I was walking to a bar when I met her. An orange juice at 3.30am? Well I was off to watch Chelsea hopefully lose to Barcelona. I’d dropped Maria off at my room and went out along the darkened quiet allies of Kuta. Bali was a slightly stressful time for me. It shouldn’t be; no place as beautiful should be but the hassle gets to you after a while. I turned onto a main road, walking at pace, ignoring the taxi drivers and the old librarian-looking woman who sold all drugs in any quantities. And then she appeared. Riding a moto in a helmet, she spoke but I couldn’t’ make it out and anyway ignored it, assuming she was trying to sell me something. I was kinda right. She rode along next to me, repeating her muffled demands, but still I couldn’t understand and anyway I figured I had to turn right down a small alley soon so I’d lose her there. But she anticipated my move and drove down ahead of me. The alley was dark, damp and quiet. I turned into it to see my protagonist, off the moto and waiting for me, still helmetted. I continued apace and tried to walk past her but she blocked my way and immediately grabbed my uh ummms. I pushed her away but she wouldn’t let go and started saying in any language “free, gratuit.” I didn’t what to say but I knew what I wanted and it was Ronaldindo, not Ronaldo. I pushed her harder but this stocky number wouldn’t budge, so I decided I had to beat this Yokazuna with a bit of her own medicine. I lowered my centre of gravity, put one hand on her helmet, the other on her shoulder and pushed her off, freeing God’s own in the process. I walked on, ignoring her distressed calls of ‘free, free.’ Christ, time to leave Bali I thought. And I did, one day later.
It all began so well. Arriving in Jakarta’s slightly worn airport, I met Peter, a young correspondent for the International Herald Tribune and he offered a free taxi into town; saved $10 there. He’d just done a visa run to Kuala Lumpur which gave me an opportunity to tell what happened there to me.
It’s funny how your mood or personal situation affects how you view a place and this proved true here. I first visited KL 6 years earlier and stayed two days, disliking the city, for it was a touch dry and lacking the ample opportunities to drink which at the time I needed to get through a messy relationship. (For those who remember that period, well done. It’s more than I remember). My mate Andy manfully accompanied me and the trip was an awesome orgy of alcohol, great sights, alcohol and great nights, full of stories public and private.
So I arrived in KL slightly apprehensive, contenting myself with a short stay. But as I arrived in the city which has substantially developed in the last 5 years, I started to feel a change coming over me. KL looked modern and forward looking, had less bullshit pricing, open, friendly people and an ability and desire to speak to foreigners. After the long bus from Bangkok (24hrs or so), I felt excited and curious.
I got a taxi with 2 Norwegian girls who fitted every male wish, blond, young, buxom and lost. I knew a place to stay nearby so we got there and found our rooms. I got a room to myself but with a double and a single, the girls got what they called a hot cupboard. Ever the gentleman, I offered my double to them which they took and we headed out to dinner. We drank vodka, beer, whiskey and continued drinking in the room. Victoria and Sona taught me drinking songs and showed me the age-old semi-mythical Scandinavian tendency for nudity, this time in our now near-sauna of a room while folk dancing. We all woke up, dying for water and breakfast, unembarrassed at the nights revelry. The girls left that day for Singapore and I got lost around KL which is some achievement. I blame day-dreaming. But I liked KL; the museums, and mix of modern architecture and differing cultures gives the city an interesting side. It’s not Bangkok but that;s why we love Bangkok. I’d go back to KL and Malaysia. It feels like it’s moving forward.
On the other hand, Jakarta, Indonesia is not a city to linger in; in a city of broken pavements, the traffic and pollution is just unbelievable and my throat began to hurt after a mere few hours. There is little to see too but I spent the afternoon talking in the central park with Indonesians and taking pictures. They were keen just to talk, chatty, polite and curious about the world and what the world thought of Indonesia. There was never any attempt to exhort money or favour. But I planned my escape from Jakarta for next day to Jogja, the old capital and huge student city. Being Friday night I sought out a beer nut only found a Man U bar, ahhh!!. Due to the political, economic and natural disasters that have battered Indonesia recently, tourism in down and backpacker Jakarta has a deserted, almost novel feel to it. Eventually I met two German landscape gardeners and brought over another German girl. This place got packed and 7 hours later, we were all drunk, talking with a bunch of Indonesians and having a cool time. I had lunch the next day with an Indonesian girl called Anna and she helped me out with transport out of the city.
I took the train out and the station waiting room has the novelty of three table tennis tables. As the only foreigner, I was invited to play. I hadn’t played in years and never considered table tennis a serious sport (Olympic Gold medal my arse), but I went to the bathroom and returned in my tight white shorts and headband. I proceeded to thrash everyone. I was as unstoppable as pornography until they brought I guy who introduced himself as Desmond Douglas. He gave me an orphan’s thrashing and left me reeling with my racket. The arriving train saved Douglas the comeback that was just around the corner and Douglas, he knew it.
I loved Yogyakarta, not for it’s palaces or numerous rickshaw drivers but for the temples of Borobudor, one of the great sights of Asia and the enormous Hindu complex of Prabaham. At both places I was consistently interviewed by school kids and had my photo taken but none of this took away from the awe of the preciseness and delicacy of temples 4x older than America. Jogja is also a massive student town; lively but naive political demostrations took place daily, and there were plenty of shops and street salesmen. I got a date on Valentines Day when I met the prettiest Indonesian girl I’d seen in a shopping centre. Her Mum, who definitely fitted into MILF territory was made up and we had a good time, eating Japanese and then going to a student festival about Japanese culture with live music, aikido demos and food counters.
I left town and headed with a Dane, a Mongolian, 3 Dutch (everywhere in Indonesia) and a Kiwi to the volcanoes of Bromo in East Java. We hiked up to the rim through the darkness for sunrise and were rewarded with a magnificent view as well as coughing bouts from the sulphur. changing lights of the dawn were amazing and I got some great shots. We ate breakfast, gazing at the erupting volcanoes nearby and played cards until it was time to head to Bali.
Bali, Bali, Bali. A place that promises so much but delivered so little though personally I never expected much. The taxi drivers put on Aussie accents, the hassle is non-stop, the drunk Aussies girls have their own song and even the British trash are starting to make an appearance. I managed a bit of fishing on an island where the guesthouse owner initially confused me with a question. “Playboy?” he asked. I replied no, slightly confused, and he repeated the question “do you have a Playboy? I am a single man.” My night out with Darryl was an awesome night, full of bars, nightclubs with swimming pools and a Portuguese girl called Maria who will live long in the memory; Jennifer Love Hewitt in hot pants as Darryl described her. I am sure there is much else to see but the weather turned and I was too tired to bother. Overall Indonesia rocked and I’d definitely come back bar Bali.
Then I met Alan. “I am practically bankrupt'” he said. “But I think I am in love here. Met this girl. She lets me watch football. Watch Liverpool. My wife pretended she liked football but after we married, she showed she was lying. Cleaned me out.” Alan was an honest soul. He came out with the usual Liverpool statements, ‘we’ll talk to anyone, we’re socialist, we’re anti-establishment.’ The usual phrases used by many Liverpudlians to explain away economic and social strife. While the rest of the North moves on and develops itself, Liverpool seems to wallow in self-pity and excuse making. Alan didn’t have a job. But that wasn’t his fault, he said.
Indonesia made me optimistic about Asia again. The people are proud of their country and dont seek to flee it to richer shores. A country of 17,000 islands, 100 languages and multiple religions, all bound together because they know it’s better than being driven apart. A lesson in the time of Iraq. Gone are the thoughts of deadend, isolated countries. The future is positive in much of Asia and deserves to be for so deserving, honest people. If I am to enjoy Asia, I have to go where i enjoy and not worry about other considerations. And Indonesia is up there.
Song of the week
Masterplan by Oasis