Monday, 21 April 2008

Drive: Indonesia

Things That Are Not Required For Driving in Indonesia:

I mean, really, who needs an engine when you could just use a horse? No joke. From Yogya to Lombok, and I'm sure many places between and outside that geographic, horse and carts are a completely acceptable form of transportation. In the Gili Islands they're referred to as the Gili Lamborghini.

It costs about $10 for an hour and a half cab ride through the city. However, it will cost you much more if you fall asleep during your cab ride. You'll either get driven around to rack up the tab, or they'll simply rob you blind. They won't kill you though, so at least that's a plus.

Unleaded Gasoline:
I mean, you can certainly get unleaded gasoline, considering that it's all they sell at the petrol stations. But it's just so far to go to get to the know? And there's a guy right there on the corner selling the leaded stuff in recycled water bottles. I mean...(insert long suffering sigh)'s just so far to the petrol station. At least two extra blocks.

If they exist, I certainly can't tell. Cars will generally pay attention to which side of the road they should be driving on, but there are no lines on the tarmac to keep them there. And the keyword in that sentence was "generally". Even that's being kind. These guys will pass a bus at 100kph, going uphill, around a hairpin turn, honking their horn the whole way, while they smoke their cigarettes and try to convince you of the rightness to you marrying them and bearing them ten children. On the other hand, motorbikes don't even care about lanes. In fact, motorbikes don't even seem to care about the road. And really, why should they? They have sidewalks, two-by-four bridges, construction sites, markets and pedestrians to drive over. A road just seems like overkill.

Because honestly, it doesn't matter how long you repeat the name of your hotel to yourself, trying to make your tongue remember words that are foreign to it. It doesn't matter how much preparation you put in to becoming one with that state of being known as "Where You Are Going". It doesn't matter because your cab driver has no idea where the hell he's going anyways. And he will never, ever admit to this, nor will he ask for directions until it is painstakingly obvious that he is out of options. "Out of options" could mean that you end up in another city when you meant to go down the street.

Dagan, James and I were in a cab one night, on our way to a fairly well known area of Jakarta known as Blok M. It's especially well known to cab drivers as it happens to be the prostitute district (no questions it a sight seeing excursion). So, no problem getting there, right? Right. We ended up at a closed down shopping mall. Why did our driver take us to a mall at 3am? Why didn't he just tell us he didn't know where he was going? Since this is a Muslim country, I'll have to refer you to Allah on that one. Go with God...just don't take a taxi there.

Quote of the Day:

While in the back of the taxi on the afore mentioned night, I brought up the fact that in the old days, Chinese sailors use to take pigeons on board ships to have sex with them (I believe you can thank Marty for imparting that knowledge). Dagan was completely unconvinced of this, thinking it anatomically impossible. James was completely convinced of its plausibility, and what ensued was an extremely heated debate based on James saying yes, Dagan saying no, and me saying that I'd put money up for whoever wanted to prove it.

Finally, James slapped his hand down and announced loudly:

"FINE!!! Get me a pigeon, a condom and a lot of money! We'll settle this now!"

Our poor cab driver. It's probably good that he didn't speak English.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Jakarta, Indonesia - Day 1

Jakarta. Aptly described as the armpit of the world. Home to 16 million people and twice as many rats; dirty in a physical and bureaucratic kind of way. Jakarta. Home of the Muslim Butterfly. Cocooned in her head scarf by day, she morphs by night, reborn in a dress made out of slightly less material than the head scarf. Jakarta. Home of the limp-wristed force field of pedestrians and the surging beast of traffic that ignores it. Jakarta. The White Mans Graveyard. The Big Durian. Jakarta. The armpit of the world.

My first night in Jakarta went something like this:

I tried to take myself out for dinner at this little seafood warung (street side restaurant). It turns out that nothing in the restaurant was in English...not even the staff. After I unsuccessfully tried to order menu items by simply pointing at them, my waiter decided to make a stunning career move from the hospitality field into that industry fondly known as "Staring at the Stupid Foreigner with an Equally Stupid Expression on Your Face". I think he's going to go a long way with this employment choice. He had a real grasp for the finer nuances.

I should also bring to the table the fact that the rest of the staff, who were all girls under the age of twenty, were watching our entire exchange and probably giving themselves hemorrhoids because they were laughing so hard. Finally, a very nice Chinese man stood up from one of the other tables and came over to try and help me. And help me he certainly did. He helped me order about four million times more food than I could ever have possibly ingested. As a direct result of this, I didn't have enough money to pay for my meal. Nice Chinese man was already gone when I realized this, and I was back to dealing with my space cadet of a waiter. Basically I just held up my bank card and mimed myself walking to the ATM and then coming back. This was greeted with a blank stare, so I just gave up trying to explain and walked myself over to the ATM and came back. This was also greeted with a blank stare. Like I said, he has a solid handle on the nuances of his new career.

The kicker to the whole story is this:

When I met Dagan and his flatmate Luke after they were done work, I told them this whole story. Dagan kind of grinned, but Luke just lost his mind laughing. Now, I think that my story is kind of comical, but I have no delusions about just how humourous it is. And it wasn't funny enough for Luke to be laughing that way. So I asked him what the deal was. After he relearned how to breath, he just beamed at me and said:

"But they all speak English there!"


Quote of the Day:

There were about eight of us sitting around a table one night, playing poker and discussing quantum physics. You know, regular old card playing conversation. We were basically tossing around random theories that we'd heard from one place or another, mostly just to see who had heard the same things and whether or not we thought they were true. Then all of a sudden, James, who had previously been completely silent in the conversation, pipes up with:

"You know that theory, where if you half a distance, then half it again, then half it again, then half it again, and just keep going, that you'll never get there? Well I don't get it. I reckon, just aim for twice as far and you'll get there straight away."