Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Getting There, or Too Many Airplanes
It's about 4:30am Tuesday, Malang time, which means all you on the East Coast are probably just starting to think about your plans for Monday dinner. I'm sitting in bed in the Hotel Kantika, munching on leftover dried fruit and trail mix from the airplane(s) and listening to the call to prayer. Welcome to Indonesia.
Getting here was a bitch, if you'll excuse my saying so. Step 1: Thursday, 6/10, New Haven to DC. 10am train to Grand Central, taxi to JFK, plane ride into Dulles. Felt like a long ride, but I really can't complain – the people coming in from LA and Alaska had it much worse. Checking in, I ran into Meghan and Samantha, two other students on my program. That evening was a welcome meeting at the CLS offices, wandering around the city a bit, and some excellent Greek food for dinner. I slept like a rock until my travel alarm clock went off in my bag around 1am (just in time to catch my flight home from Barcelona back in March!), then after that it was a lost cause. Made for a tired Day 2.
Friday was more orientation, various bureaucrats from the State Department and elsewhere talking at us for about 8 hours, snacks provided. By lunchtime I knew several ways to be an active CLS alum, even more possible career paths for people with language skills and an interest in public service, and almost nothing about what to expect in Malang. Later in the day things got more relevant, but they could easily have cut about two hours off the program and let us nap before dinner (as suggested by the jetlagged Californian sitting next to me). After dinner – excellent Turkish out in Alexandria – I met up with Matt for a beer in the Marriott across the street – which sounds much sketchier than it was. What kind of hotel closes its bar on a Friday night? The one where I was staying, apparently, so we picked the nearest alternative. And $6 for a Sam Adams? What is this, Manhattan? – then to bed around 10.
Step 2: Saturday, 6/12, DC to San Francisco. Got up at 2:15 for a 3am checkout and a 3:30 van to the airport. The Japan group, who had their orientation with us, had a 7:00 flight out, so they shipped us all out to Dulles together. Our 8:20 flight was delayed an hour; luckily our boarding group hadn't gotten on the plane yet when they announced that. Air time: six hours.
Step 3: SF to Tokyo. With the delay at Dulles, our layover in San Francisco was down to an hour, so we boarded pretty soon after making it to the gate. I sat next to Leslie on the plane and ran some Indonesian vocab during taxi & takeoff. Total airtime: a long ten hours, mostly passed watching Alice in Wonderland and napping.
Step 4: Tokyo to Singapore. Tokyo was where things started getting fun, mostly because it was my first time in Asia. First stop in the airport was the bathroom. Turns out Japanese toilets are as crazy as you've heard. That's all I'm saying about that.
Next up was a big bowl of udon noodles at a cafe near the gate. No idea what I paid for them – exchange rate? Anyone? - but they were pretty excellent. Some fellow-travellers decided sushi was in order. Total layover was an hour and a half, then 6 hours in the air to Singapore. Getting really sick of airplanes at this point.
Step 5: Singapore to Jakarta. It was almost midnight local time when we landed in Singapore, and for the first time in almost 24 hours it was dark outside where I was. We'd been hearing rumors of incredible things at the Singapore airport from two guys in the group who'd lived on the island for a while – free wifi! Showers! Video games! - and by now it had turned into the promised land, a magical place where anything was possible. Unlike most utpian visions, this one actually exceeded the hype. Free wifi everywhere, which I hadn't had since leaving New Haven. With 7 hours to kill til our next flight, we started off by visiting the butterfly exhibit. Midnight isn't the best time to see butterflies – they tend to be asleep at that hour – but we caught a few tucked under leaves or hanging from branches. Walking out, we came to a big waiting room with a koi pond and several of those foot-and-calf massaging machines like they sell at Brookstone, so I spent the next half hour or so getting a free massage and checking email. By 1am most of the shops were closing, but the 24-hour food court upstairs was still open, and I'd skipped dinner on the flight, so a bowl of mie siam was in order. After food, showers: for eight Singapore dollars (about $5.75 US), you get a shower in a beautiful little private room (towels included), a toothbrush and toothpaste, a bottle of water, and a snack. Felt much more human after that. We decided to skip the free movie and the cactus garden (were they open at this hour anyway?) and pass the time with Facebook and the World Cup (go Germany!) instead. The next two legs of the trip would be on Garuda Air instead of United, so we had to check in again, which led to minor panic when they asked to see our checked baggage tags (who ever keeps those?), but we found them and got on the plane at 7:20am.
Flying, in Indonesia, is not nearly as commonplace as it is in the US, and it shows. Before takeoff the stewardesses offered us cups of orange or guava juice, something I've never seen before in coach. The legroom was better than on any of the overseas flights, where I really could have used the extra inch or two. Seriously, if I'm 5'5” and I find it cramped, what do tall people do? We even got a meal, which was pretty bad, but with fresh fruit and metal silverware I was impressed anyway. It was a beautiful blue-green morning, and the view taking off over Malaysia was lovely – I'd been lucky enough to nab a window seat. Air time to Jakarta: an hour and a half.
Step 6: Jakarta to Surabaya. Immigration and customs in Jakarta were easy enough, though all the signs announcing 'Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers!” were kind of terrifying – I had practically a whole pharmacy in my luggage between the malaria pills and the travel clinic prescriptions and benadryl to sleep and ibuprofin. Two students in the group had their luggage lost – Shannon's is still in Tokyo as of last report, and Wyatt's “might be in Tokyo too... ?” The Jakarta airport is beautiful, with big sloped ceilings and traditional carvings on the walls, though the food choices in the terminal include KFC, Cold Stone, Starbucks, Haagen Dazs, and both Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts. The layover was supposed to be 2 hours, but the flight was delayed so it ended up at 3. Another Garuda flight to Surabaya, with the same little luxuries, and about an hour later we were there.
Step 7: Surabaya to Malang by bus. Pak Peter, the resident director of the program, met us at the airport. Surabaya was hot and muggy, but the bus was air-conditioned. It's only about 50 miles (?) to Malang from Surabaya, but because of the mud flow, the highway diverts into little local roads and traffic crawls. The mud flow: a few years ago, a company called Lupindo thought it had detected oil outside Surabaya and started drilling, but when the hit it turned out not to be oil but volcanic mud instead. Picture BP in the Gulf but on land, where people used to live – years later, it's still coming up. Halfway there we stopped for lunch at a beautiful restaurant. In Malang, we were dropped at the hotel, with orders to get some rest and meet for dinner at 6:45. I set my alarm for 6:20 and took a nap, but my subconscious must have interfered because at 8pm I woke up, and the alarm hadn't gone off. My roommate, Samantha, was out cold too. At that point though I was happy to skip dinner and just sleep, so I phoned in an apology and went back to bed. And that's why I'm up at 4 in the morning, writing this (though by now it's 6:15, and the roosters are crowing). Today we get an orientation and meet our host families, and tomorrow classes start. Here goes nothing...
Hopefully I'll get to post this soon; there's free internet in the hotel. Pictures (mostly of Singapore) to come as well.