Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Peculiar Fascination

The first night I arrived in Indonesia, my colleague and I stayed in Jakarta at Atria Hotel and Conference Centre. We arrived late into the evening after a gruelling 15 hour flight to the hotel. Greeted with an amazing drink made of cucumber, lime and sugar (not sure what it was called, but it was AWESOME) we signed in and settled our things. Still my birthday back in Canada, I insisted we celebrate... so we met up for drinks and dinner in the hotel bar.

Upon walking into the bar, I saw my colleague chatting with two energetic local women dressed in red behind the bar. I sat down, and was greeted with enthusiasm and a smile. We talked with them for a while... they had an amazing sense of humour. I eventually told them it was my birthday, and in response one of them asked if I wanted to see what her friend had brought her from Bali. "Sure!" I said. Her friend beside her... covered her eyes... and begged her not to bring it out. "It's embarassing" she said. But the other woman, keen to bring us into her secret pulled out a blanket. As she lifted the blanket onto the bar, the other woman shielded her eyes and emitted a grunt.

The woman then held up the blanket between my colleague and I and, using it almost like a curtain, and signalled to me to look. With a twinkle in her eye she pulled out a long wooden carving from behind. Upon closer inspection, I realised... it was a huge wooden penis. To top it off?! It had a bottle opener on the top.  She dropped the blanket to expose the toy to all, and let out a laugh. We all did. She passed it to me to hold... It was uncomfortably realistic. Needless to say, I passed it back rather quickly.

As I passed it to her, she began to wrap it back up and said, with a smile, "My friend gave it to me, to help me have a good sleep." Laughter followed.

These things are everywhere. The meaning and application behind their popularity is yet to be determined. But for your enjoyment, I have attached a photo from the market... just to give you a taste.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Unexpected Departure

The seat belt signs have just turned off and there is a bustle of people adjusting in their seats. Flight attendants are handing out headphones… or “headsets” in airline speak. Odd. I’ve just pulled out a cupcake from my bag, icing all over my fingers, celebrating. This moment marks the official start to my South East Asian two-month adventure. A little over an hour ago, however, I wasn’t so sure I’d be sitting here.

For those of you who may not know, I am going to Bali and surrounding areas for the next two months. Originally sent for a workshop and conference, I decided to extend my stay and rent by the beach to write my literature review and proposal for my thesis while learning to surf / yoga on the side. Sounds like a dream doesn’t it…. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t. Time will tell. But, at the moment, I’m in love with the idea. Over that time I will be visiting New Zealand, and other countries in South East Asia… the specifics are yet to be determined. I will try to blog regularly for those who’d love to follow along!

So, it’s my birthday today. Unlike for some, my birthday is pretty sacred to me. It’s the one-day of the year I always take off, do only what I want and EAT! What I want to eat!! This usually implies starting my day with a piece of birthday cake. Today I started with cupcakes, a turkey sandwich and a free birthday latte from Starbucks… not bad J I can admit I’m not thrilled at the idea that I’ll be spending the next 15 hours cramped up in an airplane, and I’m still perplexed on how exactly I can make this sedentary journey feel like a celebration… but I’m grateful to have such an amazing opportunity.

Birthdays feel special, I always finding myself expecting magical things to happen on my birthday. This probably explains why, every year, I usually end up feeling slight depressed as late afternoon hits. Magic, so rarely surfaces in day-to-day life. Today, I can’t say what power my birthday has brought with it – perhaps it is the magic I’m always looking for… or the contrary, bad luck.

With a flight at 10am, and pickup for 730, I got up extra early this morning as I had much to do. I have someone staying at my place while I’m gone, so had change my bed, clean, etc. As time got close to 730, I had yet to hear from my colleague. I texted him at 7:15 and received no response. “He must be in the washroom or something” I thought to myself. I kept prepping to go, when it was not 10 minutes later, two more attempted phone calls, and nothing. I figured, ok, maybe his phone is on silent and he just forgot to tell me he was on his way. But… 7:30 arrived. No word. No taxi. I’m usually late, so was thankful he was “still in transit” to my place and decided to make a sandwich. I kept trying to call him, until 745 hit. At this point, it was clear - he was probably still sleeping. I called my own taxi. I put my new backpack on and without knowing leaned back into a nail…ripping a hole into the front of the bag. Ugh.

I tried to call my colleague repeatedly en route to the airport, but still no answer. What do you do in these situations? Just let them sleep? Call someone near them to go wake them? I finally heard from him around 8am… turns out I was right, he had slept in.

Still en route, it was now almost 830 but with the reassurance of the cab driver I’d was calmed thinking I had enough time. Soon enough, we started pulling into the Pearson airport vicinity… and travelling through the twisted maze highways between terminals.

Suddenly, we were maybe 2 minutes from my gate, and taxi driver pulled over on the side of the highway! “Not now” he said. Huh? Perplexed as to why… looking at my clock… it didn’t seem to be a mechanic failure of the taxi. He said “turn around.” The red flashing lights said it all. We were being pulled over for a speeding ticket. Ugh. The taxi driver, a sweet Somalian man, said – just tell him you’re running late for your flight, with a chuckle, and we’ll see what we can do.

The cop came over. The driver had rolled down both of windows so I could talk to him. I explained, with a smile (trying to be as pleasant as possible) that I am late for a flight and we were rushing. The police man, evidently having a rough day as he yelled “slow the fuck down” to every car that passed as we talked, grumbled and took the taxi driver’s papers. He returned minutes later, and with rage told the driver he was probably the luckiest he’d ever be and if he ever caught him speeding again he’d book him for everything he got. Interesting juxtaposition - a kind mad man. We drove off and the taxi driver, with a smile, thanked me for helping out and said “You know? People with a good heart… good things will always come.”

We arrived 1 minute later to my gate. I handed him my credit card, but the swipe didn’t work. Ugh. Interact it is.

Bags unloaded, I walked to the ticket counter. Finally, I thought – things will get easier.

I arrive at the ticket desk, hand my passport over. She begins preparing my ticket. I watch the weight gauge with apprehension. Noticing I have 3 lbs to spare, I sneak a few books into the bag while she’s not looking. Phew! I think to myself. This is easier now than anticipated. She prints out my boarding ticket. Simple I think. But… as she’s handing it to me, she asks me about the visa – says I don’t have one and that I’m staying past the allotted time period allowed. I explained to her, that I planned to either a) extend in country or b) fly out at the 30-day time limit and return. My tickets in her hand, she continues to look at her screen. She says she has to check with her supervisor about the logistics of the visa, as according to their system they can’t let me fly unless they have proof I’m leaving the country within the visa time limit. I explained I’d called the embassy of Indonesia, and that there were no issues… but she insisted she had to verify with her supervisor.

And so I waited. And waited. Time… ticking. It’s 845… boarding time is at 9. Her supervisor comes over, looks at the system. He looks at me and says “Mam, unless you can show me proof that you’re leaving in 30 days I can’t let you board that plane.” I explained to him my intent and described the research I had done, but no luck. It was black and white… proof = you fly, no proof = you don’t.

He left, and it was just me and the lady at the ticket desk. She explained unless I could provide her with proof in the next 15 minutes that I would be leaving within the 30 days, they couldn’t let me fly. Seriously?

So, I was faced with a choice. Miss my flight altogether and try and rebook? With rebooking btw would be a nightmare… or! Book a flight somewhere within the 30 days. Given I wanted to go to New Zealand and visit a professor friend of mine while away, I decided well now or never… I guess I’ll book my flight to New Zealand now. I plunked my backpack down beside the ticket desks… pulled out my laptop and connected to the Wi-Fi. Looked up my flight… compared a couple dates… time was ticking. I was about to book when she came over… asked me where I was booking… I said New Zealand. She asked about my stop over.. I said it was in Sydney. She said to wait as she wasn’t sure about Visas. Seriously?! I thought. I’m pretty sure there aren’t visa issues with either country… but I had to wait. I decided to look it up in the meantime and determined we would be ok. I walked over to her, laptop in hand, explained the visa situation and showed her the site I was booking on.

I literally booked the flight in front of her, 1200$ flight in seconds out of the blue… for 10 days. The reservation confirmation came up. Sigh… relief it went through and we could continue. I pointed out to her the details, and searching through she was looking for the “ticket number.” She scanned the webpage, and then the confirmation email they sent… and said “there is no ticket number, I can’t accept this.”

I’m now thinking… I’ve just bought this $1200 flight, in front of you, without really even having a chance to plan anything… you’ve watched it processing and you’re saying it’s not proof I’m leaving the country in 30 days? Ugh.

She calls over another nearby supervisor. It’s now 9am, the cut off, for being able to let me through to board the plane. He comes over, she explains, and he says “if another supervisor is helping you – you have to talk to him, not me.” I pleaded for his help as I was going to miss my flight if he didn’t help. He responded with a flick of the hand and walked away. Grrrr.

It’s mere minutes now before I am not allowed entry. My colleague is beside patiently waiting… Another family is circulating another desk, in tears, as they’ve been denied entry to their flight to St. Lucia. “Is this a foreshadow?” I think.

The other man comes over, the one we were dealing with in the beginning. I had hope, but minimal. He seemed pretty “by the book” in our first encounter. We both explained the update to the situation. He looked at the email and responded “If there is no ticket number, I can’t let you board.” I explained further about my contact with the embassy, about how the ticket counter lady and I had booked the ticket together. No use. I explained I’d also looked into what happens if you stay past the deadline of the visa, and told him the daily fine. Suddenly, he changed. “Oh! …you’ve been there before?” I said “No, I contacted the embassy here in Toronto and spoke with them and that’s what they said.” He looked at my email again. I could tell he was starting to soften. I explained… I don’t think there is any way better to demonstrate my intentions than the fact I have just purchased a ticket within the last 10 minutes with this lady here at the ticket counter and spent $1200 to show I plan to leave in 30 days. He hesitated, talked quietly to the her, and said “You know, if it comes back on us… Air Canada is sued $10 000 and it comes back to me” …then he jokingly said, “Ahhh, I would kind of like to be fired after 23 years at this job.” He let out a small smurk. At that moment, the lady returned to her computer, told me to put my backpack in the tray, gave me the tickets, and said “Have a good flight.”

9:15 and I’d been just granted access to the gate. Wow. There wasn’t even time to process what had just happened.

We rushed to security… 9:20. Both of my colleague’s bags got checked. Mine, fortunately, came through no questions. We rushed to our gate, and got there with 30 minutes to spare. To my surprise, this was enough time to swing a birthday latte from Starbucks, a bathroom trip, an awesome birthday phone call from my brother, and a slowly moving line to the plane. I got my seat and sat down with plenty time to spare.

It’s now almost 3 hours later. The lights in the cabin oddly keep cycling through a rainbow of colours?! One minute the cabin is blue and the next it’s red… green. Odd. I’m puzzled as to what exactly is the purpose. keep thinking about this morning. Wow. I can’t believe the sequence of events to get here. Hoping it’s not a bad omen for what is to come.

I’ve had a couple sangrias since – that’s helped. Making them here myself – although ordering an orange juice, wine, and club soda all in one sitting gets strange looks from the flight attendants. Ah well. It’s worth it. I have another cupcake waiting for later in the flight. I have a solemn Chinese man sitting beside me. I’ve added “trying to make him smile” to my list of to-do’s for this flight. So far, I’ve managed to squeeze a couple. My request to meet the pilot for my birthday was probably what struck the biggest reaction.

Ok, I’m signing off. Jakarta in T minus… you know, I don’t even want to calculate the hours remaining.  Stay tuned!