As for me…

My day started yesterday at 9am – split from Rhys at about 11:30am or so. I just got settled into a place. But it’s almost 30 hours later, you may be saying. Yep. I’m going to write this blog as I wrote it in my moleskine notebook, which if you must know is the only way to fly; a lesser notebook would have given up the ghost weeks ago. This one is still going strong. (Warning: This will be a long one! Sometimes tense, sometimes tiring, sometimes humorous – but long!)

Monday, 11:30am – Perama people are charging $15 USD for a 45min drive to Denpasar to catch my next bus. This wouldn’t irritate me, except that my 12 hour bus drive from Denpasar to Surabaya, Java (including a snack, dinner, and a ferry ride) is $13 USD total. So, I figure, if I’m going to have to spend that much, I might as well get an air-conditioned taxi instead of a crappy, old shuttle bus. So, I do. My driver is Madi, who speaks pretty good English considering he’s never been formally taught. His taxi is metered, a rarity, so he estimates it will come out to less than the $15 Perama was charging. Awesome! As a bonus, we chat the entire 45 minutes, and he lets me practice my Bahasa Indonesian – even teaches me some extra phrases (like “Please speak slowly” – “Tolong bicara blan-blan”). He pulls into Ubung Station, Denpasar and the meter reads just under $10 – score, and so much nicer a drive! On the way he gets my itinerary from me (as much as I know it anyway, which isn’t much), and gets concerned. Why do people get so concerned around me? I don’t get it. “Java… hati-hati,” he says, alerting me that in his opinion the island of Java is not safe. “Surabaya, hati-hati. Many poor people. Few jobs. Stick to small towns, like Bromo. Don’t stay in Surabaya, please.” He looks at me with real worry. Taken a bit aback, I promise that I won’t. He knows better than I do, surely.

So I get dropped off at Ubung Station (he also warns me people will try to take my bags and not to let them) – he starts saying “Tidak, Tidak” to the touts for me, but then one of them asks where I am going. With an apologetic look at me, he answers “Surabaya.” That’s it, it’s on. All of the touts are now competing for my attention. These aren’t the pretty touts in Kuta and Ubud either – these are old, gap-toothed, slightly-frightening local-bus-station touts who don’t see too many foreigners, apparently (I didn’t see a single non-Indonesian the entire five hours I was there). Funny thing about Balinese (maybe Indonesians as a whole?) – it’s considered pretty impolite not to answer a direct question, thus Madi’s apologetic look as he threw me to the wolves. I have to give it to him, though – he was a great driver, a wonderful conversationalist, and did his best until the end. Direct questions! Bah!

I did my best to shake off all the touts (not an easy feat), and asked a bus officer the direction to the Wisata Komodo office. One of the oldest and toothless-est touts was still hanging around at a distance, listening. I walked over to the W.K. office with him walking slightly ahead, as if leading me (*sigh*). I even broke out my “Sudikah anda membiarkan saya sendiri,” (Please leave me alone) but it was ineffective. The “offices” for all the bus companies are tiny one-room stalls in an adjacent building. The W.K. lady stands firm at 145k rupiah, even though it was quoted to me (by her) over the phone the day before at 130k. Finally she relents for 135k (it’s 50 cents, whatever) – and immediately hands the 5k extra to my tout. Argh! The bus doesn’t leave until 5pm – it’s almost noon. Ubung Station is near nothing – NOTHING. There is a line of local stalls with local food (at local prices) nearby, but nowhere but the station benches to sit. Ah well, I have more time than money, so why not spend it chatting up locals at the bus station? That’s what I did.

(Dangit, the pictures won’t upload for the rest of this post – sorry guys, you’ll have to check out Flickr directly, but not in the next few days. Connection too sporadic. ><) Two specific incidents need specifying. First, I have a real soft spot for the shy teens who come and slyly sit next to me, silent for a long time, getting up the courage to try English. It’s adorable. One in particular sat next to me for about fifteen minutes – completely silent. He’d occasionally glance over at me, but then glance away and mouth words to himself. I was already talking in broken Indonesian to the woman next to me, so I waited until she got up to catch her bus and turned to him. “Selamat siang!” I sang, “Good day!” He smiled tentatively and said “Hello! I speak English with you?” As neat as this sounds, keep in mind for future posts that it can get really tiring after the fiftieth person strikes up a practice conversation with the same questions in a single day, but this was still novel and his shyness was endearing. In Indonesia, there is a better than 50% chance that as soon as you say America, they will say “Obama!” It’s like a knee-jerk reflex. They loooove Obama (and well, what’s not to love?) because he went to school in Jakarta as a kid for several years. Indonesians, but especially the Javanese, consider him a brother. That’s pretty awesome! We got past that and the basic small talk, and he began asking about bands I listened to. He plays guitar, but his mother won’t let him study music at university (first year), so he’s studying agriculture instead. He hates it. I get my poor almost-dead iPod out and his eyes light up. He had never seen one before, so I had to show him how to use it. He asked me to play My Chemical Romance, so I put on the Black Parade (figuring correctly that he’d heard that song) and watched. His eyes closed, his feet started tapping, his grin widened, and he started belting out the song – turning heads in the station. He has a great voice. Unfortunately, the battery dies at the very end of the song – he says “Miss? Hey miss? Needs power,” and looked sad. I apologized and took the iPod back. He says I came way too soon for my bus, but I tell him my time is not expensive, and it’s perfectly ok. And it is.

The second item: My wizened, scary old tout kept hanging around. At one point, he came up and said I should leave, because the bus was broken down on the way, and would be very late. I told him the same thing I’d been telling everyone (unlike Madi, I was pretty sure this guy didn’t have my best interests at heart). Sure enough, the bus pulls up at 4 (an hour early) and the Wisata Komodo employees come out in force. I fight the urge to say “Rusak? Bis ini?” (“Broken? You mean, this bus?”), and bite my tongue. See? I can behave. What bothered me was one of the W.K. guys (the ugliest one – several were good-looking, but this was the one ugly one) came up and talked to me in quick Bahasa, even after I asked him to slow down. Then he leered (I can’t explain it – I’ve never seen a “leer” before, I don’t think, but this brought the word immediately to mind) and grabbed my arm. Shocked, I just looked at him for a moment. First, I should mention that I wasn’t wearing a spaghetti-strap tank, it was a wide tank, but my shoulders were uncovered – there wasn’t another uncovered shoulder anytime during that five hours. Away from tourist areas, it’s not done – I know this now. I’m wearing a long-sleeve shirt (and scarf on my head, actually) right now. Less attention. Anyway, I didn’t know that then, and he grabbed my arm a few times, sort of pinching at the skin and talking in fast Bahasa. I shook my arm away and stood up, walking to another bench. He leered again and laughed. The other W.K. people looked uneasy, but none of them appeared to say anything. Another lady started talking to me, and I was glad for the distraction – but a few minutes later, he was leaning over me from the back and making some sort of snickering sounds. I got up and walked away, shaken. Now, I am not a certain person I know who jumps at any sound and imagines scary things where there are probably none. But my mind began dissolving in spirals of fear – my gut was saying the situation wasn’t right, and I trust my instincts. I walked away for a while to one of the warungs to eat some soup (basko sapi – beef soup. Sort of. It’s like a spongy, spammy beef with spongy bread bits. I am not a fan) and calm down. I literally had to repeat the Dune mantra to stop my head from spinning and calm the sharpened edges on my focus – I will not fear. Fear is the mindkiller. Fear is the little death that brings total oblivion. Nerdy, you say, but whatever works, works. And about fifty of those in my head did it for me. Still, I was having some second thoughts about the split for the first time. This was not Japan, I thought to myself – Japan is 99.9% safe, even in the wee hours. This is very different. Indonesia is no Japan.

Let me pause to assuage the concerns of my family members. Obviously I am fine. That guy didn’t even get on the bus, and the bus was full of other family members. I have had largely positive experiences since, and do not feel in danger. I have a great instinct, and I follow them closely. Do not worry – I will be fine.

That said, this blog is about documenting our thoughts – and those were my thoughts at the time. It was the first time I felt unsafe. It was also the first time ever (ever) that I was glad I was still pretty overweight.

On to the bus ride – it was an overnight sleeper bus, and was a great deal for $13. However, it had poor shocks and struts, and driving in Indonesia is always a start-stop-start-stop-left-right ordeal, so comfortable and sleepworthy it was not. I finally drifted off a little after midnight (well after the ferry ride to Java, which I can’t really report on, because I saw water for a smidgen of a second and then the bus drove into a concrete bunker for the trip ><). However, we were awoken a little after 2 for our free dinner – a buffet with some rice, chicken, watermelon, and tea. We had fifteen minutes to eat and stretch our legs. It was very welcome.

Oh! I forgot the humorous part. So, after nine years absence, I encountered my first real squat toilet which had the amazing added benefits of:

a. being on a bus with poor shocks and struts swaying wildly.
b. being in a room that was less than 2 feet wide by 3 feet long.
c. having no toilet paper, but a mandi (pail of water with which you are supposed to clean yourself, and then use the sink to clean your hands – the sink was another pail with soap and a toothbrush?).
d. had a door that wouldn’t lock.
e. all of the above.

If you chose e., you are a winner. Sure enough, I had to refamiliarize myself with the hole in the ground concept (with a new added twist!) by wedging myself into the corner of the world’s tiniest bathroom (seriously, think of a normal bus or airplane bathroom and halve it, at least), holding my pants and undies out of the way, and figuring out the mandi, all while trying not to fall over. Fun! If you can get this mental picture, I assure you, it is hilarity. Success was had by me, and I walked out of that tinyroom feeling ten feet tall. No one noticed, of course, well, except for the one girl who surreptitiously checked my pants for wet spots and looked disappointed that there weren’t any. Ha! I win this round…

The bus arrived in Surabaya at five in the morning (well, through Surabaya, and then about 45 minutes away – what is it with bus stations? they’re scary and way the hell out of anywhere), and I remembered Madi’s words – wasn’t really too hard a decision since the town looked largely grey and lifeless. Think concrete jungle, except with more corrugated, rusted metal rooves. Pretty sad. Knowing how far I was out of town, I had to consent to another taxi (again, I insisted on metered), and this taxi driver insisted Surabaya was safe, but that if I wanted to travel on to Yogyakarta, a train would be leaving at 7am. Sounded good to me. Well, not really – bed sounded good, and hot food, and really a six-hour train ride sounded anything BUT good. Still, I bought the ticket (the ticket guy watched me approach in the long line warily, like “Oh, man, she’s gonna slow me up” since again, I was the only tourist, but I surprised him with fluent Bahasa! At least for that tiny transaction. Otherwise, I’m terrible), boarded the train… and immediately was beset upon by two Muslim ladies in full dress. They were talking quickly also, and using words I did not know – except for ‘Sepuluh D,’ which was on my ticket as my seat.

A nice young lady (one of their daughters) came on the train, apparently summoned by maternal psychic powers, and said I was in her seat. She looked at my ticket and got confused – I looked and sure enough, both tickets had the same coach number and seat number printed. Awesome! She flagged down an officer, who asked if I’d move (of course!), and he found me another seat that was free. Then the train started moving. This elicited a near scream from the young woman, who was not supposed to be on the train, and to make matters worse, had a midterm exam in less than an hour. She had just been at the station to wave goodbye. Now the train was moving and the official said it couldn’t stop til the next station. She was nearly in tears, and I apologized profusely, feeling really bad; she said it wasn’t my fault it was their “stupid ticketing system, this is really awful!” The officers pulled some strings and stopped a few streets down where they weren’t supposed to to let her out. Thankfully! I hope she did well on the exam.

The Muslim ladies and I kept trying to talk through our language barrier, and although we didn’t get too far, they were all smiles and one gave me a hug as she exited the train near the end of the journey. Really nice! Who knew, from the way our relationship had started? 🙂 In the morning sun, everyone was friendly and most were genuine, and my fears the day before seemed largely unfounded. I reminded myself that I could certainly learn from this experience as well. I didn’t do as well as Rhys did on accommodation – struggled to get the room down to 90k – but almost everywhere is full. There’s a festival along the main road tomorrow, so that’s great timing. I’ll try to get a lot of pictures but the connection here S-U-C-K-S, so I don’t know how much I’ll be able to upload. It’s been an hour. Uploaded three. Ouch.

(Oh, I just cheated and had KFC. It was delicious! :P)

One thought on “As for me…

  1. I couldn't sleep past 4am this morning, so I choose to read your latest adventure. Glad I had the extra hour (I usually rise at 5). LOL. Seriously; wonderful recollection of the day's adventure. Loved the narrative. Can't wait for the book. Envy continues!

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