I was freelancing. It was the first time in my advertising career that I’d ever done that. It was 1995 and I had resigned from Basic Advertising in a principled huff, in the way only young people confident of prospects can, but I still needed to earn my keep. So I was in Ogilvy writing copy for a real estate brochure. With a gel pen.
I received a page. (Remember those?) “Call ARM’s office.” ARM was Mr. Mercado, and his triple-letter acronym was right on top of the list of triple-lettered management in the agency I’d just left. Sitting in front of him, listening to him explain that oh, the FCB office in Jakarta is looking for a creative director, and I thought of you, so I’m giving your name to this guy (who turned out to really be a Guy), and, well, good luck with the interview – I didn’t know he had just changed my life.
My book wasn’t great. The interview was short. “So how old did you say you were again?” “Twenty-five.” “We’ll say you’re twenty-eight.”
So began a life of planes, sambal and green chilies, dreaming in another language, batik bedspreads and boiled wool jackets. Jakarta was on the cusp of change, and two years later army tanks would be playing bump car with the Toyota Kijangs on the streets, and students would shout Merdeka while they tagged the walls with red and white paint. But not yet.
What they say about expatriate life – and who are “they,” really, that anonymous mass of wisdom we can’t help but refer to when we lack the data but feel the truth – is mostly what I lived, but not quite. I worked hard, but nowhere nearly to the bone as I do now. I made friends, and many of those friendships faded, but many remained. (Being in touch with two of those friends, after more than a decade, triggered this blog entry.) I became used to feeling temporary, but found out for myself the meaning of “home is where you make it.”
I arrived a silly girl with a gel pen, and departed a silly girl with a Montblanc 149. What did I know? I wasn’t even twenty-eight.