From Across The Pacific

By Gregory Lumban-Gaol

Debora Tampubolon with her dog Mocha.

Debora Tampubolon with her dog Mocha.

Author’s Note: Debora is my mother whom I decided to share one of her many stories to the world.

Across the Pacific Ocean stands the bustling city of Jakarta, Indonesia. One wouldn’t think a little girl from there would one day attend Chaffey College. Debora Tampubolon was born on August 12, 1966, the youngest of seven children. Her father was a wealthy businessman who owned a newspaper company and her mother was a housewife.

She and her siblings were spoiled. They had everything from servants, many cars, and a mansion. Everything was done for her. For little Debora life was easy.

Her father however, did not want her to have such a spoiled life. Despite having a rich life, her father taught her how to clean up the car, had her learn how to cook, clean up the house, and learn how to play music. She did all that without complaining. Eventually, when she was only fifteen, her father taught her how to drive and she was able to get her license as a freshman in high school. Of course, the law says you have to be seventeen to have a license, but at that time, law was not enforced in Indonesia and money was everything. Coming from a rich family, she was gifted with a new car.

After high school, her father sent her to the US for college, despite her protests in May 1985. For about a year, she stayed in a small house with her older sister and brother before they moved out. She struggled living by herself. It took her a year to become a decent English speaker, she had to clean everything by herself and shop for necessities.  Debora became independent bit by bit, shrugging off the spoiled child she used to be.

“You have to be tough, struggle to survive,” she said.

Debora became more confident. More outspoken. To have a steady stream of money, she worked as a piano teacher, at the Chaffey College Theater, and was a Teacher Assistant in Upland Jr. High.

At the time, the number of Indonesians living in Southern California was small and many of them knew each other. She made many friends among them, some of them even attending Chaffey College with her. Life was hard for her, being a foreigner, but she learned how to adapt and learned to love this new country.

In 1989, tragedy struck the family and her father passed away. On his death bed, she made a promise to him to complete her education.

His last words to her were, “Move on, do not give up. I am only a temporary father. The Lord in Heaven is your eternal father who is always watching. Do not worry.”

The man who changed her was gone, but out came a woman, determined to make her father proud. Debora eventually transferred from the Chaffey College, to the Claremont Colleges, and then graduated from Cal State San Bernardino with a Bachelors in Music in 1990.

Today, Debora is a music teacher. Married to an architect, she raised two beautiful children. Everywhere she goes, she brings her father’s scarf to remind her of the man that changed her.

“From those experiences, I learned a lot of things to survive. It wasn’t easy, but I realized life is like a roller coaster. I’m kind of surprised and proud of myself, I changed. I am married now and have two beautiful children. I am very thankful for my dad, because he changed me from the spoiled kid to an independent woman. He is the greatest man I knew. I love you dad.”