Stranded in Paradise
Trip Start Oct 31, 2011
17Trip End Ongoing
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The word corrupt is on the tip of everyone's tongues here in Indonesia. Whenever I ask older students what they would change about their country, the first word out of any of their mouths is 'corruption'. I read in a recent online article that said that "Corruption in Indonesia is just like Coca-Cola, everyone, every time, everywhere can become part of the corruption or could be the target of corruption." The police are a prime example, stopping people left right and center with fines for anything from riding a motorcycle without a helmet (understandable) to riding a motorcycle without air caps on the tyres (not so understandable)
I'm not sure if the aniti-corruption clamp down is a relativity new thing here but anyway, getting to the point, my visa seems to have fallen victim to an anti-corruption investigation underway in Jakarta and so in turn, I have fallen victim to being stranded on a paradise island. Not at all a bad place to be stranded, but a rather odd loner lifestyle. It's a strange sensation, travelling alone, and personally it's not something I have much experience of, or have ever had much desire to do. On the one hand it's very freeing, I can come and go as I please, eat my lunch at 4pm and my dinner at 10, change my plans at a moments notice, not answer to anyone, just 'be'. On the other hand travelling alone is, well, lonely! It feels somewhat pointless to witness beautiful views, eat great food and make amazing discoveries when there is no one there to share it with. Travelling alone makes me much more inclined to strike up conversations with random people and much less likely to back away politely when they do the same to me. On the plus side I've read a lot, thought a lot and felt generally grown-up a lot
A major step for me on this trip was to take my first flight alone without medication, more out of necessity than choice, but I did it, and I survived. To claim a completely drug free flight however would be unfair since I did buckle at the snack counter to purchase myself a neat little can of Bintang (Indonesia's version of Carlsberg), which I was served up complete with a side order of strange looks from everyone in the airport waiting room. I tried explaining to the old lady serving that I was in fact not an alcoholic, just that I was afraid of flying. She didn't understand, or more likely, didn't care and so I discretely downed the can and moved on. My prayers were answered though when I landed a seat on the plane right next to a member of ground staff travelling to Penang to unload the bags (weird set up, but whatever works I guess), who kindly forfeited his nap to explain to me what all the plane noises were. Extremely helpful after a jittery start with the planes air-conditioning not working (really though if that goes wrong then what else is fishy?!).
I'd like to be able to say that I no longer fear flying, but I'm afraid that would be a lie
The Jakarta post published recently that there had been 'Yet another arrest of a pilot, this time from Lion Air, over the alleged use of crystal methamphetamine, late last week has raised concerns over the safety of the country's airline industry, with the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) suggesting that a large number of pilots could have drug problems.' And so apparently all I needed to do to get more drugs for the flight was knock on the door of the cockpit! But seriously, come on now, that's not the kind of headline you want to read when you're taking two
flights a month in the very country suffering from said pilots drug problems.
Going back to my funny look experience at the airport, I should explain, to travel alone as a woman in Indonesia is seen as a bit weird, to drink beer alone in an airport at 2pm is downright crazy. A lot of what I hear about the culture here (other than the no pork rule), particularly where women are concerned, eerily reminds me of school history lessons about Victorian England
women's doesn't) and women’s roles in marriage, a truly fascinating and controversial topic that I won't bore you with just now, mainly because, to be honest, I haven't quite decided where I stand on that one yet. I came across a couple walking around a mall here in Penang, a woman dressed head to toe in black material, with the very strict face covering that leaves only a slit for her eyes, and her husband, walking beside her, jeans, scruffy trainers and a shirt unbuttoned midway down his chest, flashing rough patches of curly chest hair. I guess no one told him about the rule for men? Anyway, like I said another story and one that I need to put some time and thought into, no flippant comments, big subject!
It has been hard to live as a female in Medan, but then to be honest it's hard to live in Medan full stop
splashing out a little ($30 per night, steep by Sumatran standards). I'd have paid the price for the balcony alone, complete with hammock and spectacular views of the rainforest across the river. That and the fact that anywhere that sells porridge with bananas for breakfast is a good place in my books! We took a jungle trek on the Sunday, since, a) I'd promised Roger orangutans and b) he was going slightly cross eyed from a day of relaxing on Saturday. Somewhat more strenuous than the last time I went, but well worth it for the chance to float back down the river to Sam's on giant inner tubes, and of course, introducing Roger to wild orangutans is always going to be an experience!
I hate to write and run and I aplogise for the abrupt ending, but the rain has finally let up here in Penang and my stomach is rumbling, it's past dinner time so I'm off to get a chocolate milkshake at a local cafe and use their WIFI to upload this to you. I'll be sure to fill you in soon on all my Penang adventures over the past week so watch this space!