Google+ Badge

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Visa me Indonesian

I’ve been married for just over two months and time has come to plan a trip back home to the UK to show Yohana exactly what England is all about. To say that she’s excited is an understatement and she actually gave me a list of things that she wanted to do. In no particular order they included horseracing (I’m hoping she means watching, not riding) visiting a friend in Nottingham, castles, waterfalls and, oh yes, the Eiffel Tower.

For a moment I thought the same general knowledge that led her to believe that “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” was an accurate biographical retelling of Honest Abe’s younger life, ridding the world of demons, was encouraging her faith that the infamous tower was in fact in the UK. But no, she know’s it’s in Paris, and that Paris is in France, and wondered if it would be possible to go there at the same time as visiting the UK.

I was about to reel off a list of reasons, including distance, currency, language etc when it dawned on me that going from London to Paris must be similar to going from Jakarta to Bandung. With a bit of research it would appear that Bandung is 273 miles from Jakarta and the journey takes about 4 hours to get there. By car. London to Paris, on the other hand,  is only 211 miles and by using the Eurostar train, takes  2 hours and 15 minutes. In comfort. No traffic jams. Turns out we could even begin our journey in Darlington.

This all seemed to be fitting into place nicely but as with all best laid plans of mice and men, something was going to go wrong. I say wrong but I guess it’s just beaurecracy. France requires a different visa to the UK. Yep, let me repeat that with added perspective. France and the UK are in the European Union. They have trade links established to bring the European Community together. I can travel freely between all member states on my European British passport but it would appear that purchasing a British visa doesn’t allow Yohana the same freedom. The same visa that will allow us to enter France would also, if we chose, allow us to enter a number of other European countries, just not the UK, It would appear this is what happens when you use your veto too many times in the European parliament to say no to mandatory Bratwurst for breakfast. Both the UK and Euro visa, called a Shengen visa, would need to be applied for in advance.

Curiosity piqued, further investigation showed just how many countries will allow you to buy a visa on arrival (cheap option) and how many will expect you to buy it in advance (always more expensive). It all depends on nationality, different countries have different entry requirements. For instance, Indonesia offers sixty-five countries visa on arrival for the cost of $25 US Dollars.

So what about as a British Passport holder? Let’s look at the numbers. The number of countries that i can enter with a visa on arrival is increased to 167.  THERE ARE ONLY 196 COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD ALTOGETHER*. Yes, there are 29 countries where I have to apply in advance to enter, if they’ll let me in at all. Which countries can’t I enter this way? Well, that would be the likes of Noth Korea, amongst the few left. Actually of that 167 it’s free to enter many places too...French Guyana anyone?
*this figure changes quite often.

Now I know it’s a wiki site but it still provides a lot of  useful  information
According to the "Henley Visa Restrictions Index 2012", holders of a British citizen passport can visit 167 countries visa-free or with visa on arrival
The grey means a pre-arrival visa is needed, everything else is available visa free or VoA.

Lets compare that with the ability for Indoenesians to travel. Once you take out the black (diplomatic visas) and orange (special exemption) then you’re left with the dark blue (no visa) and light blue (visa on arrival) The red, by the way, is Indonesia itself.

So Indonesians can travel VOA to Senegal and Chad, where I have to apply for a visa in advance.....hmmm. I wonder what made Indonesia and Chad come to this arrangement. Maybe hundreds of Indonesians had a visit to Chad on their bucket lists and this encouraged the Indonesian and Chad governments to come to an arrangement. 

I saw some provocative pictures recently of the Indonesian President being honoured by our Queen for his excellent work in turning Indonesia into a democratic country with multicultural values. Trade-wise it doesn't increase faith in Indonesia enough to alter the visa situation though, does it.

what comes next in the sequence. Nationalism, Jingoism, ????

The road to a rational conclusion means being able to see the good and the bad in any situation, both sides of the coin as it were. This conclusion will always be subjective because it draws on things like your experience and upbringing among many other factors. The fact that you can perceive things that are bad, means only that you're observant, not necessarily critical. To be able to point out the good and the bad makes you a commentator, potentially creating debate among a community or informing others with little or no experience.

Sometimes foreign commentators when giving their opinion about a country, travel writers for instance, encounter nationalistic pride, or jingoism in extremes that say "who are they to comment on our beaches, or politics" So a counter argument for instance. Should only Cadbury be able to point out that their chocolate has flaws as well as some awesome taste experiences? Defensive behaviour limits an outcome, as often it is unnecessary (an opinion is still an opinion even if there is an excuse for the situation) or it can be intimidatory (we don't want to say anything negative in case it upsets one or more individuals).

Here's a short quiz to agree or disagree with. It's best if you are as honest as possible and have some support for your conclusion. That way your reasoning can be considered constructive.
1. Traffic problems in Jakarta are getting worse.
2. Jokowi will sort them out
3. The appointment of Jokowi/Ahok is evidence of multicultural changes in Indonesia.

I don't always agree with everything I hear, read or what is said directly to me, but I understand the commentator's right to their opinion and don't take it as a threat to everything I hold dear. Much the opposite really, on reflection I may see something that needs changing.

I'm a foreigner. I wasn't born in Indonesia but it's been my home for four years. I met and married Yohana, the most beautiful person I've ever met, who also happens to be Indonesian. She accepts my comments about Indonesia, sometimes she agrees and sometimes she doesn't. I'm looking forward to hearing her thoughts on the UK once we've visited but she agrees that I'm entitled to an opinion.

I'm not trying to change the way Indonesia is, just commenting on what I see. A very small minority of Indonesians believe this is unacceptable, that we should just accept inadequacies and keep quiet. Again, it's an opinion I respect, but ultimately disagree with.Indonesia considers itself to be advancing in terms of multiculturalism. I agree, we just need to keep reminding the minority.

A friend of mine is experiencing the same thing so by way of support, good luck J.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

interview #1

so placement interviewing a 10 year old student earlier
me :i want you to ask me 3 questions
her : ok, do you know any diseases
(Q2): do you know any diseases about the back....I know some diseases
(Q3) Have you ever eaten marrowbone?

some days i ask myself, is it me?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Wedding - a letter of explanation to a friend

So Penny, how can I explain an Indonesian wedding. Well, let’s start from the beginning....

Once we’d agreed to get married, Yohana, or Uciel as her nickname dictates, convinced me to use a wedding planner. Her sound reasoning said that, as we both work full-time, it would mean less stress overall. I’m not sure in hindsight whether that was right or not but I guess they organised a lot, even if they did leave one or two of the more important decisions to us, and a tad last minute at that.
Anyway, once we’d decided to use Natasya Wedding Planners, they met with us at our house and showed us what we could have. Basically there were food and entertainment packages and these could be applied to just about anywhere we chose. We’d already checked out a number of venues and had an idea of the place that we wanted but the more we looked into it we felt these other places were ripping us off. To use venues that already had their own caterers, they wanted to charge us service charges to use our own caterers. So, we came up with an awesome location.....
On the outskirts of the city is a place called Taman Mini and it’s a park that, for want of a better explanation, is a miniature version of the whole of Indonesia. There are full sized replicas of houses that you can find on all of Indonesia’s islands as well as a lake with replicas of the islands themselves with the lake acting as the oceans, seas and straits that surround our archeapelago. All contained within a visitors park with cable cars and a great hotel, five minutes fromthe site of our wedding.
We chose North Sulawesi’s show house as our venue as it was a perfect size for 500 people. It caused a lot of confusion for many people who assumed it is where Uciel hails from. She’s actually from Klaten in Central Java.
But, back to the plan. I’ve split between clothing and the events for easiness sake....
Originally I was going to have a light cotton suit in a fawn colour but on visiting the tailor provided by the wedding planners, this turned into a classic black suit with straight tie for the daytime and with the addition of a waistcoat for the evening. The best man and ushers were wearing the same (except for the waistcoat and their ties would be gold to match the bridesmaids.
Uciel had two dresses. One for the daytime, a classic, white kebaya (a traditional Indonesian dress which is easier to show than explain) which was made to measure and which she has kept. For the evening she wore a more western white wedding dress and, as she’s a little on the small side, it was short at the front and long at the back.

The girls were split into two groups. We had the bridesmaids and the ang-pao girls (more about the ang-pao later). They had simple dresses in white (bridesmaids) and gold (ang-pao girls)
My Dad and Uciel’s Stepdad wore normal suits (as it happened, they both wore grey)
As for the Mums, they wore matching gold kebaya in the eveing and their own dresses in the daytime.
The day was split into two with the religious ceremony between 3pm and 5pm and the reception from 7pm until 9pm. It’s not acceptible to have no religion in Indonesia so if you want to get married without all of that you have to go to either Singapore or Bali, which is a Hindu dominated culture in Indonesia. Uciel is a protestant Christian so there was no messing about with swapping or converting religions as happens with people who marry Muslims.
The afternoon was exactly as you’d expect a wedding at home to be, albeit outside in glorious sunshine. The priest/pastor read sermons and we wear rings and sing hymns and I get to kiss the bride. Afterwards we sign a government document in the presence of a registrar and we’re officially married. To finish, it was just cake and tea for those who attended (about 100) while we went back to the park’s hotel where we’d booked rooms for our parents and us. Here the girls were able to re-do make-up and some people to change clothes. It was great being in the hotel and so close as we were able to chill with a beer or a coffee. Very relaxed.
The evening reception is what it’s really all about though. Muslim and Christain Javanese (from the island of Java) are complicated ceremonies with many formalities. I guess ours was a mix of both an Indonesian wedding and a western one.
The parents walk into the grounds first to be seated on a stage, followed by Uciel and I and then the best man and ushers paired off with the three bridesmaids. We take centre place on the stage, flanked by our parents, and we’re all sat in big armchairs and sofas (the male and female attendants now join the rest of the guests gathered at the venue.
There is an MC who narrates and guides the whole process...
1. approaching the stage
2. A prayer given by one of Uciel’s uncles
3. Cake cutting. Ok, this is the bit you’re really curious about. There were lots of tiers of cakes, but the symbolic cutting meant just pretending to slice the riers with a (real) knife, not a lightsabre The cakes are given to us to take away and distribute later.
4. Next was the toast. Some bottles of sparkling something (it looked like cherryade) is poured into a fountain of champagne glasses, after which, two bottles of Lanson were opened for the family. The toast is done with whatever is in your hand at the time. Most weddings are alcohol free events but we’d arranged a beer station giving bottles of beer away.
5. Speeches. This was a bit more western and my best man, Richard delivered a nervous, comedy-filled speech designed to poke fun at, and honour the two of us. After this my Dad gave his thanks to everyone. (Uciel’s stepdad is Korean and, I guess because of his accent and grasp of Indonesian, chose not to say anything)
6. Craziness. In our wedding plan, we were offered the choice of doing whatever we wanted here. We could dance, or have a quiz or, as most Indonesians do, do nothing. Our idea was to give a prize to someone. So we had a dance competition........ “Gangnam Style” . This, I swear, will ensure our wedding winds up in local legend as I’ve been told people have never seen anything like this before.
7. Throwing the bouquet. This was followed by a volley of fireworks located in the footlights of the stage, again, rather unusual by Indonesian standards.
8. Finally people climb the stage to greet us and the parents and then have group and individual photographs taken.
9 I said finally but it wasn’t. As 9pm approaced we were led from the stage by one of my teachers, Mike, for what he promised was a “special” surprise. He wasn’t kidding.
In our invitations we’d included the lyrics of a song. One from me to Uciel and one from her to me. I had chosen Peter Gabriel’s “In your Eyes” which you might know from the movie “Say Anything”with John Cusack. Uciel had chosen “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perry. Well, we sat on chairs in front of three of my teachers. Mike and guitar, Eric and ukelele and Chelsea with her flute, supported by two of our admin girls, Jessica and Dea on vocals. Then a microphone was pushed into my hand as i heard the opening bars of “In Your Eyes” and I sat and sang it to Uciel. This was followed by her singing her song to me.
To say this came as a surprise to us both is a complete and utter understatement (we needed the song sheets for the words!) but what it did do was end our night more perfectly than I can tell you. Even now, five days after the wedding, I am at a complete loss for words to describe the emotion I felt (and knowing how well you know me, I know you also can’t imagine me lost for words!)
I never did get back to the part about the ang-pao. Well, as Indonesia has a huge Chinese demographic, it has adopted some Chinese customs and this is one of them. Instead of buying wedding presents, people put mney into an envelope as a present. I guess this was intended as a start for most newly-wed’s married lives and it’s continued as a tradition.
I hope this goes some way to clearing up confusions and I know I will have missed some stuff out. Please feel free to ask me anything at all Penny.
The end result is that something I thought would never happen, has happened. I’m married to the most beautiful woman in the world and I’m happier than a person has a right to be.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Airport Style

I’m currently sat in Frankie and Benny’s, a franchised food restaurant in the departure area of Manchester airport and I am dumbstruck by the people I see walking past me. Normally just seeing airport prices, let alone paying them would send me off on some rant about how if they can afford to charge one price in The Moon Under Water on Deansgate, why do you have to inflate the prices just because your market is captured. But no, it’s the sartorial mish-mash that has caught my eye today.
It’s only in times of refelction such as this that one can trully appreciate the lengths that people go to (or don’t it would seem) to get themselves ready. When I go to work, I try to dress normally. This is by way of an example to the teachers on what they too can get away with and also stops me being laughed at by the students and admin staff. The one day I didn’t take my sunglasses off before entering the building caused me so much grief I’ve hardly worn them since.
The people here are heading for a foreign destination, and that seems to persuade huge numbers of them to immediately prepare for the beach. I can only assume that the minute they step off the plane they will hail a taxi and say “saya mau pantai” (take me to the beach) and forgo the whole checking-in stage at the hotel. Then again, maybe they’re the most pragmatic people in the world and are choosing to dress appropriately in case of a crash. Interestingly, any of these beach bums heading for Jakarta are in for a rude awakening when they find out how far away the beach is!
Other people are more soberly dressed, maybe hoping for a free upgrade (is this just an urban myth by the way?) still, I’m not convinced that a shirt and tie with a suit is the most comfortable way to fly, and especially not with the grandkids in tow!
Then there are the normal ones, the ones who have planned for every eventuality, but watching them is no fun. No, my favourites are ‘the others’. The select bunch who are choosing to make a statement with their dress code. Maybe they are just overly ostentatious. Maybe a day at the airport is the best opportunity that these people have to let their hair down, close their eyes and let their wardrobes decide on their look. Whatever it is, it brightens up the day of any casual people watcher.
It would appear that practicality goes out of the window in favour of cat walk etiquette. That or the ‘i’ll just come out in my pyjamas’ look, or the ‘today Manchester Airport, tomorrow Jeremy Kyle’ look or my favourite one of all the ‘it looked good on the model so it must look good on my obese arse’ style.
Yes people watching could also be renamed as ‘Things you see when you don’t have a gun’. This is much more in keeping and all coming from a guy in hiking boots, jeans and a Hong Kong Phooey t-shirt!! But I have pockets, you see. When I reached the check-in desk and the lady contradicted the website and told me “only one piece of handluggage is allowed” those pockets would have come in handy for emptying out the second piece of handluggage had I not been able to win her around with my natural charm and teary-eyed begging. Where would I have put the wasabi biscuits and pork scratchings if all I was wearing was a plunge necked see-through kaftan over a thong, topped off with a trilby?
No, it’s all about keeping up appearances, but for who? They don’t know the other people at the airport. They’re not going to suddenly meet Susan and Rob coming the other way down the concourse thinking “aren’t I glad NOW that I chose to wear this balerinas pink tutu with the leopard skin print bra under the white chiffon smock with the ‘daddy’s girl’ baseball cap” (all of these I saw at the airport today, I’m not kidding).

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Trains, Planes and Becaks

I'm currently sat on the Stevenage to Doncaster train having arrived back in the UK yesterday. At Doncaster I'll switch trains and complete my journey to Northallerton where my mum will meet me in the car and ferry make to Leyburn. As I sit here though, I can't help but reflect on the differences in train travel in different countries I've visited.

The first key difference is comfort. The UK invented trains and as such we have a long and glorious history of train travel. Old steamers, working their way around the country were replaced by diesel engines and now electric. But, as long as you can get a seat, they're comfortable. I'm sat at a tabled, four-person seat and I have access to free wi-fi and an electricity point to charge my laptop. The next carriage is a buffet car and apart from the brattish six-year old sat at the adjacent table it's a pleasant journey.

two hours ago at the ticket office that wasn't the case when I paid £91.00 for this single journey. Let me try to put that into some context for you. I can fly to Bali and to Belitung for that money. Return.

This is the current problem with UK trains. They're reliable, clean and have plenty of facilities, but they're expensive.

Train journeys in Thailand, Indonesia and India don't have the level of cleanliness or the amenities, but my experience is that they're pretty reliable and most of all they're cheap.

UK trains used to have a 2 or 3 class service with first class being the dog's nadgers with tablecloths and cutlery and wine glasses and this classification system still exists in Asia (although without the tablecloths and cutlery) making mass transport for the masses affordable and convenient as well as being classified to make the better off passengers feel, well, better off.

What i find more surprising is that the train seems to be virtually full but this may have more to do with the promotional pricing policy used to encourage people to book earlier. This same journey, booked the day before, would have cost £32.00 (However I consider this to be still expensive when you look at the cost of a tank of petrol).

That these prices are available suggests to me that they could be offered all the time and, if the environmentalists are to be believed, would encourage people to be even greener in their travelling arrangements.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Smoke and Mirrors

I may have posted something about this before but I wanted to go into it in a bit more detail. Let's clarify something, Indonesia is a conservative country, at least that's the official position anyway. But it's also a country on the cusp of big changes and will choose to go one way or the other. The current position, sat on the fence, refusing to choose one way or the other, is confusing and not unlike head + sand + burying.

In the far north west of Sumatra you will find Aceh province, an area torn apart by the 2004 tsunami and, as a way of stopping the decades long internal struggle, allowed to operate Muslim Sharia law. This means an extreme, and often somewhat bizarre point of view, when it comes to censorship, read the extract from a recent article in the Jakarta Globe to see what I mean...
Extreme views are rife in the province where there are no cinemas, music concerts are few, and billboards depict females in headscarves.

“Women who don’t wear headscarves are inviting men to touch their breasts,” said 47-year-old teacher Tarmizi Mohammad.

“I think we should enforce Shariah laws further and stone adulterers and chop off the hands of thieves,” he added.

But the morals police faced a setback in 2010 after two officers were jailed for gang-raping a woman in custody.

Conversely, western influence is all-pervasive and can be seen in many aspects of Indonesian life. It nearly goes without saying that you can't drive more than a kilometer without seeing a reference to western fast food in the form of the ubiquitous 'Golden Arches' or other logo.

In the shopping malls, western brands are dominant and the UK is represented by Marks and Spencers, Debenhams, Top Shop and a newly opened Mothercare to name but a few.

On tv, western shows and movies are popular, if only as a way of learning the language and in music the likes of Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Katie Perry dominate with a musical blandness that is all encompassing but with enough suggestiveness to capture imaginations, both young and old.

Interestingly, it is in the medium of tv/movies and pop music that this influence surfaces more and more. Teenagers are encouraged to emulate their idols in their forms of dress, speech and habits, rarely understanding the provocative nature of the lyrics of the song, dialogue of the movie and clothing choices. Walking along the street can leave you scratching your head as to the choice of t-shirt logos that the wearer (or more often the parents) are oblivious to. The most extreme example being an under-ten year old wearing a t-shirt reading " I'm a s*#t ".

A trip to the movies can leave one just as perplexed. On a recent visit to the cinema to watch The Lady in Black, I found a big percentage of the audience to be in the "under-ten" category, for what is, in essence, a Hammer horror movie. The same demographic can be applied to all movies with children being taken to watch the goriest horror and action movies. But that's alright though as the Indonesian censors remove all traces of romantic interest. Yes, decapitation is fine for all ages of viewing but Harry Potter giving his girlfriend a peck on the lips?? I think not, cinema patron.

I believe in personal censorship. If something is not to your taste then you have the option of an off button with the tv or walking out of a cinema movie. Checking with the myriad on-line write-ups can inform even the laziest person of what to expect.

It comes as no surprise then to find this position being used as a political weapon aimed at confusing the public. This extremely obvious attempt at political sleight of hand is being used by the government to distract the populace away from the more important matters of the day. Any regular reader of this blog knows that this country is beset by many issues, including corruption, transport, pollution and poverty. So, with this in mind what do the government focus on? Well here's a headline that has dominated the news recently, nearly at the expense of all other news. It's certainly what alot of people are talking about ...

Indonesia's Anti-Pornography Task Force Considers Short-Skirt Ban

quickly followed by this.......

House Speaker Says Indonesia Should Focus on 'Mini-Brains' Not 'Mini-Skirts'

So now all of the people who were looking at the current President and his inability to answer the big issues, are distracted by the debate over skirt length. Clever if you think about it.....

There are many aspects of Indonesian life which seem, at first glance, to be odd. This applies when reversed and Indonesians look at western culture too. I am old-fashioned enough that I don't want the UK to lose it's heritage and I understand that Indonesia is the same. I just don't believe that extremism and the forcing of views on others is the way to go about it and I seriously belive that it is a weak government that would use it as a 'smoke and mirrors' policy to blind people to the most compelling problems.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Contract Break

I've now been working for EF for 3 years. In the last 3 years I've worked on one-year contracts that have been extended. This years meeting took place in January and I agreed a two-year contract which takes me through until 2014.

The difference this year is that I will take an unpaid break between contracts. Previously as one contract ended on the Friday, the next contract began on the following Monday. This year is different though. As regular readers of this blog will know my Dad is suffering from cancer so I want to go back to see him. My mum is also furthering her efforts to become Bionic by having a new knee fitted just before I get home so I imagine I'll be the chauffeur for a while too. Finally, my Nan died on Wednesday, a day before her 97th birthday, so as I won't be able to attend the funeral, it will still be nice to go and pay my respects when I get back.

I'm taking a month as holiday. I went back to the UK in December but that was just for a week and nowhere near long enough, with flight times I was probably only there for five days. This time I have chance to catch up with loads of people who I really should start to get in touch with to confirm plans.

I'm flying into London, arriving at midday on the 27th April and heading straight to Hoddesdon to catch up with friends there including Myles O'Neil who'll be returning the favour and visiting me in August in Indonesia. While in the South I hope to meet lots of old friends and work colleagues before working my way up North to stay with my parents.

Really I have no other plans than that. It's going to be just spending time with family and friends. No particular plans for sightseeing, it's all about the people. One thing I do know is that I'm going to miss my girlfriend Yohanna very much. It's my biggest hope that we can return to the UK together for a holiday this Christmas so we'll see what happens.

As great as it's going to be being abck in the UK I know that I'll be ready to get back and as the holiday is unpaid I'll need to get back to get some cash in the bank heheh.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Nan passed away last night

“Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life.”

“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well used brings happy death.”

“A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.”

I’ve been considering the life that my Nan has lived and I think the quotes above are most appropriate.
For anyone who has the fortune to live a life so long, it can be blessed with events that fill each day, or it can be waiting for the longest of sleeps.

Even at the end, Nan was fighting to hang onto this life. I like to think that this was because she loved each day so much, she just wasn’t ready to forego the experiences yet to be enjoyed.
In many ways this fighting nature captures her sense of spirit, and it is that spirit that I shall choose to remember forever.

She was always the helping hand and the soothing voice, always there with a piece of pie or a cup of tea, wanting nothing more than to involve herself and be involved in the lives of her family.
I had the immense fortune to live very closely, for a short time, with Nan and my Grandad, her beloved Harry. Even though I find myself many miles away, the thought of them finally together again brings a smile to my face.

Love you Nan. Enjoy your rest, you’ve earned it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The road less travelled...

I have always loved just getting in a car or on a bike and seeing where the road takes me. I think this goes back to the days when I was a kid and Mum and Dad would take my brother and I out on a Treasure Hunt drive. Admittedly we knew where we were going, to a certain extent, as we were following clues, (easy for a copper you’d have thought) but still, the concept’s there, right? Day 6 in Belitong (Thursday and my penultimate day here) this was my chosen activity.

Heading out of Tanjung Pandan I first of all stopped near the town’s port. Next to the dock is a thriving market place so, camera at the ready, I went for a wander. Buying some sate sticks from a roadside vendor, i was munching on these as I took in the sights, sounds and smells of the place when i passed a coffee warung, full of blokes drinking coffee. Shouting at me to sit and join them, I thought what the hell, pulled up a chair and sat down.

As I’ve mentioned before, tact and diplomacy don’t come into Indonesian questioning techniques and the questions came thick and fast. The oldest guy in the group, at 61, spoke the best English, so when I or his confederates struggled with bahasa Indonesian he was usually able to help out.

The ringleader of the group whose name escapes me informed me that he was ‘Polisi’ and I, as expected, showed the correct amount of awe and respect for his position. Next minute, the same guy takes down a guitar, asks me if I like Liverpool, which I assume to mean the place, and heads into a version of Englebert Humperdink’s ‘Please Release Me’. At the third time of hearing the chorus I get the idea that he wants me to join in (the others are beckoning me to do so) and I’m a sucker for ad hoc Karaoke so happily obliged. A slight change and we’re into ‘The Green, Green, Grass of Home’ which suddenly turns into a whole table chorus. A great way to enjoy a morning coffee. What’s significant is that no alcohol was involved.

Following the coffee and impromptu sing-song I continued walking around the market, admiring the variety of foods on offer and then headed back to the bike. Seeing a sign for Sijuk, it seemed like as good as any to follow and I quickly found myself in the middle of nowhere. Putting my bag on the floor of the bike, I put my camera strap around my neck and made frequent stops to take photos.

I was amazed to find so many schools and I must look into the different types that I saw. I’m not sure of the population of the island but there are plenty of kids, I just assumed they were more homeschooled. I also found two signs saying ‘Homestay’. This is often where you stay in the room of a families’ house and share their food for a small charge. Might be a nice idea next time I visit.

I must have spent a couple of hours riding round the island. Alternating with the helmet on and off (because of the unforgiving sun) and it’s on the road less travelled that you see the most interesting sights. Today I passed my first albino Indonesian, which must be one of the cruelest jokes to play on humanity. I just mentioned the heat and I can only assume this poor girl of maybe 10 or 11 came from a tough background. She’s riding on a moped with her mother, but there is no cover, not even a hijab, to protect from the ferocity of the midday sun. I saw kids leaving school, the majority are primary school age. I did see secondary school kids too but they’re mainly girls. This is a pragmatic island. The boys work, the girls learn, or so it appears.

The road that I found myself on eventually brought me out at Lor-In, one of the more upmarket places to stay on the island and located very close to Tanjung Tinggi so, realising my location, I headed to Tanjung Tinggi for lunch. The Udang Goreng, Tempura style prawns, were served with a spicy, sweet sauce and an iced tea. I was joined in the middle of it by an Indonesian guy who I took the opportunity to ask questions of. I was wondering about how much it would cost to buy land and build a house. The response was a bit complicated but I got the feeling that the land would be about Rp70,000 per square metre. I need to do some more research but this is definitely an island with potential. I think it will get busy really quickly and it may be worth picking a good spot. The only thing is that there is little in the way of land registry and planning applications to understand what the government or individuals might be planning to do. It would be horrible to build a dream house here and then find that it’s right next door to the local waste disposal site!

Lunch over, I headed back to Tanjung Pandang to get some mosquito cream and bite cream. I had a run in with the Nyamuk Air Force last night and I don’t really want a repeat.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Harry Potter’s Internet Cafe

Today is Wednesday 21st March and today I checked out of the Kelayang Beach Cottages. The plan was to go back to Tanjung Pandan, find a barbers for a haircut and an Internet Cafe to upload all of the blogs I’ve been writing.

Paying my bill at Kelayang, two days including pulsa, food, beers and room came to a million Rupiah but I didn’t mind as the setting was just perfect. The nights sleep on the two nights had been somewhat marred by stormy weather but I really didn’t know how bad until I arrived in TP. The beachfront looked like a tornado had hit. Trees were strewn over the road and even lamp posts had been bent over, I think they had it worse here than Kelayang.

Checking back into the Harlika and coincidentally the same room, I asked the receptionist where I could get a hair cut. Her glance at my balding dome followed by a quickly hidden smirk wasn’t lost on me and I wondered if she thought I’d be better with a spit and polish instead. Regardless, she pointed out the general area where I could find a hair cut although if her directions were correct I’d be being snipped and shaved by a catterpillar as she seemed to have directed me to a mound of grass...maybe a travelling barber frequents this mound and that’s what she meant.

Forgoing the leprechaun barber for now, I continued riding into town in hopes of finding an internet cafe. Parking the bikein the main town square I became immediately aware that as I moved away from the moped, a bystander started moving towards it.To test this sudden paranoia I thought I’d walk on and then double back to see what happened to the moped.So it waas that a couple of minutes later I came back to find the bike neatly parked exactly where I’d left it, but now facing the opposite direction, all ready to drive off. The guy who had done it was still there and he gave me a thumbs-up salute which I returned with a perplexed smile.

Walking up the side of the road, keeping my eyes open for a suitable restaurant for lunch, I spotted an internet cafe on the other side. On entering, I was directed to Harry Potters room beneath the stairs (see photos for proof). All that was missing was a door. The fact that this was A) at the farthest end of the shop and B) insanely small in terms of space to sit, I wondered if the shop assistant had something against tourists.

Anyway, i eventually completed all of the blog uploading that I’d planned to do (Nina will be pleased) and headed back to the beach for some food. It’s only as I sit here writing this that I’ve realised, I haven’t had a hair cut yet.

This is Yohanna

This is Yohanna. She’s 29 years old, works in marketing for a company that sells paper products and is the best thing in my life.

I’m here on Belitung and I have to say that there isn’t an hour goes by that I don’t think about her.

The cost of a holiday to Belitong (well, this holiday anyway)

This is not an exhaustive list of prices but it does give an idea of the general costs I incurred in getting there and back.

Taxi to the airport with Express Taxi Group (better than Bluebird I think) Rp 60,000 one way

Flight : Return Jakarta to Tanjung Pandang was Rp 1,150,800 with Batavia air. Swirijaya also fly to Tanjung Pandan. The flight takes aproximately 45 minutes and I was delayed by an hour on the way out. Standard baggage allowance is 20kg. I booked 2 months in advance of my trip but it is possible to find flights for Rp 350,000 each way.

There is an airport departure tax to pay which currently stands at Rp 40,000 per person, one-way.

Hotel : Here it get’s a lot more subjective. You could pay Rp 1 million per night or you could probably couch surf or do homestay. There are more hotels on the island than you can find on the websites but I have no idea why. I think the island is just badly marketed considering how famous it is. (Particularly for the book “Laskar Pelangi”( trans. Rainbow Troops), the amazing rocks that dot the beaches and bays and the pure white, powder-like sand compared to the volcanic, often black, grain sand you find on most islands.

I chose the Harlika Hotel in an executive room at Rp 250,000 for four nights and the Kelayan Beach Cottages in an air-conditioned room at Rp 300,000 per night for 2 nights.
Both places had western style toilets and a shower. The Harlika actually had a bath but I’m not a fan of cold baths, even in a tropical climate.
The Kelayan Cottages had a mosquito net and judging from the water on the bathroom floor this is extremely necessary.
Don’t forget, the cafe next to the Harlika is not suitable for families.

The staff at the Harlika and Pondok Impian II are really friendly. Pondok Impian II is one of the Harlika owner’s other properties where I stayed in 2011. The Pondok Impian II has a selection of rooms available from Rp 250,000 upwards and they also have two cottages at Rp 500,000 per night each which are beautifully appointed.

Staff at Kelayang are a little shy I think.

I hired a motorbike for 6 days at a cost of Rp 50,000 per day and petrol is about Rp 8,000 a litre. A car is available at Rp 250,000 per day.

Food is widely available and you get a variety of prices. You can pay 15,000 for Nasi Goreng/Mie Goreng and the main town has a KFC if you don’t like Indonesian food. I also saw a pasta rerstaurant in Tanjung Pandang. Loads of fish is available. Beers average out to about Rp 30,000 per big bottle (although they are cheaper in one of the shops, tokos, and can be kept in your fridge) and I paid Rp 1,000 for iced tea and Rp 4,000 for hot black coffee.

At Tanjung Tinggi I bought a fresh coconut for Rp 8,000 and Rujak, a fruit salad served with spicy, sweet peanut sauce for Rp 10,000 from a mobile seller.

So, working on an average of Rp 20,000 for lunch and Rp 100,000 for dinner it basically cost Rp 3,890,000 for 6 nights/7 days (about £250)

If you bear in mind that I was on my own and could have halved the room cost that would have brought it down by Rp 800,000 (about £50) I also stayed in mid range accommodation and could have brought that down significantly. Food costs could also be reduced depending on where and what you eat.

Check out the other blog entries on the island for more details and pictures.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tarzan’s Golf Course

The first person to tell me that Tarzan lived in Africa and not a remote island off the coast of Sumatra can go swing on a vine. What I do know is that if I were Tarzan, and I’d somehow ended up marooned on Belitung (actually Belitong, as i was informed by an islander) and I wanted to get my handicap down to scratch figures, then this is what I’d have built.

In the middle of the local jungle I found a golf course that, as far as I am concerned, wasn’t there a year ago. The other day when I arrived at the place, (courtesy of the blue sign that I mentioned in a previous  blog) that was the illusion I was under. I continued with that same illusion for two more days, in fact right up until the 5th hole when Kamil, my playing partner said, “30 years”.

In Indonesia it’s always worth checking yourself to make sure you’ve been understood. Jam dua (2hours)and dua jam (2 o’clock) mean completely different things so numbers are especially worth checking. I’d found it hard to believe the last time I was at Bilitong Golf Club that the iced tea was only Rp1000 not the Rp10,000 I assumed it must be, so with this in mind I dragged my playing companion by the scruff of his Ashcroft shirt and said “THIRTY YEARS???”

Ok, so the last part was the thought that fleeted through my mind, doubly so when the caddy repeated it. “they can’t both have misunderstood” I thought, when I realised they they can’t have both misunderstood. And of course they hadn’t, my Indonesian was perfect. I’ll say that again, my Indonesian was perfect much to my confusion, and they’d both confirmed that this course had been here since at least 1982!

Built, evidently, by one of the islands tin companies and up until recently a private course for the senior management from the tin company to use as their plaything, entertaining guests, holding ad hoc competitions or just getting away from the wife and kids on a weekend. Yes, this place now has 35 members and all of them are men.

There is a womens locker room but on the course are no signs of ladies tees.  The only women that I have seen are back at the clubhouse making perfect iced teas. Which is a shame because in Jakarta the caddies are all women.

The course could not be termed immaculate but I have played on a lot worse, Spofforth near Wetherby springs to mind. Some of the fairways are forgiving, such as on the first, some are  much tighter. The 9-hole course makes itself into 18-holes by altering the yardage, for instance, the par 3 third hole is also the par 4 twelth which is a great use of space saving. I may have mentioned but this course has been hacked out of a jungle and everyday the jungle wants it back.

Greenskeepers jobs are made doubly difficult when your job could also kill you. The four of us, Kamil, the two caddies and I, were followed around the course by plenty of people. Evidently I’m the first westerner to play here! But of our entourage, it was the job of three of them to look for errant shots. Basically, if your ball goes into the jungle it’s their job to go find it. You’ll be pleased to hear that we left no-one behind.

So what did this experience cost me? Well the whole bill thing was probably a bit contrived. When I came to pay it was Rp100,000 to hire the clubs, Rp100,000 Green Fees, even though the sign said Rp150,000, and Rp100,000 for the caddy plus RP50,000 danger money for the ball finders. Admittedly I have payed less than this at Gading Raya in Gading Serpong but golf is an expensive hobby in Indonesia and it was well worth it. With my own clubs here £15 would have been well worth it.

It never rains, but it pours

Day four on Belitung arrived a little earlier than I’d hoped. In Pantai Kelayan there really is very little to do on an evening. I’d sat up in the bar area until 8pm reading Sherlock Holmes stories while drinking a couple of large bottles of Bintang but, in the absence of anyone to talk to and the fact that I was getting up at 6.30am to play golf, I had an early night.

I’d nodded off a few times during the day and once my head hit the pillow I realised I was ready for sleep. Assuring myself of a peaceful night due to the mosquito netting (I’d checked and double checked for any ‘rogue’nyamuk, finding none) I was out like a light.

I can tell you what a volcanic eruption feels like. I can tell you what a small earthquake feels like. I had no idea what it is to experience a hurricane and I had even less idea what it is to experience a hurricane in a wooden shack with a tin roof...and hardly a solid wooden shack either. Dropping off to sleep, the noises of animals in the rafters, what sounded to me like rats preparing for some rat olympics, hadn’t  bothered me at all. I felt safe, cocooned in my mosquito netting, with two bolsters to remind me of Yohanna. Interestingly I’ve never heard any annecdotal evidence that a mosquito net will protect you from having the building surrounding you ripped apart as at around 1.30am that’s pretty much what i thought was happening. I say ‘around’ as my phone was charging,and nowhere within easy grasp to check the time.

I lay there for a few moments considering my situation. Having walked up the wooden steps to my cottage, I knew it had more in common with the second little pig’s house from the childrens’ story. I also knew from the noise outside that it was either one bloody big wolf or a storm of epic proportions..deciding on the latter, I worked out that I probably had two options. One, the roof would collapse on me and they’d find my corpse with a slightly undecided look on my face or two, I should get my ass outside and see what was happening.

One look told me that yes it was a big storm. Rain was lashing the place and the trees were bending in the howling wind but there was no sign of anyone. No rallying cry to warn of an impending Tsunami, no sign of people huddled in the doorways of the other shacks and at this point I realised this was probably nothing special if you lived here 24/7. Indonesia sits in an area known as the Ring of Fire, an area continually pounded by all manner of Acts of God and so it was with that little reassurancethat  I went back to bed and had a semi restless night, listening to the symphony of raindrops landing on the metal roof competing with the rats’ 100m sprint final.

My alarm went off at 6.15, a reminder to get up and go play golf but the rain was still thrashing down outside so I reset it for 7.30 and went back to my dreams. New surroundings and new sounds do not always make for the most comfortable nights sleep.