Monday, November 29, 2010

Life's a Beach

Saturday morning dawned with Simpson's clouds and a peacock blue sky. Stacy and I got up early, Adik arrived by 9 am and we set off to Nagoya to pick up Richard before trying to make our way to Barelang. When we made it to the suburbs we stood on a corner and waited for a taxi. The first one wanted $300,000 IDR for the day which I refused because that was as much as our cab from Nagoya the first time we went. He wasn't up for negotiating so we stood on the corner and waited two seconds until a bus driver stopped and asked us where we were going. After a bit of bartering he agreed to five hours for $170,000 IDR and we followed him to the bus where he opened the door, shouted something and ten people disembarked.

Gee, wonder why Westerners aren't universally welcome.

Equally unfortunate was my inability to name the beach we'd been at when we rented the kayaks.

"Melur," I said with the kind of confidence I exude when I haven't the foggiest clue but am surrounded by people who know even less and expect me to lead.

Turns out Melur, while beautiful, has no kayaks but, we were assured, just down the road at Pentai Basir we could find craft and paddles. So we got back in the van and drove down a rocky, hilly, eroded road to the top of a hill where our driver suggested we get out and walk to the beach.

Definitely not the beach we'd been to before and they wanted to charge us to stay so we turned tail and climbed back up the steep hill to the parking lot to discover our driver was gone. The Americans were beside themselves while I shrugged and said, "Might as well make the best of it," so we walked back down to the litter strewn beach where the locals called out to us eagerly as we passed.

After changing I wasted no time giving Adik her first swimming lesson and twenty minutes later our driver, Udi, arrived and sat under a tree to watch us. Adik still wanted to find kayaks so, after a chat with one of the locals who told me I was most unlady like with all my exercising and tattoos, we declined his offer of lunch and started back to the van.

But every two steps there was a crowd of people wanting their picture taken with us and it took almost half an hour to get back to the parking lot. Once we'd piled back in I sat with my head out the window enjoying the country air and that feeling of awe I get in moments like that, with that deep down in my bones gratitude to be alive.

By the time we finally found Malau Beach the sky had opened up to unleash the monsoon rain and we had to wait an hour for it to stop. When it finally did we discovered the owners of the kayaks weren't home and wouldn't be back until Sunday.

So we decided to head back to Melur and spent the rest of the day swimming in the cool, salty water. Adik and I were joking about catching one of the beach chickens to roast for dinner when there was a loud slap and a crash and a squawking behind us that made me jump to my feet. There was Udi holding pretty spotted hen by her feet.

I convinced him to let her go.

The drive home was quiet until we reached the city limits and Udi began his attempt at renegotiation. His price, which we'd already renegotiated to $200,000 IDR before going back to Melur had umped to $300,000 IDR. Apparently, the cost of gas had skyrocketed while we sat on the beach and we were also now expected to pay for his food and cigarettes.

"No," I told Adik firmly, "He would have eaten and smoked today whether he was with us or not."

He was still arguing when he dropped us off at the Kepri mall and after trying to convince the other three to quit entertaining him by engaging in this talk I walked away. Adik told me later that he tried to plead his case with the cab drivers at the taxi stand but after hearing the story they told him he had already made enough money and he should quit while he was ahead.

Inside the grocery store I spotted a very tall, familiar bule and spent the rest of my time dodging the three English teachers I'd met at the Scottish wedding in September, who had all congregated to discuss whether I was that girl or not.

Then we were off to my favourite ankringnan where Adik and I played the Javanese shell game while drinking ginger tea and plotting our trip in three weeks. Afterwards the four of us crowded onto our balcony for drinks and waited for our nightly lightning show but we were stood up.

Orion though, at the equator, lies on his side. A fallen hunter with no sign of the Big Bear to be found.

Monday, November 22, 2010


"Do you know Pak Guju?" Adik asks me at dinner tonight while I slurp my cap cay.
I shake my head.
"So skinny?"
I shake my head again.
"Do you know he called me to ask if we were close-you know what I mean yes-and I said no we are just friends. So he tells me Ms Eris is so beautiful, I love her, what does she like?"
I laugh."Who is this?"
She tries to explain again-so very skinny boy with glasses- but I shake my head.
"Don`t know but that sounds like me, always get the handsome ones," I say, but my sarcasm is lost on her.
"Nooo, not handsome, skeeeeny," she screws up her nose and I laugh. "Not for you, I will find you Indonesian man."
"No need for that. That would just complicate my life and I don`t need complications. So what did you tell this Pak Guju."
"I tell him you like food. Lots of food. And you cannot eat cheap cheese (translation= Kraft cheese slices) only small pieces that cost 80,000 rupiah and no Indonesian food because of tepung. And you like to travel so you are too expensive."
I burst out laughing and give Adik a high five.
"What?" she asks, confused.
"Nothing," I say between laughs, "just a thanks for looking out for me."

Though I must confess I`ve never thought of myself quite that way before, but now that she`s mentioned it...

Bahasa Word of the day:

cap cay= spicy vegetable stir fry in broth

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lost All Sense and Time

Singapore, you tickle, delight and satisfy my every desire but the price I pay for this is losing all sense and time. And the cost of that can be all too dear.

Saturday I woke up with the call to prayer, packed my day bag and cabbed to the ferry terminal with Mr. Tex, the new American teacher. It was a rock and roll ride all the way across and when we got to customs I ran into one of my roommates, Ms. Novi. I introduced her to Tex, she smiled and shook his hand, then promptly turned to me, "Oooh, is it a date?"

Uh no, it's not a date. He has banking to do and I am on a quest for an Easy Yo.

Singapore is a ghost town before noon, so after Tex tried and failed to do his banking, we wandered through the grey drizzle and empty streets like we owned the city. We found a small fruit store and I paid $8.00 SD for a quarter pint of Driscoll's raspberries.Worth. Every. Penny.

After turning the corner we ducked into the Vanilla Bean, a tiny dessert shop with a great Saturday morning jazz soundtrack and a sparkling Christmas tree in the window. I ordered the chammomile jasmine tea with honey and lost myself in a meditative marvel as opulently perfumed wafts of steam rose languidly in the air. When I finally got around to drinking it, the waiter had honey sweetened it with precise, to the drop perfection.

If I pour your cup
that is friendship
If I measure the milk
That is manners
And if I stop there
claiming ignorance of taste
That is tea.

But if I measure the honey
to satisfy your expectant tongue
 that is love
Who knew a stranger's love could taste so good?

By the time we left the drizzle had become a tropical downpour and Tex and I shared an umbrella on the dash to the metro station. Re-emerging from the underground in Little India the rain had stopped but, wandering through the incense laden air, between the stalls of puja flowers and bangle sellers, I'd have been just as happy if I'd been soaking wet. Oh, India I think of you fondly and often, even if Sweet Sing has taken your place, I do hope our paths will cross again.

We found the highly recommended Banana Leaf and shared chicken murga tika masala, rogan josh mutton, aloo gobi, and curried shark flakes over a glass of outrageously priced wine. All the food is served on an  eco-friendly banana leaf plate. No need to wash the dishes after dinner, you just throw it away and it biodegrades.

We stopped for one more drink at a hostel around the corner before getting back on the MRT to walk around Clarke Quay. Here the shuttered buildings wink happily at the tourist laden boats that float by under the Read Bridge while withering backpackers drink overpriced beers on the cobblestone bistro style pub patios.

Soon we were back on the Metro to Haji Lane. It's the Osborne Village circa 1985-95 of the Arab quarter with hookah cafes, blues and jazz bars, second hand bookstores and vintage clothing. There are no cars here, and all the parties from one cafe join seamlessly with the next. 

It was here I ordered the next glass of wine. It was here reality began to pound at my door, reminding me we had a ferry to catch. It was here I began to sigh and lament and make wishes. It was here, despite Tex's prompting to the contrary, I ordered one last glass of wine. "Oh please, we have plenty of time. Why rush back to wait in the boarding lounge?"

Of course the reason we ought to have done just that is we didn't have any place to stay if we missed the last ferry. The reason it's not good to not have a place to stay in Singapore is it's very expensive to stay in Singapore and you need to search very hard for an affordable bed. So when we arrived at the ferry terminal five minutes too late it was a $200 SD reason to not have stayed for one more drink. Or, as I've taken to looking at it, that one last glass of wine cost me $213 SD instead of the usual outrageous $13, hands down the most expensive glass of wine I am likely to drink in my life.

On the plus side, I had my first hot shower since leaving home. Between us I think that was worth $200 SD.

In the morning we stepped out into a giant market on a cobbled street surrounding the Krishna, Buddhist and Taoist temples. I bought a brilliant strawberry smoothie for breakfast before we found the Sim Lim market so Tex could shop for electronics and accessories. 

We stopped at Muchos in Clarke Quay for a plate of divinely cheesy chicken nachos with a killer guacamole on our way back to Harbour Front where I found the man who will sell me my Easy Yo. He didn't have any in today, but I was too giddy over the gluten free pancake mix, pizza crust and cornflakes to be disappointed.

I couldn't look back as we pulled out of the harbour, it hurt so much to say goodbye to my dear sweet oasis of sanity, but Singapore, I can't afford the cost of loving you.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sweet Sing

On Wednesday I woke up at ghastly o'clock and was on a bus with 40 ten year olds by 5 am. There's only one thing in my world that could induce me to willfully engage this insanity. Singapore.

The purpose of our field trip was a visit to the Australian International School of Singapore for their PYP exhibition. It opened with 37 students 17 years ago and has grown exponentially to a population of over 2,000 students. They have a swimming pool. They have a bouncing tent and face painting at lunch. I thought it was paradise and was worried my students would be envious but it turns out they prefer their leaky school with buckling floors. "I'm glad I don't go to school here. So far to they have to walk to the canteen!"

Personally I'd walk half a day to get a their cafeteria where, besides pizza and spaghetti, they serve a green garden salad (that's right people. Lettuce!) with a lip smacking vinaigrette dressing, fruit bowls and yogurt. Heaven!

From there we were off to the sixteen story Singapore public library which I was in awe of.

It wasn't exactly the kids' idea of fun but I managed to get them curious about the sculptures (Look kids, art you can touch! I don't think it's wood, any other guesses?) and an exhibit on Arab immigration to Asia (Find the display that teaches you how to build a mud house. Who can find the giant incense burner?).

But the highlight for all of us was the Science center. Iron pellets that danced to music (look Kleenex Kid electromagnetic fields!) optical illusions (Hey! It's Ibu's head on a platter) agriculture (Ms! come watch the chickens hatching!) genetics (Hey guys, remember when we talked about Frankenfoods?) and fire tornadoes.

I really didn't want to leave, and almost didn't have to when one of my student's lost his boarding pass for the ferry. But, after retracing his steps and digging through the garbage, he found it again and the whole fiasco worked out well for me because by the time we made it to the terminal all the kids were already boarded and I was able to quickly duck into the duty free to buy some wine.

On the ferry, the kids ate too much junk food (apparently, though not surprisingly, Singapore McDonald's has much better food than Batam McDonald's), we played with the toys we bought at the overpriced Science center souvenir shop and played "I'm going on a trip and I'm bringing ..."

Only a few more weeks and I'm going on a trip and I'm bringing my plane ticket, my backpack and a digital camera in case I see komodo dragons!