Monday, January 09, 2006

Hold 'em off at the Pass, Buck...

I was reminded twice last week, on the same day, why Indonesia baffles and bemuses me, and, in a way, why I love this country so much. I was in Yogyakarta, a wonderful city that sits on the cusp of the west and east. It’s a city with all the embellishments of western globalisation, for better or worse. It has the fast food joints that serve food that tastes the same, more or less anywhere, and the streets are full of Toyotas and Fords. But the primary mode of public transport, apart from the ubiquitous Bemo, is either the horse drawn dohkar or the local equivalent of the cycle drawn tri-shaw. These do not exist to bleed tourists, although there is that too, these are used daily by the million or so locals and are everywhere. And the Nikes and Reeboks might be made in the same factory as the stuff you buy in LA or Auckland, but they definitely don’t appear on the manufacturing schedules of those companies. And they sell for about ten percent of their legitimate western twins. Jogja (as it’s know) spreads out for kilometres in every direction and is home to intensive craft industry, manufacturing and wholesale, and a thriving arts and design scene. It’s a wonderful town, it really is...welcoming, warm, and, like most of this country, always smiling.

We stayed, as we usually do in Jogja, at the Hyatt, a five star hotel set in beautiful and vast grounds, with the biggest pool I’ve seen anywhere: it wraps around a fake temple (which is also a hydroslide) on four levels. All for $60 a night for the both of us, including one of the best breakfasts you’ve ever seen.

So I turn on the telly in the morning, before brekky, for the Bahasa Ingris news on the local news channel, Metro, and today, to my dismay as I’m flying out in 24 hours, it carries a strong warning about impending wild tropical storms and potential Tsunamis (which tend to catch your attention somewhat these days here in the Indonesian archipelago) closing in on Bali. It warns that Denpasar airport is likely to be closed the next day as a result of these maelstroms. Not really what I needed to hear. Travelling by air in Indonesia is bloody nerve-wracking at best. Landing at Jogja Airport (now classed as an international we are told, although without it seems, the benefit of any noticeable security, customs, or, to the best of my knowledge, any international flights for that matter) you enjoy what the locals tell me is called the “Jogja bounce”, whereupon the plane bangs down and then bounces randomly and violently into the air again and then repeats this until you finally settle. Something, I believe, to do with the scattered potholes in the runway and the fact that the funds allocated to fix the bounce seem to have disappeared into private pockets. Garuda actually is ok to fly with. They, because this is Indonesia, smile a lot and give you a lunch box which I’ve never been game to open, let alone try. But the loos are clean and the seats often stay upright…unlike the budget competitors, including one whose slogan is “Fly Is Cheap”…I bet it is.

I really wasn’t that keen on flying through a tsunami inducing hurricane to land at Denpasar the next day and the thought haunted me a little throughout the day as we trekked around Jogja all day with our wonderful friend, Bram, a local furniture designer and the great grandson of the seventh Sultan of Yogyakarta, in his Peugeot with the passenger’s door (i.e. the one beside me) which came open somewhat randomly (which is a bit disconcerting) but I was consoled by the thought that whatever it was it couldn’t be worse than one of those regular sideways slips into Wellington’s airport.

After Bram dropped us at a large mall, we passed on the reasonably appealing Thai Express Restaurant and after having an iced coffee at the local espresso bar (sitting next to the two Buddhist monks having their short blacks…this is not Ponsonby Road), decided to head back to the five star hotel for a meal, as the best bet for a quiet, quality meal after a fairly exhausting day.

It was ok, I guess. For Mexican cuisine that is. The Hyatt, in Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia had decided to host this particular night, a Mexican Theme night. All the staff were dressed as Latino Bandits. At least, I guess that’s what they were meant to be, but they looked more like extras from The High Chaparral…Manolito’s buddies, not the countless whooping Injuns they heroically massacred each week. I imagine the concept behind the American drive for democracy in the Middle East has it roots here. They might be dead, but at least they’re free. Come to think of it, John Cannon does look a little George Bush Snr and the son, Blue, was gormless and was always getting pissed and fucking things up so he could be a role model for a young GWB.

The Buddhist monks had made it to the Mexican buffet too and the sight of Manolito’s Indonesian cousin serving Burritos to these guys was too surreal for me, especially after the Mexican band struck up a samba version of Billy Joel’s Piano Man on massed acoustic guitars. There was also the extended wedding party in full local dress wending their way through collapsing enchiladas dripping all over their pristine outfits. I retired to prepare for the airborne turmoil…that is, if we flew at all.

We flew. We went to the airport, boarded GA247, flew to Denpasar, landed peacefully and went home see our dogs. Not a bump, not a wiggle, not a damn shake and a faultless landing.

I checked on Yahoo Weather,, The Jakarta Post, did a Google, and watched the weather on CNN and The BBC. Nothing…nothing at all. No hurricane or even a storm, No tsunami and I watched the local fishing boats putting out the next morning in the knowledge that these guys are the most reliable weather forecasters on the planet.

I came to the conclusion that it was bullshit. It didn’t exist and never had and had been inserted by some producer in Jakarta for drama or to fill airtime.

Only in Indonesia. With a Smile…