Journal 27: Day 6: Indonesia (Java)
The heaps and heaps of trash are unbelievable. And children playing in them are gut-retching. But the mountains of garbage piled along the roadways and under bridges somehow seem to be a part of the backdrop as people just walk around them without really seeing them. And I am sure by now that they don’t even smell them. But I notice them and I smell them and they are terrible.
Surprisingly, prices in the city turn out to be cheaper than in rural areas. Perhaps it’s based on shipping, but I would have thought most of the services would be cheaper in the areas outside the places of high commerce. I talked a cabbie down to 12,000Rp (Rupiah) for a ride from the airport last night and now that I have been in a few bike taxis (becaks) and motortaxis, I can say that was a pretty fair deal.
But there were two looming problems with the cabbies here; they really don’t seem qualified to drive, and they know about as much of the city as I do. But whatever! It makes for good photography getting lost.
Indonesians look a lot like Thais. I think that it might be a mix between Thai and Cambodian. They are very dark skinned the further east you go – Papuans being the darkest of them all. In the cities where there is a mix of many races, the colors blend a little bit. But in the outlying areas the true ethnicity seems to be a variety of caramel colors. Needless to say I stand out like a big, blue bugger on a white wall.
There have been a lot of interesting things happen just before I arrived here. Firstly, about two weeks ago, a volcano erupted in [melapa?] spewing hot ash 7.5 kliks (Km) into the sky and burning hundreds of unfortunate people to death with a 600˚C blanket of smoldering volcanic particles. I think that this is just west of Borobudor where I plan on going to see temples and other sights.
There were also some bombings recently in one of the more touristy areas. There have been a lot of rapes on the island of Sumatra where Christian and Muslim clashes have been the biggest. I will have to go there and see what I can find out about that, too.
The Tsunami in October of 2004 hit this area pretty hard and I am interested to see if there was any damage left in the affected areas. Perhaps I can talk to other trekkers (if I find any) about where I might be able to find something like that.
Indonesians seem to love having toilet paper on the tables as napkins. Thailand is the same way. They even have little dispensers to mask the fact that you’re wiping your mouth with something designed for wiping the other end. They also love drinking out of straws – another similarity with Thailand. In asking Thais why they do this, they say that it is cleaner than drinking straight from whatever container holds their drink at the time. Everyone offers straws in the markets, at 7-Eleven and in restaurants. The problem, as I see it, comes when the same people who have been handling money that has made its way into and out of millions of hands are also grabbing these straws at the top in order to retrieve them from the box and then stick them in your drink. I can’t imagine it would be cleaner to drink from a funky-finger-fondled straw than a recently washed glass. But it’s not my custom, so I don’t think too much about it.
The people are generally very respectful, helpful and polite. But when males are in groups of three or more, they turn into a pack of hyenas, laughing at everything that the others say and do. So when I am talking to them and they are speaking to me in Indonesian and then all of their buddies laugh at what the speaking man is saying, I get the feeling that they are laughing at me. So, naturally, I say something quick-witted and joke on them so I don’t feel left out. Usually it’s something about their protruding front tooth, their drifting lazy-eye or perhaps their breath which, if it could reach my altitude, would likely be unpleasant. Then I laugh hysterically back at them. And I have found out that the times when they are indeed joking on me, the laughing usually stops among them for a short time as they likely contemplate the idea of whether or not I understand them. I try to turn and walk away at that time just to keep them guessing. But I am confident, because of my experience in Asia, that most of the time people laugh because they are nervous or respectful and want to lighten the moment. This is in sharp contrast to the reasons people laugh at others in the west. And I have to remember that it is most likely my own personal perspective that makes me feel shallow in times like these.
Walking through a place called Pasar Baru, there are a lot of markets that seem to come together as one big one. As the two ends of the block surrounding the P. Baru entrance, there are five- and six-story shopping malls with piles and piles of purses, backpacks, clothes and shoes – none of which fit me. Basically, with only a slight variation, all of it is the same. So it really doesn’t matter where you go in the mall and it doesn’t make any sense to keep combing through the place as I did, because you eventually reach the point where you have seen everything that you’re going to see and the only scenery that changes is the people running the shops. It seems like they all simply get their stuff from the same boat from China.
It is interesting, also, that people tell their friends that a westerner is coming. They will whisper as if I don’t hear or see them and then their friends will turn and look and they all look away at the same time. This is the same thing that happens ever, single time that I walk into a new area of the mall. There is no crafty way they have figured out how to be more sneaky about it. There is no creativity in the manner of pointing me out to their friends. And there is no variation in the actions made to take note of me.
Every once in a while someone will tap their friend while staring at me, but the end result is the same: a couple of unbelieving stares, a slight smile piques their lips and then they turn away to discuss the big, white elephant in the room.
The roads and walkways on the street seem to be in surprisingly good condition for a developing nation. In most Asian cities I have seen, there is very little emphasis or focus on the care or maintenance of paved surfaces. People just get used to driving around the bad parts. But here there are very few potholes and the driving seems to be mostly organized without too many crazies buzzing around betwixt the traffic.
I have noticed that the motorbikes like to drive up next to the big tourist or city buses and stuff their trash in the handles along the undersides of the bus where the luggage compartments are. They will drive off as the bus honks angrily at them and they will turn laughing to reveal their conniving grin. It’s a funny process to watch.
Since being in Asia, I have learned not to eat spicy food for the first meal of the day. No curry either. But I have noticed that Indonesian food really isn’t all that spicy. There is a bit of tang to it, but mostly there is very little bit to it. It’s an interesting change to the Thai spice that I have become used to. I think that they use the world-famous spice that comes from these plowed islands.
There are very few foreigners here – at least not any western ones. I seem to be the only white person in sight. In fact, because of all the extended and almost uncomfortable stares I get from the locals, it seems like there is never really a big swell in the amount of white people that make their way here. I could be wrong. I have no proof or reason to think this. It’s only based on how foreign I feel.
Amongst the stares, though, I will get a “Hi Mistah!” mixed in there, or a “Ay boss!” and a smile. I smile back and say hello. Every once in a while, someone doesn’t smile back, so I know that there is some angst or misunderstanding taking place. But for the most part, they are very quick to smile back and engage the new, strange person in their city.
There are plenty of hostels in the Jalan Jaksa part of town. And having a room there, I have seen a couple of white faces. But even here, there seems to be very few of us. It is the rainy season, so that could be a contributing factor. But I still get the feeling that it is an unmet industry.
It’s a crap-shoot as to whether or not the people speak English or not here. I wouldn’t quite put it at 50/50 – possibly 30/70. But I think that the English is always better in the cities, so I am sure that is the case here. But an interesting addition to what I have noticed as far as language goes is that Indonesian has a lot of Spanish words. “Mas, Dande and miedras” are all Spanish or similar to Spanish that I have heard today. I took note of them to find out what they mean later. But it would be interesting to find out that they might possibly get their language from a mix of Filipino and Malay – as it sounds similar and Filipino is about 40% Spanish.
I will need to change some money from Ringgit to Rupiah and buy a cheap pair of shoes. I would like to do some hiking on this trip, and I don’t think my flip-flops can handle that kind of torture.
There are very few lady-boys here, that I have noticed. That’s probably because it may be seen as much more of an eyesore by the history of Muslim intolerance here. There were a few in Malaysia, and I think I saw a few in my short time in Singapore. But I just saw one and I would not have noticed normally, but since I haven’t seen one at all since being here, it kind of stuck out in my head.
The food is relatively cheap. I sat at a small eatery inside the mall and had a full plate of chicken, veggies and rice for about US$1.20. The prices are a little higher than advertised in Lonely Planet. But I really can’t complain for the price.
Walking around town was great. I enjoyed walking past these huge statues and monuments that are all over this area of the city. It seems extremely large. And they seem to put extra attention on the security as police appear on every corner and guard their monuments as they do their religious values.