So often, I set out on a trip with no other plans than to write! Write everything! Write all the time!!! Perhaps it is my obsession with words that fueled my day dreaming of epic office spaces since that single, spectacular moment that my mother introduced me to our brand new typewriter WITH white out ribbon. For decades I sat by each of my parents, pretending my importance as I shuffled around stick figures notes and crunched numbers. And today, I don’t feel like I’m pretending any less. In fact, I feel like the fake-it-til-you-make-it factor is a necessary key to anything you go after in life simply for the sake of overcoming doubt.
At no point in my life, so far, have I ever expected the great and wonderful things that happen to me. That’s exactly why they stay great and wonderful. Three weeks ago, if someone would ask me if I would consider a week of telecommuting from Jakarta just to get a taste of the town, I would have laughed a little. But I’ve learned before asking Why? that I need to start rehearsing more of the Why not? So here I am. Or here I was…
I’m writing this on the plane ride home because what else do you do with 10 hours of your day when your only in-flight movie options are either things you’ve already seen or foreign films. I’m seriously considering getting into Bollywood for my in-flight entertainment. People around me are constantly watching it. It looks like they all center around the same theme of royal forbidden love in the form of a Zumba inspired soap opera. How can that be a bad thing?
Although Bollywood is the wrong theme, wrong country, it still seems like an appropriate way to end a week of being away.
Stark had a few meetings he needed to attend in Jakarta, and in true Why not? fashion, I insisted on tagging along. I know the usual business meeting drill. I spend most of the time doing my own work inside the hotel room with only a minimal view into the city I am in or the culture, but we do our best to work it in to our evenings even when most of those evenings are scheduled out with business dinners.
We arrived in Jakarta on Monday in the evening. The day felt like the longest day ever! I think our frequent flights to Singapore for work have made that 8 hour trip the standard for the most sitting in one place I can withstand. Plus, if you didn’t know, Singapore is the main hub between Australasia and Europe. So without a doubt, you’re always packed in on a double decker plane with what seems like six infants per section. Seriously, I don’t know how these women do it!
Our day started out kind of wonky which is likely half the reason why I was done with traveling long before we arrived anywhere. Not only did we need to be at the airport by 5:something in the morning, our cab driver practically totaled his car on the way to the airport. I really felt bad for him. So early in his shift. At the very start of his day. Supposedly he had already had a flight tire he changed and now, of all the vehicles to rear end in Sydney, he rear ends a high seated flatbed truck. The truck scrapes back his hood like a finger to icing. It squished right up to the front windshield before the driver could mutter his sharp, “Damn.”
Stark and I saw it coming long before our driver did. I think it was our “Ahhhh” noise and bracing ourselves against the seats in front of us that even cued the driver to maybe brake a little. It’s funny how those things work. I never wear my seatbelt in cabs and that morning Stark specifically asked me to put one on. Usually, at such an ungodly hour of the morning I turn into a complete child and insist, “I do what I want!” But this time, I was the other kind of tired – the do what I’m told and don’t fuss about it tired. Even then, as I clicked the belt together I thought about it. The words scrolled through my mind like a marque, “I bet now we will get in an accident because that’s how things like that work.”
Our very discouraged driver was insistent on not getting us a new cab and instead, wobbled the taxi right up to the front doors of Sydney’s International Terminal. I spent those last 10 minutes constantly sniffing to make sure what I smelled was just that burned brake smell and not gas. I was surprised he even made us pay for the ride, but at the same time, I was still in that obliging-tired phase and thought, “Well, he still did the job and the job is only to get us there.” After all, he’s gonna need the cash.
So one auto accident, one hour at the airport, eight hours in the air, one hour battling crowds and sky trains, and another two hours to Jakarta, somewhere around hour number seven, I about lost it on the plane simply because everyone was using my arm rests and I was the one trying to handle a 15″ MacBook screen with only about 8 inches between my face and its interface. My computer was literally so large and so close, that it wasn’t even possible to type without poking my elbows into the personal space of those around me. So I poked Stark to lend me some elbow room so I could continue working on the project at hand.
It’s always weird to land when it’s still light outside after spending your entire day on a plane. Light in general seems rare this time of year. In Sydney, it’s nearly winter which doesn’t mean anything for how cold it gets (at least for me, it’s like Spring still), but it does mean that the sun goes down around 5pm. Landing in Jakarta after 7 with the sun bright as pollution-spoiled day, and the weather as hot as Hates, was the number one indicator of foreign lands.
Most people that go to Indonesia, aren’t there to go to Jakarta. Everyone’s goes to Bali, as you might imagine. And the two sides of this tiny country could not be more different. If anything is the same, I would imagine it would be the five prayer calls that resonate throughout the city each day from around 5am to 8pm. The sound is beautiful and very calming knowing that so many dedicated people throughout the country are taking a moment of gratitude. It’s really quite amazing to think about the majority of a country bowing in silence every day let alone multiple times a day.
The prayer calls are a nice offset to the simple truth that Jakarta is the Tijuana of Asia. That’s the best way to describe it. You have the diner California-esque lands above you, and once you cross this border and enter this city, you better watch your shit! The airport is probably one of the most unsafe areas you will wind up in as a privileged world traveler, and the most common scam here is that genuine airport workers will take your passports to help guide you through the visas, and right there as you stand next to a gigantic sign stating that visas are free for US and Australian residents, they’ll walk you to the neighboring ATM and insist your visa costs $200 American dollars. If you argue, you simply don’t get your passport back. Good luck!
Despite some raging Italian in front of us that we feared would piss off the border patrol, we made it through just fine. It’s all about the little things. Don’t wear a scarf. Don’t wear jewelry. And look as travel-ugly as possible. We be poor people as far as anyone else is concerned. Even then, the fact that you’re white already sets people off to knowing you come from finer lands.
Like many business-centered visitors, we skirted off via specific black lux taxi, escorted safely there by a Grand Hyatt bellhop, and delivered straight to our hotel after a security gate, a bomb check, and a luggage swipe, we were then let free of the car, happy to have two feet on the ground and spend some time standing. Welcome to Jakarta!
Similar to other Asian countries, you have to walk through a security check point every time you enter or leave a building. It’s less about checking if you’re crazy and more about setting up some intimidating barriers that keep the poor people from overwhelming the luxury, air-conditioned hallways of these massive malls. And sometimes it’s unfortunate to be confined to such an area and not get a real sense of the town, but Jakarta literally has no side walks and is anything but pedestrian friendly. The sidewalks that did exist around our hotel, were packed with extremely young militants, all carrying semi automatic machine guns and what looked like full blown sniper rifles. It’s not the kind of thing you usually see on a sidewalk directly outside Louis Vuitton, but it doesn’t really phase you here. At least, it doesn’t phase me and I think that’s a strange learned behavior from having grown up in the South. You wanna threaten me with a gun? Talk about race? Get mad at me about religion? Sure. There’s the line. Get in it. Who knew a little street knowledge would take me so far across the world.
We spent three whole days in Jakarta – trying some local eats, walking from one mall to the next and to the next, getting lost in massive buildings and dizzy by the number of levels each mall has. I tried true Russian black caviar for the first time and was spoiled by paired cheeses and champagne. I went to one of the nicest restaurants in town to try local eats. And I casually drank the “worlds must expensive coffee” which is a local coffee bean eaten by some kind of local jungle cat that then poops out the beans. Yup. Poop beans are then collected by natives in the jungle and ground into coffee beans. After that, I went a little crazy for a Givenchy outfit and I learned why no one in Jakarta uses the number 4. Ever. It’s from Japanese superstition. So the floor numbers were always 1, 2, 3, 3a… All in all, I would top this off as one of the best working vacations ever because even my work rolled out beautifully as I met all my deadlines and wrapped up Phase 2 of a full SalesForce reintegration. I would say each of these adventures were well deserved and top the charts as some of the most unique experiences Stark and I have had together.
One evening, we made reservations at a restaurant literally across the street and our hotel insisted that it required a cab to get to. It still took us 15 minutes to get there. So we did actually try walking back afterward, which wasn’t so bad. It required as much round about wandering as it did for the cab just to go to a building practically next door. And you can certainly tell why hotels don’t even assume that walking is and should be an option to you. In less than one block, we passed two dozen people squatting on the sides of the streets. Just sitting there in caveman stance, waiting for nothing. They weren’t begging. They were just living. Spending a night on the street wouldn’t have much difference to going to your home in this country, if you’re lucky enough to have one with a roof and maybe some stairs. In all the poor countries I have been to, it always surprises me how they just sit. It seems anything but relaxing for how content they are to be there. We continued on, tripping over what should have been a sidewalk but seemed to be more of a makeshift cover for an open sewage system and that’s exactly how it smelled. And of course, we came across half a dozen adorable stray cats, one of which was the tiniest little newborn kitty ever with only one eye. It’s hard to keep your hands to yourself and not even attempt to set down some water or food for a face like that, but the risk you run of dying from a feral animal bite in a foreign country is a little higher on the importance chart. Besides, how do I come to terms with trying to feed a small cat when there’s a dozen, nearly hidden faces in the dark corner of the same pathway, all equally starved and watching your every move.
The hardest part about walking isn’t the walking itself or the heat, it’s getting into a building from the street. The entire country is set up to keep those on foot, out! Security at every corner and very high fences circle entire buildings. If you try to walk up a driveway, you’ll immediately be met by an official in a pressed blue uniform telling you no, keep going. That happened to us a few times before we discovered that the Louis Vuitton door was in fact the only street door you could get through, after three security checkpoints. Intense!
But that’s the way it is in more places than anyone would like to think about. We eat. We sleep. We truly have nothing to worry about compared to the weight out there in the world. And as much as I wish the world can be different for more divided countries, it doesn’t mean I have to drive myself to suffering in order to compare. It just means, I do what I can and I remain that much more grateful that I could spend my evening splashing around the side of a beautiful swimming oasis and squeezing in a last night hotel massage to wind down. We had to try to go to bed as early as possible as we had to leave our hotel room at 2:45AM to get to the airport in time.
When you wake up that early and start moving long before your brain is active, it seems like all the energy you can muster goes into movement and brain power is the last thing to start rolling. I wake up like this all the time for work and meetings, and so often I will be sitting at my desk six hours later trying to recall what I did that morning. This is why I take copious notes, always. It’s a wonder I ever get through airport security with such early flights. Thankfully I have my Stark to handle anything that requires real thought because honestly, when left to my own devices… it doesn’t run as smoothly.
In fact, everything was smooth movin’ into we arrived in Singapore for our layover. I just HAD to be that person that refused to use the bathroom on our first flight and insisted I drink all the water, so by the time we arrived in Singapore I felt like crying when I found the stereotypical line of women in the restroom. The line seemed to not move and my stomach ached I had been waiting so long. I was literally praying and dancing when it finally came to me and two doors opened at once. I thought I’d be nice and go for the far one because… ya know… restroom karma. And you know how it goes when your body knows it’s time. There’s no holding it anymore. So you can only imagine the shock when the bathroom doorway was locked behind me and I turned to put my things down and discovered out of all the stalls in the world, I walked into the one lacking a western toilet. We are talking hole in the ground and a garden hose to spray yourself off if needs be. But you gotta go when you gotta go.
My first mistake was thinking I could squat and text at the same time. Somehow my brain didn’t muster the fact that this wouldn’t be your normal read a book while you go experience. I’m surprised I didn’t tear my tights in half trying not to fall over. So I stood right back up and looked around thinking, “Dear God why is there not a diagram for this?” I mean Sydney has diagrams all over the place letting anyone from Asia or India know how to SIT on a toilet rather than attempting to stand on the edges and pop a squat. So where’s my f*^~>%g diagram?!? I tel you what though, when you have to figure it out you just do. And it wasn’t that bad of an experience. In fact, I started getting kind of cocky about how easy it was. That is, until I remembered I was still seriously suffering from leg day at the gym earlier this week. If nothing about this experience was funny until this point, my ability to get back out of full on camping in the woods mode was probably the highlight of every mockable moment in my life. I’ll let you think all about that on your own because I can be a lady about some things some of the time.
13 hours of travel and 4 in-flight movies later… Home is where my porcelain thrown is and Indonesia can wait a long minute before I take that flight back there.