December 31st 1983

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Harry (on the left) – they really are easing the boat along the wharf.

We spent all day on the boat today, + the boat itself made little progress, just advancing 20 yards or so along the channel.  Still, apart from some inevitable frustration at not going anywhere, the day passed most pleasantly.  I wrote this – (I’ve set myself the target of completing 3 days e very day until I catch up), played chess against various crew members, + losing every game (I reckon they’re a bunch of chess wizards); + Val sewed.  Plus there were the usual things – mandi-ing, eating.  We had a little bit of trouble with Harry.  He did some shopping for us, + tho’ he didn’t get exactly what we wanted, + wasn’t as careful about getting a good price as we would have been, we couldn’t really complain.  More important, he seemed to take a liking to a couple of our possessions.  We had lent him the green bag to collect the shopping, + he seemed very reluctant to give it back.  Even more important, Val discovered that our small photo wallet, in which we keep a collection of pictures to show to others, was tucked away in his locker.  She retrieved it without saying anything, but we vowed to keep a closer eye on our belongings.

The owner came aboard during the afternoon – he too seems quite happy for us to be going along – + that provoked some work on the rigging.  A good no of the crew left later, presumably to celebrate the new year, but we stayed on board with the watch contingent.  Harry rushed back very excited during the evening, bearing a bag of new clothes, most of which he’d been given, he said.  He presented us with a doughnut each, asked Val to take up his trousers, + then disappeared again.

Val went to bed early, while I read for a while.  Then, at 11.30, I went to lie down for a little while, + fell asleep.  The first New Year I’ve missed since I don’t know when.  I could list them – 83 Twin Pines, 82 Merida, 81 Oxford, 80 Widdacombe’s “Mama Told Me Not To Come” party, 79 Hatfield, with Bob in the pub, 78 Davidstow, 77 Welwyn pubs with Kev (I think.)  And before that a succession of pub crawls + parties in the Welwyn area.  And next year?  England, I reckon.

Not the most ininteresting of final paragraphs – sorry about that – but an indication of how much I was set on home. Otherwise, a day on board, and learning to cope with Harry (actually his real name was Ari, but he seemed happy enough with the Anglicised version. Quite a lot of chess for me, though I do seem to have been given something of a lesson.

December 30th 1983

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Showing the line of Makassar schooners at the dock

We were both a little disturbed during the night when Harry decided, for reasons known only to himself, to come into the wheelhouse + sleep next to us.  Or, to be more precise, next to Val.  No attempt at intimacy, as the police reports say, was made, but it didn’t make us very comfortable.  So it was with a good deal of relief when, on finally being introduced to the captain, he opened up one of only 2 private cabins on the boat (his own, I believe) + told us to put our bags in there, + then seemed to indicate that it would be for our use, certainly while we were still in port (he sleeps ashore), but also, we think, for the journey as well.  This was too good to be true, providing security – the cabin has a sturdy lock – as well as privacy.  Harry was still too inclined just to walk in when he felt like it – I suppose he feels, with a degree of justification, some proprietorial rights over us – but at least we now have more control over the situation.

We were, as usual, strongly exhorted to take a mandi in the morning – the Bugis seamen are a remarkably clean bunch, + seem to think it absolutely vital to bathe thoroughly a bare minimum of twice a day.  They certainly never fail to remind us it’s mandi time, + presumably think that we’re a filthy bunch, who would otherwise shirk our task.  Anyway, while I was closeted in the tiny room busily soaking myself, I seemed to feel we were moving, so I hurriedly completed my ablutions + dashed up to the top to make sure.  And yes, we were definitely moving, pulling out from the enormous line of schooners all moored at an angle to the dock, about 100 in all.  We didn’t go very far tho’, just back into the tiny channel behind them all, which led out to sea.  The channel was amazingly narrow, being in places no more than a boat’s width from the far bank to the sterns of the moored schooners, + that only provided they were staying at the right angle.  We were tied up at one of the slightly wider points, meaning that now we could only go ashore by sampan.

Much of the rest of the morning was spent, for me, writing out letters applying for permission to travel on the Jiwa Sabar III.  This was at Harry’s insistence, + under his instruction, but with each attempt he was dissatisfied for some reason.  By the 3rd or 4th time I was becoming fed up with the whole business, but finally we came up with a specimen that satisfied him. + the Captain.  Harry, Val + I paddled over to shore to present it to the harbour master.  Harry was considerably more worried about the whole business than we were, which just goes to show that even a relatively worldly Indonesian like him is affected by the national fear of authority.  I don’t think they’ll become a totally civilised country until they kick that one.

Actually tho’, this particular brush with authority was fairly painless.  We sat in a couple of offices, smiled + were pleasant + polite to all + sundry (+ generally speaking, they were pleasant + polite back.  In one office we were given iced water, + a wrapped in banana-leaf stick of boiled rice.  Eventually, we reached the harbour-master.  He read our letter, asked a couple of brief questions, + then simply said OK.  What had all the fuss been about, I wondered.  And was this it?  No stamps, no forms.  That was all being taken care of, said Harry, as we returned to the sampan, him now being cock-a-hoop.  One of the people we’d met was n ow taking our letter to immigration for them to stamp.  This made me feel considerably less confident, but at least someone else was dealing with it.

Back on board, I had a couple of game of chess against one of the crew, whom we’ve christened Little Big Man, since he’s about five foot nothing, but has the most amazing physique, almost like a body-builder.  I felt I didn’t play too badly, but still got beat twice.

During the afternoon, we went shopping, to stock up on goodies for the trip, + bought bread, marge, cheese, fruit, biscuits, sweets.  Plus a big cup with lid, cheap but useful, a Rod Stewart to give Harry as a present, +, because I was able to get it dirt cheap, a pocket magnetic chess set.  I tried this latter out on my return, against LBM, but it made no difference, he beat me again. Twice.

In the evening, after Val had gone to bed, I sat on the rear deck + relaxed with my book, a couple of biscuits, + a cup of water.  All very pleasant, until I was disturbed by an enormous cockroach.  I swatted at him with my book, + dispatched him to another world, but in the process also sent our new cup spinning over the side.  I thought that would be its early demise, but peering over, I saw that it had come to rest balanced on a side rudder tied to the side.  It was a simple matter to pop down the ladder + reach thro’ a porthole to retrieve it.

It would definitely appear that we are established as a part of the ship’s company, that we are getting a ride to Pontianak on the island of Borneo, and that we don’t have to pay for it, board included. All far more than we could have hoped; we were still pinching ourselves.

December 29th 1983

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The Jiwa Sabar III

Said farewell to P + J in the morning, + headed around the corner to a bakery they recommended to buy some breakfast… except that it wasn’t open.  The area there is a big centre for the expat population, + one can see why, being as pleasant + well-ordered a suburb as one could find in any city anywhere.  In fact, all of the area that we saw coming down on the bus yesterday seemed to be the scene of feverish development, with multi-storey office blocks going up on plots of land every hundred yards or so.  Office blocks, true, + not housing developments, but at least the ones we saw were attractive in design.  And presumably they are a sign that money is coming in to the country.  And if you believe Maggie + Ronnie + their economic gurus, that money should filter down to all the people in society.  Tho’ if you saw Mexico you might have some doubts.

We were in too much of a hurry to wait around for the bakery, having a fair bit to accomplish today.  Caught the bus back to town – they have an efficient bus service in Jakarta, even if they do use the most amazing old buses.  No frills travel it certainly is.  The engines are shot, by the sound of them, + the whole bus stripped down to basics; even the battery is on full view, wedged under the dashboard.  The only modernisation has been to bolt new, fiercely hard, moulded fibre glass seats onto the original supports (set too close together for Western legs, of course.)  Otherwise, the bus is as it was made, whenever that was.  Or rather less, since one can see the road underneath, speeding by, thro’ holes in the floor.  There is a conductor at each door, one front, one back, + they communicate with the driver by shouting, + by rapping fiercely on the bodywork with a coin.  But as I say, the system is god, + it’s cheap.

We got off a little early so as to be able to walk straight across to the Immigration Office.  It was a much further walk than we’d anticipated actually – the only consolation was that, approaching it from a different angle, we discovered a definite treat – a shop which was Kentucky Fried Chicken on the bottom, Swensen’s ice cream on the top.  It was close to the office, too, so we vowed to return to it as soon as we received our letter + have our breakfast.  The letter part was remarkably easy, simply a case of picking it up, but once again we were thwarted in our breakfast plans, when we discovered what we had entirely missed before, that the restaurants were shut until 10.  Rather than waste any time, Val decided to go to the other office, get our passports stamped, + then return to have breakfast at our ease, having completed our bureaucratic requirements.  So she trotted off, clutching the precious letter, while I sat myself down on a wall + read.  Luckily, there had been quite a good book lying around the losmen, a thriller called “Gorky Park”, so I had purloined that rather than keep the appalling romance we had previously obtained in exchange for Silas Marner.  It was good too, + I soon became quite involved in it, so much so that it was quite a shock when I discovered it was gone 11, + still no sign of Val.

I decided to begin my breakfast, + if she didn’t appear while I was eating it, I would have to go looking for her.  If she wanted, she could come + eat something later.  So, a little guiltily I’ll confess, I had a fine meal, chicken, gravy + mash downstairs, (much tastier than my only other sampling of Col Sanders fare) followed by ice cream upstairs.  But still no Val, so off I went to look for her.

Clearly, she should have been at the immigration office, but she wasn’t at the Tourist Visa section, + tho’ I attempted to make some enquiries, my excessively limited Indonesian + their only marginally better English were not sufficient to convey what I wanted.  It was possible, of course, that she was in another part of the building, but I reckoned I’d get myself into trouble roaming around looking for her.  At something of a loss then, I decided to return to the losmen.  It was our clearest point of reference, + besides, I was still carrying one of the packs, + wanted to drop that off before roaming around Jakarta any more.  Back there, I once again got out my book, + sat down to read, thinking I should leave it a little while before setting out again.  Cathy + her boyfriend turned up (2 more heading the same way, so that gave me someone to stow the pack with, as well as someone to leave a message with, in case I should miss Val + she should return, + I was off again.

This time it was a piece of cake.  To my immense relief, Val was sitting meekly in the Tourist Visa section, + this 4 hours on from when she arrived there.  I can’t really describe her experience, but briefly she had simply run head first into the spider’s web that is Indonesian bureaucracy.  She had seen 7 separate officials in 7 different offices (making her a sort of surreal Snow White, I suppose) + on each she had been asked to “please sit down + wait” for periods ranging from 20 mins to just over an hour.  She had also, at one stage, had to take some documents away to be photocopied, at her own expense (fortunately one of the things Indonesia has an over-abundance of is photocopy shops.)  And had also been told to return tomorrow, but she had swept that request aside.  And she had tried to keep things moving as much as possible by frequent promptings + requests for information as to how long it would be.  But it was remarkable to watch them, she told me.  One man at a desk would gradually accumulate a huge pile of passports as they were handed to him one by one.  Occasionally he would leaf thro’ them in a desultory sort of way, + when the pile was vast enough, he would carry them across to a colleague, + dump them on him.  This man had been doing nothing for the past hour, but now he had to stir himself + work his way through the pile, doing something fairly insigni9ficant to each one.  Then, when he too had completed the entire pile, on it would go to the next man.  And so on.

By frequent prompting, Val was occasionally able to have our passports pulled out for special treatment, if being put on top of the pile warrants that description.  We now, when showing our passports to officials here, try to hand it across to them open at the right page – otherwise they almost invariably leaf thro’ every single page, entry stamps into Costa Rice and all.  By chance, my arrival at the office seemed to provoke some action.  Within 10 minutes, our stamped passports were returned to us, our visas extended until Jan 16th, making 2 months in the country in all.  And it wasn’t entirely painless from a monetary viewpoint either – we had to pay Rp10,000 as stamp duty, but on balance we thought it was worth it.

Then returned to the losmen, collected our bags from their respective keepers, + headed out.  We did stop first to buy Val some food from the excellent Japanese bakery (which she was kind enough to share with me), but then caught the bus to Kota, + walked round to the Makassar wharf, this time not getting lost.  Harry and the rest of the boys were still loading, tho’ they looked to be reaching the end, but we were invited aboard, + lugged our bags up to the accommodation section.

All Makassar schooners are built along the same lines.  They’re made entirely of wood, have a very broad beam + shallow draught, with a big wide deck sloping up steeply to a high prow, with a heavy bowsprit pointing both forward + up at the stars.  There is a single mast, planted well forward of centre, with a gaff rig.  On the stern section is a high super-structure, housing, on its higher level, from bow to stern, wheelhouse, cabins + sheltered area for eating, resting etc.  Underneath this is the engine room + more cabins, while at the very stern, overhanging the ocean, are the galley +  bathroom , side by side.  The toilet is a hole cut into the floor of the bathroom – no need for intricate pumps + sluices.  The schooners are very much working ships, ferrying vital foodstuffs + supplies (as well as the occasional television + stereo) to Sumatra + Kalimantan, + returning with lumber.

We were immediately made to feel very welcome, much more at home than we had been aboard the “Tridaya”, + the crew here seem considerably more amiable, as well as being much more respectful of our privacy, something we appreciate a lot.  They dug out a brand new cassette player from somewhere (the cargo?) so I in turn brought out some cassettes, which seemed to be appreciated.  We were fed (rice + fish, of course) + later I played Harry at chess.  He was very good, + beat me the first time, tho’ I got my revenge in the second game.  Then, since it was quite late, our  bags were brought into the wheelhouse, we laid out our bedding, + slept.

Not a post which reflects all that well on me, since, not for the first time, I seem to have taken it easy while Val did the waiting. And it was yet another example of the dreadful bureaucracy here, largely, it would seem, as a sort of job creation scheme. But then to the Jiwa Sabar, and every time we turn up again, it is that much more likely that it will happen.

December 28th 1983

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For once, I was the first up.  Yet I couldn’t wash because Val had the towel with her. Such are the perils of dorm existence when one only has one towel, one toothbrush, etc.  Ah me.  Eventually, tho’, she emerged, we got ready, + headed off to the immigration office, tho’ without any more enthusiasm than last night.  For my part, there was rather less – my cold had taken a distinct turn for the worse, + I would cheerfully have boarded a plane + flown to Pontianak, if it would have made my life easier.  But a sense of duty propelled us at least to try this alternative.  We walked to the immigration office with just a minor navigational hiccup (it was the Guide’s fault) but it wasn’t to be as simple as that.  They directed us to another office.  This too was within walking distance, so on we plodded, but the heat, fumes, + my running nose made me feel quite appalling.

When we arrived, + had been directed to the correct office, the first thing that happened was that we were charged Rp300 each for the forms to apply for the extension.  There was some improvement here, since we’d had to cough up 10 times that amount in Denpasar, but we still didn’t want to get caught if we could help it.  So Val (I had surrendered to my cold + slumped on a bench) marched off to find someone to explain the likelihood of lour receiving it.  Our emotional reaction had almost been to march off at the first mention of money, but that would have been a sulk.  Rationally we felt obliged to give it a crack.  And Val seemed to have some success.  A respectably high official told her, so far as she could tell, that we shouldn’t have any problem, but we would still have to pay the Rp 600.  So we did, rec’d our forms, + followed the man to his office, where we filled them out.  (or to be strictly accurate, Val filled out mine as well, + I signed it.)  But did we expect that to be it?  We handed our forms over, our man took them.  Tomorrow, he said.  No, today wasn’t possible.  But we’d have our extension from them tomorrow?  No, we would receive a letter from them which we would take to the other office.  And they’d give us our stamp?  Of course.

There was nothing more we could do there, so the next stop was seeing Harry – we did stop at Sarinah’s to buy a litre of milk on the way.)  We caught a bus down to Kota, the old Dutch part of town, + then walked to the Pasar Ikan, the fish market – this was where all the Makassar schooners are moored.  (Did I mention that Harry’s boat is a Makassar schooner?  It is.)  We managed tho’ to get lost in the market itself.  It’s a quite amazing place, almost Dickensian, + a positive warren, with narrow winding lanes, alleys leading off them.  Picturesque, + incredibly squalid.  At one stage we were quite close to the schooners, tho’ there was a hefty stretch of water between us, but, ignoring the calls of the guys with their sampans, or flat-bottomed canoes, we kept wandering, + were led further + further astray.  Eventually, we surrendered to the inevitable, + caught a sampan across, paying twice the official rate (as we later discovered.)  Harry was busily loading the boat, so we didn’t stay long, just gave him the message that it looked good so far as we could tell, that we’d see him tomorrow, then left.

The loaders had a particularly heavy load, we noticed, so as we left I took a quick look at one of the boxes to see what it was these guys were half-killing themselves for, walking up a steep + narrow gangplank with 2 enormous boxes balanced on their shoulders.  Licorice caramels.

A bus back to Jl. Jaksa, timed perfectly to get caught in a torrential downpour during the walk from the bus-stop.  We would have sheltered but were pushing it for time as it was.  We hurriedly packed just one bag, + left the other in the care of someone staying there that we’d met before – we were intending to stay the night at P + J’s.  Donned our capes, as it was still peeing down, + clutching my faithful toilet roll to stem the flood from my nose, off we went.  Had to run to catch the bus, but otherwise the journey, way down to the southern suburbs, was a piece of cake.  We took a helocak from where we got off the bus right to their hotel – Julie has only just begun work, so they’re waiting to move into a flat.  Julie too has a cold – is that where I got it from? – but nonetheless it was a fine evening.  It’s so pleasant to spend some time normally for once, chatting with friends, even new friends.  And we didn’t swap travel notes.  Plus there were some bonuses.  A hot bath when we arrived was a big one.  And free dinner – they just signed the bill, Julie’s company pays.

After dinner (only so-so, I’d say) we had our coffee on the veranda – that was just fine.  And later, after Julie had retired, the 3 of us went for a walk over to the big market near them.  It was a longer walk than I’d anticipated, + obviously later than we thought as well, since the place was virtually shut, but I’m glad we did it.  Some great images – a rat running thro’ a deserted market, an Indonesian guy giving an absolutely perfect rendition of a Bob Dylan song – I thought it was a record of the man himself – dark + empty suburban streets.  Then home to sleep on the floor, if the Hotel Prapancha in suburban Jakarta can be considered home.

Just adding another brick of possibility to the greater edifice of us leaving on a Makassar schooner, but otherwise the usual sort of difficulties with bureaucracy, with navigating our way round the city.

December 27th 1983

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We pulled in to Jakarta’s main railway station, Gambir, at about 5, + our first thought, once we’d pulled our aching bums off the seats + our aching selves off the train, was to find the station buffet + have some coffee.  This was a mistake, as we were exorbitantly overcharged.  We live + learn.  Tho’ , as I’ve said before, not much.

Suitably refreshed + robbed, we went outside.  There the taxi-drivers and helicak (motorised becak) drivers too tried to obtain their slice of the cake that is our money, so we ignored them + walked out, where we picked up a helicak for half the lowest price we’d been charged… + even that was over-generous for the distance.  We were taken to Jalan Jaksa, the cheapie hotel street, + no 5, the most popular one there.  It was still desperately early, but somebody was about to check us in, + we were happy to sit + wait until breakfast was ready.  As things started to get moving tho’, they became more + more disorganised.  In fact, during all the time we stayed there (I speak from the point of view of 4 or 5 days hence) they exasperated us every time we asked for anything at all.  And it wasn’t, as the Yellow Guide says, because they are run off their feet.  It’s because it isn’t run properly.

We finally obtained some breakfast – excellent value… but sweet bread – + then set about our major task, finding a boat to Kalimantan in thje few days available to us.  I don’t know if you have been informed of our latest plan – thoughts + plans are so much harder to record than actions – but we intend to go to Kalimantan, + thence fly to Kuching, in Malaysia.  The weekly flight across the border is on a Friday, so we would have to be in Pontianak by Friday 30th – a bit of an impossible order, un less there happened to be a boat going virtually immediately.  But we thought we would give it a whirl.

Went first to Tourist Office, to see if they could help us – they gave us a map, + redirected us to Pelni.  No luck there, tho’ they gave us the phone nos of some shipping agents to try.  I persuaded Val to ring those rather than traipsing off to town, + it was probably as well we did, since they had nothing to offer.  I’m sure if there’d been a ship, they would have known about it, + been keen to sell us a ticket.

We’d also somehow managed to fit in to the day a visit to Sarinah, Jakarta’s main shopping + dept store (+ if this is the best they have to offer, I’m not impressed), + to an Indonesian version of McDonalds.  It was strange.  Some bits they had got right, like the pictures of the various wares behind the serving counter, yet some of it was extraordinarily Indonesian – the ordinary tables + chairs, the clean yet faintly shoddy atmosphere.  Which is a little encouraging.  I’m sure if Ronald McDonald was really here, he’d iron out those little wrinkles.

In the afternoon we took a nap – we needed it – + tho’ I did rise midway thro’ + phone Julie (Of Julie + Paul/Christmas Eve fame).  She works in Jakarta, + they’d returned 123 hours before us.  We arranged to go round + visit them tomorrow evening.  I felt pretty awful after I got up, having somehow contracted a cold, so wasn’t really in a mood to appreciate the potentially good news we rec’d in the evening.  One runs into people again + again while heading up the gringo trail (unless they happen to be going the other way) + one of these people we met again today was Mike (Bromo + Malang.)  He too was trying to get to Kalimantan, he said, + was trying everything possible, with a good deal more energy than we were able to muster.  He returned in the evening with a couple of Indonesian guys, ne of whom, Harry, reckoned he could take us to Pontianak.  And for free, it seemed.  Mike himself had also got a ride, tho’ on a different boat.  It sounded wonderful, but both Val + I were strangely apathetic.  First of all, he’d misled Mike about when he was leaving, telling him tomorrow but now changing that to a maybe tomorrow, maybe next day.  We’d heard that sort of crap before.  Secondly, tho’ Harry seemed pleasant enough, he was a bit overbearing – another Yopi I couldn’t handle.  And third, even if we did leave tomorrow.  Or the day after.  Or the day after that.  We would still need an extension on our visa, + it seemed highly unlikely we would be granted one.  So we made some polite noises, +m promised to call on Harry at his boat tomorrow, once we’d been to see the immigration man, then disappeared to our separate dorms to mull things over.  Individually.

Straight to Jakarta, and immediately setting about finding our way out and on. With, it would appear, some hopeful signs; though we are invitably cautious about being too gung-ho.

December 26th 1983

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So Christmas is over once again, + wasting no time – our visas do expire on the 31st – we must be on the move again, with no consideration for nonsenses like Boxing Day.  So after a quick breakfast, we headed down to the bank to change a travellers’ cheque – a most necessary pre-requisite to moving on.  Just about everyone else in town seemed to have had the same idea, but fortunately it didn’t take them too long to see to our requirements.

On the way back, we undertook a couple of transactions.  Val bought a large bottle of honey, but at the next place we stopped, she managed to knock it over.  It smashed, so there was honey + broken glass in a rapidly expanding pool on the floor of the restaurant.  They were very good about it tho’, presumably taking the attitude that it was no good crying over spilt honey.  Still, stoicism wouldn’t return our honey, so I went back to get another bottle – Val could consider it another present.

I also took the opportunity to buy Val a shadow puppet, something she’s expressed some interest in before, tho’ I hadn’t been able to raise more than tentative interest in it myself.  However, I saw one now that I particularly liked, + tho’; I’d tried the people on the stall before, + they’d been rather intransigent, this time they seemed more willing to bargain.  I finally obtained it for Rp 7000 – I’ve no idea whether that is dirt cheap or devilishly expensive.

We then went along to the railway station – we’d heard we could buy tickets for the evening train at about noon.  We weren’t surprised tho’ when we arrived, to receive all sorts of conflicting information.  First of all there were two large queues already formed, lone of which was full of people clutching official letters + clearly expecting some imminent action, the other, containing young men, obviously prepared for quite a wait.  To which group should we attach ourselves?  We asked, + found out that tickets were not on sale till 2.30.  So why were all those people queuing so expectantly?  They were, we discovered, waiting for reserved seats.  Reservations without tickets?  Apparently yes.  I left Val in the queue while I went back to pack, but she came running after me before I’d left the railway yard.  Apparently, a man in the queue had told her she must have an official letter to make a reservation, + that we could obtain one from the Tourist Office, but I think she was suffering from momentary hysteria, brought on by being in the somewhat helpless position of being alone in a queue.  So I told her we had no intention of going to all the fuss of fighting with bureaucracy to get hold of a form I knew not what for.  I was pretty sure we wouldn’t need the thing, but if we did, then fuck it, we’d go by bus.  So back Val went to the queue – somebody was holding her place for her.  She duly returned after half an hour or so, with reservations – an official had asked for a letter, but not too strenuously, + Val had just walked past him.

She returned at 2.30 for stage two, buying the ticket, which also went without a hitch – all that was left now was stage three, actually getting on the train.  In England it would have taken one visit to the station, here it takes 3.  Ah well.

Before leaving, I bought Val a sarong she’s had her eye on for some time – there are 2 pairs of women who maintain an almost constant watch in the losmen, 2 on, 2 off, with a vast array of sarongs, cotton trousers, tablecloths, etc.  More often than not, they lug out all the stuff they’d lugged in, but one of them finally came down to my required price, + Val wasn’t around, so that clinched it.  That just about made up a respectable total of Christmas presents, tho’ I was a bit late.

We ate a meal at Superman’s t prepare us for the ordeal ahead, then went off to claim our seats.  The train was sitting there waiting, + we envisioned some trouble persuading the people who were bound to be occupying our places to move, but in fact they shifted meek as lambs when we flashed our tickets – that’s Indonesian respect for authority for you.  We pulled out on the dot of 4.30, our departure being immediately preceded by a last-minute rush for places on the train, places anywhere, since the train was already jam-packed.  There had been enormous queues for tickets, so it was fortunate we had persevered with obtaining our reservations.

The carriage seemed to be almost new, but had been built along most Spartan lines – this was Economy Class after all – with upright, hard wooden seats.  There were cushions available for rent, but Val, for reasons of economy or puritanism, clearly disapproved, + I bowed to the moral pressure she exerted.  So we made ourselves as comfortable as possible using our own foam mats, + eventually tried to sleep.  Normally we can lie over each other, but it was so hot that the one underneath suffocated.  All in all, it was a hateful journey – I’m coming to the conclusion that 90 times out of a 100 rail travel is over-glamorised, by Christie, Greene, Theroux.  Next time I reckon I’ll take the bus.

An account of the regular bureaucracy that one had to fight with, though on this occasion at least, it seems to have worked out all right… even if I wasn’t at all impressed with the final result. No suitable photograph available, I’m afraid, so have merely attached a picture of a bus – one of the ones I wished I had caught, I suppose.

December 25th 1983

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Christmas celebration with Kent

Christmas Day ’83.  We barely slept, me just a little, Val not at all.  The speed maybe?  Before going to the disco, we’d taken some more, + maybe this now was the result.  We’d arrived back at 2.30 + taken a mandi, + then climbed into bed + talked + talked.  Had tried listening to music to put us away, but that didn’t work.  Eventually, tho’, I dropped off for an hour or two.  So we were hardly refreshed for Christmas.  Val only allowed me to open one present straight away, which was 2 small packets of corn flakes, so we went to have some breakfast, coming back to Superman’s afterwards for pancakes.  Our opinion of Superman’s has improved a great deal – we think we must have caught them on a bad day when we first arrived.

Val was quite clearly disappointed  to discover she only had the name tag as a present, + that she knew about already (I’d been so annoyed with it I’d shown it to her.)  She didn’t know about the stamp yet, of course, but that was not much against the pretty impressive pile she’s acquired for me.  Still, I had to play my single trump sometime, so I coaxed Val to come for a stroll down Malioboro.  Unfortunately, the bloke hadn’t quite finished yet, but perhaps that was just as well, since it enabled Val to see the work going into it – the guy used no pre-moulded letters, but cut everything out from a rubber sheet by hand.  She was, I’, pleased to say, both surprised + happy with her present, + ordered one for me too, along similar lines, but using a design based on the comic + tragic masks.

Back at the losmen, I opened my other presents.  I had a wooden puppet, a wooden mask, a packet of biscuits, a packet of sweets, + a comb.  Not at all a bad haul.  I only wish I’d done half as well by Val.  We lazed around doing nothing for quite a while, + then decided to head over to the telephone office.  In view of the astronomical cost, we decided to reverse the charges.  Even double the English rate, we reckoned, would be less than the price here.  Because of this, tho’, Val wanted to phone Windrush if possible – her mum had recently had a phone installed.  Only slight problem being that we’re not exactly sure of the no. – it’s been mentioned in a letter but we foolishly didn’t write it down at the time.  Still, we could only try.  We also tried my mum too of course, but as I’d expected there was no reply, meaning most likely she’s either at Bob’s, whose number I don’t have, or a hotel again.  This took next to no time to find out, but for Val’s attempt, we had to wait ages.  Since it seemed we couldn’t discover the right no. for certain we made a guess at it from what we remembered, + tried that.  But for about 2 hours, we were given various delays + excuses, until finally we had to cancel.  Val was even called to a booth once, but got only crackles for 10 mins, + then a voice telling her the line was engaged.  It wasn’t too bad for me, since I had Time to read (another present, I forgot) but Val was too wound up even to read.  And it was such a waste of time.  Still, we could try again in the evening, at Aunty Mary’s, whose number we did know.

Our Christmas dinner was to be at Legian’s, a slightly expensive restaurant in town.  Again, this had been sorted out at Superman’s last night.  Unfortunately tho’, it was a miserable failure.  There were a lot of people, but mostly they were sat in 2 rows down one long table, hardly making for a convivial atmosphere.  We did even worse tho’, arriving late + so being confined to an overflow table, just 5 of us.  Kent was another of the 5, which was some consolation, but he was rather too interested in his lady friend.  The standard of food varied enormously – we just had the standard menu – but most people were dissatisfied in one way or another, + mine (a hamburger, I admit it, a poor choice) was inedible.  Worst of all there was absolutely no atmosphere, + very little attempt to make one – no music, no decorations, no jollity.  I was relieved, as were many others, when the party broke up.

Val went off to phone with 3 other English girls, taking 2 becaks.  They all got through, she didn’t.  And another one and a half hours gone.  Merry Christmas.

After the excitement of the day before, Christmas itself was a definite let-down, all the more so because of my pathetic non-display of presents for Val. No excuse to offer really. Plus the complete failure to get in touch with the folks back home. Pretty much par for the course.

December 24th 1983

posted in: The way back | 1

Christmas Eve.  A special treat for breakfast.  Yesterday, we had bought 2 individual packets of breakfast cereal, + this morning we took them along to the café which had the fresh milk, + ate them there.  Not the sort of trick you’d pull back home, but they didn’t seem to mind, even supplied the bowls + spoons.  Kent called by while we were contentedly munching + crunching on our flakes + krispies, + told us that some sort of party was being organised tonight at Superman’s – at least that would be the starting point.  This cheered us up considerably – we’d arranged to be in a place like Yogya for Christmas largely in the hope that something would be going on.  But up till now, there’d been no sign that anything would be.

We then went off to catch the bus to Borobodur, the other great temple complex near Yogya, this one Buddhist.  Took us 2 buses to get there, + I became very angry with the 2nd driver, who I felt was overcharging us – it wasn’t by much, but it was still more than the price we’d been given by the Tourist Office, + I allowed myself to lose my temper + shouted at him.  I don’t really know why, people have tried to overcharge us before.  The difference in response depends on my mental state as much as the differing circumstances.  In  any case, we ended up taking a different bus, + tho’ this guy too tried to charge us the inflated rate when we arrived, I simply handed over what I believed to be the right fare, + we left.  Who says you can’t walk away from trouble.

At least at first glance, Borobodur was a disappointment, mainly, I think, because of the exaggerated reports we’d read of it.  It was big, but we were expecting something huge.  However, that initial disappointment over, when we climbed up the temple + began to inspect it more closely, my opinion of it improved.  It is almost in the form of a pyramid, with the concentric terraces rising up to a central dome.  The overall shape is concealed, in fact, by the large no of bell-shaped domes. Most of them about 10 ft high.  There are also many seated Buddhas, but so many have had their heads knocked off that I can’t believe they are all accidental injuries.  We believe there is a large statue of a Buddha a km or 2 away from the main temple – the story is that it was intended to sit on top but was too heavy to move – but despite several enquiries we were unable to find anyone to direct us to it.  We were directed tho’, to another temple, much smaller + not of particular interest.  But seeing as we had got off the bus, we took a photo of it + stopped for a drink.  We had a cold drink each, + then our eyes were taken by bottles of what announced itself on the label as “Coffee Beer”.  We were intrigued + it was cheap, so we tried a bottle.  Perfectly foul, but the label was accurate – it was a cross between coffee and beer.  We then had a quick look at the few stalls clustered there, but were pestered by kids calling the usual stuff, so were about to leave, when our ears were caught by a weird + spooky noise.  It turned out to be bamboo spinning tops, which we’d seen but never heard.  In this instance the demonstration certainly made the sale – we bought.

Waved 2 bemos on which wanted to pick us up – we were waiting for the slightly more uncomfortable but considerably cheaper public buses.  We almost thought we’d messed things up, tho’, when the rain started to come, but God was on our side, + a bus rolled round the bend just before the rain came pouring down in earnest.  And it did pour.  The bus had an extraordinarily low roof, so my head was jammed up against it.  That was bad enough, but then cold water started to pour down my neck.  It was a relief to scramble out when we had to change buses, even if we did get soaked just running the 10 yards that separated them.  The other bus was equally crowded but much higher.  Plus, I believe, waterproof, in the section above me at least.  Still, it didn’t make for the most comfortable journey, + by the time we arrived back at the losmen, Val, who hadn’t been feeling all that good in the first place, now looked pretty awful, +  now headed straight for her bed.

 Went looking for presents for Val, but was almost entirely unsuccessful.  Somehow, even tho’ it was Christmas, my heart wasn’t in it.  I could make other excuses too: not being impressed with the stuff available, having just used up ideas on her birthday, but these really are just excuses.  I’ve done far better in less promising shopping places.  The single present I did buy was another Malioboro speciality, + along similar lines to the name tag: a personalised rubber stamp.  I wasn’t going to make the same mistake as before tho’ – just keep to the name + an appropriate design.  After much futile wracking of the brain, I finally decided upon a yin+ yang design, + looking thro’ the bloke’s catalogue of past designs, I saw that he had one ready made, so I ordered that.  It would be ready tomorrow.

A bonus was that I was finally able to get a game of chess with a local.  It’s a popular activity here, they even report on chess tournaments on the sports pages of the papers, + many people can be seen on the street just sitting + playing.  I watched a game until its conclusion, + then, as I had hoped + more or less expected, was invited to play the winner.  I didn’t do too badly either, got myself into quite a commanding position… + then managed to lose.  It’s only a game anyway.

Val struggled up + disappeared to do her own shopping soon after I returned, + tho’ she still felt like death only partially thawed, I took myself off for a present to myself, a haircut + shave by a real barber.  Mind you, it was both more and less than In had hoped.  The barber shop was delightfully old-fashioned – leather chairs, wooden surrounds to the mirrors – + so, it turned out, was the haircut.  He asked me if I wanted it short (I think) + I said yes, well sort of, it depends.  He did not wait for clarification tho’, I immediately set his mechanical shears clacking up the side of my head.  I stopped him almost immediately, + lunged for my glasses to enable me to inspect the damage in the mirror.  It was already too late – the hair had been shorn to within half an inch or so all the way up one side, but it was stupid getting angry.  He clearly thought it was OK, he wouldn’t understand me, + anyway, it was Christmas.  So I shrugged my shoulders + bade him continue – it would be an interesting experiment.  The result, when I saw it, made me feel as tho’ I had recently been inducted for National Service.  It was a perfect short back + sides, with no sideboards at all, yet comparatively thick + bushy on top.

Next came the shave.  This would be a totally new experience for me, since I’d never been shaved by anyone else before (except, I believe, one clumsy half-attempt by Val) + never at all with a cut-throat razor.  The preliminaries were very pleasant.  First I had my beard lathered, then a hot towel was wrapped around my face, + then I was lathered again.  The actual shaving tho’ came as a most unpleasant surprise.  Far from the silky glide of cold steel across my skin, it ws a violent, + at times even painful, scrape.  I was more than pleased when he finished, + fully expected to see a red + raw rash, if not actual blood, marking my chin.  But he applied the hot towel treatment again, + that was very soothing.  Even so, when I felt my face, I discovered I still had quite a beard.  To be fair, I hadn’t shaved for a couple of days, so it was a bit long.  Plus I don’t suppose he’s used to beards being as tough as mine – most Indonesian males have very soft facial hair, if any at all.

Xmas party

Val still wasn’t around when I returned, so I showered + changed, + then, feeling the need for alcohol to get into the party spirit, strolled to the nearest kiosk that sold beer + had a couple of large bottles.  A couple of local guys helped me with them (the drinking, not the paying) but that was probably just as well, since I appreciated the company, + what I drank was enough to make me sufficiently merry for the early hour.

I wandered back to Superman’s, + was welcomed to join the nascent party by Kent.  However, as I was about to do so, Kent’s mate Tony called by, + said he was just off to the chemists to buy his Christmas goodies.  I was puzzled, + on asking Kent what he meant, discovered it was possible to buy speed over the counter.  Being game to try most things, I rushed off to join Tony + his friends, + was welcomed along.  Fortunately, they knew the brand name to ask for, partly because they’d been asked by Indonesians to buy some for them (the stuff is prescription only to Indonesians, but not to whiteys), so it was simply a case of marching in, asking for a packet of 20, + coughing up the dough.  As easy as that.  Tho’ we did walk into 2 different chemists so as not to attract too much attention.

We skipped back to Superman’s all cock-a-hoop – I immediately told Val, who had appeared on the scene, of my purchase, + we had 2 each.  We then joined the party.  Fortunately, there was a space saved for me in the liveliest half of the liveliest table, + Val, for her part, had acquired some dirt-cheap vodka, so we were soon k nocking back screwdrivers + having a good time.  A tree had been acquired, as had lights + decorations, + soon after the singing began, with anything vaguely Christmassy that we knew more than 2 lines of getting a crack of the whip.  All in all, terrific stuff.  Unfortunately, it had to be cut fairly short – Superman always closes fairly early, + in any case, being just a small café + crowded with tables, was  not all that suitable.  However, with such a large no., it took ages to get anything else going, particularly since the forms of democracy had to be observed.  Some sort of consensus seemed to favour the suggestion of a disco however, tho’ nobody was in any hurry to get moving.   So rather than wait for everybody, Val + I, + 2 of our singing companions, an American couple called Paul + Julia, went off early to the agreed-on  place.  When we arrived, we did do some half-hearted bargaining, promising there were many more on the way, but they didn’t budge, so we paid the full fare, + went in anyway. 

We were given a free drink as part of our entrance fee, which was nice, + there seemed to be quite a lot of booze floating around, so we soon managed to get quite drunk.  Plus, as a result I should imagine of the speed, we both had bags of energy – Val was totally recovered from her earlier malaise.  And basically, we had a ball.  Not all that many people from the Superman party turned up, I think, + not all that many for long, but it really didn’t matter.  I had an amazing bop to some old Stones songs with Julia, a cockney banter with an English girl all the way thro’ about 3 songs.  And at one stage, I recall, Kent + I were the only ones on the dance floor, swapping Jesus jokes while some syrupy Christmas song was played.  It was just ace.  I hadn’t bopped like that for ages, hadn’t been to a disco like that since Benidorm – they even had a strobe.  And by the end we were both dripping wet, head to toe.

We were almost the last of the whiteys to leave, + the end was spoilt by an unpleasant incident.  As we were going, the people there tried to charge us for the 2 drinks we’d had when we came in.  We pointed out they were supposed to be free drinks, but they said no, we’d had special cocktails, so would have to pay.  Now Val + I were both firmly convinced that we’d been offered any drink on their list, + equally sure they had deliberately misled us into thinking they were free.  So we refused, point-blank, to pay.  And after a good deal of shouting + screaming on their part, + stubborn refusal on ours, they told us to go.  Which we did.  We were a little nervous that several of the other patrons seemed to leave at the same time, but we walked briskly away, + nobody followed.  It still left a sour taste.

Still, we strolled home more than pleased with our Christmas so far.  Not much of a Christmas for the becak drivers, sleeping in their becaks.  And the Moslems, sitting on their mats on the ground, couldn’t care less.  They were just bemused to see a couple of wet but happy English people, walking past them + wishing them a Merry Christmas all the same.

Well, quite a day, probably our best Christmas away, in that there was plenty to drink (aided by the speed) and good company too, even if il did end up less than pleasantly, with my second altercation – about money, once again – of the day. It was because we were always so careful about money, that whenever we felt that we were being asked for more than we should, I would tend to get seriously wound up. And yet nowadays I never get in a strop about the stuff, but that’s the result of having enough, I suppose.

December 23rd 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

I did get away to Prambanan this morning, leaving as early as possible so as to overcome the sluggishness that comes upon me with the heat of the day.  The bemo dropped me just a couple of hundred yards away from the temple, + at first view it certainly was impressive, a large tower rising above the roofs of the dingy houses surrounding it.  And even tho’ being a religious shrine, it was  not free from commercial implications – one had to walk past a busy market on one’s way to the entrance, + the usual tourist paraphernalia – postcards, bamboo carvings, puppets – were thrust at one.  I made my way thro’ to the relative security + peace of the temple compound – relative, not absolute, since I had chosen to visit on the same day as a large party of Boy + Girl Scouts.  I think it’s a knack I have.  Nonetheless, I was impressed by the temple + surroundings.  There is one large, completely reconstructed temple, Shiva’s I believe, in the centre.  Thus is flanked by 2 others, one now being rebuilt, the other close to what must have been its lowest point.  And around these 3 are another set of smaller shrines in various stages of repair.  Then around these, like some wholesale stonemason’s warehouse, are hundreds and hundreds of large granite blocks, the remains of the flattened temples, + the raw material for reconstructing them.  Quite some archaeological jigsaw, I should imagine, even deciding which temple a stone would come from, let alone in what order.  Yet looking at the Shiva temple, they’d been remarkably successful.

While I was looking over the temple, I somehow allowed myself to be taken on a guided tour.  Carved panels around the walls tell the story of the Ramayana, the Hindu folk ballad, + it was good to have someone explain it to me, as well as answer other questions.  People had used to take the stones, he said, until the government had explained their importance.  A faintly unbelievable demonstration of the power of education.  Once my guide had finished, I was clearly expected to give him something for his trouble, but I was most annoyed with myself when I discovered that my smallest note was a 500, + so was forced to give it to him – a rather inflated price for his value.  I was even more annoyed when a few minutes later I discovered a number of Rp100 coins loose in my pocket.

I took a few pictures, of course, + then headed straight back.  By the time I arrived back, it was still fairly early, + I did, for a while consider trying the swimming pool again, even checking out the afternoon opening times.  But eventually I abandoned that idea.  In this heat, one outing per day is usually enough.  Besides, I decided on reflection that a pool full of screaming, pissing, spitting kids was more than I wanted to cope with.  In any case, any doubts I had about it were soon resolved when the skies opened up + the rain poured down.  It was about time – the heat had been building up + up, + the streets were in dire need of a wash.

Val was busily trying to complete her batik, + I whiled away some time when I ran into John, the Kiwi we’d met in Ubud, + he invited me in for a game of chess.  He beat me too, which annoyed me slightly.  I tried to buy Val’s first Christmas present, but it wasn’t very successful.  There are quite a few stalls – only that’s too grand a word – along Malloboro who make their living engraving brass plates + fixing them to leather strips to make key-rings etc, so I commissioned one for Val, with her Cornish address on it.  It only took an hour, but I should have known that “Tregadillett” was too much for them.  Their version was “Tengadiliett, which I suppose is close enough to an Indonesian mind.  It was a pity, since otherwise they’d made a good job of it, but it only served to deepen my depression.  And so was a contributing factor to a row Val + I had.  I was moping, bored + boring, + Val was ratty, so we snapped at one another.  Soon over tho’ – most of our rows are.

Killed the time successfully, though actually I would have preferred to have Val with me, as it did seem rather like I was going through the motions. But it was interesting enough.


posted in: Hotel Lessons | 0

Our final session of the year, and of course I have managed to forget – as on so many occasions – to take a picture.   So will make do with this; appropriate enough as the class was devoted to Ebeneezer Scrooge and our very own version of A Christmas Carol.

We were depleted in numbers, as seems to be the case right now, but Roji and Fatehas were both there, and the latter had invited along two of her friends from the hotel, Iranians (of course!) like herself.  Though neither of them had very much English.  And Hamed was there too, of course.  We started with mince pies, which I had made and brought in for the occasion, and which were greatly appreciated.

And then we looked at a script of the play.  Luckily, I had found a particularly short one in my files, the whole play reduced to 2 sides of A4.  Even so, it would be a struggle to tell the story with such a limited cast.  Roji was a splendid Scrooge, Hamed a fine Bob Cratchit, and Fatehas was various people – a charity collector, sister Fan, sweetheart Mary, Mrs Cratchit and Tiny Tim.  We ran it through twice, once as a reading, once with some limited acting (though Hamed coming to life as a Jacob Marley door-knocker was a particular highlight.  And finally, I showed them the last ten minutes or so of a film version I happened to find at home.  Not a particularly well-known one (no Aklastair Sim, no Kermit, no Bill Murray) featuring Patrick Stewart, but it gave the familiar warm glow.  For me too, it has to be said.

God bless us, every one.