Qu’est’ce que c’est? – Fire, Trial by…

(Warning – NSFW. Language.)

Well, Cirebon is cheaper, but I can’t tell you much else about it. I tried not to write much about my growing unease in Java, partially because I didn’t want to give solidity to any kind of fear. I am notoriously stubborn. It’s true I had some questionable-at-best experiences in Yogya, but I did my level best not to dwell on them, and tried to have a good time. I learned my lesson from the Denpasar bus station and wore my lone long-sleeve orange shirt everywhere I went, which may have helped some.

The train to Cirebon was “Bisnis” class, and though hot as hell and extremely crowded, I mostly had an ok time. There were a few moments of squelched anger at men who laughed and said things – I can pick out the words “fat,” “big” and “American” in Bahasa, after all. Instead, I pretended not to understand and just smiled and waved. There was one roving train vendor who leaned over and said, in English: “You have a very big booty.” I laughed in surprise, because that was an unexpectedly hilarious sentence to come out of his mouth in English. I am human, though, and comments do hurt even if I don’t want them to.

I lucked upon a very cheap room at the Hotel Asia ($3.75 / night!) in Cirebon, even though it was almost 2am when I arrived. Again, still wearing far more clothing than the heat called for. Cirebon is a largely Muslim town, and I didn’t want to offend. Even so, the guy who checked me in at the hotel kept offering “Massage? Massage?” and pawing at my arms with a waggle of the eyebrow. Awkward and creepy – more so at 2am in a deserted hotel. I did not want massage; I did, however, want a shower. The hotel only had shared mandi – that’s a big reservoir of water with a scoop you use to pour over you to clean yourself. Fine, fine, no problem – I like trying new things. However, bath stuff and pajama’s in hand, I was again accosted by the hotel guy. “No, no,” he said, driving me away from two of the three mandi rooms. “You use that one.” He pointed to the far mandi and blocked my path to the others. When I stepped inside (and bolted the door shut behind me), I realized the room had holes to the outside all along the top of the wall, and a big hole in the ceiling. Now, maybe the other two (which were internal – no holes) were just dirty or something else benign, but I must tell you it was the quickest and most uncomfortable “shower” I’ve ever taken, and it being a mandi had little to do with that.

I desperately needed laundry done, so I gave all of my dirty clothes to the attendant in the morning. Unfortunately, this included my now-super-stinky single long-sleeved shirt, which had been worn like a jacket over seven ocnsecutive days. I chose the least-revealing, loosest patterned tank I had to go walking around in. Extremely bad idea. I cannot count the catcalls, obscene gestures, and guys pulling over (sometimes groups of them) in cars and vans and asking for I-don’t-know-what. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with Cirebon? Near terrified, I ducked into the first mall I ran across and bought a t-shirt. I changed in the bathroom, thinking my uncovered shoulders had been the main problem – after all, I saw other women in t-shirts and pants the same length as mine not getting harassed, so I figured it would be better. This did not help one iota. I still don’t know if it was my arms, my tattoos, my boobs (which I can’t hide), or what. Likely it was my lighter-colored hair and skin. Someone or something has taught these men that Western women are all easy and can be treated like trash. I’d like to find whoever or whatever taught them that and destroy it.

The final straw came when two men jumped out of a van and started walking on either side of me, one of them grabbing my arm. Breaking away, I nearly sprinted to a distant internet cafe and completely broke down. I have never felt so threatened and unsafe – never. Usually, I feel pretty solid in myself and my extensive self-defense training, but I knew I was on thin ice here. These men have scrambled their whole lives for survival. They would chew me up and spit me out. No question.

I used a neighbor interneter’s cell phone to call Rhys, but the signal was bad and the call dropped. He got online moments later and I almost begged him to let us attempt soloing somewhere else; of course, he said no problem, absolutely. Now, I just had to find a way to get my laundry back and get a train to Surabaya, asap.

I walked the three miles back to the hotel to try to clear my head feeling two disparate things: 1. ashamed of feeling the victim and running away and 2. scared witless by every catcall and shout. Once I got to the hotel, I was at the end of my rope, totally frazzled. I started to ask to get my laundry early, but in my state the circumlocution of easy English and broken Bahasa wasn’t working. I collapsed into a chair and started to cry. I hate to cry, but the floodgates were open, and I couldn’t help it. The ment looked alarmed and scattered – one ran to get the hotel owner who spoke pretty fluent English.

Now, history may consider me a terrible person for what heppened next, but here is the rationale that ran through my head – the facts as I knew them were:

A. I was obviously a wreck at this point.
B. I was afraid they were unlikely to be overly understanding or sympathetic to the situation, especially since one of them was attributive.
C. I had to get to Surabaya, tonight. I needed staff assistance in getting a train ticket during this busy high season asap, and my laundry back ahead of schedule.

So, my neurons fired – an accident in the family. Ok, but I am very superstitious and can’t speak ill into my family or friends’ lives. But I don’t have a blood sister. Ok, sister in accident. But then they would expect me to go to Jakarta to fly home. But Denpasar, in Bali (past Surabaya) serves Australia. Ok, sister traveling Oz in serious accident. Hubby meeting me in Surabaya. Then going to Denpasar, then Melbourne.

This story was concocted in about thirty seconds, and as the owner came up, I explained the faux-situation through real, but unrelated, sobs. He helped me get my ticket and get my laundry back. Even in my state, the laundry guy charged me five times the normal price – 40,000rp for 1 kilo of laundry. Normal price is 3,000-8,000. Nice.

Perhaps this makes me a bad person, perhaps not. But I felt backed into a corner and my single-minded goal was to get to Surabaya, and thusly to Rhys. Beautiful or not, Java has not made an excellent first impression on me. I miss Bali.

2 thoughts on “Qu’est’ce que c’est? – Fire, Trial by…

  1. I am so sorry for the less than happy experience you had. I am glad that you are OK and I applaud your ability to come up with a plausible scenario when you were so upset. I hope that the remainder of your Indonesian stay goes much better. Good luck to you and Rhys on your future solo endeavors.

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