In a Strange Land, a Shoulder to Lean On

Last weekend I met up with a friend and her soon-to-be husband for dinner. The plan was for my husband, Ongky, and I to give her and her fiancé advice about all the preparations for the wedding, and although I told her I didn’t think I would be much help, they insisted they would buy dinner.

Never a couple to pass up a free dinner, off we went (on empty stomachs) to talk wedding.

It seems funny to me now that among my friends I am the go-to person for marriage, immigration and other mixed-couple advice.

Only a couple of years ago I was bending the ears of any woman I came across who was married to an Indonesian man. And to be honest I still do question friends who have been here longer than me whenever a relevant problem arises.

Let me start off by saying that Indonesian men have an awful reputation for being horrendous boyfriends, and I can see why.  I can also see that it’s a number of foreign partner-seeking men (and women, to be fair) that give the wonderful, open, kind and honest ones a bad name.

Passing on stories, good and bad, is one way that people can make informed decisions about their partners and also see warning signs.

I’ve only been here a short time, really, but over the past five years I’ve seen a lot of relationships begin and some end, and it hasn’t always been pretty.

Before I met my husband I had a boyfriend here who was manipulative, possessive and finally a cheat. Basically, all things I was warned about to be careful about when dating a Balinese man; so when I see friends with guys with similar traits I cringe and hope they figure things out before it’s too late (which usually means they’re pregnant).

The other thing that I needed help with most at first was the terrifying trips to various government offices.

Living here and having to untangle the wicked web of bureaucratic process to get visas, marriage certificates, birth certificates, not to mention the mess of citizenship for yourself and any children you may have, can be a tough job.

Going to any kind of government office in Bali can take a great deal of mental preparation and self-control. I have ended up shaking with anger on more than one occasion, but quickly found out that neither anger nor tears gets anyone to move any quicker or know any more about their job (the rustle of bills sometime does the trick, though).

However, knowing someone who has been through all the procedures before does help.

I made sure I found out from as many people as I could what documents I needed to take (and took 10 photocopies of everything), how much they had paid to get things moving and how long everything should take.

Of course everyone’s answers were different when I questioned them, but at least I knew the whole range of possibilities and was prepared for all eventualities.

Another time when you need a lot of support and advice is when you’re pregnant. Being in Bali during this time only magnifies the need for someone to lean on.

When I was pregnant I felt pretty lost and missed my family in the UK like crazy. At times I thought I was making the wrong decision staying in Bali to have my baby, but with the help of friends and midwives it turned out to be an amazing experience.

My friend Amy, who is seven months pregnant, has come to me countless times to talk about things that are going on and I’m absolutely honoured to be able to help her.

Being the one my friends come to now is an honour, really. I don’t claim to know everything at all, but I got married in a full-on Balinese ceremony, had my teeth filed, had a baby and all the ceremonies, got her two citizenships and I live with my husband’s family – so I do have some experience.

Back to dinner and talk of a July wedding. I’m not sure how much I helped at all, but we all had a nice dinner and a good laugh about all the things Ongky and I have had to deal with.

My best pieces of advice to my friend (and readers) were to make sure to have her birth certificate; don’t get pregnant before the wedding – or else she’ll feel even worse, wrapped up like a sausage in the 30-degree heat; and to definitely hire someone good to do her makeup for the wedding, so she doesn’t look like Imelda Marcos – like I did on my big day.

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