Copyright © Judith Shaw
Oh, the places I’ve been!
That might sound like one of the picture books my children loved as toddlers, but it’s true. Some places were stranger than others. One of the strangest, in a lot of ways, was Seattle, Washington in the mid-1970’s.
Seattle then wasn’t anything like it is today. There was hardly any traffic, UW only had one campus, and pedestrians didn’t have to sprint to catch the green lights downtown. They didn’t even have a coffee culture—just one Starbucks in Pike Place Market to go with the cinnamon buns.
Seattle was a great place to live back then, before Microsoft, Amazon and The Electronic Music Project changed it out of recognition. But, to me, it was like a city on Mars.
I am a New Yorker through and through. Seattle’s “hey man, wow dude, let’s hike!” attitude was totally opaque to me. On our first (and only) hike in the Cascade Mountains, my new hiking boots were so painful, and I complained so loudly, that when we got to our campsite my usually cool and calm husband threw me into the river. It turned out that the soles of both feet, from toes to heels, were blistered—and I still had to walk down the mountain to go home. It was ten years before we went on another hike.
Ron enrolled in an MBA program at UW, and I waited on tables in a downtown bar and grill. I wasn’t much good at it, but it helped with the bills and kept me busy. Ron would stop in for dinner as my shift was ending and drive me home.
Our next stop was Sydney, Australia. The first place we went, practically on the way to town from the airport, was Tamarama, Ron’s favorite body-surfing beach. It’s a narrow horseshoe bay, and on days with a big surf the only way to get beyond the break is to dive off the rocks. It’s tricky, because if your timing is off you can end up as steak tartare. I loved Tamarama and, although I never went in off the rocks, I learned to be a pretty good body surfer.
I met a young woman at Tama who got me an editing job at the Readers’ Digest Book Division. The job was a godsend, getting me out of the house every day and giving me challenging work to do. Then I got pregnant.
When our daughter was 18 months old we were transferred to Jakarta, and I came into my own. Within two or three weeks I was able to add Bahasa Indonesia to the Japanese, Chinese and French I could already sort of speak.
That’s not as hard as it sounds because, like Swahili, Indonesian is a trading language used throughout the Malay Archipelago. In other words, it is easy to speak badly. During my six years in Jakarta I spoke Indonesian every day. For a language collector like me it was heaven.
We lived in Jakarta for six eventful years. Most days were normal—as normal as it ever was for the expat in Indonesia—but occasionally life got interesting. Like, for instance, the day a WWII ammunition dump spontaneously (or maybe not) blew up, sending rockets through suburban south Jakarta.
Mostly, it was just life as usual in one of the most unusual places on earth.
We lived in a haunted Dutch bungalow across the street from Indonesia’s second biggest mosque. The calls to prayer told us the time, and the Muslim festivals were part of our daily lives. I have a lot of stories to tell about our years in Jakarta. Thirty years later, we still miss those days.
My children went to Mrs. Haskins’ pre-K. So many nationalities were represented that the only common language was Indonesian. All the kids spoke it as a matter of course. By the age of five Indonesian children had to go to Indonesian schools, and our children’s ability to speak bahasa quietly disappeared. Thankfully, their comfort level with people from all over the world and tolerance for others’ customs is theirs for life.
Our years in Jakarta saw the end of the old society and the entry of Indonesia into the modern world. We were fortunate to witness some of the old ways before they disappeared. The Jakarta of today is, to us, utterly unrecognizable. [See Puncak in the Rain for one of my memories]
Our next move was to Singapore. It was like moving from Heaven to Hell. After five very long years and some truly strange experiences, we returned to Australia, this time to the Blue Mountains about 50 miles west of Sydney. I found Tom the Wonder Horse (or maybe he found me) and my career as an obsessed horsewoman began.
Australia Mark II had its ups and downs. The kids went to the local private school, and I was gobsmacked to learn how fundamentally different Australians and Americans view education. It was certainly an education for me.
On the other side of the ledger, I finally had a horse of my own. Many of my Wonder Horse adventures happened in the Blue Mountains. You can read about them in the Horses section of this website.
We stayed in Australia for seven years then settled down in Richmond, Massachusetts in a house organized for us by Tom. To find out how that happened, read How Tom the Wonder Horse Found Us a House.
Seventeen years later we moved on to life without horses in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Instead of a 183-acre hay farm, we live in a small house a short walk from Main Street. We love living in town, and even our Jack Russell Tilly has adjusted to the loss of the great open spaces. One day she may even learn to heel on leash. [See Canine Family & Friends for my dog tales]
We now travel for pleasure instead of for work. Walking tours in Europe have become our new favorite thing, and we just finished walking across England. Eighty-six miles in six days. Am I crazy, or what? My orthopedist certainly thinks so.
More adventures are in the works. Our next one involves no walking, so my knees will be happy. We’re going to Baja, Mexico for three days of whale-watching in Magdalena Bay, followed by three days kayaking and snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez. We will be there from January 18-25. I’m concerned that we may be too early for the gray whales, but I’m sure we’ll see something wonderful. Then we’re off to Australia to visit friends and rellies until the end of February.
Stay tuned. I’ll tell you all about it.