The Cycling Canadian Sun, 18 Mar 2018 23:28:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Getting a 30-Day Tourist Visa Extension in Indonesia Fri, 07 Oct 2016 02:38:52 +0000 I’m no expert in the process of getting Indonesian tourist visas and visa extensions, but I thought I’d share my most recent experience in case it might help someone else go through the process.( I don’t know anything about the 30-day visa on arrival. The following applies only to the ...]]>

I’m no expert in the process of getting Indonesian tourist visas and visa extensions, but I thought I’d share my most recent experience in case it might help someone else go through the process.( I don’t know anything about the 30-day visa on arrival. The following applies only to the 60-day tourist visa.)

Here are the brief facts:

I got a 60-day tourist visa at the Indonesian consulate in Penang, Malaysia.

  • one application form
  • one photo
  • copy of your ticket out of Indonesia
  • a fee of 190 ringgit ($46 US or 41 euro)
  • a valid passport (must have 6 months validity from the date you enter Indonesia)
  • photocopy of your passport’s information page
  • took 2 days – dropped off my passport in the morning and picked it up the next morning

A 60-day tourist visa can be extended inside Indonesia 4 times for 30 days each time. To get the extensions, you must go to a Kelas I or a Kelas II immigration office. There is a list of these offices at this website:

Requirements for a 30-day visa extension:

  • letter(s) from a local sponsor with government tax stamp and signature (see sample letters below)
  • copy of sponsor’s ID – front and back (address of sponsor must be in the immigration office’s region)
  • 2 application forms (filled out in black ink)
  • fee of 355,000 rupiah ($27 US or 24.5 euro)
  • your passport
  • photocopy of your passport’s information page
  • for first extension only, they will take your picture and your fingerprints at the immigration office (you do not need to supply a picture)
  • the immigration officer may or may not call your sponsor and/or request a face-to-face interview
  • processing time varies from overnight to 8 days or even longer; depends on the office
  • exact procedures and requirements can vary greatly from office to office, so check with the immigration office

Those are the brief facts. If you are interested in the full story with all the gory details, read on:

I arrived in Sumatra with a 60-day tourist visa that I got in advance at the Indonesian consulate in Penang, Malaysia. That visa was quite painless to get and required only the standard application form, a photo, a copy of my passport, a copy of my ticket out of Indonesia, and the fee of 190 ringgit (about $46 US). I dropped off my application in the morning and picked up my passport with the visa the next day. The visa itself was not a stamp but a large sticker that took up a full page of my passport. This visa had a 90-day expiry period, so I had to enter Indonesia within 90 days of the date the visa was issued.


To get to Indonesia, I took a ferry from Port Klang, Malaysia, (just outside of Kuala Lumpur) to Tanjungbalai in Sumatra. At this small port, they cannot issue a visa on arival (VOA), so you must have a visa in your passport beforehand. When my 60-day visa was nearing its end, I went to the immigration office in the city of Pematang Siantar in Sumatra to apply for a 30-day extension. You can do this four times for a total of 180 days per visa – the original 60 days + 30 + 30 + 30 + 30. Your first extension is a bit more involved than the remaining three. I think they look a bit harder at your sponsor and your paperwork, and they take your photograph and fingerprints. They don’t have to do that for the other 3 extensions.

There are quite a few immigration offices scattered around Indonesia, so you are never very far away from one. There is a comprehensive list of immigration offices online here:

They are divided into three classes: Kelas I, Kelas II, and Kelas III. You can get a visa extension at a Kelas I or a Kelas II office, but I don’t believe Kelas III offices have the power to issue visa extensions. The immigration office in Pematang Siantar is a Kelas II office.

To qualify for a visa extension, you need a local sponsor. The rules and procedures for this seem to vary from office to office, but the basic idea is that your sponsor must provide a copy of their ID and an official letter (with a government tax stamp and signature). In my case, I had to provide two letters. The first was simply a request from my sponsor asking the immigration office to allow me to stay in Indonesia. It doesn’t say anything specifically about extending my current visa, but that’s the meaning, I guess. The second stated that my sponsor vouched for me and would take responsibility for me while I was in Indonesia. I don’t know how serious this is or how far this responsibility extends. Are they financially responsible? Could they be held accountable for me legally? I don’t know, but the language in the sample letters I was given was strong enough that local people balked at signing them and being my sponsor. Who, after all, wants to take financial and legal responsibility for a relative stranger?

I assumed originally that being a sponsor was simply a matter of filling out a form and signing it. However, there is no such form. The sponsor has to sign a letter or letters that you print out yourself. I wasn’t able to find the wording for this letter online, and I asked the immigration office to provide me with a sample to copy. They gave me two letters as a sample, and I copied the wording.

This is the full text of the sample sponsorship letters that were provided for me to copy:

Letter 1:

Pematangsiantar, 29 September 2016

Kepada : Bapak Kepala Kantor Imigrasi Pematangsiantar

Dengan hormat,

Saya yang bertanda tangan dibawah ini memohon kepada Bapak Kepala Kantor Imigrasi Pematangsiantar agar dapat memberikan Perpanjangaan Izin tinggal Kunjungan kepada Teman saya dengan identitas sebagai berikut :

Nama :                                        (applicant’s name)

Tempat, Tanggal lahir :             (applicant’s place and date of birth

No. Paspor :                               (applicant’s passport number)

Pekerjaan :                                (applicant’s occupation

Alamat di Indonesia :                (applicant’s address in Indonesia)

Demikian surat permohonan ini saya perbuat dan sampaikan. Besar harapan saya, bapak dapat memenuhi permohonan saya ini. Atas perhatiannya saya ucapkan terima kasih.

Hormat Saya

(government tax stamp + sponsor signature)

(Name of sponsor)

Letter 1 Picture:



Letter 1 Translation (from Google Translate):

With respect,

I the undersigned have appealed to Mr Pematangsiantar Head of Immigration Office in order to provide Permission Perpanjangaan stay to visit my friend with his identity as follows:

Similarly to this request I do and say. I hope, my father can fulfill this request. Thank you for your attention.

Letter 2:


Saya yang bertanda tangan dibawah ini :

Nama :                                     (name of sponsor)

Tempat, Tanggal lahir :           (place and date of birth of sponsor)

Nomor KTP :                            (ID card number of sponsor)

Pekerjaan :                              (occupation of sponsor)

Alamat Domisili :                    (home address of sponsor)

Alamat sesuai KTP :              (address as shown on ID card of sponsor)

Dengan ini menyatakan menjamin sepenuhnya keberadaan Teman saya selama berada di Indonesia dengan identitas sebagai berikut :

Nama :                                      (applicant’s name)

Tempat, Tanggal lahir :           (applicant’s place and date of birth

No. Paspor :                             (applicant’s passport number)

Pekerjaan :                               (applicant’s occupation

Alamat di Indonesia :              (applicant’s address in Indonesia)

Demikian Surat Jaminan ini saya perbuat dan sampaikan. Atas perhatiannya, saya ucapkan terima kasih.

Pematangsiantar, 29 September 2016

Hormat saya,

(government tax stamp + sponsor signature)

(Name of sponsor)

Letter 2 Picture:



Letter 2 Translation (from Google Translate):

Sponsor Letter Guarantee

I, the undersigned below,

Hereby declare fully guarantee the presence of my friend while in Indonesia with the identity as follows.

Thus this Security I do and say. Thank you for your attention.

Note that you have to change the name of the immigration office in the letters as well as insert your information (applicant) and that of your sponsor.

Also, you should ask the immigration office that you visit for samples of the sponsor letter or letters that THEY require. These sample letters are what I was asked to produce. But other immigration offices might require just one letter or different wording. Best to ask to make sure. 

Your sponsor also has to reside in the region where the immigration office is located, and their ID has to list an address reflecting this. This can also be an area of shifting rules and confusion. On this visit to the Pematang Siantar immigration office, my application was rejected because they said I had to apply at the immigration office nearest my port of entry into the country. This is absolute nonsense, and I don’t believe any such rule exists. Tourists, by definition, travel around. It would be unreasonable to expect every tourist to return to the city where they arrived in Indonesia to apply for a visa extension. They could have moved thousands of kilometers away from their port of entry by then. I had a long discussion with the immigration officer about this. He kept insisting on this rule, but then suddenly the rule vanished and it was never brought up again.

After that, however, my application was rejected because my sponsor did not live in the city of Siantar. She lived in the nearby city of Kisaran. The frustrating thing is that I had done this before, and it had been fine back then. On my previous visit to Sumatra, I had had the exact same sponsor, gone to this exact same immigration office and dealt with the exact same immigration officer. Everything was approved, and my sponsor was accepted. But this time, despite having the identical sponsor, she was rejected because of her address. I stated my case, and the immigration officer called my sponsor on the phone and they had a long conversation, but nothing changed. My application was rejected, and I was told that I had to have a sponsor who lived in Siantar.

Finding a new sponsor wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Few tourists visit this city, and there are no agents such as there are in places like Bali. I knew almost no one, and I couldn’t exactly walk up to strangers on the street and ask them to sponsor me. However, I did have a friend who worked at a local bank. He was willing to be my sponsor. The problem was that even though he lived in Siantar and worked in Siantar, his ID listed an address in Jakarta. That’s where he was born. Then he’d moved to Siantar. However, he was my only friend, and I went to the immigration office with his personal information to see if he would be acceptable. After all, he fit the spirit of the law in that he was a Siantar resident. There was just the minor glitch that his official ID still listed Jakarta. I thought it would be sufficient if he photocopied his ID but then wrote down his address in Siantar and signed that, etc. The immigration officer was not impressed with my argument. He did call my friend and have a long conversation with him, but he concluded that my friend was not qualified to be my sponsor. Back to square one.

After a lot of adventures that I won’t go into, I finally found a new local sponsor. And this sponsor was a very official person with a Siantar address on her ID card. I changed all the information on my sponsor letters and printed them out again and got new tax stamps. These stamps, by the way, cost 6,000 rupiah each. You can get them at almost any stationery store or photocopy place. Every document has to have one of these stamps in the signature area and the sponsor has to sign on top of the stamp. Armed with all my new documents, I got back on my bicycle and rode the ten kilometers out of town to the Siantar immigration office once more.

This is what the tax stamp looks like. It looks exactly like a postage stamp, and it even comes in sheets and has a sticky gum on the back.You just lick them and stick them on the forms in the signature area, and the sponsor signs over top of them like a seal. They cost 6,000 rupiah each, which is about 45 cents US. I needed two, but I bought six just in case we made mistakes on the letters and I needed extra ones. That’s always a good policy, and I ended up needing the extra ones.


An interesting quirk to be aware of is that immigration offices all seem to be located quite far from the city center. I assume this was done to save on rent and allow them to have a larger space for the same amount of money. Whatever the reason, it means that they aren’t very easy to get to. If you don’t have your own transportation, the cost of going back and forth as you track down all the papers you need can really start to add up. It didn’t cost me anything because I was using a bicycle, but I paid a price in sweat and nearly being killed by about a thousand trucks.

I hoped for some kind of smile or greeting or human response from the immigration officer as I finally presented documents from a qualified sponsor (and not just any sponsor but one with some local juice). But I was disappointed. Not even the hint of a smile. I also thought my very official sponsor would speed the process along, but it was not to be. My papers were gone over with a fine-toothed comb. Then the officer called my new sponsor on the phone and proceeded to grill her for a solid fifteen minutes. I could not understand what he was saying, but he had a lot of questions.

When he hung up the phone, I assumed that we were all set and the application process could begin. But my hopes were dashed. The immigration officer said that I would have to return on the following Monday WITH my sponsor for personal interviews. Apparently, two signed official documents with government stamps, a photocopy of her ID, and a 15-minute phone conversation were not sufficient. They also required a face-to-face interview. I have no idea what questions he could ask that he hadn’t already asked in the long phone conversation, but there was nothing I could do about it. He was the boss.

I was getting concerned because that Monday was the day my visa expired. If something went wrong on Monday, I’d be in trouble. It was a bit frustrating because I’d begun this process long in advance. There was plenty of time. But with all the rejected sponsors and other delays and now the weekend, the clock was ticking and my visa was winding down. I felt a little bit better when the application form itself was actually produced for me to fill out. That at least felt like I’d begun the process and perhaps the personal interviews on Monday would just be a formality.

The two forms I had to fill out were fairly standard, I suppose. They just asked for my name and passport details and my address in Indonesia and all the same information for my sponsor. I couldn’t help but notice that every single piece of information I had to fill out was already contained in the two letters I had given them. So the form was redundant. I finished the first form and moved on to the second, and I saw that the second form asked for all the exact same information as the first! Exactly the same. I don’t know why I had to write it all down twice, particularly as all the information was already in the letters, but that is how bureaucracies function around the world. The forms, by the way, had to be filled out with black ink. If you happen to have a pen with black ink, bring it along because the immigration office won’t supply one.

On Monday morning, I got back on my bike and rode back to immigration for the interviews. I felt bad that my sponsor had to take time off work and make the long trip out there, but there was nothing I could do about it. Our interviews were scheduled for 10 a.m. We approached the counter at 10 a.m., but there were no immigration officers there. We were told that the department was having a meeting, and we would have to wait. So we sat down and waited in the spacious waiting area. Quite a bit of time passed, and my sponsor finally got up to to see what was going on. She was gone for just a few seconds, and then she waved at me and told me to come to the counter and pay the 355,000-rupiah fee (about $27 US). Apparently, because of the meeting, there would be no interviews. I paid the fee and that was that. I was told to return on Wednesday to pick up my passport. At no point did I have to sign anything, and I was given no receipt for the 355,000-rupiah fee.

On Wednesday morning, I was back on my bike and heading to immigration for the fifth and hopefully last time. (I’d ridden a total of 100 kilometers in trips back and forth by this point.) My impression was that I would just have to go up to the counter, and they would hand me my passport. However, my impression was wrong. First, they had to take my picture. This happens only on your first extension. They take your picture and your fingerprints. For the next three extensions (if you apply for them), they don’t need to do this because the information will be in your official computer file in the national immigration website/database or whatever you call it.

The wrinkle here is that you can’t just give them a photograph. Nor can they take your picture and then upload it to the system. No, what they have to do is log on to the national immigration database and open your file. They have a digital camera tethered to the computer, which automatically inserts the photo into your file. For this to work everything has to be perfect. The technological stars really have to align, and that is asking a lot. The computer and camera they used for foreigners is different from the ones they used for locals. I noticed that the Indonesians having their pictures taken for their passports were being processed like clockwork. They had three really nice photobooths in operation each with a white background and nice lights and working cameras on solid tripods. The computer and camera for foreigners was in a different place, and they led me to what appeared to be an old junk room. It was filled with broken computer equipment, dusty desks, and even a disused giant steel safe with the dial covered with electrical tape.

The computer was an old junker that seemed to be breathing its last. The camera was mounted precariously on a tripod with a broken leg. I was directed to sit down in a plastic chair in front of a big red background. And there I sat for a looooooooooong time as they tried to get the system to work. There were so many moving parts to this process that it could break down at multiple points. The computer had to boot up and they had to be able to log on to their own computer system. Then the Internet connection had to be working and they had to be able to load the national immigration website and then log on to the database. Then they had to maintain a stable connection between the camera and the database system long enough to record an image. If anything went wrong at any stage, the whole thing crashed and they had to shut everything down. They even had to turn off the computer and reboot it every time and go through the long process from scratch. After perhaps an hour and many crashes, they managed to get everything working. I could see my image on their computer screen in the immigration database. It was a live image, and now they had to crop it to get a head shot. Unfortunately, I was too tall and I wasn’t lined up properly. So they tried to angle the camera upward. But because of the broken leg on the tripod, the whole thing tipped over, and by the time they got it straightened, they’d lost the Internet connection and the system crashed again.

After a very long time, my photo was successfully captured, and it was inserted into the database. Then I had to have my fingerprints taken. This was done with a little scanner that recorded one finger or thumb at a time and inserted it into the database into little squares. It took multiple tries with each finger to get it to record. Luckily, when this failed, it didn’t crash the whole system as it did with the photograph. Then I was told to go outside and wait some more. Apparently, even though many days had passed, the actual process of applying for my visa extension had not really started. No one with any authority had looked at my documents or put a stamp in my passport. That couldn’t happen until all the pieces of the puzzle were complete: application form, sponsorship letters, phone call, interviews, photograph, and fingerprints. I have no idea why they waited so long to take my picture and record my fingerprints. They could have done it at any point on my many, many visits to the immigration office. Would it not have made more sense to do that when I filled out the application form? Why do that on the day that I was scheduled to pick up my passport? That made no sense to me at all.

In any event, my completed application package was now making its up the ladder and through the chain of offices back there. It didn’t take a terribly long time, though. I think I waited another hour and a half and then a young man approached me and said that my passport was ready. I went back to the counter and a woman handed it to me. I didn’t have to sign anything. It was just sort of tossed in my direction like I’d bought a bag of peanuts. I checked the extension carefully and saw that I’d gotten the 30-day extension. In a handy twist, they didn’t actually say it was for 30 days and leave you to calculate when it expired. The stamp had the expiry date right on it. I did some number crunching, and I realized that it began officially on the day after my original visa expired. My 60-day visa expired on October 3, and this extension dated from October 4. Unfortunately, because it took a few days to process, it was already a few days old. Instead of a 30-day extension, by the time I got it, it was really a 26-day extension.

A couple of additional notes: The immigration offices have a dress code, and this is prominently displayed on large signs. T-shirts, tank tops, flip-flops, shorts, and many other items are banned. They may or may not enforce these rules on the day you visit, but it’s best to dress up as much as you can. I made sure to wear long pants, shoes and socks, and a collared shirt. The Indonesians visiting the office were all dressed quite nicely, and anyone with the typical foreigner backpacker look of a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops would stand out strongly and run the risk of being denied service and told to return with a more suitable wardrobe.

In the end, getting this 30-day visa extension was a lot of work. It consumed a lot of my thought and energy over a period of about 9 days including getting my original sponsorship papers completed (and then rejected), traveling to Siantar, and then going through the long process. It also felt disproportionately official and serious, as if I was running for public office instead of applying for a tourist visa. With the sponsor letters, online photographs and fingerprints, phone calls, and interviews, I felt closer to a criminal under investigation than a tourist trying to extend a holiday. Having said that, I appreciate that it is even possible at all. I’m well aware that to even be able to stay in Indonesia for up to 180 days on a single tourist visa is quite a privilege. For an Indonesian to visit Canada for that length of time would be extremely difficult and probably impossible. I imagine that for an Indonesian to get even a short tourist visa for Canada is much more difficult than what I went through here.

But considering the difficulty and the fact that the rules are entirely unpredictable and change from office to office and even from day to day, it’s a toss-up whether it might be better in the long run to simply fly out of Indonesia and apply for a brand new 60-day tourist visa outside the country and then return. It would probably end up being more expensive, but at least it would be somewhat under your own control. And at the end, you get a full 60 days. That, for me, is the biggest problem with the 30-day extension. It can take so long to acquire that you use up one third of your extension just getting the extension. If the extension were for 60 days, then it would be worth the effort.

I suppose it also depends on your location. With some planning ahead, it is possible to fly from Medan to Penang round trip for as little as 600,00 rupiah (or about $50 US). Then you get your 60-day visa for 190 ringgit ($46 US). Even if your flight cost $100, you might still be coming out ahead because you can arrange things such that you fly out on the very last day of your 60-day visa and when you return with a new 60-day visa, you get a full 120 days in Indonesia doing the things you enjoy. And your visa run takes you to a pleasant place like Penang. Contrast that with spending as many as 18 days in a town like Siantar (spread over two visa extensions) as you process your visa extension applications. And much of this process is outside of your control. The downside to flying to Penang is that you are physically leaving and entering two countries, and who knows what could happen at those border crossings? You could be denied entry at any point. You just don’t know.

Anywyay, that is my story, and hopefully this information can help someone else. If I knew everything I know now, I would probably have planned to fly to Penang to apply for a new visa instead of applying for a 30-day extension. It’s just easier.


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Staring at the Camera Like a Buffoon Wed, 05 Oct 2016 12:36:09 +0000 Today is the big day. I was told I can pick up my passport, and it should contain my 30-day extension. Technically, it will be a 28-day extension because my last visa expired two days ago. This extension should date from my previous visa's expiry date, so it will be two days old by the time I receive it. Later: Got the visa extension, but it wasn't easy. I had been told to just return on Wednesday to pick up my passport. But there was more to it than that. First, I had to have my picture taken. And this has to be done as a live insert with one of their cameras tethered to a computer and logged into the national immigration website/database. You can just imagine how that went. ]]>

Hit play if you want to just listen instead of read.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016
7:00 a.m. Tamariah Losmen, Siantar, Sumatra

Today is the big day. I was told I can pick up my passport, and it should contain my 30-day extension. Technically, it will be a 28-day extension because my last visa expired two days ago. This extension should date from my previous visa’s expiry date, so it will be two days old by the time I receive it.


Got the visa extension, but it wasn’t easy. I had been told to just return on Wednesday to pick up my passport. But there was more to it than that. First, I had to have my picture taken. And this has to be done as a live insert with one of their cameras tethered to a computer and logged into the national immigration website/database. You can just imagine how that went. When I did that in Tanjungbalai, it took several hours spread over days and they never managed to take my picture even once. Here in Siantar, it was almost the same. No one knew how to do it. The computer was a dusty monster in some back room with a bunch of garbage, and it crashed all the time. The slow Internet connection meant the website itself crashed and they had to reboot the computer every single time. They finally got a connection, and my image appeared on the screen. But I’m too tall, and it wasn’t centered. So they had to adjust the camera. Unfortunately one of the legs of the tripod was broken, and the whole thing toppled over, and by the time they got it righted, the connection went down again. Reboot and start all over.

I lost all track of time. I just sat there staring at the camera like a buffoon and waited. By some miracle, they actually got a picture, and it was inserted into the database. Now they had to take my fingerprints one by one with an electronic fingerprint scanner. And each print had to be done live as well and inserted into the website. They couldn’t scan my fingerprints and then upload the files or anything. It’s an automated system. And when it crashes, the whole thing goes down. It was hard enough maintaining a stable connection for one picture. Now they had to do it ten more times for each finger and thumb. It just went on and on and on and on.

It was finally done, and then I was told to wait. There was still more. I guess despite them having had my completed application package and passport for days, they still hadn’t done anything. And now I had to sit and wait some more. It could have been worse. In Tanjungbalai, I sat in immigration for six hours waiting on a couple of different occasions. Here, it was all done in about three. I guess that’s acceptable, but I was under the impression that I was just zooming in to pick up my passport and go. Nothing’s ever that simple, I guess.

So I’ve got my visa extension, and I’m riding my bike back up the long climb to Siantar. I pass a group of high school age boys sitting on their scooters and hanging out. They scream, “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” as I ride pass. No idea why. Practicing their English, I guess. Or perhaps the Indonesia words for “Welcome to Indonesia, sir” actually sound like English profanities. You never know…


Saturday, October 8, 2016
8:30 a.m. Tamariah Losmen, Sianatar, Sumatra

Money and online banking continues to be a huge point of stress for me. I cannot get used to it. I get money from ATM machines using my debit card, and my heart practically pounds out of my chest while I do it. I expect everything to go wrong. I withdrew some money yesterday, and everything went fine, but this ATM actually produced a slip of paper with a bank balance on it. They normally don’t do that. And this bank balance was something like one dollar. It converted it to Indonesian rupiah, and the amount was next to zero. So I was panicked about that. Had someone gotten hold of my online banking info and somehow drained my bank accounts of their last few remaining dollars? So I was worried about that all yesterday, but the Internet connection during the day is so slow that there was no reasonable chance of checking. I had to wait until this morning. For some reason, I get a burst of good Internet speed (using my phone as a mobile hotspot) for a couple of hours each morning. My heart starts racing when I just start to think about logging onto the bank’s website. And then my heart pounds and my stress levels go through the roof as I enter my number and password. Luckily, everything looked fine. The balance was low, of course, since I’m a poor man, but it wasn’t near zero as my ATM slip indicated. So that was just a computer glitch of some kind.

Beyond that, there isn’t much going on. The plan is to leave from Siantar sometime this week and head to Lake Toba. I have mixed feelings about that. The lake itself is beautiful and interesting, but I’ve learned just how much of a tourist attraction it is for local people. It’s like the Niagara Falls of Sumatra. So I don’t know if the mood of the place will suit me. The usual place to go for backpackers is a little village called Tuk Tuk on the island of Samosir. To get there, you have to take a boat from the town of Parapat. I’ve been warned to be very careful in Parapat as there are a lot of thieves preying on tourists.


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Successful But Predictably Weird Tue, 04 Oct 2016 12:09:24 +0000 My trip to immigration for the interviews ended up being successful but predictably weird. I got there on my bike, of course. My sponsor, Stephani, was going to get there on her own. I assumed she would be on a scooter. I showed up a few minutes before my scheduled interview time of 10 a.m. The usual woman was sitting behind the main counter, and I went up to her just to let her know that I had arrived but my sponsor wasn't there yet. Then I sat to wait.]]>

Don’t want to wear out your eyes reading? Click on the play button and listen instead!


Tuesday, October 4, 2016
6:15 a.m. Tamariah Losmen, Siantar, Sumatra

My trip to immigration for the interviews ended up being successful but predictably weird. I got there on my bike, of course. My sponsor, Stephani, was going to get there on her own. I assumed she would be on a scooter. I showed up a few minutes before my scheduled interview time of 10 a.m. The usual woman was sitting behind the main counter, and I went up to her just to let her know that I had arrived but my sponsor wasn’t there yet. Then I sat to wait.

Stephani showed up around 10:15, which, for Indonesia, is extraordinary. You might as well call that showing up early. Stephani and I went up to the counter, and the woman there informed us that all the immigration officers were in a meeting. We would have to wait until their meeting was over. That annoyed me but it didn’t surprise me. It’s fairly typical of a place like Indonesia that someone would tell you to show up at 10 for an appointment when they have a meeting scheduled for that exact same time.

We didn’t end up waiting for a very long time by Indonesian standards. When I went through the visa extension process in Tanjungbalai, they kept me waiting for four hours on practically every visit to the office. But it felt long because I knew that Stephani was taking time off work and needed to get back to the police station. I could sit there all day, but Stephani couldn’t. Finally, Stephani took the initiative and went to check. She went to the counter to ask the woman how much longer we would have to wait. Then she turned around and waved at me to come join her. I went up there, and she said, “You have to pay now.” For some reason, the requirement for an official interview had just vanished. Stephani said that her chatting with the woman behind the counter was, in fact, the interview. It was all over. All I had to do was pay my 355,000-rupiah fee and then return on Wednesday to pick up my passport.

I was glad about that, of course. I was going to get my extension, and I only had to wait two more days instead of the eight days that I expected. However, I was a trifle annoyed about the process. They insisted on having a personal face-to-face interview with my sponsor. I asked them if the long phone call and all the documents weren’t enough. Stephani herself asked if it was really necessary. It was a lot of trouble for her to leave work and come to immigration personally. Plus, it meant tacking on an extra three days of waiting for me as it was the weekend. And after all of that, they decided to just forego the interview because they were in a meeting. If the interview was so unnecessary that a simple office meeting could supplant it, why make us do it in the first place?


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My Own Personal Sisyphus Mon, 03 Oct 2016 11:38:19 +0000 Sleep is such a funny thing. When I was in the middle of the stress and horror of trying to find a sponsor and complete the paperwork for immigration, I slept absolutely fine. Today, all I have to do is ride my bike down to immigration for an interview - which is something of a formality - and yet I was so focused on this that I couldn't sleep at all. I also experienced a series of stress dreams.]]>

If you don’t want to read, hit the play button, and I’ll read it for you in my raspy, tired old voice.


Monday, October 3, ?2016
6:30 a.m. Tamariah Losmen, Siantar, Sumatra

Sleep is such a funny thing. When I was in the middle of the stress and horror of trying to find a sponsor and complete the paperwork for immigration, I slept absolutely fine. Today, all I have to do is ride my bike down to immigration for an interview – which is something of a formality – and yet I was so focused on this that I couldn’t sleep at all. I also experienced a series of stress dreams. I have these all the time. They are all different yet follow the same pattern. In these dreams, I am trying to leave from where I am and go somewhere else. I only have a couple of simple tasks to accomplish before I can head out the door, things like put some papers into my knapsack or insert a key into a lock. However, in my stress dreams, I can never do these things. I try and try and try, but small problems keep cropping up. The problems don’t always make sense in this dream world and the situation is quite fluid and keeps shifting, but no matter how long I work at it and how many different things I do in the dream, I make no progress and new obstacles constantly pop up. It’s my own personal Sisyphus situation. These dreams are exhausting.

Yesterday was a day of errands. I began with what I talked about yesterday – testing a new arrangement of my cycling gear. It was a successful test as far as these things go. What I did was simply remove the two pannier bags from the equation. I set aside my sleeping bag, sleeping sheet, mosquito net, and tent to go on top of the rear pannier rack. Those big, bulky items come to 8.5 pounds total. Note that in my usual configuration, the pannier bags alone weigh 8.5 pounds, and that’s when they’re empty. It’s just empty weight.

Then I took all of my other gear – clothing, camera lenses, tools, spare parts, stove, food, toiletries, electronics, etc. and put it all in the trailer. And it fit easily with tons of room to spare. So I’d call that a successful experiment, assuming that by putting my laptop in the trailer I don’t break it. It also means that I would have to unzip the trailer whenever I wanted any item at all that wasn’t in my handlebar bag. There’s no real way to tell how much of a pain that would be without doing it. Off the top of my head, I don’t see that it would be a big problem. I originally kept my pannier bags for four reasons: 1. To provide a safe place for my laptop and camera gear. 2. To make it easier to access certain items during the day. 3. To have a bag that I can attach to the bike and carry around with me when I’m in a city for a length of time. 4. To keep dirty items like fuel bottles separate from clothing and other gear.

Based on my experience with the Radical Design Cylcone IV trailer, I’ve concluded that the laptop and camera gear can safely be stored in the trailer. With the handlebar bag, I have a convenient place to store small items that I need to access during the day. As for point number 3, I purchased a beautiful Osprey daypack while I was in Kuala Lumpur. Since I bought it, I always grab it first before I use a pannier bag. It weighs next to nothing, has no sharp edges, and is much smaller and more convenient. The one problem with it is that when you wear it while riding the bike, you tend to get sweaty where the bag touches your back. But this isn’t a huge problem. In every way, I prefer using this daypack. It even helps me feel more secure. With the pannier bag on the rear rack, I always worried that thieves were opening the pockets and getting into it while I was stopped in traffic or in a busy market. The bag is behind me on the rear pannier rack and out of my line of sight while I’m on the bike. The only point that remains valid is #4 – separating dirty from clean items. That remains an issue, and I feel uncomfortable putting my gasoline fuel bottle inside the trailer along with my clothing and electronics. It just seems to be asking for trouble if not a total disaster. Most cyclists attach their fuel bottle to their bike in some fashion. I’ve never done that because I usually use my Trangia, and alcohol is not a dirty fuel. It produces no soot and if it spills, it just evaporates and leaves no odor. Plus, I like to carry three water bottles. I don’t want to use up one of my water bottle racks for a fuel bottle. With this new configuration, I might have no choice, though.

The BIIIIIIIIIIG question, assuming I want to make this change, is what do I do with the pannier bags? I could just give them away and leave them behind. After all, when will I ever use them again? Almost certainly never. I might go back to pannier bags, but I would buy new pannier bags. I’m tired of these bags. They’re just too heavy and bulky. And the front panniers are the wrong shape. They don’t fit my laptop computer. But I’m such a fan of bags that it would break my heart to leave them behind. Not only that, but I love having old bags to use for spare parts. I love having stuff like that so I can chop it up and use the outside pockets and cords and hooks and everything else. But if I don’t leave them behind I have to take them with me as I cycle around Sumatra or ship them to Kuala Lumpur. I looked into the cost online, and it’s hard to say how much it would cost. But it’s safe to say that it would cost at least $60.

The third option is perhaps the most reasonable. And that is to leave the bags in storage here in Siantar – perhaps with my sponsor, Stephani – and then plan my route so that I come back through here on my way to Kuala Lumpur. I would then only have to deal with the bags from here to Kuala Lumpur instead of all the time. I’ll have to think about that. I’ll have to look at the map and do some planning. It wouldn’t really be that big a deal. It just assumes that I wouldn’t be leaving the island of Sumatra. And that’s probably a good thing. If I desperately want to go to Sulawesi or Flores, I can reset in Kuala Lumpur and perhaps fly there. I don’t want to ride my bike all the way across Java.

I had some fun running errands yesterday after I dealt with my gear. My main goal was to buy some more alcohol fuel for my Trangia. I never did that in Siantar before, and I didn’t have a store lined up. I kept a small empty bottle from before that has the local name of the fuel on it. And then I just walk down busy commercial streets looking for big hardware and paint stores. Then I go inside and show them the bottle. I was quite lucky on this trip, and the first place I went to had some of the fuel. Unfortunately, they only had small bottles of it. I need more than that, and the small bottles are much more expensive than buying it by the liter. But I bought one bottle anyway just in case I couldn’t find it anywhere else. But then I found a great hardware store, and they recognized the fuel right away. They sold it by the liter out of a large drum. It cost 11,000 rupiah per liter, and they put the fuel into an empty plastic water bottle for me. Very convenient.

I also bought a lightbulb while I was out. I like to have a lightbulb in my bags because the lights in these cheap hotel rooms can be very dim. They buy bulbs with very low wattage to save on the power bill, and the rooms are usually far too dark. And sometimes the lights don’t work at all. So I bought my own 100-watt bulb, though it was one of those power-saving bulbs that claims to be a 20-watt bulb that produces 100-watt bulb light. Anyway, it is super bright, so it’s all good. I also bought a socket with a plug for the lightbulb. With that, I can put the light into any electrical outlet. I don’t need to use the room’s light socket. And this portable socket has a switch on it. It’s very light and very cheaply made, so it won’t last long, but it cost something like fifty cents.

With all my errands done, I had lunch at my favorite place across the street and then settled in at the hotel for the evening. I hoped to get a good night of sleep and then head to immigration fresh and relaxed. THAT isn’t going to happen.


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Basking in the Glow Sun, 02 Oct 2016 11:11:40 +0000 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.]]>

Don’t feel like reading? Click on the play button and listen instead!


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.


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Desperate Search for a Sponsor Sat, 01 Oct 2016 08:48:45 +0000 For a few minutes yesterday afternoon, I stood on this hotel's balcony and watched the beehive of manic activity at the intersection nearby. I reflected that all of this behavior represents a type of economic activity. In a very real way, that flow of giant trucks, buses, motorcycles, vans, and bicycles can be viewed as money flowing along the streets.]]>

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Saturday, October 1, 2016
5:15 a.m. Tamariah Losmen, Siantar, Sumatra

The call to prayer has just ended, and the insane roar of the traffic has not yet begun. It’s a rare moment of quiet in Indonesia. The kettle is on the boil as well, and I will soon be enjoying a cup of instant coffee.

For a few minutes yesterday afternoon, I stood on this hotel’s balcony and watched the beehive of manic activity at the intersection nearby. I reflected that all of this behavior represents a type of economic activity. In a very real way, that flow of giant trucks, buses, motorcycles, vans, and bicycles can be viewed as money flowing along the streets. Every single person out there is in the middle of an economic activity. That’s why they are driving that truck or van. They get paid to do it and they are transporting goods that have been manufactured so they can be sold to other people. I guess this struck me because I grew up with the idea that Asian countries were poor. And I associate poverty with a lack of activity. You have no job, so you have little to do. You have no money, so you aren’t moving and you aren’t shopping. But when you look out on the streets of Indonesia, all you see is money. It is a thriving place.

Personally, I was quite busy yesterday as well, but I was doing nothing real. I was jumping through the unnatural hoops of bureacracy. I thought of it that way. Real work has a physical component and a physical challenge. When you’ve accomplished a task, you have something physical that you can be proud of. Perhaps you’ve worked hard and built a house. Perhaps you climbed a mountain, and you can see the views as the reward for your effort. I worked extremely hard yesterday overcoming obstacles. Yet, I accomplished nothing real. I was simply fighting with the rules we humans have invented to give us permission to occupy this or that physical space on the planet. By an accident of birth, I have the right to occupy any of the physical space contained within the borders of Canada. To occupy any other space anywhere on the planet, I have to have the permission of the people there. And the permission is represented in the rules created by the government officials they elected to make the rules. Essentially, I need the permission of all the people around me to be in this space. And the right to occupy this particular space is doled out 30 days at a time. This right also costs around $40 Canadian. I must also have one local person take responsibility for me during those 30 days, and this person has to prepare a set of documents and go through official interviews to ascertain if they are up to the task of supervising my activities while in this physical space. This permission can also take from a week to two weeks to acquire. Thefore, you might end up investing 15 of those days in the process of getting permission to be in this physical space for an additional 15 days. And then when those 15 days are up, you have to do it all over again.

To bring things back to the real world, all of this meant that I woke up yesterday morning with only one thought on my mind: I had to find a sponsor in the next few hours. If I failed to do so, I would have to make some very fast arrangements to exit this physical space and go to another physical space where permission is easier to get – a place called Malaysia. I was not particularly excited at the thought, but I had to begin by contacting my friend at the bank, Bima. I had sent him countless text messages and called him a dozen times the day before, but I had heard nothing back. I simply wanted to tell him that I was going to go to immigration and see if they would accept him as my local sponsor even though his official government ID had a Jakarta addresss listed. This was far from a sure thing, but it was the only option open to me that I could think of.

I got on my bike and rode downtown to the bank where Bima worked. This was the first step. There was a very good chance that Bima would not even be there or that he would be unavailable, and I was already stressed out. To my relief, I spotted him behind the counter. The bank seemed very busy, and Bima had some kind of roving position where he walked behind the bank tellers and assisted with various tasks. He is very young and has just started working at the bank, but he appeared to be on track to being a manager or supervisor of some sort.

I was glad to see Bima, but my encounter with him was not very satisfactory. On my side, I was in practically a state of emergency. The things I needed to do and for which I needed his help were urgent. Very urgent and very important. But for him, it was merely a distraction. No matter how I tried to convey how important all this was for me, he didn’t seem to get it or take it seriously. Nor could he grasp how helpless I was. As I reflected over and over yesterday, I’m like a giant baby here. I’m a grown man in my fifties, but without language, I’m little more than an infant. I can’t do anything here or fix anything. For example, even if immigration considered accepting Bima as my sponsor, I would still need to contact him again. I would need to get a photocopy of his ID and write the documents for his signature. But so far, I haven’t been able to contact him by phone at all. Out of all the dozens of forms of communication we have available today, I had been unable to find one that worked. He said he received none of my text messages. He did say that he noticed a couple of phone calls, but he ignored them because he didn’t recognize the number. And then he just stared at me. I kept pushing to get him to help in this quest to find at least one way we could communicate. For some reason, my phone was not able to communicate with his phone, and I didn’t know why. There was a problem, and it seemed to be on his end. I could communicate with everyone but him. He simply agreed with me that we weren’t able to commnicate and left it at that. He never adopted the mindset of trying to fix the problem. Surely, one platform would work be it BBM or WhatsApp or Line or SMS or Facebook Messenger. We only needed one. But Bima simply stared at me. I suggested Messenger because it would not require phone-to-phone communication. It would be stable and it would work no matter what. Bima said that he uses Facebook Messenger, but he rarely checks it, so it wasn’t a good idea. I wanted to slap him at that point. Again, he wasn’t grasping how much trouble I was in. Why couldn’t he just monitor Facebook Messenger for the next 24 hours? How hard is that? Sure, he doesn’t normally use Messenger or answer calls from unknown numbers. But couldn’t he do it just for now? Just for me? Just for the next couple of hours as I went to immigration? But apparently not. He was not offering any help.

I gave up on the phone communication because I had no choice. I moved on to the idea of me going to immigration and asking if Bima could be my sponsor. I knew that for this to have even the slightest chance of working, I would have to bring a lot to the table. So I wanted to get a copy of Bima’s ID. But, not surprisingly, Bima didn’t have it with him. He knew full well that I would need it, but he still never bothered to have it with him. He’d had it the day before, but today he just didn’t bother to bring it with him. I then asked him if he had at least a business card – something from the bank that identified him as living and working in Siantar. Of course he had nothing like that. In the end, the best he could do for me was to write down his name and his phone number on a tiny slip of scrap paper. Considering the war that I was in with immigration, this scrap of paper was paltry ammunition indeed, but it apparently was all that Bima was willing to supply. Even then, with his habit of not answering unknown numbers, who knew if he would pick up when immigration called him?

With that scrap of paper in my wallet, I left and got on my bike for the 12-kilometer ride to the immigration office. Why the immigration offices have to be located far outside every town, I don’t know. As an aside, I should say that this ride to and from immigration in Siantar is probably the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done. Forget about activities like skydiving and scuba diving and cliff jumping. I’ll bet that statistically, riding a bike down that road is a hundred or a thousand times more dangerous than even BASE jumping. The number of close calls I had were beyond counting. And who knows how many I wasn’t even aware of? To put it mildly, the drivers here are insane and the road conditions extremely poor. And by the end of yesterday alone, I had ridden my bike the full length of that road four times totalling over 40 kilometers. By the time I get my visa extension (if I manage to get it), I will have ridden my bike 100 kilometers – just going to immigration and back.

The immigration officer was NOT impressed by me, my scrap of paper, or my arguments. My argument was that Bima fit the spirit of the law. I was required to have a local sponsor. Bima was local. He lived in Siantar. He had a home in Siantar. He had a job in Siantar. It was only an accident of circumstance that his ID card had a Jakarta address. Could he not serve as my sponsor just as ably as someone with a Siantar address on their ID card? At the very least, he could photocopy his ID with the Jakarta address and then write down his Siantar address and sign the paper. Surely that would satisfy the spirit of the law? It might, but the immigration officer was not interested in the spirit of anything. I don’t think a spiritual thought would ever have entered that bureaucratic mind. In fact, I don’t think he really paid any attention to anything I said. He simply repeated that my sponsor’s ID card had to have a Siantar address on it. And that was it. He literally turned around and just walked away when he said that. He just left me standing at the counter and went to his desk and sat down. Totally ignored me. Not a smile. Not one moment of human understanding in all of his dealings with me. For a long moment, I hated that man.

Defeated but not demoralized, I got back on my bike and began the long and sweaty ride up the steep hill back to Siantar. I had a lot of time to think about the human condition. I was surrounded by thousands upon thousands of people with ID cards bearing a Siantar address. Out of these thousands, dozens of them were shouting “Bule!” (Foreigner!) or “What you name?” at me as I rode past. They were all being friendly and waving at me. I desperately needed their help, but despite being surrounded by thousands of people who could help me, I had no way to make a connection. I was in a multitude but completely alone.

The only other card I had to play was the detective at the police station. I had had her in the back of my mind as a possibility, but I hadn’t really taken the thought seriously. You’d think that her position as a detective would make her an ideal candidate for a sponsor. But I imagined that being a detective would prove a hindrance, not a help. I thought that her personal identity would get mixed up with her official one. As a person, she might be willing to act as my sponsor. But she wouldn’t want this to be confused with her acting in an official capacity. However, she was my last hope, and when I rode back to Siantar, I continued all the way downtown and went to the police station one more time.

I wasn’t sure how to approach her. My initial contact makes sense in a weird way. I had been the victim of a crime and had reported it to this detective at this police station. So I was simply returning to inquire if, by any chance, my phone had been recovered or the thief apprehended. Obviously, I knew neither thing had happened, but it was somewhat reasonable for me to inquire. But then how do I shift the conversation over to asking her to be my sponsor for a visa extension? In fact, how do I even get into the police station to find her?

Obviously, you can’t just waltz into a police station. There are men with guns guarding the entrance, and they want to know what you are doing there. And in an odd twist, being on a bicycle always causes problems. I’ve found this to be the case around the world. Security guards and police officers are freaked out by the unusual. People normally arrive on foot, in cars, or on motorcycles. There are procedures for each of these and official places for those vehicles to park. A bicycle is out of the ordinary, and this just sets off their alarm bells. They really don’t like bicycles. I generally get shouted at, and this never helps with my mood. The shouting this time was not that extreme, and I was able to place my bicycle in amongst a group of motorcycles without too much trouble.

Once the bicycle was disposed of, things calmed down and the two armed men were quite happy to hang out with me. We posed for some selfies, and once I showed them pictures of Stephani, the detective, and explained why I was there, things started to happen. I was extremely relieved to learn that Stephani was at the station. The chances were high that she just wouldn’t be in that day or wouldn’t be available. But within a few minutes, she came walking to the front of the police station. I told her that I had 2 things I wanted to talk to her about. The first, of course, was the excuse I was just using to get my foot in the door – I was inquiring about the state of my “case.” Had they caught the thief who stole my smartphone? How many years in jail did he get?

Then Stephani asked me what the second thing was. This gave me a somewhat natural opening, and I launched into my plea. It was a difficult plea to make. I didn’t want to make it sound really difficult and really official to be my sponsor. I wanted to downplay it to make it more likely that she would agree. I needed to present it as a formality. I just needed a friend who lived in Siantar so that I can extend my tourist visa. I probably made things way more complicated than necessary. In an attempt to justify my request, I explained that I already had a real sponsor – Al and his wife. They were my friends. However, because of this silly bureaucratic rule about ID cards and addresses, immigration would not accept them. So I was in trouble and I really needed her help. I was nervous about it, but I even showed her the sample documents that she would need to sign. It was the only way I could get her to understand what was involved. Showing her these documents went a long way toward explaining my situation, but I was worried that those very official-looking documents might freak her out. After all, they say things like my sponsor will be responsible for me and my actions while I am in Indonesia. Who wants to sign something like that for some random Canadian tourist?

To my relief and extreme surprise, Stephani had not a moment of hesitation. She simply said yes and said that we should just go to her office and we’ll do it all right now. I was so happy. I babbled. Luckily, I had a flash drive with me that contained copies of these documents. Stephani could just open them on her computer, insert her name, address, and ID number, and print them out right there. I also had had the foresight to stock up on the government stamps I would need. I knew all about these stamps by now, and I bought them and kept them in my wallet. They cost 6,000 rupiah each (about sixty cents), and I needed two of them. But I had more than that in case of accidents.

It took a few tries to get all the information on the documents correct. Stephani would forget to change the date or would miss this or that bit of information. But, finally, we had two perfect documents and I applied the stamps and Stephani signed them both. She then gave me a copy of her ID. I felt so guilty about all of this. Perhaps it is a fault of mine, but I don’t like asking people to help me. I really don’t. I like to do things myself, and it bothers me on a fundamental level to ask people to go out of their way to help me. It shouldn’t bother me so much, but it does. For example, after she did all this, I realized that I probably should also have her phone number. But I was reluctant to ask her for that. But I eventually did and said that if she didn’t mind, could she write down her phone number on the paper containing her ID? To be honest, I also wanted her to sign and date that paper. When you are dealing with governments, you really can’t be too official. It’s best to just blitz the paperwork and sign and date everything and write down every piece of information you can. I almost didn’t ask for her phone number because I didn’t want to trouble her, but it turned out that it was very important. I was very glad that I did.

Once I had all the proper papers, I got back on my bike for the long and dangerous ride back to immigration. The entire way, I was mentally running through all the problems that I would probably encounter. I stopped first at a photocopy place and made two color copies of every document just in case. I always do this and it has saved my neck on many occasions. It’s part of my DNA now. I copy everything and always take business cards and write down addresses and take pictures of addresses. This information always ends up being essential at some point. My guess was that I would arrive at immigration only to be told that they did not accept applications beyond 11 a.m. or something like that. Many offices have this rule. You can submit things in the morning, but not in the afternoon. Either that or the office would be closed when I got there. Or it would be a holiday. Or the immigration staff was having a meeting at the exact time when I show up and I would be told to return on another day. These are the things that always happen to me. In this case, my worst fears did not materialize. However, I did show up at the exact minute when the place closed for lunch. And when government offices here close, they CLOSE. It’s not like they maintain a skeleton staff to keep things moving or have shifts of employees so that customers are not inconvenienced. No, they don’t care about customers. They care about lunch. I got there at 12:30, and I was told that the place was closed and it would reopen at 2 p.m. Luckily, the building and grounds are actually quite nice. They have a kind of open garden space in the back and there is a public bathroom there. I could use the facilities and wash some of the sweat and grit that had accumulated on my arms and face in the dribble of water coming out of the tap (which, incidentally, just fell out of the bottom of the sink and onto the floor and my feet – no drain was installed).

While I sat there and waited, I reflected on some small annoyances. I’m very interested in systems and logic, and I notice things. I like to organize. For example, had I known that the immigration office was closed every day from 12:30 till 2:00, I would have made other plans. I would have gone back to my hotel and rested and had lunch and taken a shower before my return trip. I would not have shown up at exactly 12:30. But the immigration office had no posted hours anywhere. In fact, the day before, I had specifically asked them when they opened and closed. I was worried because a national holiday falls on this Sunday, and I was worried that they would be closed on Monday or Friday. And they told me that they were usually open Monday to Friday starting at 8 a.m., and there were no upcoming holidays or days off for them. That was great, but no one told me about the 1.5-hour lunch shutdown. And this information is not posted anywhere.

Other problems cropped up once 2 p.m. rolled around and I approached the counter with my precious documents and a copy of Stephani’s ID. Up to this point, I had been told many times that everything was simple. Just make sure the ID has a Siantar address, and boom, you’re good to go. I now had this. But suddenly, things changed. My unfriendly immigration officer wanted to call Stephani and talk to her. I mentally patted myself on the back for making sure that I had her phone number written down on the forms. At first, Stephani didn’t answer. But then she did, and this immigration officer grilled her hard. It was in Indonesian, and I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it was clear that he was asking her multiple questions. He really pushed. It sounded like a Gestapo interview, and it went on for about fifteen minutes. I was a bit annoyed at this. I mean, what do these guys want? It’s just a tourist visa. I’d already supplied two very official documents with government stamps, signatures, and photocopies of ID. I had a ticket out of the country. I had photocopies of my passport. I had photographs. I would have to pay them something like $40 for the fee. It would take a week to process with 100 kilometers of cycling and multiple trips. And on top of that, they are going to brutally interrogate my sponsor? This wasn’t a criminal trial. This was just a procedure. By comparison, you can get a 60-day visa extension in the Philippines just by showing up, filling out the form, paying the fee, and coming back the next day.

The phone call finally came to an end, and I was hoping for a smile, a gesture, a human response of any kind from the immigration officer, but I got nothing. Nothing at all. He then said that I had to come back at ten a.m. on Monday for an interview. He’d told Stephani that she had to come in on Monday for a personal interview, and I needed to be there as well. I honestly wanted to scream. What is the problem with these people? That phone conversation and all the documents wasn’t enough? What was the point of a personal interview? What questions was he going to ask that he hadn’t already asked? And it’s not like my sponsor was some random homeless dude I’d found sleeping in an alley. This was a detective at the police station. My immigration officer asked me if coming in on Monday was a problem. I was so upset at this point that I lost a bit of control. Just a tiny bit. I got a little passive aggressive, and I said that of course it was a problem. Why wouldn’t it be a problem? But he was the boss and I have no choice in the matter. I have to do what he says.

I think I was upset because at this point, it wasn’t even clear that my application process would even start. I had not been given any forms to fill out. It seemed that everything would be just in limbo and I had to sit around and wait for another three days until Monday before anything happened. But to my relief, they did produce the forms for me to fill out. Even so, the forms themselves did little to calm me down. Why do we still even have forms? Here’s the problem: I had given them two official documents. And on those documents was all the information in the universe: my name, my passport number, my nationality, my address, my phone number, etc. And they included Stephani’s name, her ID number, her address, her phone number, her date of birth, etc. Everything was there. Every little detail and more. But now, I had to write down by hand all of this information on this form in little spaces that were far too small. Why? The information was already in the documents. Worse, I was given two forms. And the second form asked for all of the same information that was on the first form. It was identical. I am an extremely slow writer. My hands just don’t work. And it takes me a long time to fill out a form. Of course, much of it was in Indonesian as well, and I had to figure out what information they were asking for. And I had to do all of it twice. It was approaching a nightmare.

I kept wondering what it looked like from the point of view of the immigration office staff. I don’t think they have any comprehension of the real life human consequences of the things they require. My personal tormenter was tossing off things like “Come back on Monday for an interview” like it was nothing. But that chews up three or four days of my life. Does he realize that? I don’t think he does. And bureacracy itself is like a virus. It just grows on its own and multiplies. I think the way offices function, it is a natural process to add procedures and requirements. But there is no system built in to remove procedures and requirements as they become outdated or unnecessary. If no individual human makes it their mission to fix things or improve things, the system itself just rolls along getting bigger and more cumbersone and less logical. I write about stuff like this all the time, but I can’t help it. I notice things. For example, if I worked at the immigration office, I would put up the office hours on the very first day. It’s important for customers to know when the office is open. Put your hours on the door. It’s logic 101.

And if I saw the forms, I would want to destroy them first. But that’s probably impossible. And I would want to get rid of the useless duplication of information. Failing that, at least make the boxes big enough. If you ask a person to write down their entire address, give them a space that’s big enough to actually write it down. The intriguing thing is that Indonesians don’t seem to care. I mean as customers. They put up with all of this crap and never seem to complain. They just assume that when you go to a government office, you will be sitting around for hours and hours justing waiting. They just accept that fact.

In an amusing twist, a large group of immigration staff (all young women) gathered around me as I was getting ready to leave. The focus seemed to be one very attractive and very tall young woman that wanted to talk to me and practice her English. Her friends were encouraging her and they all giggled and laughed and asked me the usual questions. In these conversations, the subject of my nose often comes up. Indonesians are very self-conscious about their noses. In a strange twist, my nose is often admired here. People like it and wish they had a nose like mine. In Taiwan and the Philippines, my nose was an object of ridicule. I think many Asian countries have insulting nicknames for foreigners that reference how huge our noses are. The problem with local noses is mainly to do with width. Some people have a wider, somewhat flat nose, and they don’t like that. They want a narrow nose that sticks out further. My nose certainly sticks out pretty far, so at least I have that going for me.

What struck me about this conversation was the contrast between this friendliness and the effect of their rules. As official immigration officers, they were making my life an utter misery and causing me endless problems and trouble and expense. But now they were joking and laughing and being friendly. I don’t think they grasp how much trouble they really cause people.

I was glad that I had filled out the forms. It gave me the illusion that some progress had been made. But in reality, nothing had even happened yet. I had not paid the fee. Nor had I signed any of the documents. So officially, I have not even applied for my extension yet. That won’t happen until Monday, assuming the interviews go well. The insanity is beyond belief. But I knew this when I returned to Sumatra, so I can’t really complain. Yet, I do.

I got back on my bike and rode back into town. That was my fourth trip in one day, and my odometer clicked over the 40-kilometer mark since I woke up that morning. Besides the very real danger of being hit by a truck or motorcycle, riding my bike has other weird elements. I get a lot of attention, of course. People call out to me from the side of the streets. Passengers and drivers call out to me and wave and the drivers honk their horns. I have to assume that most of this attention is friendly, but it can often feel hostile. It’s certainly aggressive. And it occasionally becomes overtly aggressive. One time, a van full of male students drove past. A lot of the boys called out to me and said hello and other things. Then one boy threw a big bag of garbage at me. He picked up this bag from the floor of the van, waited until the van drew up beside me, and then heaved it in my direction. Everybody laughed and thought it was hilarious. The garbage missed me, but it still didn’t feel that great.



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Going to Immigration – A Complete Disaster Fri, 30 Sep 2016 04:19:20 +0000 My trip to the immigration office was a complete disaster. It could not have been a bigger failure. The details might be confusing or boring, but bear with me. It's important to note that I wasn't doing anything unusual or complicated. It's a standard procedure to get a 60-day tourist visa before entering Indonesia and then extend it for 30 days at a time if needed (up to four times for a total of six months). ]]>

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Friday, September 30, 2016
5:35 a.m. Tamariah Losmen, Siantar, Sumatra

My trip to the immigration office was a complete disaster. It could not have been a bigger failure. The details might be confusing or boring, but bear with me. It’s important to note that I wasn’t doing anything unusual or complicated. It’s a standard procedure to get a 60-day tourist visa before entering Indonesia and then extend it for 30 days at a time if needed (up to four times for a total of six months). This requires finding a local sponsor to provide a copy of their ID and sign a letter saying that they will be responsible for you. I had done this on my previous visit to Sumatra. In fact, I had gone to this exact same immigration office with a sponsorship letter from the exact same person, and it had been fine. But this time, they rejected my application. The reasons were not exactly clear.

At first, the immigration officer informed me that for my first visa extension, I had to apply at my port of entry. I had entered the country near Tanjungbalai, so I had to get my first visa extension at the immigration office in Tanjungbalai. I can guarantee you that there is no such rule on the books. This rule does not exist. It doesn’t even make sense. The vast majority of tourists upon arriving at Point A would then begin to travel around the country. When their 60-day visa came to an end, they would be at Point B or even Point L or Point Z. They would certainly be far away from Point A. It is unreasonable to require all tourists to return to their entry city to processs a visa extension.

I had this discussion with the immigration officer, but, as I expected, he did not care. A rule was a rule, and he said this was a rule. Beyond that, he said that my sponsor resided in the wrong jurisdiction. He said that the sponsor must live in the region where the immigration office was located. This is, in fact, a rule, and I was quite aware of it. However, I had used this sponsor at this very immigration office last time. And it was fine. But this time, they said no. The officer actually called my sponsor and spoke with her, and then he informed me that she was not a valid sponsor. If I used her as a sponsor, I would have to go to the Tanjungbalai immigration office. This is something I was trying very hard to avoid because the officers in Tanjungbalai were corrupt. Last time, they had run a scam with local goverment officials to get one million rupiah from me. On top of that, they sent local police to my hotel on numerous occasions to hassle me and try to get money from me. They’d also hassled my original sponsor there.

I did not burn any bridges or get angry or become passive aggressive. I continued to smile and have a friendly discussion with the immigration officer and I played the bicycle card. I said that my visa expired on Monday, and that did not leave me enough time to get back to Tanjungbalai. It was too far away. My real reason for resisting was the corrruption, but I didn’t think it was wise to tell this immmigration officer that his fellow immigration officers were evil and corrupt. I didn’t think that would help my case. I asked him if he could make an exception for me. He did not understand the word “exception,” so I said “special situation”, and he said no. I then asked him if he could talk to his boss or supervisor and see if his boss would allow for a special situation. To my surprise, he did so. At least he went to an office somewhere and then returned in a few minutes. He announced that the boss also rejected my application. There was nothing else I could do.

I had four options open to me. And each one presented a minefield of problems. Here are the options:

1. Go back to Tanjungbalai and apply for a visa extension there.
2. Find a new sponsor in Siantar.
3. Fly from Medan to Penang, Malaysia, and get a brand new 60-day visa.
4. Take the ferry back to Malaysia to get a new 60-day visa.

None of these options were easy. Going back to Tanjungbalai had the risk of encountering more corruption. They also had required me in Tanjungbalai the first time to get an additional document known as a domisili – basically a residence certificate. I would have only one shot at this application on Monday morning. If there was any problem with my application at all, I’d be screwed because my visa expires on Monday. This option would also involve two days of cycling to get back to Kisaran, plus some kind of transportation to Tanjungbalai. It was very complex, all in all, and fraught with danger.

Option 2, getting a new sponsor in Siantar, seemed like the obvious and best choice. The immigration officer certainly seemed to think this wouldn’t be a problem. But I am a complete stranger here. I’m a tourist. I don’t have a network of friends and family willing to vouch for me to the government. Beyond that, few people speak English, and this requires printing out documents, getting government stamps, making copies, and acquiring signatures. None of this is easy here, particularly when you don’t speak the language.

Option 3 – flying to Penang – is also very complicated. It requires booking a flight online and then somehow finding transportation to Medan and figuring out how to get to the airport at the proper time. Then I would have to navigate two international airports in large cities, go through immigration and hope they let me through, go to the consulate in Penang and then return to Siantar. In the meantime, I would have to store my bicycle, trailer, and other gear in a safe place in Siantar.

Option 4 – taking the ferry back to Malaysia – though a familiar process is equally complicated and has many stages. The most complicated stage would be getting from Kisaran to the ferry terminal without my bicycle. In a way, however, option 4 is the most appealing to me because Malaysia is very pleasurable and easy. I don’t mind going back there. Plus, taking the ferry and a series of trains to Kuala Lumpur and then up to Penang, though slow, is steady and stress-free. It would be like a mini-holiday. I would also be able to take my pannier bags with me and put them in storage at the guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur and otherwise make adjustments to my gear. I’ve done this trip before, and I know how to do everything. It would take a long time – a full day to get the ferry to Malaysia and then the train to Kuala Lumpur. Then it would take another full day to take the train up to Penang. Then two days to apply for the visa. Then another two days for the return journey. However, each day would have elements of pleasure. I don’t mind sitting in a nice train up to Penang at all. And the ferry is fun.

Another wrinkle is that both options 3 and 4, which involve returning to Malaysia, are much more expensive than options 1 and 2. I would end up (hopefully) with a brand new 60-day visa, but it would cost me one or two hundred dollars to make the trip plus the cost of the visa. Options 1 and 2 would net me only a 30-day visa, but entail only the visa extension cost. I would save the two hundred dollars the trip to Penang would cost.

Another very annoying wrinkle is that the immigration office in Siantar takes over a week to process a visa extension. At least it did last time. That means an entire week of just sitting in Siantar waiting. And when you get your visa extension, it is already one quarter used up. The immigration office in Tanjungbalai does it overnight, but going there, as I said, runs the risk of encountering corruption and the the requirement for a domisili. There is no reason that the two immigration offices have different rules or procedures. They should be the same, but this is Indonesia. That’s how things are.

Now we get to the difficult and extremely frustrating part of my story. I decided first to try to find a new sponsor in Siantar. I could think of two people that could possibly help me. The first was a young man named Bima that I’d met at a local bank when I was having trouble with my ATM card. He helped me, and then we had lunch together and met up a couple of times. He was very nice and friendly and he spoke English well. I decided to try him first, and I rode my bike to the bank to chat with him.

I should mention that the immigration office is 10 kilometers outside of Siantar, so every visit there involves a 20-kilometer round-trip bike ride in Sumatran heat. And it is all downhill to the office and uphill all the way back. It was on the slow uphill return climb that my phone was stolen long ago.

To my delight, Bima was at work at the bank, and it was an easy matter to chat with him. He was more than willing to be my sponsor. Unfortunately, though he lived and worked in Siantar, his ID had a Jakarta address. He was born in Jakarta, so his ID listed that as his home. That makes him inelegible according to the mysterious rules of the immigration office. I hoped that Bima would then make it his mission to find me a sponsor among his circle of friends and co-workers. However, he said he was not comfortable doing that. He knew me, but none of his friends did. He did not want to put them in the position of sponsoring someone they did not know. It was disappointing but understandable.

In the meantime, I was in contact with my two best friends back in Kisaran. These were Al and Theresa. Al said that he could help me. He knew someone in Siantar, and he would contact this man and he could be my sponsor. This seemed promising, but then I got a return message from Al saying that his friend was out of town. He was in Medan and wouldn’t return until Sunday at the earliest. Now all my hopes were pinned on Theresa. She also had a friend in Siantar, and this friend would help me. A flurry of messages went back and forth by the miracle of smartphones, ending with the sad news that her friend was also out of town. She was on vacation at Lake Toba with her husband and would not be returning for several days. This is generally the kind of luck that I have.

I had one last possibility, one that I dreaded. When I was in Siantar last time, I’d met a woman who lived beside my hotel. She ran a flower sign shop with her husband, and she chatted with me on a couple of occasions as I walked past. She had been an English teacher once upon a time, and she spoke reasonable English. I dreaded approaching her because she was a little bit nuts and extremely greedy. Every time I met her, she went over my possessions and asked me to give them to her. All of her conversation was about the things that I owned and which of them I could give her. I never understood this because she ran a business and had a big house. She had a nice car and a truck and motorcycles. She clearly had more money than I did. I was just a poor cyclist. But she had it in her head that I was rich, and she wanted my stuff.

Anyway, I went back to my hotel, and I happened to see this woman at her business. She greeted me and we chatted. She wanted to know what I had purchased in Malaysia and whether I had any souvenirs I could give her. She admired my new knapsack and said that I should give it to her for her children. She said that I should give her my bicycle when I go back to my country. She said that I should give her my new smartphone. She basically wanted to strip me naked.

I laughed most of this off, and then I brought up the issue of sponsoring me for a tourist visa extension. I did not want to, but at this point I had little choice. Then began the worst part of this whole process. To my surprise, she agreed to be my sponsor right away. I was nervous about that because I knew this would come with a price, but she was the only game in town at the moment. But then her Indonesian nature kicked in. Me being a Westerner, I just wanted to get the job done. To be my sponsor, I just needed to get a photocopy of her ID. Then I’d print out two letters with her name and address on them, put government stamps on them, and she’d sign them. We’d be done. Then I could return to immigration in the morning. It wouldn’t take long at all. But she wanted to delay. She was willing to be my sponsor, but could I come back at six o’clock? We could do it then. I had no choice but to agree.

So I waited until six o’clock. I rewrote the sponsorship letters and changed the dates and otherwise got them ready. I made sure my computer was fully charged. I had a flash drive so I could copy the letters over and then bring them to a neighborhood shop to print them out. Then, at six o’clock, I went over to her house. I was ignored for a long time. But she eventually came out and said that she was really busy helping her kids with their homework, and she asked me if I could come back in an hour. I was furious on the inside, but I had no choice but to agree.

Every hour that passed made things more difficult because shops were closing. By seven o’clock, the usual place where I made copies would be closed. So I went for a long walk and visited many businesses until I found one that would be able to print two letters for me. It wasn’t their usual business, but they had a printer and they would do it. I made sure they would be open until nine o’clock, and I also bought extra government stamps.

Then at seven o’clock, I returned to this woman’s business and house. I was ignored again for a long time. Then she came out and dropped a bombshell: She said that she couldn’t find her ID. She had some long story prepared about how she had talked about this with her husband and he suggested that maybe she had used her ID when she went to this or that office last week and had forgotten it there. In any event, she had no idea where her ID was. So she couldn’t help me.

I knew it was a lie. I could tell by how she was speaking and the story and the expression on her face. She had decided she didn’t want to be my sponsor, but she didn’t want to say that directly. So she invented this story about not being able to find her ID. I knew my role was to reassure her and say that it was okay and it was no problem and thank her for offering to help me. But I was so angry that I could do none of that. I knew better than to express my anger, of course. It would be pointless. All I could do was stare blankly at her while she told me the story. Then I just got up and left.

This happens to me all the time, and I think I will die years early because of the stress of it. Being a homeless wanderer overseas, I occasionally need the help of other people. I need favors. And people constantly let me down and fail to deliver. But then I can never have the satisfaction of becoming angry because they were doing me a favor to begin with.

The worst thing about this is that I had wasted nearly the entire day. I had met up with her around lunch time, and she agreed to be my sponsor at that point. So I stopped looking for other solutions. I thought I had my sponsor, and I could relax. So I didn’t start making any other arrangements. I didn’t book flights or look for other sponsors or do anything else. Had she said no at the beginning, I could have made other arrangements. But by waiting until 7:30 at night to say no, she’d screwed me over for the entire day. And I had very few days before my visa expired. That also seems to happen to me. Whatever visa I have, it always expires on a Monday or on a holiday. I don’t know how that can happen all the time, but it does. And so even though there are three days left on my visa, two of them are Saturday and Sunday when everything is closed. So that leaves me with today. Friday. And that’s it.

The story gets even more frustrating because I had run out of options and I needed help. I thought that Bima, with his intelligence and good English, could help me somehow. Perhaps he could help me in finding a new sponsor. I also thought that maybe I could convince immigration to accept him as a sponsor. His ID said Jakarta, but he lived and worked in Siantar. He worked in a big bank. He was a good citizen. Maybe it would be okay, but I didn’t know for sure. I would have to check with immigration, and the only way to do that is to ride my bike 10 kilometers out there and ask them. Before I did that, I wanted to talk with Bima. I had his phone number, but he would not reply to any of the text messages I sent him. Then, for reasons I don’t understand, my text messages would not go through. I don’t really understand how text messages work on smartphones, to be honest. I just got an error message and no information about the error or how to fix it.

I tried to call Bima, but apparently I only have Internet credit. I don’t have any actual telephone calling credit. I still don’t understand how that works in Indonesia. It’s very complicated. So I tried calling him with Google Hangouts and Viber and other things. The call went through, but he wouldn’t answer his phone. Either that, or I didn’t have the right number. I had no idea what was going on. I got no return calls and no return messages.

I also reached out to my friend Al in Kisaran. But he didn’t reply to any of my messages either. Theresa didn’t reply either. So I was helpless. What can I do? Walk up to random strangers on the street? “Hey, do you speak English? Would you sponsor me for my tourist visa, please?” This rule in Indonesia is very annoying. In the Philippines, you just apply and pay the fee. You’re done. And you get 60 days each time. But here, you have to get this stupid sponsor letter and jump through lots of hoops for only 30 days. It’s a giant pain.

Anyway, I was feeling so stressed out that I couldn’t get to sleep last night. I just lay in bed with all the options going round and round in my head. The problem was that I couldn’t just act on my own. That would be no problem. No, I needed help. I needed a sponsor. And I had no control over any of that. I have to rely on other people, and that is nothing but trouble.

I just remembered that I know two other people in Siantar. One is the police detective that interviewed me when my phone was stolen. The other is the man who helped interpret at the police station. Somehow, I doubt that the detective would help me. And the man could be a little bit crazy. I’m not sure. Anyway, I just sent the man a message on Facebook. I don’t think he monitors his Facebook account very much, but you never know.

Anyway, with the clock ticking, I am feeling under pressure and very stressed out. With time running out, any choice I make automatically cancels the other options. If I want to take the ferry back to Malaysia, I have to make arrangements now. I have no time to waste. If I want to fly to Penang, I have to book and pay for the flights now. On the other hand, if I decide to pursue getting a sponsor in Siantar, I am committed to that route. I have three days to find a sponsor and complete the paperwork so that I can visit the office on Monday morning. That seems like enough time, but if I fail, I’m screwed.

Too many variables and too many potential problems. It feels like life in general is not this hard for other people. Everything I do seems really, really difficult. I don’t know how it would be different but I think that other people in my shoes would not be in such trouble. Things would work out for them. Why is that? What is different about the way I operate? It’s a good question. There’s probably no answer, though.

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“You stupid! You stupid! You stupid!” Thu, 29 Sep 2016 02:48:24 +0000 Today is the day that I go to immigration to apply for a 30-day visa extension. I hope it goes well. If there is a serious problem, I still have options, however. I wouldn't be happy about it, but I could probably go back to Tanjungbalai and take the ferry back to Malaysia. Then I could make my way up to Penang and apply for a fresh 60-day visa. I'm confident I could get that. But it would be better at this point to get the 30-day extension locally.]]>

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Thursday, September 29, 2016
6:00 a.m. Room 9, Tamariah Losmen, Siantar, Sumatra

Today is the day that I go to immigration to apply for a 30-day visa extension. I hope it goes well. If there is a serious problem, I still have options, however. I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I could probably go back to Tanjungbalai and take the ferry back to Malaysia. Then I could make my way up to Penang and apply for a fresh 60-day visa. I’m confident I could get that. But it would be better at this point to get the 30-day extension locally.

My bike ride to Siantar yesterday did not go particularly well. It wasn’t terrible or anything, but I had some problems. The biggest problem is that just after I turned off my computer and got ready to get on the bike and leave, I was hit with a bout of diarrhea. Stomach problems are still the bane of my existence. I was delayed for quite a while by this, and I even considered staying another day in that horrible little town. But when the worst of the stomach cramps abated, I found the strength to start packing up and leave. It was then quite a bit later, and I’d missed the cool morning hours, and the crazy traffic of Indonesia was at full strength.

Packing up was a bit dilfficult in that I had a large audience, and these men had nothing better to do than laugh hysterically at me. I’ve encountered this a lot in Sumatra. People are friendly, but they are very direct. They tease each other and they certainly tease me. They also tease each other THROUGH me. I was feeling self-conscious to begin with as I carried my bicycle and my giant trailer and my other bags down the stairs. To have these men pointing and laughing throughout made things that much more difficult.

To start the day, I took my two pannier bags and put them on the front pannier rack as an experiment. They don’t fit there perfectly by any means, but they do attach. That arrangement distributed the weight to my liking. Most of my gear was in the trailer, and this weight was supported by the trailer’s wheels. None of it was on the rear wheel of the bike. The rest of my gear was on the front wheel. And my body weight was split over the bike’s two wheels with the majority of it landing on the rear wheel.

It was an interesting experiment because later in the day, I decided to move the pannier bags back to the rear wheel and see how different it felt. I had stopped at a little shop in a small town to get a cold drink, and while I sat there, I moved the bags. I was surprised to find that it felt FAR, FAR better. The difference was extraordinary. With the two pannier bags on the front wheel, the bike was significantly harder to control. I had to work very hard to keep the wheel straight. It felt like I was driving a tank. It was the familiar feeling of a fully loaded touring bike. It was difficult to turn the wheel, and then I had to be careful to make only small adjustments. The weight of the pannier bags could push the bike far to one side or the other. Not only that, it required a lot of upper body strength to steer the bike. It was tiring and I felt somewhat oppressed by the weight psychologically. When I looked down a rough sideroad that probably led somewhere interesting, I resisted going there. Just the thought of turning the handlebars and then muscling the front wheel through all the rough rocks and potholes seemed too much. Once I moved the pannier bags to the rear, the bike felt like a nimble racer. I could steer with ease and I felt lighter and more at ease. It was a huge difference, and I was much happier. I was physically moving the same amount of weight, but it felt totally different in a better way. The problem now was that all of the non-trailer weight was back on the rear wheel, and that put stress on the spokes, tires, rims, etc. This is the very thing I was trying to avoid by using a trailer in the first place.

I came to the realization that I should commit to one or the other. I could use the trailer or I could use pannier bags. It made little sense to use both. Given a choice right now, especially considering that my pannier bags are outdated, heavy hulks, I would go with the trailer. So perhaps it is time to finally and fully retire my beloved Arkel pannier bags. I thought about it as I rode along, and I came up with a reasonable solution. What I can do is get rid of the two pannier bags completely. This means putting the computer and camera gear into the trailer. But I think I can do that somewhat safely. To make room for all of my gear in the trailer, I can take some of the bulky lightweight things out and simply strap them to the rear pannier rack as I would normally do with a full pannier-bag touring setup.

This makes a lot of sense. The idea is that in order to carry any gear inside pannier bags, you have the weight of the pannier bags to deal with as well (not to mention the pannier racks themselves). I’m currrently using one rear and one front pannier bag. Together, they weigh nearly eight pounds. The rear pannier bag alone weighs nearly five pounds. And I’m using it only because I want a safe place to store my computer, which weighs only 3.75 pounds. So I’m essentially using a 5-pound bag to carry a 4-pound item. That’s not very logical. If I move my computer and camera gear to the trailer, I do three things: I save eight pounds of total weight by getting rid of the pannier bags. I remove that weight from the worst possible place – over the rear wheel. Finally, I’ve reduced the number of bags I have to carry in and out of my rooms.

Anyway, I think I’m going to try it out. The big question is what to do with the pannier bags. Despite being seventeen or eighteen years old, they’re still in great condition, and my instinct is to keep them somehow. But is that worth it? Why ship them to Canada to go into storage when that would cost a lot of money and I will probably never use them again? Even if I decide to go back to pannier bags, I will certainly buy new, lighter bags. I’ve got my eye on the new Arkel line of Dolphin waterproof bags.

The ride to Siantar was not an easy one, but it wasn’t terrible either. The difficulty lay largely in dealing with the traffic and the noise of that traffic. There was a lot of horn honking in addition to the roar of the engines. I occasionally listened to podcasts to drown out the roar. It was also very hot and I sweat like crazy. The road was in fairly good condition, but there were a lot of very dangerous potholes, and I had to be on my toes. People were friendly. I got a lot of gestures of support. People would give me a big thumbs-up as they raced past on their motorcycles. Trucks always have at least two people in the cab – the driver plus the assistant. And the assistant would always lean his head out the window as they passed and shout things. I went the entire day without a single person giving me the finger or shouting “Fuck you!”, so that was good. The worst encounter was with a group of teenage schoolboys as I entered Siantar proper. I had stopped by the side of the road to check Google Maps for my position, and these boys took it upon themselves to tease me. The ringleader demanded that I give him my phone. He also demanded money. And then the boys set up a chorus of “You stupid! You stupid! You stupid!” in English. This was directed at me with lots of laughter. Teenage boys are really the worst form of humanity in every country in the world.

I found a room at a low-budget hotel called the Tamariah Losmen. I’d stayed there on my previous visit to Siantar, and it is a reasonable sort of place. They charge 80,000 rupiah for a large room on the second floor with shared bath. My hotel in Kisaran was a much better deal. Their rooms are also 80,000 rupiah a night, but that includes a private bathroom, a TV, a telephone, room service, and Wi-fi. However, that room in Kisaran had zero ventilation and it was unbearably hot. I had to keep the door open all the time just to survive. Even with the door open, it was uncomfortable and sweaty. With the door closed, it was unbearable. This dumpy room in Siantar has a big set of windows that I can open. Siantar is also at a slightly higher altitude and therefore a couple degrees cooler. Of course, the big windows open onto the noisiest and busiest intersection on the planet. The roar of traffic and the honking of horns is non-stop and somewhat mind-numbing. You just learn to deal with it and accept it.

My experience in Siantar is somewhat indicative of the local mindset. For example, when I arrived on my bicycle, the staff at the hotel were happy to see me. They remembered me very well and they greeted me with huge smiles and they called out to each other to announce that I was back. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and really nice. And I appreciated that. However, after I’d checked in and gotten my room key and moved all my gear up to my room, I noticed that the room wasn’t made up. That’s not a big deal since I have my own sheet and my own towel and my own soap, etc. However, it’s always better to use the hotel’s towels rather than use my own and have to wash it. So I had to go downstairs and track someone down and with the help of Google Translate ask them for a towel and the bedsheets and pillow cases. My point is that I was quite pleased that everyone is so friendly and nice. But I would have been even more pleased if some of that energy and friendliness translated into doing their jobs effectively.

A similar experience occured when I went out in search of water. I normally take my 10-liter water bag to a place that sells purified water and I just fill it up there. But I noticed that the convenience store beside my hotel had a big display of the giant 5-gallon water bottles of purified water. I wondered if it would make sense to buy that, and I inquired about the price. The problem came when the woman told me (after much chaos and confusion) that the water cost 20,500 rupiah. I knew there was more to the situation than that. The price, whatever it is, has to include two parts – the price of the water and the cost of the deposit on the bottle. But no matter how hard I tried, I could not get anyone to break it down for me.

I know that if I told this story to people, that nine out of ten would say that it was a language problem. I don’t speak Indonesian and they don’t speak English. But I disagree. If I worked in that store and a customer came in to inquire about the water in any language, I would automatically tell them (by writing it down) how much the water cost and how much the deposit was. It just makes sense. It’s part of the deal. You can’t buy the water without the bottle. And they’re not giving away these bottles. So I would break it down for them. It’s totally obvious what information should be given, but the people in the store didn’t see that.

At the time, I didn’t have my phone with me, so I just left. Then I went back with my phone and I used Google Translate to ask them specifically about the deposit on the bottle. But even then I only got one price, the aforementioned 20,500 rupiah. Nothing I did could convince these people to break it down for me. And I think this is a conceptual problem. It’s a problem with a thinking process. It has nothing to do with language. I encounter this all the time on my travels in Asia. In the end, I decided to just do it and see what happens. I told them that I wanted to buy a bottle of water. And what was the price? Yep. The price was 55,500 rupiah. It was 20,500 rupiah for the water and 35,000 rupiah for the deposit on the bottle. But it didn’t occur to anyone to give me this information beforehand. I wanted to also know if I got my deposit back when I returned the bottle. Was it in fact a deposit, or was I buying the bottle? I assumed it was a deposit, but I didn’t know that for sure. However, I didn’t even bother to ask. I knew it would be impossible, and that WOULD be a language problem. Without speaking the local language, I just couldn’t get that information. I paid the 55,500 rupiah and hoisted the massive bottle to my shoulder. It’ll probably end up being a waste of money as I won’t get my deposit back. Five gallons also might seem like a lot of water, but I go through a lot of water very quickly.

I guess those are all my thoughts for the morning.

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Overnight Wackiness in a Wonky Hotel Wed, 28 Sep 2016 10:08:55 +0000 I'm still in Sumatra. My current tourist visa is expiring in a few days, and I'm on my way to a town called Siantar to visit the immigration office and apply for a 30-day extension. This may or may not go well. You need official documents from a local sponsor in order to get a visa extension. I have a sponsor and the documents already prepared, but this sponsor lives in the town of Kisiran, not in Siantar. ]]>

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016
5:00 a.m
Small town in Sumatra

I’m still in Sumatra. My current tourist visa is expiring in a few days, and I’m on my way to a town called Siantar to visit the immigration office and apply for a 30-day extension. This may or may not go well. You need official documents from a local sponsor in order to get a visa extension. I have a sponsor and the documents already prepared, but this sponsor lives in the town of Kisiran, not in Siantar. And Kisaran is closer to a different immigration office. So there is a chance the office in Siantar won’t accept my application. However, I did it there once before and it worked out. The problem with this office is that they take a long time to process things.

On my last visit to the Siantar immigration office, my smartphone was stolen. Since then, I’ve purchased a handlebar bag. The idea is that I can put my phone inside the handlebar bag. It is still easily accessible for me but also safe from thieves.

Yesterday, I rode my bike to a small town near the slightly larger town of Lima Puluh. I describe it that way because I can’t remember the name of this place. This is also my second visit to this town. I’ve had a few adventures here. I think on my first visit, I described it as one of the worst places in the world. These small Sumatran towns strike me that way. I remember walking down the main street on my first visit and marveling that people live their entire lives in places like this. It’s ugly beyond description. It’s dirty. It’s noisy. The streets are hot and crowded and dusty. It’s hard to describe. I just got a very bad vibe from this place.

On this visit, my impressions are largely the same. The only difference is that I haven’t done any exploring. I wasn’t in the mood upon my arrival. I ended up in this town on my first visit and now on this second visit because there is a hotel here. Hotels (and many other things) are quite variable in Sumatra. There doesn’t seem to be a standard across towns. In one town, you can find a reasonably priced hotel with friendly staff and very nice rooms. In the next, you find a crumbling hulk for which they charge astronomical prices. This particular hotel is somewhere in between. It’s called the Wisma Idola, and I was disappointed on my first visit to find that their rooms were all priced significantly north of 100,000 rupiah, which I think of as my upper limit. That’s about ten dollars Canadian.

The reason for the higher price range is that all their rooms come with some amenities – a private bathroom, an air conditioner, and a TV. On my first visit, I was upset that I had to pay so much, but I enjoyed the heck out of the air conditioner. Having cool and DRY air in my room had a tremendous positive effect on my mood and overall physical condition and that of my clothing and gear. I also got a single room, which is their cheapest room at about thirteen dollars a night. And it was on the first floor, so it was easy to roll my bike and my new trailer right into the room. I quickly unpacked and arranged my room and rinsed all my sweat-drenched clothes. I was also very pleased to find that each room had a separate one gallon dispenser of purified water. And in the hallway, there was a much larger dispenser. Therefore, I could drink all that I needed (which was a lot), and then I could refill all my bottles for the next day of cycling. It was very convenient.

I had an amusing time on my first visit because a stream of strangers kept knocking on my door. They were looking for friends or something, and they constantly got the room wrong or had no idea where their friends were and just knocked on every door in turn. In any event, they were very surprised when I opened the door. The door couldn’t be locked from the inside, so I had men walking right inside my room. This even happened while I was sleeping, and I found myself staring up at the face of a strange man who had wandered into my room by mistake. The staff of the hotel also made a habit of knocking on my door. They were on the hunt for a tip, or what they think of as smoking money. They make a smoking gesture to indicate that they would like me to give them some money so they can buy cigarettes. I generally choose to misunderstand this gesture and explain that I don’t smoke. I wasn’t totally against giving a tip, but at this hotel, the level of service is extremely bad. I can understand asking for a tip if you are actually helping me in some way. But the people here couldn’t be less interested in doing anything.

My experience of this hotel on my second visit has been consistent with the first. This time, there wasn’t even a single room available. I had to spring for the more expensive double room at 165,000 rupiah (or about sixteen dollars and fifty cents). That’s a lot of money for me. It was disappointing on many levels. The room they showed me was the same size as the single room I’d had before. They’d just crammed an extra bed into it, one that I had no use for, so it actually had less usable space. It was also on the second floor, which made it harder to carry my stuff inside. Finally, upon getting organized inside the room, I discovered that the main light didn’t work.

Rooms like this are confusing for me. Normally, I don’t worry about anything. If you pay five dollars a night for a room and it is dirty or the lights don’t work, you don’t worry about it. You get what you pay for. I generally have enough of my own gear with me that I can fix things or make things work. But when you are forced to pay for the over-priced luxury room and now the lights don’t work, it feels like a bit of a slap in the face. I doubted anything would happen, but I decided to tell the staff about the light and see what happened. I didn’t expect them to fix it, but if I didn’t at least ask, I would feel like a sucker. It seemed like it was time to stand on my rights.

I felt this way also because the staff were so unhelpful. I wouldn’t call them unfriendly, but they were simply not present. They spent all their time starting at their phones and seemed to want me to just go away even when I was checking in. Nothing was their problem or their responsibility. When it came time to pay, I offered up two 100,000-rupiah notes. The girl simply waved them off. The problem? They had no change. And as far as she was concerned, she had done her job by waving at me. That was the end of the issue as far as she was concerned. The wave told me that they had no change. What I did after that was my business. If I wanted to stay at her hotel, I had to produce exact change. If I wasn’t able to, I was free to leave and go somewhere else. And her eyes and swiping finger went back to her phone.

Luckily, by going through all my pockets and all my bags, I was able to scrounge up 165,000 rupiah in exact change. But with that experience fresh in my mind, I felt in my rights to cause a little bit of trouble over the broken light. Since they spoke no English, I got out my smartphone and used that and Google Translate. Our exchange was pretty much what I expected. I told them that the light in my room was broken and I asked them if they could fix it. She wrote back – through Google Translate – that the light in my room was broken. And that was it. She ignored me after that. I then pushed it a bit farther and asked if I could then get a discount. I knew that was impossible, but I just wanted to cause some trouble. I kept it friendly, but I made my point. And then I felt better. Had I just let it go, I would have felt weak and a sucker. I was particularly happy I’d stood up for myself a little bit when I returned to the room and discovered all the other things that were wrong with it, including disgusting cigarette butts floating in the water of the toilet bowl. Again, that would be par for the course for a cheap room. I’m not bothered by dirty rooms and cigarette butts and spiders and spider webs in all the corners and broken lights. I’m only bothered by stuff like that when the room is expensive.

To my surprise, the other pattern carried over from my first visit. I was back in my room for only a few minutes when there was a loud knock on my door. I happened to be stripped naked at the time, and it took me a minute or two to find some dry clothes. As I dressed, this person kept banging on my door, and I kept shouting back in English. At the time, I thought it might even be someone from the hotel who had come to fix the light. But when I finally opened the door, I found myself staring at a strange and rather shocked Indonesian man. He was looking for his friend, apparently and did not expect a giant foreigner to open the door. I was confused, of course, since I had clearly shouted English words through the door. I have no idea how he couldn’t have figured out his mistake BEFORE I opened the door. Had his friend suddenly learned English and changed his voice?

The roughness of this town also made itself known. After this man left and I closed the door, I heard a lot of shouting and crashing. I opened my door and witnessed one man racing down the stairs while another man chased him with a plastic stool. They were shouting angrily at each other, and the chaser tried to hit the chasee with the plastic stool. I went back into my room to mind my own business, and then I just listened to the donnybrook that continued for well over half an hour. A woman’s voice joined the chorus, and she screamed and wailed while the two men shouted. There was crashing and banging. It didn’t surprise me at all. That’s just the kind of town this is.

I had carried my gear and my new bike trailer up the stairs to my room, but I had left my bike in the lobby. I thought I might use it later, so I just used my cable lock to lock it up to the stairwell. Later, however, another knock came on my door. It was a man I hadn’t seen before. He pulled me outside my room and then pointed down at my bike and made a cutting gesture. He was telling me that I shouldn’t leave my bike there. With sign language, he told me that thieves would cut the lock and then they would ride away into the town.

I ended up a little bit unsure of his message because I figured out that he was part of the hotel staff. He wasn’t warning me purely out of the goodness of his heart. In fact, after he warned me about the thieves, he then pointed to himself and his eyes and made reassuring gestures. The message was that there were many thieves who would steal my bike, but he would protect it. Of course, this protection came at a price and he asked for money. I deliberately misunderstood his sign language, and I just thanked him for his warning. It was still daylight and I didn’t feel like my bike was in too much danger, and I didn’t want to become indebted to him.

Later, as the evening settled in, I went down to the lobby to unlock my bike and bring it upstairs. I was doing this quietly, but somehow the man spotted me and he came rushing into the lobby. He didn’t help me carry the bike, but he did come upstairs and made lots of helpful pointing gestures. My plan was to bring the bike into my room, small as it was, but with this man stuck to me like glue, I didn’t want to do that right away. I didn’t want him to come into my room with me and stick his nose into my business even further. So I put my bike in the hallway outside my room in the spot where this man was pointing. This man then went through the routine of asking for smoking money. It’s weird, though, because I get the smoking gesture all the time. Men ask me if I smoke all the time. They want me to hang out and smoke with them. So I’m always telling people that I don’t smoke. This man was making the smoking gesture, but he was actually asking for money. I chose to misunderstand again, and I just told him that i didn’t smoke and I smiled and waved and slowly went back into my room and closed the door. I waited an appropriate amount of time, and then I went back out and carefully brought my bike into my room. The room is so small that there was no room for the bike and the trailer. I had to take the wheels off the trailer and put it on top of the second bed in order to have just enough room for the bike. Even so, it became nearly impossible to move about the room with my bike inside. I felt better, though. It was safer there than outside in the hallway

Still finding the streets of this town rather unfriendly, I was in no mood to go in search of a meal. I decided to just have spaghetti in my room. I can do this because I have been able to find alcohol fuel and I can cook with my Trangia. I also have a regular stove – an MSR Whisperlight Universal – but that uses gasoline, and it’s too dangerous to use indoors. Even the Trangia is dangerous because of the risk of fire and the fumes, but I’m extremely careful. I usually only do this when I have my own bathroom, and I can cook in there on tile floors and there is lots of water around.

After that, I simply basked in the cool air produced by the air conditioner and listened to podcasts until it was bedtime. The plan was to wake up as early as possible and hit the road when it was still a bit cool. I don’t know how early I will hit the road now that I’ve started drinking coffee and writing in my journal, but it should be okay. My destination for today is Siantar, and it is only 40 kilometers away. It is uphill most of the way, however, with the last few kilometers being steeply uphill, so I’m not taking even that 40 kilometers lightly. The last time I made this trip, my timing was terrible. I didn’t leave until ten or eleven in the morning, and so I cycled through the hottest part of the day with no relief, and I arrived in Siantar just in time to be embraced by the afternoon traffic crush as the schools let out. Whatever I do today, I plan to arrive before the schools let out and so I can avoid the worst of the gridlock.

My cycling gear continues to be an issue if not a total obsession. I’m using my new trailer, and I’m constantly wondering if the purchase of the trailer was a mistake. Ever since I left Taiwan, my gear has been a problem. I’ve always been a bit nuts about this sort of thing, but it has become much worse. No matter how many times I rearrange things, I can’t come up with an arrangement that feels right. My gear used to fit nicely into all its normal places. It was heavy, but organized. But it’s been chaos ever since Taiwan. I think the main problem is the addition of the electronics – the laptop, the Kindle, and the digital camera. Adding this gear has had a domino effect, and now nothing ever fits properly.

This difficulty contributed to my decision to give a trailer another try. I purchased a very special trailer from Radical Design, a company in the Netherlands. The trailer is called the Cyclone IV. It has a number of distinguishing features that make it quite different from the BOB trailer I used in the past. As with all gear, these features bring both advantages and disadvantages. It is, for example, a two-wheeled trailer. That is good because it means that the trailer wheels bear all the weight. None of the weight is transferred to the bike. The trailer is rated for 90 pounds (which is a massive amount of weight). But even if you put 90 pounds of gear into it, the weight on the rear of the wheel of the bike is zero. With the single-wheeled trailers like the BOB, a lot of the weight is still put on the rear wheel. However, having two wheels means that the trailer is wider, so it doesn’t track perfectly behind the bike. I have to be aware of the two wheels behind me and where they go. Swerving to miss a deep pothole with my bike’s wheels doesn’t mean that the trailer will automatically miss it, too. And because of the trailer’s single tow arm for attachment, it has a wide turning radius to the right.

My decision to try out a trailer once more came after I experienced a series of broken spokes in the Philippines. Plus, the bike just seemed so heavy and unwieldy. It was weighing on my mind all the time. When I loaded up the bike, I would try to lift the rear wheel off the ground, and I could barely do it. It took all my strength. That just seemed crazy when I looked at the thin spokes that made up the rear wheel. And then I’d put another 190 pounds of my body weight on the bike when I climbed on. It felt precarious and the bike felt fragile. I wanted to get that weight off the bike and off the rear wheel in particular.

This trailer has another unique feature in that the wheels can easily be moved between two positions. The wheels normally sit in the middle of the trailer so it supports all the weight. But you can move the wheels in seconds to a second position at the rear of the trailer, and now it becomes a very convenient and mobile luggage cart. It’s great. You can just pick up the tow arm and wheel it around.

The final advantage of the trailer over a normal set-up with pannier bags is that it takes less trips in the morning to carry my gear outside to the bike and this adds to security. In the Philippines, I felt burdened by the number of bags I had. I had the usual six bags in total – four pannier bags plus the tent plus the stuff sack containing my sleeping bag, sheet, and mosquito net. Packing those bags and then carrying them out to the bike in stages and loading them up was a difficult process. I had to make at least two trips. Usually, I made three because carrying all that gear in two trips was really hard.

Also, on each trip, the gear on my bike was unguarded. So I had to make sure to bring out my bags and load up the bike in the proper order. I didn’t want valuable gear on the bike unguarded. That was very difficult to do logistically. Plus, I couldn’t just leave the bags on the ground. People could easily just grab complete bags and run away. I had to mount the bags on the bike and attach them securely as I brought them down. But for various reasons, that was hard to do. The bike would be unbalanced and it would fall over. Or, because of the nature of the process, I’d have to atttach certain bags first. Then I would return to my room and get the bags containing the valuable gear. But to attach these bags to the bike, I would have to remove the first bags, put on the new bags, and then put the other bags back on. Anyway, it was a big, complicated processs.

The trailer fixes all these problems. The vast majority of my gear goes in the trailer. The zipper on the trailer has a locking mechanism. So I can load up everything, lock the zipper, wheel the trailer outside, attach it to the bike, and then leave it there with some confidence. The trailer balances itself, so it has no effect on the bike. Nothing falls over. And no one can pick up the trailer and run away with it. The entire trailer is secured with just one lock. I don’t have to worry about the dozen unlocked pockets on my pannier bags.

Then I can return to my room to get my remaining bags – and these bags contain my computer, camera, money, etc. And I can take my time because I feel confident that my bike and trailer are somewhat safe. I can take a quick shower to cool down, apply sunscreen if necessary, check the room to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything, return the key to the front desk, etc. In the past, I had to rush because I was so worried about the unguarded pannier bags.

I did a lot of thought experiments before I bought the trailer to see if laying out the cash for the trailer made sense. And it did for the most part. But that was largely based on my experience in the Philippines. My hotel rooms there were often on the ground floor. They were often bungalows, too. So wheeling a trailer in and out would be a breeze. The bigger hotels in the cities often had elevators. So if your room was on the seventh floor, you could just wheel the trailer inside the elevator and then wheel it down the hall. Things changed, however, when I got to Sumatra. Suddenly, all my rooms were on upper floors and there were no elevators. Plus, the stairways were extremely narrow. Now I had to carry this giant trailer in my arms up these narrow staircases. Sure, it’s a problem to carry a multitude of pannier bags over several trips. But at least each individual bag is somewhat manageable. But if you put all that weight into one giant bag, you suddenly have a problem. So I have had some trouble with the trailer lately, and I’ve begun to rethink my decision to buy it.

I’ve babbled endlessley about gear in the past, so this is all very familiar. But I just can’t help it. I’ve never been truly happy with my gear on the bike. It is always a mess, and I keep rethinking things. I just can’t get it to feel right. Another problem – at least pscyhologically – is that when I had the trouble with the broken spokes, I originally didn’t consider a trailer. My goal at that time was to lighten my load and make it less bulky. So I spent a lot of money on new gear. I replaced almost everything with newer, smaller, lighter versions: sleeping bag, sleeping pad, mosquito net, tent, stove, stuff sacks, tires, saddle. But then when I bought the trailer, all that expense was largely unnecesssary. I suddenly had 100 liters of volume in the trailer, so it didn’t matter if things were a bit bulky. I could have kept my old, much cheaper gear. Still, it worked out in the end. Most of my gear was so old that it was falling apart. My tent was a disaster and needed to be replaced anyway. It was still the Marmot Peapod that I bought for Ethiopia. And it had reached the end of its useful life. I was glad to replace it anyway because it was so big and heavy. It weighed over eight pounds. My new tent weighed less than half that at 3.75 pounds. The same goes for my sleeping bag. All this time, I’ve been carrying around a huge and heavy winter-rated sleeping bag. You don’t need that kind of bag for the Philippines, so it was pointless. My new sleeping bag is half the weight at least. So I’m happy with the new gear overall. Finally, I don’t do much camping anyway. Camping is just too difficult. I urban camp in that I often use all my gear inside hotel rooms. But setting up the tent outside in this heat after a brutal day of cycling is crazy, especially when you are alone. So it makes sense to have a light tent. No point carrying a big, heavy tent if you don’t even use it that often.

But after all of this, I have to say that my bike still feels too heavy. I can’t help but obsess over it. One problem I’ve come across concerns the rear wheel. The main reason I bought the trailer was to reduce the weight on the rear wheel. However, I’ve noticed that the rear of the bike still feels heavy. The reason for that is somewhat complicated. Even though I have the trailer, I figured I still needed at least one pannier bag. I needed one bag to carry my computer and camera and passport pouch. I need one bag that I can remove from the bike and carry into restaurants with me. But one bag on a pannier rack is a bit unbalanced, so I ended up carrying two pannier bags in addition to the trailer – one on each side of the rear rack.

The next problem is that my old Arkel pannier bags are oddly shaped. I want to use my small and light front pannier bags, but they are tapered on the bottom. So my computer won’t fit into them. That means I can either carry the computer in the trailer or I have to use one of my big and heavy rear pannier bags. Those bags weigh 4.5 pounds each. And when I put my laptop and camera inside those bags, suddenly I’ve added a lot of weight. Yes, with the trailer, I took a lot of weight off the bike, but most of that weight was removed from the front wheel, and that wheel was never a problem. When I mount my two pannier bags on the rear rack, the back of the bike feels too heavy. It also feels wrong overall even when I just look at the bike.

Anyway, I’m still fussing around. When I get back to Malaysia, I’ll probably buy new, lighter pannier bags. But for now, I have a choice between moving my pannier bags to the front rack or putting my computer and other heavy gear in the trailer. Then I can reserve the pannier bags on the rear wheel for lightweight, bulky items. Nothing I do really makes me happy.

It’s almost seven a.m. now and time is wasting. I have to pack up and have breakfast and hit the road.

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Kisaran Life Fri, 16 Sep 2016 02:00:56 +0000 Shivering bunny rabbits and Independence Day preparations in Kisaran, Sumatra. ]]>

Shivering bunny rabbits and Independence Day preparations in Kisaran, Sumatra.

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