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Basking in the Glow

Submitted by on October 2, 2016 – 7:11 pm

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Sunday, October 2, 2016
7:30 a.m. Tamariah Losmen, Siantar, Sumatra

I’ve gotten in the habit lately of getting up with the 5 a.m. call to prayer. It’s just easier that way since, especially here in Siantar, there is no possibility of sleep once the traffic starts to move and the horns start to honk. It’s best to go to sleep early and wake up early. But I was extremely tired this morning after the exertions of the last few days, and I stayed in bed a bit later. I managed it because today is both a Sunday and a holiday (the first day of the year according to the Islamic calendar), so there is less traffic and therefore less traffic noise.

I also did very little yesterday but bask in the glow of having secured a sponsor for this visa extension. Still, my visa expires tomorrow and I have yet to face the interviews. I want to think of them as a formality, and that nothing can go wrong. However, if they are just a formality, what is the point of them? It’s a lot of trouble for just a formality. If I had to guess (based on little comments made here and there), much of this intense focus on me and my sponsor is a result of this being my first extension for this visa. Technically, I can extend this visa four times up to a total of six months (two months for the original visa and four months of extensions). If I apply for a second (or third or fourth) extension, I believe things will be easier. But that all depends, of course, on which immigration office I go to and who is in charge.

My main accomplishment yesterday was to purchase some cell phone credit that would allow me to make a phone call. I’m still confused about how that works here. When you wander around town, you encounter dozens of streetside vendors selling SIM cards and such things. It strikes me as very odd, by the way, that the two local convenience store chains – Alfamart and Indomaret – do not sell such things. It’s a huge market. Even if there is not a large profit margin involved, selling SIM cards and phone credit would bring in thousands of new customers every month. They’d come in to top up their phone and stay to buy other things. It’s the sort of thing that convenience stores were born to do. So why not in Indonesia?

Anyway, I generally top up my phone at these streetside places. At least I thought I was doing that. But even when I purchase a huge amount of credit, I’m still unable to make an actual phone call or, apparently, send a text message. I did some research yesterday online, and I learned that what I buy from these streetside vendors is only good for Internet access. The phrase “top up” is reserved for when you buy actual phone credit, which is a quite separate thing. The terminology is confusing, but I believe they call it “pulsa”. And there is no way to purchase a top-up or pulsa card as you can with data. The only way to do it is to go to a shop called a “ponsel”. At these shops, you give them your phone number and they transfer credit from their phone to yours and charge you for it plus a commission. I have no idea why customers can’t just do it themselves.

I found such a shop and just as an experiment, I bought 20,000 rupiah worth of pulsa, which is about two dollars Canadian. I did not want to purchase a lot of credit because I have no idea how long it lasts. There is a very complex set of rules governing this, but the foundation to all of them is that when you reach the time limit, your remaining credit is deleted. It vanishes. Use it or lose it. I talked to a lot of people, but no one could explain to me how long the credit would be valid for. The only way to learn such things is to just do tests yourself and see what happens. The first thing I did with my new credit was send Bima a text message. He claimed that he never received my other text messages because I did not have any pulsa. Well, now I do have pulsa. I sent him a text message, and I heard nothing back. I also sent him messages on WhatsApp, but there was no reply.

Needless to say, platforms like WhatsApp also confuse me. To this day, I don’t understand how WhatsApp interacts with the contacts on my phone and my Google Contacts and my Microsoft Contacts and on and on. However, I managed to send a message to my new sponsor through WhatsApp, and to my amazement, she replied. Not surprisingly, her reply was confusing. She said that she was going to go to immigration at 9 p.m. on Monday and she would see me there. My heart stopped when I saw that, because immigration had told me that our meetings were at 10 a.m., NOT 9 p.m. The time she was given, 9 p.m., doesn’t make any sense anyway because immigration is not open at night. They close at a very early hour and there is no chance they are open that late at night. The only possibility is that Stephani was not able to go there during the day because of work and they made special arrangements for her to come late, but that seemed highly, highly unlikely. In any event, I wrote back to Stephani and told her that my instructions were to come to immigration at 10 in the morning, so was her time correct? She just wrote back briefly and said, “Oh, ok. I will come at 10 a.m.” Under normal circumstances, I would want to know what happened and press for details to figure out where the confusion came from. But I know that I will never be able to figure it out. It’s just the way things are here. As I said before, it surprises me that this country manages to lurch from one day to the next without imploding. (It occurred to me just now that Stephani probably meant to say 9 a.m. and she wrote 9 p.m. by mistake. That makes more sense than any other explanation I can think of.)

I don’t have any exciting plans for today. One of my problems is that I find it hard to do anything when something like a visa extension is in the works. I can’t focus on anything else until it is done. I can’t relax. Then again, I’m not inspired to go out exploring in Siantar at the moment. It is a very harsh city in terms of atmosphere. There is just too much traffic and honking and crowding. It takes a lot to get me out there exploring. And I went to the markets and to the zoo last time I was here.

So I think I will spend some time today experimenting with my gear and trying to put all my gear into the trailer with no pannier bags at all. See if that is possible or reasonable.


Desperate Search for a Sponsor
My Own Personal Sisyphus

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