Sabtu, 22 Maret 2014

How to be Indonesian

map of Indonesia
As promised in my previous post, here is an ultimate guide to be an Indonesian. Surely, it is a total generalisation (how can a country with 17,500 islands, 2,500 million inhabitants, 300 distinct ethnic groups and 740 different languages be just called a country?). Something that's entirely acceptable in my hometown may get someone roasted alive at a pig burning party in rural Papua. Also, if it ignores all the details and jumps directly into a judgemental conclusion, think of being a bunch of people living on remote islands in the pacific: it's merely a way of living. Despite being the 4th largest population in the world, we are on our own, separated by sea to other countries and to ourselves. Indonesians, like myself, live in a snug, comfortable and amazingly tiny bubble around our head called 'the universe’. And while everybody is a bit racist sometimes, we are too, only slightly more deliberately. 

So, to be Indonesian, one must:

  • Switch off our brain from time to time. This is important not only to preserve our energy, youth and beauty, but also our sanity. In this big country with no rule or regulation whatsoever, this is the only way to keep afloat. And stop asking why. Only God and the spirit of our ancestors know (if you happen to find out how to contact them). We are happy and well alive because we have no idea how our country works (or if it does). Be seriously ignorant, we'll survive. 

PS. If you're extremely good at doing this, you'll have a promising future as an Indonesian politician.
An example of conversation with a normal Indonesian goes as follow: 
My curious foreign friend: in your country, at what age limit we can legally employ someone without being charged with child abuse?
Me: Is it not allowed?
  • smile and nod when we don't understand. We don't mean to lie, it's just our nature of being super friendly: we say that we hear you, but what you imply is the mystery of life.
  • walk slow but type fast. There's no point of walking fast, you'll end up waiting anyway. While waiting, we kill time by playing with our mobile phone. No wonder we can type in messengers at a speed of a bullet.
  • eat at all times. Unlike France, our restaurants and street vendors open 24 hours per day. We eat not because we're starving (how come if you do it at all times?) but just to keep us busy. Indonesian sweats not when working but when eating (thanks to our spicy foods).
  • not greet friends "how are you?" because that what tourists do. They learn to say "apa kabar?" which means 'how are you' in Indonesian according to Lonely planet phrase book. But the real Indonesians greet friends by saying, "kamu gemukan ya?" which means 'you're getting fat'. This is the beauty of our country, we can always tell people they're fat and still be very friendly (don't forget to smile and nod).
  • put everyone in labelled boxes. We don't discriminate people, we are just well-organised about who belongs to which group. We believe that all people come from Sumatra are lawyers or 'Padang food' sellers. People from Madura are barbers or satay hawkers. All middle-aged potbellied men are government employees, e.g. politicians, tax officials, public university lecturers, etc. All skinny pretty girls are secretaries, soap-opera stars or second/third/fourth wives of potbellied men. Chinese people are annoying and filthy rich. Young, long-haired, shabby, lanky guys are unemployed. Scrawny men who go to work everyday on old bicycles are elementary school teachers in the villages, etc. It seems quite abrupt but it's more often true. It's because, admit it, we always try to meet the expectation.
  • pick a religion. To say that Indonesians are religious is an understatement. It's completely understandable: amidst the chaos and shambles (which mean our normal daily life), we can only count on divine intervention. We also have to put a religion on our ID card. It doesn't matter if your name is just a number, but your religion must be one of 5 beliefs recognised by our government. Of course we are a free, democratic country, no question about that. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to use facebook, twitter, picasa, youtube, blogspot, google, google map, wikipedia, etc like in mainland China.
  • be good at multitasking. A bus driver in Indonesia can simultaneously drive, smoke, take on and drop off passengers, type a text message, answer a call and talk on the phone while overtake a truck, without loosing a beat. A chief of one department can be a head of another office, a president of another organisation, a manager of another company as well as a chairperson of a politic party. And why not, his/her job is simply to sign letters (and to be photographed, occasionally). Whether they ever read these letters or not isn't an issue. After all, most of them are illiterate.
  • know everything in our neighbourhood. We may not know that there's a new country named South Sudan (it's too far from us and 99.99% of us will never visit it anyway) but we know precisely who's the wife of our next-door, where she comes from, how old she is, what school she went, what she does for a living, what she wears and what she recently bought and how much it costs. We know which neighbour has financial problem and which has marriage problem. At the workplace, colleagues must know every one's backgrounds and their far-flung relatives' backgrounds. We are bigger than 'big brother' and although not well-equipped with CCTVs, we even manage surprisingly better than that.
  • think of 'shopping mall' as our centre of culture and civilisation. It's where people spend their time when they're not working to eat, to shop and to be entertained, to meet friends and drink, to watch shows and exhibitions, to do sports, to visit beauty parlour or to go to movies. While in other countries people talk about number of inhabitants to decide the size of a city, in Indonesia it's the number of shopping malls. The bigger a city, the more shopping malls it has.
  • take a motorbike to go anywhere. You may well just go two houses around the corner, but a really good Indonesian will take a motorbike ride. Walking isn't an option because the pavement is blocked by street-food sellers, barbers, other merchants and broken sewers. Not to mention a risk of being hit by a car or the hazard of unidentified falling objects. Indonesians also have an astounding ability to take their motorbike in the inaccessible hinterlands. Once I saw a motorbike parked in the depths of a forest up the hill. Only the driver and the parking guy (if he exists. Sometimes he suddenly pops up out of the blue) know how it got there.
  • understand your priority when communicating by text. In Indonesia, it's important when you give a long answer and when you don't. Example:
  • My mobile got stolen but I am alright. Please don't worry and ignore if there's a random text from me. Answer: (it looks like a confirmation code for online shopping but it means 'take care. God bless you. See you.' It was a real message from my parents for me, actually)
  • Can you send me some money soon? I'm desperate and nearly dying of hunger. Answer: Y (means ya or yes in Indonesian)
  • Will you marry me? Answer: N (means nggak or no in Indonesian)
  • Look at this monkey! Answer: wkwkwkwkwkwkwkwkwk....(laughing, Indonesian style)
  •  You're so funny. Answer: huahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Hihihihihi. Xixixixixixixixi (also laughing, Indonesian style)
  • It's too funny. Answer: Huahaha :-) huahaha :-) huahaha:-) huahaha :-) wakakakakakakakak :-D:-D:-D (also laughing, Indonesian style with emoticons)
  • consider that time and other measures as relative and therefore they're neither precise nor countable. When we mention 'about 12 o'clock', it can mean midday today or midnight the day after tomorrow. Or if we tell you it's 1 km it means 'in a distance not so far away for a motorbike but honestly we never measure it since the era of European settlements in south east asia.' I always bear this in my mind since I consider being fat is definitely relative. When I see an old friend, I know that I'm still skinnier than a hippo.
There you go, my fellow Indonesians, feel free to add or to cut. I'm sure there're a lot more which I can't recall at the moment. Thing is, it doesn't feel weird until you see that not everyone are used to the same things. I still have to eat rice for breakfast once in a while and I love to wet my bottom with running water than just wipe it with toilet paper. And I strongly believe that my ancestors came from the sea (where else?) as great sailors who discovered delicious stuffs like sweet soya sauce.

Rabu, 26 Februari 2014

How to be French

In order to make the most of my staying in France, I totally immersed myself in its culture; notably by spending lots of time drinking, partying and playing 'social games' (who can think of any other stuff that is more French than these anyway?). So this is probably a real guide to a French real-life experience (yeah, you bet), not just a passing tourist who merely skims its haute cuisine or Gallery Lafayette to buy some Yves St Laurent or Dior, as if they're not made in China and are not available in a local departement store across the road and do not cost like buying a little town in a third-world country.

So to be French, one must:

  1. plan the next holiday right after a holiday, preferably on the first day of work. This is completely sensible, otherwise what is the point of working all the way until the next holiday?
  2. go to the pharmacy more often than going to the restaurant or movies. Of course French people also go to the restaurant, don't get me wrong. But not too often because it may look like you're so lame at cooking. Also, showing off a bit of home-made meal is a French way to charm guests. They go to movies once in a while, especially on Tuesday when there's a "buy one get one" thing with one mobile phone provider. In France downloading movies from the internet is illegal, but if an officer finds you downloading one, he/she will just suggest another site that is more secure to download movies. While adding a downloaded movie on top of a delicious self-made speciality will be a perfect scenario for spending a nice evening, ones can not drug themselves unless they get an endless supply of drugs. Viola the pharmacy. 
  3. talk with a lot of of puffing sounds. If you want to sound French, add a 'pfft', 'brrp' or 'beuf' occasionally, so even if our French level is the same as Spanish cow, we'll still sound so natural and so French indeed.
  4. live through a strike. French people go on strike every now and then to make a point that some of them have a point and they are free to express it by making other people wait a long time, walk a long distance or other minor inconveniences. Still, it's good to see a country allowing its citizens to speak out and aloud, therefore the Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.
  5. kiss everyone (yes, don't miss anyone please) at the party, especially if you come late and leave early. Unfortunately this kiss will be meaningless pecks on the cheek, but we may get lucky sometimes and a hunky bloke will land wet smooches on both cheeks (amen). 
  6. have a lunch or dinner only at a particular, scheduled time of the day. Restaurants in France only open for a couple of hours in the afternoon and about the same 'office hours' in the evening. The restaurants are quite strict about their schedule, even the bars serving hot food will refuse to make a sandwich if you come at the wrong time of the day. You can get some peanuts and alcohol instead, at the very best. For people whose home country has foodstalls that open 24/7, this may reminisce of those days of wars in military camp where food was rationed and people stood in line holding bowls and one must be careful not to queue too long to miss the feeding hours. PS. Pharmacy has longer office hours.
  7. take one day off for filling out the tax form. Or maybe two, just in case there is a problem with it. We never know.
  8. leave a shitty job for a dole. If you don't have a good job, just quit because the government unemployment support pays better.
  9. take up an activity or interest outside the job. Or maybe two activities. Or three. Or four. French people are very good at using their spare time and they do practically all cool stuffs imaginable apart from their work. Boating, jumping, surfing, wind surfing, horse riding, flying, playing musical instruments, all types of dancing, kayaking, cycling, boxing, martial arts, mountaineering, climbing, hiking, skiing, scuba diving or car racing, to name but a few. Other people do it as well, but not as often, as common, as much nor as many kinds at once (I believe). 
  10. do all the shopping on Saturday evening because stores are closed on Sunday. If you really need something on Sunday that you can't delay till the following day, go to the Arab stores (it's not being racist, it's just called this way). They're a bit more expensive than the grande surface like Carrefour or Super U, but they have more friendly office hours.
  11. not eat frog legs or snails. What a stereotype, like Chinese always eats dogs. But no, they eat everything. Frog legs and snails are just for tourists who believe that these are the food French people normally eat every day. In fact, they eat mostly 'normal' food, apart from the duck liver pâté or foie gras, of course. Normal is just too relative but apparently when I was in France, frogs were just out of fashion. 
Despite all those lovely things, I like France for their innate ability to enjoy themselves and to complain a bit just not to make their good life sound too perfect. I will write more about "How to be Indonesian" just to have more fun and to be fair to myself. 

Minggu, 05 Desember 2010

Effortlessly Content (at last)

If you happened to read the previous post, I just want to tell that I did go to Lombok and dive in The Gilis. I also visited Mount Merapi afterwards, although I'm too lazy to write the details. What confused me was that I didn't feel great at the end. I've done everything that I am excited about, yet I was restless to be back to Semarang.

Not that I was bored. I have my job and friends here, I am more than happy to be back. It was just because for almost a year in Semarang, I didn't really achieve or do anything meaningful. I was practically messing about. I was busy to make myself busy. The only occasion when I feel like doing or learning something useful was when I travel. It explains why my mind was always somewhere else.

I complained to friends over the internet that I couldn't have real conversations with my colleagues and friends. Most of them are busy, settled and responsible adults. Therefore we have almost no common interest. I was tired of listening about our mundane daily life (Was it because I always want to be entertained? Generation Y tendency?). I still hang out with them, of course, but I know I was missing something. And it wasn't a marriage, like is always suggested.

A conversation that I usually have over a cup of tea or a plateful of 'nasi goreng' is often about kids, husband/male species, colleagues, work or money. I also talk about similar topics, don't get me wrong, but once in while I want to talk about something else. Not necessarily important, but new (at least for me). Like, does Luke Skywalker really exist? or why Spongebob is yellow? why time flies and slips through our fingers? I want to talk about stuff that I am interested in. I also want to get a feedback, apart from a strange look. Only recently I've found a drain. It's called 'doing my job'.

I know I love teaching. I enjoy standing in front of people and explaining something that draws their attention. I always be the person who does the speech, since I was an elementary student (I was in tears at that time, though, because everybody else could do a peacock dance and I had to talk instead. Not happy tears). In the past I had talked in front of villagers, peers, teachers and children. Once I also tried to be an elementary English teacher. It was quite enjoyable for me, yet it didn't fully explore my passion to teach. People join an English course as a 'supplement' education, something they do in their spare time. Either their parents ask them to join or they volunteer in the class to have fun. That's why sometimes it's hard to keep their attention. It's pretty normal that some students did text messaging when I was teaching! Furthermore, it wasn't quite easy with English. My students demanded a conversation class, which means to teach off the book. Which means, I have to think of myself what to teach. If it's too easy or too difficult, the result will be same: I'm losing them. I have to find out which is the perfect level for these teenagers, who play nintendo wii on their holiday and can't live without Blackberry messenger.

Fortunately, it is different in the lecture theatre. These med students come to learn, or at least they have to, if they want to pass the exam and graduate. In general, they have more attention and obedience. They even listen to me sometimes!

Only recently I have my own class. I don't teach "Biomolecular markers of breast cancer" or anything remotely cool like that, but I found out that I can talk about 'interesting stuffs' to my students. In fact, I can talk about anything to them. The things that I contemplate. Medicine. Poems. Books. Scholarship application. Languages. Research. Travel. Experience. Friends. Different ways of living. Writing. Or simply about people and culture. Instead of looking nerd, I am usually considered as a responsible lecturer, who gives education (you bet). When we do something that we love doing and are passionate about, the atmosphere will follow. In short, I'm so happy to do my job.

The best part of this is that I need no excuse to do it!

Jumat, 22 Oktober 2010

Eat (good foods), Pray (that I have enough money to afford my holiday), Love (Bali)

I've stayed at Denpasar for almost 4 weeks now and I have a few stories to tell. But since I put everything off until now, those stories are getting stale. I'll write it anyway.

Three weeks ago I went to Ubud to visit Ubud Writers & Readers festival. I went there on a motorbike and I suddenly realised that Ubud is so unbelievably close to where I live, if only I had slightly better navigational skill and not got lost in Denpasar only to find the way to get out of the town. Anyway, I managed to get to Ubud safe and sound (eventually). I intended to see a play called "Conference of The Birds" based on story from a Persian poet, Farid Al-Din Attar. Frankly, I had no idea what it was about. I didn't bother because this is always my state of mind whenever I go to a performance. I love the element of surprise, you see. I expected to get information about the story on a piece of paper then I could read it in case I didn't get the dialogues from beginning to end, as usual. To my surprise, the piece of paper I got didn't have the priceless information I desperately needed. It only says about the actors; what their achievements, how long they've been on stage, where they graduated from and what they do for living, etc. Even worse, I bet the other guests had read the book from cover to back, or at the very least, they could recite it. There was a big banner for guests to sign on which people wrote some quotes from the book like, 'All praised the splendour of their distant king; All rose impatient to be on the wing;' or something like that. I was terrified with my ignorance of Sufi poems until I heard someone whispered from the back row, "Could you tell me again what is the story about?" It's amazing how relieved I felt to know that I wasn't the only moron in the room. Or we were just being normal, in fact. At the end of the show we saw singing and dancing and theatrical poem-reading before the background of misty foliage in a warm night at Ubud candlelit open air stage. This moment then, I was sure everyone understood the language of beauty.

I spent the rest of my staying at Ubud wandering around the village and town, knocking foreigners' doors in an effort to find a nice place to rest that night. It turned out to me that most people stay at Ubud for longer than one night, hardly any place to rent for a single night. It's understandable since this town/village is so serene, with lots of ashrams and yoga centre and all. One day I will stay longer at Ubud and perhaps learn to meditate (as if my hometown isn't as rural as Ubud).

Last weekend (the following week) me and a bunch of my colleagues rent a car to go to Central Bali. We visited Besakih, the biggest temple in Bali notorious for scams. We survived the scams, needless to say, but they managed to prevent us from getting inside the higher temple. My colleagues didn't mind at all, as long as we have this pretty picture of us in front of the temple. But I did. I mean, if I go to one place, at least I wish I saw most part of it, not the facade only. I did ask permission to climb on those flights of stairs and I was admitted. Only a few steps from the entrance, one of my colleagues called me and asked me to get down immediately. I knew there were some people did offering and praying inside the temple, but they were quite casual (they didn't even noticed me because I was wearing sarong, belt, rice on my fore head and flowers on my ears, because we were asked to pray a bit before entering the front part of the temple) so I was wondering why they sounded very hasty when asked me to leave.

"A guest who are not allowed to come in but still insists to do it will cast a jinx," they said. Yet when we were at the front door they'd already asked for 'donation' so that we could enter all parts of the temple. Yeah sure. Even god need money these days. I obediently followed my colleagues out of the temple and into the car.

It was muggy and raining when we arrived at Bratan lake. Last time I saw this place, I was 17 years old and for the first time I wore very short trousers in a public place. Well, I just want to say that this place is quite special to me (because I wore shorts. The first time. Very important indeed). I really wanted to see it again. I wanted to know how it looks now, whether it has changed a lot after years - although I actually only remember it vaguely now. Also the fact that we were there, after all. Unluckily, nobody wanted to get drenched in this very wet day. So we drove back to West Bali, to Tanah Lot to be exact, to a beach with better weather. As a matter of fact, the decision is understandable. Still for me, I really don't mind to get some mud and rain water especially after 2 hours drive to Bedugul, the area where Lake Bratan is. This area is damp and cool, a contrast to sunny and hot South Bali. But isn't this what we were looking for when we drove hours away from South Bali? I thought we want to experience something different, not just visit places in order to take good pictures of them (bad weather isn't good for pictures, legend has it). Yet since I traveled with many people, I thought it's wise to go with the majority.

Tanah Lot was no different from a packed street market that afternoon: so crowded and busy, hectic with tourists and people selling instant photos. You can barely make picture without random strangers in it. That's why I wanted to go to the other side. There is a piece of land surrounded by rocks further away from those bunch of people wearing sunglasses and carrying digital cameras. One of my colleagues showed me the way to get there, but it turned up that the undisturbed piece of land I desired was not entirely a public place. It belongs to a five-stars hotel nearby and it is actually part of their golf field. In my opinion, hotel is still a public place. It's open to the beach anyway and I don't think a human being like myself is a big threat for national security. So I wandered around and I managed to get to the rocks, the peaceful part of the island and stayed there for a while. Some of my colleagues followed me and I guess we liked this place a lot. Until my friend said that she wasn't comfortable being in a hotel area and it was better for us to leave. In fact, on my way there some people from the hotel had reminded me, "Beware of the golf balls," which is another way of saying, "Move away from this place or you'll have your head knocked by the balls" but I told him that I wasn't afraid of golf balls because they're smaller than goat's testis. That's how I ignored him and continued walking to my preciously tranquil land. At this point, when my friend acted as if a prefect, I was a bit annoyed. It spoiled the moment. But I didn't make it a fuss until later when someone added to me, "We have rules here, Ria. You can't just go wherever you want,"

Let me tell you: we indeed can go wherever we want. Especially if you have cash. But if not, a bit of boldness and smile can do the trick. You'll never know if you never try.

Coming back from this trip, I figured out that it was time to go on my own tailored journey. If I want to get all wet and all in, it's a bit tricky to involve all my colleagues. Usually when traveling, as am not the fittest person in the world, I mostly feel like an old lady in her 80s and I make note to myself to buy health insurance and write my will as soon as I can. But with my colleagues, I feel as though I am the sportiest girl in her twenties. Wait. I am a girl in her twenties. Anyway, I decided for the next day that I would go on a solo trip to Nusa Lembongan, an island in the east off Bali.

I quickly made friends with a family from East Java on the way to the island. The boat we were was so choppy that my new friends were busy vomiting along the way. But all was worth it. Nusa lembongan is probably my best snorkeling spot in this year. I wasn't very lucky when I visited Karimun Java on my last holiday, or Vietnam when I only saw jellyfish and some other snorkeling spots that wasn't as much to see as this one. I was swimming with various tropical fish (morish idols, snappers, angel and clown fish, surgeon fish and tiger fish) when I feed them with crumps of bread. I saw corals and seaweeds. I also did kayaking and saw sea caves along the island. Despite a bit of sunburn on my arms and face, in short it was such an amazing day. I chilled out on a resort and had a chat with an Australian grandpa (who managed to swim with his hat on and keep it dry the whole time!) who is also a volunteer for Rotary club.

Our conversation went like this:
Me : "What kind of job do you do for Rotary?"
Him : "Help eradicating malaria,"
Me : "What a coincidence! I also work in malaria field. Whereabouts do you work?"
Him : "Papua. There're so many people suffered from malaria, HIV/AIDS and malnutrition. People are so poor. Also in Africa, India and South America. Our work is prioritized in these countries,"
Me : "That's so cool. It's true, we need to combat these health problems," (pretend to completely understand and be deeply concerned)
Him : "Yes. And look at us! Dipping lazily in a resort pool and dozing on the beach in an island after lunch,"
Me : " Agree. What lazy bastards,"
He continued swimming with his dry hat.

I am planning to go to Lombok when I have time. I enjoy going with my colleagues and having a kind of holiday which includes more comfort and safety, but I'll make sure to have another kind of holiday which allows adventure, new friends and surprise. We'll see.

Selasa, 05 Oktober 2010

Bali it is

I am on 5-weeks teacher training at Denpasar, Bali. When I tell/write friends this, somehow attention is drawn to the last word, which is "Bali" (Then followed by an urgently important message: bring me some souvenirs!). The truth is, "teacher training" takes most of the place and no, I'm not really on holiday. Still, I do my best to make it feel like one.

Apart from the religion, I don't think Bali is much different to Semarang (I'm living in a hotel with my colleagues from Semarang. That's explain a lot). I spend most of my time at IALF (Indonesia Australia Language Foundation), the institution who provides the training. It's quite a nice place apart from the fact that it's my work place. To be completely honest I kind of like this place, especially the library (they call it Resource Centre or something). There're lots of books and magazines, free internet, lockers, TV, videos, and a burning incense to add the Balinese atmosphere to the place. If only they have sofas, coffee maker, crisps, pillows and a massage service! There's also a pleasant cafetaria where I always have my delicious mango juice and feed the fish in the pond with my leftover food (don't do this at home!).

The training lesson is in general okay, but the most interesting part of it is -of course- the teacher. There is this teacher: a young, bariton-voiced, hunky English bloke who always put gel on his hair so it looks like porcupine. He also wears tight, fashionable T-shirt and delicately ironed trousers so he almost seems like an Armany guy who is in Bali for holiday but forget to bring his holiday outfits. Anyway, he makes an infinite source for our cruel jokes. In my spare time I will dip myself into a pint-sized swimming pool at the hotel where we stay until my skin gets wrinkled, or read 'Eat, Pray, Love' by  Elizabeth Gilbert. I know it's so last year but I like to read something that suits the theme (or in my case, that's the only option I have. I only bring this book). Once in a while I'll see my friend Dyta who works at Sanglah hospital. We went to Kuta beach festival on the other day, where we had one litre of Balimoon (Balinese cocktail) for two of us only! We could not walk straight afterwards although Dyta had to be on call in the morning. I just loved it.

Weekend is the best part of my staying at Bali. Last Saturday, me and my colleagues went on a tour in South Bali. We did water sports in Tanjung Benoa, we visited some excellent, white-sand turquoise-water beaches, saw Kecak dance at Uluwatu at dusk and later had roasted-fish dinner at Jimbaran. Ok, this sounds like I'm bragging about my weekend but actually the best part of it is just the fact that we travelled in a bunch and therefore we'd got to know each other better. After all, this is what matters when you are stuck with a group of people for a full month training!

Jumat, 03 September 2010

Singapore Sling

"I'm at the airport. I'm going to Singapore. I have no place to stay. My flight will arrive at Changi at about...errr, 10 minutes after midnight. Could I crush to your couch tonight?" I desperately called my sister's friend, Richard, just a few minutes before boarding. I could not get into him via mobile phone. I was using a public phone in the airport which charged me a lot for every single minute.
"No problem, I'll pick you up." Richard answered succinctly.
"Thanks a zillion," He had saved my nerves and money.

I waved to Richard in the arrival gate and he looked at me with a slight shock.
"Gosh, I thought you were a Vietnamese maid!" (Trust me, Richard never really sees any Vietnamese maid for whole of his life. He said that only because I was carrying a cone hat)
"Really?" Opposite of my expected reaction, I sounded especially proud. "I'm starving. Shall we go for food?"
"Ngg...yes, sure," Richard checked out the time on his wrist. "I'm surely up for an extremely-early morning breakfast. But it's much more expensive to eat here. Is it OK if we wait until we're near my flat? There's a good-priced food stall open until 4," he suggested.
"Cool," I said light-heartedly, but just before I saw the queue for taxi. Four planes had landed at the same time, leaving three rows queue snaking down for about ten metres long. God bless my stomach!

Still, it was a nice dinner (or breakfast for Richard).
"Last order!" the waiter cried. I thought his appearance was quite distinct: a long white bleached hair, a massive necklace chain (with a name tag?! Ex-prisoner?), tight polo T-shirt and shreded blue jeans. Put that altogether with a typical chinese face of a man in his 60s. Quite distinct eh?
"Hey, Richard, is he the guy in the banner?" There were four big banners in the food stall. Each had a big picture of someone: a cute girl dressed up like a pole dancer, a man with a football costume, the waiter guy and another pretty girl dressed like another pole dancer.
"No way. That banners are everywhere in food stalls," Richard said absent-mindedly, but then he looked closely to the banner then the waiter, and again, and repeated it several times.
"Oh yeah. You're right! And also those girls standing there next to the taxi!" He happily identified more people from the banners. The night was not young, the foodstall was almost closed but the girls still hovered around a taxi on the road.
"This place is a bit weird," Richard murmured when he finally gulped down last of his food. Yet I thought he's local.

"I have to wake you up at 8 tomorrow morning," Richard told me while preparing a makeshift bed in the livingroom, "My landlady will come tomorrow to collect the rent. It's coincidence, you come in the exact date. She always collects money on the 11th," he explained.
"OK," I said.
"She never allows a female guest to stay in this house. You see, I share this house with two other guys. One day the guy next to my room invited his girlfriend to stay a night. In the morning, the landlady told him off and posted a notification on the front door. She lives downstair,"
"Oh crap," I mean it. I hope Richard mentioned this earlier, because I don't want to make him in trouble, but I was also thankful for him to take the risk.
"So could you hide in the next room tomorrow?" he asked.
"No problem," 

It was a smooth escape for the landlady was only around for a few minutes. Richard knocked on my door and said that she's gone. I took out my rucksack and started doing my laundry. Well, actually Richard did it for me when I said I had no single clean clothes for the next day. Since I needed clean clothes desperately, Richard put my laundry out of the window to dry up under the sun.
"It'll be quicker," he said.
I agreed.
Then we went for a walk around Singapore. We had coffee, we ate, we talked and we scanned a CD store after a book store, before Richard got a phone call. From the landlady!

"I found knickers flying from your flat," she said coldly."I am wondering if you always wear woman underwear because I also found a flowery bra hanging on your laundry line,"
After making a lame excuse that his mother came visiting the previous day, Richard told me that it wasn't very clever to hang the clothes outside. As if we had not had enough trouble, suddenly it started raining so heavily! Then we knew that all my laundry must be drenched. And so were we when we tried to get home in a taxi.

We sipped another cup of coffee in Richard's flat. I had taken my laundry back in and we laughed at the landlady for caring too much about someone's laundry. Richard said she had nothing else to do but being a landlady, and that's what a landlady does: spy the laundry!
"I think I love Singapore," I said.
"Oh yes. You're very much welcome," Richard replied assuredly.

Minggu, 22 Agustus 2010

I dream of Vietnam

Due to huge success (for coming back home one piece) in the first travel across East Java, I decided to make its sequel: "Travel 2: Vietnam feat. Seb and bunch of his friends (and second cousin)"

I arrived at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City in the evening. There's no time difference although my watch was 10 minutes faster in general (useful for checking in, waking up, etc). I didn't know how my host Kha Le looks like, so I looked for my friend Seb with his fantastically-popular curly hair. I found him with five other unknown people waiting for me. One of them is Kha Le. Then two other friends are my fellow couchsurfers, Andy and Lisa; the rest is Johnny, Seb's second cousin and Seb's Vietnamese friend (whose name I forgot immediately but I remember that the other girl we met the next day has exactly the same name. Vietnamese name usually consists of one syllable only, unlike Indonesian which has too many syllables!). Apparently Kha also hosted three other guests that night: two French boys, Yan and Clement, and an American girl named Sarah. The ten of us went for dinner together afterwards. I knew nobody but Seb yet we talked as if we were long-lost relatives (well, there's an element of truth here in Seb and Johnny's case). Lots of new people in one night, and that's just a start.
Day one.
I had no single đồng and had relied my life to the kindness of my traveling buddies. There was traveler's cheque but it seemed that this mean of money isn't very famous in Vietnam. We spent half of the day trying to exchange my TC. We got lots of hand waving, a 'renowned Vietnamese gesture' to say no, can't or not possible. We went sightseeing Saigon on foot and although I dislike big cities, Saigon was fine to me, thanks to its nice cheapo foods. We went to War Museum just before it was closed at 5 pm.
Day two.
Booked a tour to Cao Dai temple and Cu Chi tunnel. We teamed up with Andy and Lisa, our affable Austrian friends. Having stayed in Vietnam for almost a year, Seb was believed to know the most about almost everything. However he confidently predicted that the trip would only take about 30 minutes when in fact we arrived at the temple in a good 3-hours drive! I was lucky to find a Filipino girl called Nash, otherwise I would be left cold in the bumpy journey. We saw Cao Daists had their daily ceremony at the temple. I found the religion interesting because it combines so many famous entities. Cu Chi tunnel was overly claustrophobic: narrow, dank, tight and pitch-dark. I felt my breath was taken away, literally. In the evening we had dinner cum Seb's farewell party. There were some more foreigners turned up (aka Seb's friends)! I don't even remember how many people were there, but it was quite a nice bilingual che-drink party.
Day three.
We took an overnight bus to Da Lat, a town in the highland. Seb were talking to Johnny the whole journey, adding a buzzing-bee sound to my sleep. Despite the lack of sleep, we hit the cable car immediately. I met more foreigners again. Luckily this new friend, Vu Le, is not particularly xenophobic. Alas, he's engaging and hospitable. That night we ate rabbit cooked in many different ways. It was delicious although I didn't devour as much as my other four male counterparts. Later on, we visited night market where I met another foreigner, Kimitoshi, (another) Seb's friend from Japan.
Day four.
On the trip to waterfall we were turned back by a flock of Cao Daists. Vu said he was impressed by their ability to ruin our meticulous plan. We decided to go to the lake instead, but we mistakenly entered another attraction, which was a kind of amusement park with very random characters and a zoo filled with animals I suspected were contaminated by Agent Orange. There was a dance by an ethnic minority group that we happily participated. Then we took a stroll to The Valley of Love, where I don't think was the best place to visit with four indifferent boys ^_^. The silk embroidery exhibition was cool, especially for its free entry (but the tea was awful). We eventually had dinner with Vu's parents who are very sociable and speak fluent English.
Day five.
Johnny had left for Cambodia. We continued to Nha Trang, a beach city in the northeast of Da Lat. The view from Da Lat to Nha Trang was amazing! I wish I camped or hiked among those mountains and waterfalls instead of paying an entrance fee to a puny flower park. For sometime Seb was busy with his mobile phone because he had no place to stay that night. The reception was bad too. Fortunately everything was alright in the end. I made friend with my host Derek from Canada also Lena and her sister from Denmark before falling asleep in a couch (experienced a real couchsurfing at last!)
Day six.
I went to the beach with my CS friends very early in the morning to take some photos of the sunrise (I guess Seb would have loved this). On the way back I was lost and got barked by some dogs that I decided to broke into a stranger house to phone Derek. I was lucky to find a nice (and good-looking ;-p) French guy who lent me his mobile. Then the rest of the day was spent chatting and drinking by the sea (with another Seb's friend called Huang), which was indeed very pleasant and relaxing. I was full in a holiday mood. Yet the best part was the lovely spring roll dinner which still makes me drool even now.
Day seven.
Boat trip. I really love the feeling of jumping off the boat to have a cocktail while floating on the sea. Love the feeling of hopping with the waves when did a little bit of swimming with my new friends Zoe from China and Isis from Venezuela. In short, I love Nha Trang's sea. I will call it The Nice of South East Asia. Well, at least the coffee price is a bit like one in Nice (read: ridiculously expensive).
Day eight.
A strange day. Our bus annoyingly broken down twice and we spent twice as much time on the journey as we should have. However, Seb amazingly made more and more new friends during this accident (what a chap!). When we finally got to Quang Nam to attend someone's wedding, it was high time for lunch. This is my first time coming to a stranger's wedding the night before D-day and joining the groom's family. I suddenly felt 'familiar' with Vietnamese wedding.
Day nine.
The wedding. In fact, I wasn't quite sure what to do but it was rather...interesting. It was like the old days when me and my friends turned up in a strangers' wedding to have free foods. Anyway, after the wedding we went up to Da Nang, another beach city which is a bit off the tourist track. Dinner with three other foreigners who are also our hosts. We gorged sea foods and ice cream, before posing in front of a flashing neon-colored bridge that is kind of a landmark of Da Nang.
Day ten.
Hoi An. This ex-Champa city has plenty of art and craft shops littering on their charming old town. Seb had his suit made in one of the tailor shop and he became poor at once. We accidentally meet Dzung, another(!) Seb's friend from Hanoi and I intuitively decided to go to Hue with her the next day! Going around for a while, I immediately fell in love with Hoi An: free temples everywhere. Also, I had the nicest drink ever in this town. On the way back to Da Nang we took the super slow minibus, even two girls in a bicycle overtook us. Then we went night swimming on Da Nang beach which was surprisingly almost deserted after the rain.
Day eleven.
Hue. Went visiting the tombs. The entrance fee is more expensive for foreigners as usual, so I asked my Vietnamese friends to buy the cheaper tickets for me (because I am from a third-world country full of poverty, beggars, corrupted officials, malaria and all). It was a boiling hot day and I was tired of waking up so early that I heard nothing from the history the tour guide told us. I only could recall that the emperors were so lavish in their death, as seen from the ornate decor of their tombs. Perhaps they couldn't hardly wait to die. In the evening I went to a traditional Vietnamese song on the boat. The highlight is floating a candle down to the river. Afterwards my friends invited me to karaoke. I refused since I had not learnt anything from the singing performance on the boat.
Day twelve.
Dzung kindly took me for a rickshaw trip around Hue. At first I insisted to go on foot because I spent one sixth of my money in Hue only! But mostly my Vietnamese friends are so generous and they think a few thousands dong is nothing. Back in the tour again, I paired up with another Vietnamese for cheap tickets and made friend with two amiable Italian guys. I saw the majestic Citadel and thanks to my poor navigational skill, got lost in it. For the first time in Vietnam, I took a train. It was to Quang Binh. I wish I could tell more about Vietnamese train but I spent most of my journey sleeping like a baby pig after my wonderful Vietnamese friends stuffed me with foods at all times.
Day thirteen.
Seb planned to visit Phong Nha cave but apparently there wasn't any public transport going there regularly. So we rent a motorbike! It was fun because only a few days ago Seb successfully located the brake. After repeating 'Hail Mary' ten times in my heart, we boarded on a motorbike trip about 8 km outside the town. It worth all the efforts for the cave was above an underground stream runs between the undulating landscape. The boat paddled smoothly to the cave entrance, before it was suddenly surrounded by one boat after another. In the end it was getting more and more crowded that then was similar to a floating market in the cave. Awesome. We climbed to the upper part of the cave and started using our imagination to guess the shape of stalagmites and stalactites. The best was the one Seb named as 'stalagmighty', a stalagmite which 'sat on a throne'.
Day fourteen.
Hanoi. Last stop. During the first hour in this city, I'd already got told off twice. It was great because I don't understand a word. Like other big cities in the world, Hanoi is not exceptionally friendly, especially the traffic. Instead of pushing the brake, motorists will yell, blow horn, and keep zigzagging while avoiding to run you over everytime you try to cross the road. Standard. The best part about Hanoi is when I tried to cook with chopsticks. As a matter of fact, I don't really master how to use chopstick for eating, let alone cooking! Of course there are some nice things in Hanoi like the tourist information centre and the water puppet, but I was quite happy to get to the airport early to take my flight home on the next day.

I would like to thank everyone whom I mentioned in this post and lots more unmentioned. All would be impossible without your help and supports. Specially I thank Seb for making a highly organised itinerary although sometimes didn't work out very well ^_^ (but I really appreciate him for being a superb host). As if this post isn't long enough, I made a list of things I remember the most about Vietnam (apart from dozen bowls of phở, few glasses of che, scrumptious Vietnamese coffee cà phê sữa đá, bitter colorless iced tea and Johnny's Banh Bao):
  1. Plastic chairs. It's lucky that there's not so many extremely fat people in Vietnam.
  2. Cacophonous horns. Who needs a brake when you have the loudest horn?
  3. Minibus for 10 metres/hour. It's always the same speed for this kind of transport (I took it twice!) I'm sure I can walk faster.
  4. When we drove motorbike without license, the advice was "Pretend you don't understand Vietnamese!" Well, I don't need to pretend, really. Despite my very Vietnamese look, I have zero linguistic ability.
  5. Vietnamese music video which is not much better than Indonesian's. Thank God.
  6. Seb's singing on the wedding. Nobody sang as close as in Vietnamese idol, but his painful face really said what he felt when singing (constipated). It's the highlight of my journey!