in a picturesque setting in Dintor, a city about 5 hours driving from Labuan Bajo, the port city that we flew into. Here, friendly cats snuggled into our beds during the day, and buffalo worked the surrounding rice fields. We were really fortunate to have Martin as our personal guide on the hike to Wae Rebo. Martin is such a kind, caring person who patiently answered all of our questions. The hike isn’t extremely tough, but it’s long – it typically takes people around 4 hours, but we took 5 (hey, I was 5 months pregnant!). I regret not requesting to hire porters. Living in Indonesia, I was incredibly used to letting other people carry my suitcase, so I always, always overpacked. Thankfully Zach volunteered to carry my too-heavy backpack. I don’t think  I would have made it up the mountain without his help!

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When we arrived, we participated in a welcome ceremony. Zach, our lone male, was instructed to offer a chicken to the village chief. During the ceremony, the chief said (translated from Indonesian) “We are so happy that you are here, that if you were children we would have carried you up the mountain. But since you are adults, the chicken carries you.”

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The trip to Wae Rebo includes an overnight stay – around 30 people sleeping on basic mats (which was tough on my already aching back) arranged in a circle in one of the traditional houses. There were 3 groups there: a large Dutch group, an Indonesian couple, and us. We all ate our meals together on the floor, in the middle of our sleeping mats – rice for every meal, and also vegetable curry with Chayote (this green squash will forever remind me of Flores).

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Generally, we felt very welcomed into the village. We were free to wander into kitchens where they were roasting coffee (besides tourism this is their other source of income), watch the kids playing in the open area, and see the old women weaving traditional garments (they wear a woven tube normally over T-shirt and pants, which can be worn as a dress, or like a hoodie). Because we were a small group and we were with Martin, we were invited to a special ceremony at night time – they sacrificed two chickens because a local girl was leaving to study at university.

It was so calming to spend a day in a traditional village, up in the clouds. I would love to go back someday – when Riva is big enough to make the 4-5 hour hike. This is a trip that’s definitely worth the long plane ride to Indonesia! Call/text Martin to book your trip (62-085239344046).

 

 

 

Watch out for dragons! Our Rinca Island Adventure

Indonesia has some of the most amazing animal species in the world. Orangutans swing from the trees in Sumatra and Borneo, tarsiers (the world’s smallest primate) hide in hollow trees in North Sulawesi, slow loris (or kuskus) laze about in tree tops, and there are too many exotic bird species to count. In my most recent trip, I was able to see another exotic Indonesian animal – the Komodo dragon.

Rinca

The largest lizards on the planet – komodo dragons can be up to 10 feet long and up to 300 lbs. Despite their size, they can run up to 13 miles/hour. They were only “discovered” by the Western world about 80 years ago in their natural habitat, the islands east of Flores Island: Komodo and Rinca (read: “Reencha”). Their normal diet consists of monkeys, deer, and buffalo, but they occasionally eat a villager, and in 1974, dragons ate a Belgian tourist who was injured during a hike – all they found was his camera! When they are hunting, komodo dragons sit in “camouflage” until there is an opportunity to attack. Their saliva is full of deadly bacteria, so people who are bitten by dragons need to be rushed to Bali (a 2 hour flight) for medical treatment. About 6 villagers were bitten in the last year, and most of them survived.

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We planned a day tour to Rinca island through our hotel. Johanna, Zach, and I left our hotel early in the morning for the harbor, where we met our guide at our boat. Ferdinand is a Christian (like most residents of Flores) from a village in central Flores; while he spoke English very well, he has never traveled as far as Bali, one of the nearest islands to Flores (and home to many English-speaking expats). On the two hour boat ride to Rinca Island (our boat was quite slow, but since I sometimes get seasickness I didn’t mind at all) Ferdinand filled us in on Komodo dragon facts to prepare us for our hike. At this point, I was definitely missing Bjorn (who had to stay back in Jakarta – we are saving his vacation days for when we’re expecting our baby in October). Bjorn is an amazing question-asker, so I tried my best to fill his shoes in his absence.

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When we arrived, we met our Rinca Island guide (sadly I forgot his name). A short, smiley, older gentleman originally from Rinca Island, he lives with his wife in the main village on the island, where they sometimes rent a room in their house to guests. We began our tour at the Rinca Ranger Station, where most of the dragons tend to hang out. We saw a few dragons that looked half-asleep in the shade. When we commented that the dragons must be sleeping, our guide replied “Not sleeping. In camouflage. Ready to attack.” So that was comforting. With his encouragement, we maintained a good distance away from the dragons while we snapped photos.

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We set off into the forest looking for more komodos. Our tiny guide carried an enormous stick, leading us into the forest. First, we found a buffalo bathing in mud (he wasn’t too happy with the disturbance of his bath time), but soon our guide spotted something exciting. A baby komodo! At 3-4 feet long, this one-year old komodo dragon was a big baby. He was hiding in the brush, and our guide poked him with his huge stick (apparently it’s not only for protection!) and the baby set off running. Our guide grabbed Johanna’s camera and ran after the baby dragon and snapped some close-up photos. We continued our hike through the forest, and our guide would become nervous and stop whenever one of us would fall behind (usually me – I am a slow walker even when I’m not 5 months pregnant). I think the guides learned their lesson from the incident with the Belgian tourist.

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Satisfied with our komodo dragon tour of Rinca Island, we returned to our boat. Ferdinand made me laugh when he said “I think your baby is happy now. She got to see the dragons.” It will certainly be a funny story to tell our daughter one day.

Our boat crew made us lunch, which we ate on the boat in transit to our next destination. We spent the afternoon snorkeling, then swimming near a beautiful island. This was just the beginning of our week-long trip to Flores Island, but it was a good start. I was happy to see these amazing animals and spend a day in between beautiful islands with my friends.

Next time:

Our adventures on mainland Flores, way off the beaten path.

 

Showing Our Friends Around Jakarta

In May, we were lucky enough to have visitors come all the way from Washington, DC. Johanna was my college and post-college roommate, and she’s still one of my closest and most favorite friends. We were happy that she could bring Zach, her (now) fiancee with her, too. Johanna and Zach started dating just shortly before our move to Jakarta, so we were happy to get to know Zach better, to catch up with both of them, and show them around Jakarta for a few days.

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One thing that I didn’t know about Zach before he arrived in Jakarta is that he had never traveled outside of the US before. By coming to Indonesia, he prettymuch traveled as far outside the US as he possibly could, both considering the 30 hour flight and the significant cultural differences. Thankfully, he is an easygoing and adaptable guy, and he was ready to dive in and learn about Indonesia and the unique culture.

Bjorn and I are in our last months in Indonesia, so we’re spending a lot of time dreaming about our upcoming life in Germany. Expat life can be frustrating at times, living in close proximity to a culture that you never feel like you’ll fully understand. Add that to literally the worst traffic in the world and poor sanitation (bad smells abound in Jakarta!), and you have a city that’s hard to settle into. It’s very tempting to think that life in Frankfurt will be perfect since these basic problems will be solved, but I keep reminding myself that life in Frankfurt will have its own challenges.

It turned out great to have visitors at this point in our time here. We know a lot about Indonesia (which makes us excellent tour guides). Also the opportunity to visit a lot of our favorite places within a few days (in addition to some new places) was a little like hitting the “reset” button. Since then, we’ve been able to appreciate Jakarta a little more, bad traffic and all.

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These are the places we checked out during their visit:

  • Kota Tua (Old Town) Jakarta – The 18th Century Dutch buildings are a good reminder that Jakarta is indeed an old city.
  • Sunda Kelapa Harbor – Today, it’s a cargo harbor with huge wooden ships coming into port. During the 13th Century, this was one of the biggest trade sites in Asia.
  • Jalan Surabaya Antique Market – A great place to buy Indonesian handicrafts from all over the archipelago. You can even see craftsmen “antiquing” items by hand on the sidewalk, or in the area behind the stalls.
  • Glodok Wet Market – Johanna and Zach wanted to see a traditional market, so we took them to the most exciting one we know. This is where much of the Indonesian-Chinese (Peranakan) population shops, and it’s a little gory.

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  • Istiqlal Mosque – This was our first visit to the largest mosque in the world. The size is impressive, and we were pleasantly surprised to find out that they offer a good “donate what you like” tour in English.

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  • Jakarta Cathedral – This was also our first visit to Catholic cathedral. It’s not necessarily a “must see” for Jakarta, but it’s right across the street from the Istiqlal Mosque. It also shows the diversity of Jakarta, there are many Christians in the city (and Hindu, and Buddhists), but Muslim is the most common religion.

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Johanna and Zach are adventurous eaters, so they wanted to try as much Indonesian food as possible. These are some of our favorite spots, which we visited while they were here.

  • Sate Khas Senayan – A reliable chain of Indonesian food, which features dishes from around the archipelago.
  • Tugu Kunstkring Paleis – My favorite Indonesian restaurant in Jakarta. Their dishes are authentic but sophisticated, and even served on a white table cloth.
  • Skye Bar – The 56th floor view of the impressive Jakarta skyline make this a perfect place for special occasions. The food is pretty good, too. Their menu features Indonesian, Western, and Southeast Asian foods. Their cocktails and desserts are top quality – on this visit, I really liked their peanut-butter-and-jelly granita.

Next Time…

In my next post, I’ll write about when Johanna, Zach, and I explored Flores, an island in Eastern Indonesia.

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