Fruit Juice, Dinner, and a Travelling Carnival
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Well, the dust has settled, and I have my 30-day tourist visa extension. It allows me to stay in Indonesia until February 10.
I wrote a summary of my terrible experience, and I posted it to a bicycle touring group on Facebook. It has gotten a fairly emotional response from both foreigners and Indonesians. I’ve had some other funny moments, too. I told the story to one of the waiters at my regular restaurant. We’ve become friendly, and we use Google Translate on my smartphone to have long conversations. After I told him about the bad people at the government who demanded one million rupiah as a bribe, I showed him a picture of one of the men. I got him in a picture by accident when I took a picture of the building. He’s a big, fat youngish man in a colorful T-shirt. My waiter at the restaurant said that this man was a good friend of his, and he would never steal money. He insisted on this. I told him over and over that he was wrong. This man extorted money from me, and it went straight it into his pocket. He was a bad man.
And last night, I met my sponsor, Rea, and we went to my favorite fruit juice stand. While we were sitting down, Rea laughed and told me to look behind me. Standing behind the counter in a store next to the fruit juice stand was the boss from the government office. He was the one I’d met at immigration and he was a key figure in the extortion racket. And there he was looking at me with a big smile on his face. That’s something you learn quickly in places like this – everyone knows everyone else. So you do have to be careful how you behave. People are connected, and when you are a foreigner, you are watched carefully. Everyone knows who you are and stories about you spread quickly through the city.
I had a typically confusing evening with Rea. She had gone to Medan for a couple of days on business, and she sent me a message in the morning from the train. She was on her way back to Tanjungbalai. I suggested that we get together for lunch or for dinner. My idea was to spend a relaxing evening just wandering around the busy market area of Tanjungbalai and trying out all the snacks and traditional drinks. In all my messages, I tried to keep things light and carefree, like one friend chatting with another. No pressure. No big deal. Like you are communicating with someone in Canada: “Hey, want to go to the mall later on? We can just grab a coffee and chat and then wander around. If you don’t feel like it, it’s okay. Just let me know. Cheers.”
But, as with everything here, it spiralled out of my control. I ended up meeting Rea at her store at 8 p.m. The idea was that she was working and she got off at 8. But when I got to the store, she wasn’t there. Then suddenly she roared up on her scooter. She wasn’t actually working. She was at home, and she made a special trip to meet me. In her messages, she said it would be nice to meet and have dinner. But the first words out of her mouth when she arrived were to the effect that, no, she didn’t want to have dinner. She just wanted a drink. That was fine with me. I’m never that concerned about eating. I could easily just skip dinner and have a snack or two.
So we started walking toward the market area, and I suggested that we start at my favorite juice stand. It is on a busy corner, but they have chairs and wide flat area where we could sit and talk. But Rea says something like, “But what about dinner? Don’t you want to eat dinner?” Now we were lost in that confusing part of the conversation where I have to use modals and conditionals: “But I thought you said that you didn’t want to have dinner.” Anyway, once you start using phrases like “thought you said you didn’t”, you might as well give up. You are lost in a sea of misunderstandings.
We got through that misunderstanding somehow, and we got a fruit juice at the juice stand. I had a mango juice and she had a passionfruit juice. I was desperately trying to establish a relaxing atmosphere of just hanging out, but apparently this isn’t normal in Indonesia. Rea was sitting on the edge of her seat and as tense as a rabbit listening for coyotes. The second my juice level got anywhere near the bottom of my cup, she was on her feet and urging us to go have dinner now. I wanted to sit there and chat for a while and maybe even have another mango juice, but Rea was practically sprinting down the street already.
Deciding where to have dinner was equally difficult. I thought it would be nice to try something new. She was the local expert, I thought, and I hoped she could suggest another traditional Indonesian dish I could add to my arsenal. Failing that, I thought we could just wander around until we stumbled across a place that looked inviting. But Rea treated everything like a mission, and we had to march to a specific place and get that meal underway. We ended up at a really terrible restaurant. It was one of the worst I’ve seen here. The food was terrible. The place was dirty. It was hot and noisy. The table was too high and wobbly. It was one of these silly tables that you couldn’t put your legs under, so you had to sit sideways and all twisted while sweat was pouring down your face. Worst of all, there were swarms of mosquitoes at floor level, and they devoured my feet. I keep forgetting about how many mosquitoes there are here. I should put some repellant on my feet when I go out at night in sandals. But I keep forgetting. Most of the time, I plan my day so that I DON’T go to restaurants at dusk or early evening. The city is covered in mosquitoes, and I can never relax during mosquito time. I try to have my meal earlier in the day when the mosquitoes are still sleeping.
After dinner, we went to a travelling carnival. Unfortunately, it took me a while to figure out that that was where Rea wanted to take me. She kept saying that it was at the long bridge. I assumed we had to walk across the long bridge and this place was on the other side. That would be a fairly long walk. It’s not too long for me. I walk much farther than that every day. But Indonesians would never walk that far, and I asked Rea several times if she really wanted to do this. But she insisted that it was fine. Another weird thing was that Rea didn’t seem to know how to get there. I keep thinking of her as a local expert on food and places and information, but she often knows far less than I do. Anyway, it fell to me to lead us through the dark streets to the long bridge. But instead of going across the bridge, Rea went to the side and down to the river. Then I finally understood. She wanted to go to the area along the river where there were many food stalls and now a kind of traveling carnival.
The funny thing was that I had been to this place many, many times during the day. I knew exactly how to get there, and it’s very close to my hotel. If I’d known Rea was talking about this place, we could have been there in just a few minutes. But she kept talking about the long bridge, so I brought us there. But when you are at the start of the long bridge, you then have to backtrack a long distance in the dark down a muddy road full of big puddles. It was all pretty ridiculous. We ended up going there by the longest and most difficult route you can possibly take.
It was a crazy little trip. Rea kept pointing out figures in the dark saying that this or that woman was a prostitute or actually a lady boy. She wanted to know if I was scared or nervous. There were police cars with flashing lights at intersections. Rea said those police cars were there every night. It was a standard checkpoint. There were tons of young people racing around on scooters, and everyone couul see that I was a foreigner and people were shouting greetings. Rea said some people were saying things like, “There’s a tourist. Let’s ask him for dollars!”
The carnival was very exciting. I had been there many times during the day, and I had seen things set up. But nothing was running. And it looked not much different from an abandoned lot. But carnivals are not designed to look like anything during the day. They are meant for the night, and so everything is covered in lights. The first thing I saw was a big round thing with metal stairs and a platform around the top. This was one of those containers that daredevils ride motorcycles inside. I paid 5,000 rupiah to check it out, and I was very glad I did. It was extremely exciting, and I had a big smile on my face the entire time I watched. It seemed too crazy to be real. Very high energy. The people around the platform held out money, and the guys on the motorcycles would gun their bikes and whip around the top and try to grab the money. It was a game, as the people would flip the money away at the last second. They’d do this a few times, and then they’d let them grab the money. It was very dangerous, and the guys were not wearing any safety equipment at all. I held out some money just to have the experience, and I let them take it the first time. I didn’t want to tease them.
I also rode on a ride that was powered by young men just grabbing it and running. They would fly into the air holding onto the ride and do all kinds of crazy acrobatics. There was more Rea confusion surrounding this ride. Rea asked me if I wanted to try it. I kept saying yes, but I had no idea how you were supposed to get on and off. The ride was spinning around and flying up and down. And it never seemed to stop. And Rea seemed to be saying that you just jumped on. That seemed impossible. I kept asking if the ride would stop so that people could get on and off. But she kept saying no, it didn’t. She said that you just jumped on. That seemed crazy, but I didn’t want to seem like a coward or a scaredy cat, so I went to buy a ticket. And then I was going to somehow try to jump on this thing. I probably would have been killed. Luckily, just as I bought the ticket, they stopped the ride. Everybody on it got off, and new people climbed up ladders to get on. Somehow despite talking about it for a long time, Rea and I never managed to communicate properly. And whenever confusion like this occurs, it’s impossible to clear it up afterwards. To clear up the confusion, you have to use those modals and conditionals again, and that is not possible. “But, Rea, I thought you said that I would have to jump on.” That’s way too complicated to be understood.
But all-in-all, I enjoyed the evening, particularly the carnival. It was fun.
Tags: Sumatra Part 01