Today was a long teaching/training day. At 9 we went to what appeared to be an abandoned building to visit a small news agency called Kloop.tj. As I’ve learned from my various visits to Jakarta, eastern Russia, and now Tajikistan, office architecture is often in inverse proportion to the passion and dedication of the office staff.
Live, from Jakarta
I really, really shouldn’t be awake right now. Although it’s a bit after lunch at home, it’s near 1 a.m. here in Jakarta and I need to be ready in seven hours to give an all-day workshop.
But, what am I going to do? Let down you, my loyal audience? All four of you are dying, I know, to hear about my adventures so far. Luckily for you, I’m awake enough — and stupid enough — to have both the energy and the adventures for this post.
An interesting start
I decided to forgo driving myself to the airport Saturday, and instead hired Washington Flyer to drive me there. My driver, who’s name I failed to get, was Malaysian, and told me that he had just come from a family party to take me to the airport. He was friendly and in good spirits, so I asked him what the party was for. “My brother in law died,” he answered.
Not sure if that was indeed an even worth celebrating, I asked the driver where he was from and other such niceties. That turned into a 45-minute monolog about his arranged marriage, including the four women he turned voted off the island because they weren’t pretty enough. His parents, nearly exasperated, demanded he find a bride before returning to the United States. Apparently he succeeded, because he now has two boys. He said he won’t be picking out their brides for them, but he added that they’d better only marry once. “No divorces!” he shouted, as we pulled up to the United terminal.
The flight from Dulles to L.A. was uneventful, which I think is always a plus when defying the laws of gravity. That’s not to say the 18-hour flight from L.A. to Bangkok was full of surprises. Indeed, it, too, was mostly uneventful. I was, however, startled several times by the gentleman a few seats over with a severe case of sleep apnea and what appeared to be pneumonia. Given his condition, and the copious snoring he emitted, I was surprised to see he was chewing gum — I would think that would be choking concern. Actually, my observation’s not quite correct. The gum was resting precariously on his lower lip, as if trying to decide whether or not to leap for freedom. I did not notice whether or not the gum’s escape was successful.
Real estate deal
The third leg of the trip, from Bangkok to Jakarta, was a 3-hour joy ride compared to the 22 hours I had thus far spent in a giant aluminum tube. I played some Orbital, read some New Yorker, and flipped through the in-flight magazine. It was there I noticed an ad for spacious beach-front property. It looked amazing. And priced at 3 million baht, it had better be, I thought. Then I grabbed my iPhone and did the exchange rate. What? $120,000 for a beach? Holy crap! Honey, sell the house. We’re moving to Thailand.
Traveling with stupid
I’m not used to carrying around a lot of cash. That’s for two reasons. First, I don’t have any. Second, I too often rely on my cards for purchases. It’s a habit I need to break. Especially after today.
Upon arriving in Jakarta, we were steered to the on-arrival visa station. For starters, I didn’t even realize that’s what it was. I thought it was a money-changing station. OK, I thought. I’ll get some rupiah. So, I stand in line. Eventually, I realize I need to pay $10 for an Indonesian visa. No problem, I thought. Then I looked in my wallet.
What kind of moron travels 12,000 miles — to the other side of the planet!! — with $4 in cash? I mean, really? Could I be more of a dumb ass?
Hey, no worries, I think. The luggage carts around here all have MasterCard ads on them. I can just use my card.
So, I go to the window and show my card. The man shakes his head. “Oh shit,” I thought. Either I need to hit up a fellow passenger for $6, or I’m about to get my ass shipped back stateside. Just as my stomach was about to hit the floor, the man pointed across the hallway. “Over there. Credit card.” I glanced over and saw an identical booth, but that one accepts plastic. Thank God.
As I waited to clear immigration — and waited, and waited — I began to find incredible amusement in the advertisements adorning the area. The first one that caught my attention was a sign offering billboard advertising space. The image was of an idyllic beach. The text? “We’ve got space.”
I really, really hope the intention was not to erect billboards on the Indonesian beaches.
The next sign I guffawed at was the one declaring “Welcome to Indonesia. DEATH PENALTY FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS!” In English, of course.
Oh, Indonesia, really know how to make a guest feel comfortable. Actually, the really funny part of the sign were the six guys pictured who had apparently been caught trafficking drugs and put to death. Ok, that’s not funny, but what is funny is that the sign blacked out their eyes.
There was one more sign that cracked me up. Well, not a sign, exactly, but a sticked. On the window of one of the airport security office was a large sticker proclaiming “Y2K Ready!” Yes, and just in time, too.
Traveling with stupid, part II
I was met outside customs by a nice fellow from the hotel. He escorted me to a taxi — a shiny black Mercedes — and off we went. I had taken off my long-sleeve shirt and was sitting there in my white t-shirt as we skimmed the surface roads along ramshackle huts of corrugated metal, wide canals, and your usual assortment of safe and unsafe vehicles. I felt incredibly Western and not in an especially appealing way.
I set my iPhone next to me and thought, “don’t forget it in the taxi.” (This is what’s known as foreshadowing.)
We scurried along the highway and into the city. From a high overpass, I got a view of the incredible, sprawling metropolis that is Jakarta. The air was hazy and the land was a mix of trash heaps, fragile huts and buildings in various stages of construction or decay.
Eventually we made it to the hotel where guards checked the vehicle and raised the entry gate. Oh, right, I thought. Danger lurks here, doesn’t it?
Then I hopped out, handed the driver some rupiah (I had stopped at an ATM at the airport after clearing customs), and marched into the hotel.
After checking in, I made my way to my room only to discover my keys hadn’t been properly programmed. So, I trudged back downstairs to have the problem fixed. As I stood there, my drive came rushing through the lobby. He had discovered my iPhone in the back seat and had brought it back to me. I was stunned. Not only by my stupidity, but by his kindness. I thanked him profusely and he quickly withdrew back to the hot, humid air.