Thursday, September 2, 2010

Southeast Asia in a Kelapashell

This is gonna be a long one...

View Asia Tenggara 2010 in a larger map

Jakarta: The Big Durian

Funny it's called that, because Singapore, despite their best efforts, smells more like durian than Jakarta does. Then again, all of SE Asia smells like durian, so it's really just a matter of degree down there.

Anyway, I showed up in Jakarta on Thursday afternoon. At the airport I met another backpacker who pointed me towards the bus into town – I was headed for a taxi. His hotel was on the same block as mine so we decided to walk together from the bus stop. The problem was getting there. I would stop every so often and ask for directions in Indonesian, and get a response in Indonesian, and rather than following them he would then stop too and spend five minutes trying to ask the same person for the same directions in English, which in Indonesia doesn't work so well. Me: “he said we turn right at the next street.” Him: “Excuse me, how do we get to hotel Ibis?” Guy on the street: “What? I don't speak English.” (Much pantomiming and pointing to maps.) 5 minutes later: Him: “Ok, I think we turn right at the next block.” Me: “Oh really?” When we got there he asked me to find him on Facebook. Not likely.

My hotel, the Akmani, was awfully nice, way better than you could find in the States for that price. Jenny, a friend of mine from CLS, was in Jakarta for the week doing research, so we split the room. She said Jakarta reminded her of LA, and given that she lives there I'm inclined to believe her. As far as I could tell it was another Malang, if you made Malang 13 times bigger, with 50 times the traffic and some skyscrapers. It's big, grimy but modern, and sprawling, and the gridlock lived up to every horrifying rumor I'd heard. I didn't get to see much of the city, just wandered a bit around the backpacker district near our hotel before dinner than night and went down to Atma Jaya University for my meeting on Friday. The Mex Planck Institute in Leipzig has a field station at Atma Jaya where they do a lot of documentary work around Indonesia of the same kind I hope to start doing next summer, so it seemed prudent to drop by while I was in the country. I had lunch with the researchers there and got a lot of good advice on where to go and who to talk to – the deal in Indonesia seems to be that you pick what kind of climate you want, what kind of food you like, whether you want to be in a city or a village with beaches or mountains, and once you find a place fitting your criteria you're pretty much guaranteed to find a documentable language there too. Not bad. Getting home was an adventure – that damn traffic – and that night Jenny & I had dinner with a friend of Linda's.

Kuala Lumpur: Garden City of Lights

Saturday I flew back to Singapore – entry stamp #2 on my passport. The plan was to take a sleeper train to Kuala Lumpur that night, but I didn't feel like dealing with trains then so instead I went over to the AirAsia counter and bought a plane ticket up instead. Three hours later we took off – an hour late – and it was 1AM by the time I'd landed and taken a bus into the city. KL is like Jakarta in that if where you're going is more than two blocks from where you are don't bother to ask directions, cause nobody knows where anything is and you'll get three contradictory answers from three different people, so finding the hostel was a challenge. After about 40 minutes of wandering around Chinatown in a drizzle I finally managed to locate it. Not well marked (the hostel and the streets. Southeast Asia really needs to work on their street labeling.) My room was a little windowless cubby with barely enough room for the double bed and a fan on the ceiling, but at that point I was so tired I could have slept on the floor and not cared. The hostel turned out to be reasonably nice in the daylight, and they let me leave my stuff there while I wandered around the city all day.

If Singapore is like Miami and Jakarta is LA, then KL is like New York City, if New York had mosques instead of churches and palm trees instead of honey locusts. It was a place I could see myself living if the opportunity arose. I did a full tour of the city, or as close as you can get in a day. First up was Chinatown, which was far more interesting of a place in the daylight. From there I went over to the Central Market, where I bought some batik and did the fish spa again. In Bali the fish were tiny; if you were an Indonesian you might dry them and sprinkle them over your rice. In KL they were big enough to grill up and serve as appetizers, maybe three or four to a plate at a nice restaurant. When it comes to fish spas size does matter – in Bali it felt like a mass of little electric shocks, but here I could feel every little bite like a sandpaper suction cup on my foot. Not painful by any means, but certainly odd. And the big ones are far more efficient too – ten minutes with them had the same effect as half an hour with the little Balinese critters. After walking around in sandals all summer I certainly could have used more time, but there was lots left to see in the city so I moved on.

Next up was the MRT to the Petronas Towers. For the record, SE Asia kicks our ass when it comes to subway-type public transport. Faster, cleaner, cheaper. Case in point: Singapore, KL, Bangkok (both underground and skytrain). Even Jakarta's got dedicated lanes for city buses that zip right along when the rest of the traffic is at a dead standstill; they just need way more routes.

Anyway – the Petronas towers look huge, not because they're actually that huge but because SE Asia is short, both the people and the buildings. I don't think there's anything in Malang over six or seven stories, and even in the real cities the average building isn't over four. (Compare this to Manhattan, where anything under ten looks stunted). What with the Sears Tower and Taipei 101 and that new monstrosity in Dubai, Petronas comes in somewhere in the top 10 of tallest buildings in the world, depending whether you're counting by roof height or the top of the spires or antennae or what. Anyway, they're a landmark, and they look pretty cool from below. Tickets to the skybridge at the top are free but there's a limited number each day. On this particular day they ran out at 11:30am, and I showed up at 11:45. Damn. Still, I got to see the gift shop.

From there I decided to walk back towards Chinatown, which is an awfully long walk, especially in the tropics in August. First stop along the way was a tourist/cultural center, notable mostly for its air conditioning and public restrooms. Next door to that was a chocolate shop, which of course I had to visit. I apparently got there just after a big group of Chinese tourists, so I followed them around the store for the free samples. The coconut chocolates were (or course) delicious; the sesame/white chocolate ones were surprisingly good; and the durian truffles were about as horrendous as they sound. I've now tried durian as a cake, as a shake, and in chocolate, and it's official – it's gross. Fruit shouldn't taste like onions, onions shouldn't taste like fruit, and oniony fruit should never come near chocolate. Amen.

In the middle of KL there's a jungle called the KLCC Park . If this were New York it would be Central Park, but since it's Malaysia it's a jungle. It's centered on a hill with some hiking paths, and at the top is the KL Tower. I hiked my way up to the tower but didn't feel like paying the equivalent of about seventeen bucks for a ticket to the top, so instead I had some mediocre Indian food at the base and kept walking. It's an odd feeling, coming out of a jungle path and immediately being faced with a big ol' tourist attraction, complete with overpriced cafes, pony rides, and a flight simulator. Then five minutes later you're back in the forest, watching out for poisonous snakes with nary a soul in sight. At the bottom, back on the main road, was a forest conservation center, and out front were two museum staff, three tourists, and a monkey, who was climbing all over them. This particular monkey, it turns out, was about nine months old and named Norah. She may well have been a macaque, though I couldn't swear to it. The story is that she came from the park but was orphaned and adopted by the conservation center staff. When I first arrived she was sitting on top of a trash bin at about eye height. She took one look at me, got a look on her face like a cat about to pounce, and launched herself at my head. It was my sunglasses – never wear anything shiny when there's a friendly monkey around. She grabbed them and ran, then sat on the ground playing with them for a while before the staff managed to get them back. After being warned that she also likes to eat earrings I took out my dangles, but apparently that wasn't enough – in her next attack, Norah went straight for my ear and pulled out a stud. I managed to grab her hand before she could eat it, and we wrestled for a while before I got it back. But once I'd taken off the rest of my earrings and my watch she was a lot of fun. Baby monkeys are adorable.

From there I kept walking. I saw the Independence Plaza, where the first Malaysian flag was raised after independence in the sixties, got caught in a rainstorm outside the country club where Somerset Maugham used to drink (still members-only inside; I had to wait under the awning for the storm to let up), went into the Jamek Mosque (brought my own headscarf and jacket to avoid having to wear their ridiculous robes), just missed visiting the National Mosque, and got lost a few times. At 8pm I caught a train three hours south to Gemas, and from there started my trek north.

The Perhentian Islands: Pulau Surga

From Gemas the next morning I took the Jungle Line up through central Malaysia to Wakaf Bahru for the Perhentian Islands. There's an overnight train, but I'd read that the scenery was spectacular so I settled in for a long ride on the day train instead. It did not disappoint. At Wakaf Bahru I split a cab with a couple of other backpackers to Kuala Besut, a little town on the coast with ferries over to the islands. That province of Malaysia is especially conservative, and it's Ramadhan, so we had to wait another half hour for evening prayers to finish before the hotels and restaurants opened for the night. Dinner was delicious – thank you E-Ching for introducing me to the Malaysian/Singaporean deliciousness that is roti canai pisang, or a buttery chapati-style Indian flatbread filled with bananas and dipped in curry sauce. The hotel, not so much. What's with Malaysian hotel rooms not having windows? That's three for three. Which isn't that big a deal except that the bathroom smelled of mildew – this being SE Asia it was one of those tile rooms with a drain in the corner and a shower head next to the toilet, but instead of tilting towards the drain the floor just sagged in the middle, so the water never really went away. Bravo on the engineering there. The sink took its cue from the floor and didn't drain either. Classy place.

The next morning we got up to get to the pier at 6:30 for a ferry which, of course, didn't leave til 7:30. Ramadhan still, so no breakfast available. The “ferry” was a largish speedboat, and in about half an hour we pulled up to the pier at Coral Bay, the smaller and quieter of the two main beaches. Most places there were fully booked, even on a Tuesday morning, but I managed to find a little cabin – with attached bathroom! - for about $20/night.

Everything I'd read about the Perhentians described them as low-key, undiscovered, and underdeveloped, with gorgeous beaches and world-class diving, what Ko Tao in Thailand used to be before it got overrun with tourists (and before its namesake turtles decided it was too crowded for their taste and moved to Perhentian instead). I'd actually originally planned to go to Ko Tao, but decided tht this sounded more my style. I was right. There's two islands, Perhentian Kecil (the small one) and Perhentian Besar (the big one). Kecil, where I stayed, is cheaper and has more going on; Besar is quieter and more expensive. There's no roads, no cars, no motorbikes; just a bunch of speedboats between the islands and brick paths through the jungle to get from one beach to the other. No ATMs and few places that take credit cards, so bring your ringgits in cash. Guests are mostly European backpackers and a couple of Canadians – I don't think I met another American the whole time I was there. Two months in Java and a childhood of summer in the Adirondacks were good preparation for a week in the Perhentians – most places, mine included, have no wifi, no AC, no hot water, and electricity only twelve hours a day, so you can turn on the lights and the fan at night. It was, shall we say, bare-bones. (For the less-rugged, there's at least one or two places with all the modern comforts, but you do pay for them.) That said, if you've been sweating in the sun all day, and the water's been heated by the sun all day, a nice cool shower before dinner is actually pretty refreshing, and it cools down enough at night that a fan and open windows do the trick. It was a nice balance, a place where I could be alone after two months of constant group time in Malang but not isolated, since everyone from the guy at the shop where I bought my bottled water and paid for my room to the staff at the dive shop and the other divers and snorkelers were all super-friendly, so I was never lacking for conversation if I wanted it.

There's really nothing to do on the island other than eat, sleep, swim, and relax on the beach, so I did a lot of all four. My first day, after finally finding breakfast – no Ramadhan in a tourist economy – I found a snorkeling trip. In six hours we hit up five sites plus lunch at the fishing village on Besar. I'd been bowled over last year by snorkeling off the beach in Zihuatenejo; well Mexico's got nothing on Malaysia. The islands are surrounded by spectacular coral reefs and ringed by big granite boulders on the shoreline, which means that nearly anything that swims in that part of the world lives there. As my diving guide said later on, open up the fish identification book, close your eyes and point to something; chances are you just saw it underwater. There was a sea turtle, spotted rays, two black-tipped sharks, barracuda, sergeant majors, giant sea slugs, urchins, anemones with clownfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, normal parrotfish, giant bumphead parrotfish, mackerel, yellow boxfish, and plenty of other brightly-colored critters that I have no idea what they were. (The picture of the spotted ray was indeed taken at the Perhentians, but not by me - I pulled it off the internet.) There were even some monkeys on the shoreline at one point. My underwater camera had nowhere near enough shots on it; I can only hope some of them came out. (Mom? Dad? Christmas? Digital?) Of course there was a catch, which in this case was that the water-resistant sunscreen I'd slathered on actually resisted the water for about half a second before it ran screaming, and I got nicely seared all along my back and the backs of my legs. I'm talking Maine lobster red; sitting down was seriously painful for several days afterwards.

That didn't stop me from going scuba diving five times over the next three days though. Good luck getting so much as a freckle when you're 30+ feet down and wearing a wetsuit (though getting that wetsuit on and off was less than fun). The diving there is cheap, and even more spectacular than the snorkeling, especially after my second dive when the divemaster fixed my mask so it wouldn't fog up anymore and I could actually see. I ended up at a dive shop about three minutes' walk from my cabin, run by a Canadian named Shane with excellent abs. If I were Elizabeth Gilbert we would have fallen in love and had a passionate international affair; as is I admired his abs in the boat and wondered a bit if there was anything more than bubbles between his ears. In any case he was an excellent guide, and over the next few days I saw everything I'd seen snorkeling but closer up this time, along with huge porcupine pufferfish, triggerfish, nudibranch, wrasse, a Jenkin's ray, and again plenty of other gorgeous things whose names I've forgotten. All that time and money I spent getting certified last semester – totally worth it. I was supposed to leave for Thailand on Friday morning, but they were doing a dive to a pretty incredible site called the Temple of the Sea that day – 24 meters deep! Great fish! - so I stuck around an extra day.

The rest of my time was spent stretched out in the shade reading. Over the course of the summer I got through all three Steig Larsson books. My advice: read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The writing's a little awkward, and he name-drops brands left and right, but the plot's good. Skip the other two. Once he started getting into defected Russian spies and giants who feel no pain, he lost me. What is this, John Le Carre meets Carl Hiassen in Sweden? They both do it better. Stick to your little locked-room mysteries, Steig.

And the food. Not mind-blowing, like Singapore or Bangkok, but stick to the curries and the roti and you'll do pretty well. Anywhere in SE Asia with backpackers will have banana pancakes, which are worth a go, even if, like in Bali, they're more thick crepes than pancakes. Actually, the best ones I had were lime rather than banana. This being the tropics the juices were great, of course – two that stand out in particular were a bright purple dragon fruit on blended with ice and a carrot/apple/lime/honey, but I went through plenty of watermelon and soursop too. (Why are things like soursop and dragon fruit so hard to find in the US? And forget about mangosteen. If you want good fruit, go to SE Asia.) And every restaurant had an evening barbeque, with chicken and various kinds of just-caught fish grilled over coals and served with your choice of sauce. Again, go for the curry. I don't know what's in it – coconut milk, turmeric, deliciousness – but damn it's good. There's plenty of pizza and pasta and such on the island as well, but I don't know why you'd bother. Unless they put curry on top...

And I should say a word about the wildlife on the island. Fish, yes, and I mentioned the monkeys, though I only saw them from afar. Plenty of stray cats, this being Asia. But what sticks with me is the monitor lizards. You've seen them in zoos; they're related to Komodo dragons, carnivorous, and according to Wikipedia often smart enough to count. Luckily they're also reasonably scared of people. I surprised one lounging near the trail between the beaches one afternoon; it saw me and bolted. It was moving fast but I'd put it at around five feet long, which is entirely possible (again, according to Wiki). There was a smaller one, maybe three feet, that liked to hang around near my cabin and under my porch, which wasn't too disconcerting until I watched it march across the path and climb a tree. If it can climb a tree it can climb a porch. Or a cabin. And I'd heard something skittering around my roof the night before, which may or may not have been a cat. And I sleep with the windows open...

Bangkok: The Big Mango (who comes up with these nicknames, anyway?)

Saturday morning I finally tore myself away from the islands – and I was running out of cash; thank goodness the dive shop took Mastercard – and headed for the Thai border. 8Am ferry back to Kuala Besut, then I split an hour and a half long cab ride to the border town on Sungai Kolok. ($15 each. New York City this ain't.) You stamp out at a window on the Malaysian side, cross a bridge over the Golok river, and stamp in on the Thai side. From there it's a half-mile walk to the train station, and a 20-hour train ride in a first-class air-conditioned sleeper car to Bangkok. Or so I thought, based on the reading I'd done. Actually, on that particular day at least, it's a 24-hour ride on a fan-cooled train with seats that lean back a little. But I'll get to that. I arrived around 10am Thai time and my train wasn't til 2:20 (in reality 3:15, since when does anything happen on time in that part of the world?), so I wandered around a bit. I passed a market and decided to buy a bunch of bananas, since who knew what the food situation on the train would be and besides, southern Thailand is very Muslim and it was still Ramadhan, so there might not be anything til sunset. Thank god I did, too. I found a place serving lunch (heathens!) and talked to some Malay highschoolers while I ate. That close to the border everyone speaks Malay, which is nearly the same as Indonesian, so I got by just fine.

The train, when it finally arrived, was reasonably comfortable, at least for the first few hours. A few stops in someone handed me a note: “Hello, It's nice to meet you. I would like to talk with you. -Thailand” Well you know what, Thailand? I'd like to have a talk with you, too. First of all, this train. Special express, says the website? Then why are we stopping in every little podunk town between here and Bangkok? And it's hot and humid here – no more cool mountain air – even with the fans going and the windows open I'm sweating like nothing else. What happened to my AC? And my sleeper car, while we're at it? I was expecting a bed tonight, not a plastic-upholstered slightly-reclining chair. Also, Bangkok. Great temples and all, and the food's incredible, but why do I feel like I'm being constantly scammed? No, the government isn't subsidizing tuk-tuk rides specially today; you just get a cheaper ride if the driver takes you to a shopping center along the way because that way he gets a free gas card. So why do people keep telling me this? No, man on the corner, the temples and the subway aren't closed til 3pm for cleaning on Mondays, actually everything's up and running normally. Thanks for that. It may have actually been a Buddhist holiday, but frankly I'm starting to doubt it. National Fuck With The Tourist Day, maybe. (That can't be good karma.) And so on. Look, if you don't want me here just say so, alright? All this smiling and lying is not cool. (No, I didn't go talk to the guy with the note.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Thailand is beautiful, and large, and apparently full of cows, even more so than Malaysia. The whole place smells like delicious food; even when we were passing through nasty industrial zones on the outskirts of Bangkok somehow the smell wafting in through the windows was of lunch. The food situation on the train was less fantastic. Every so often people would walk down the aisles selling drinks, snacks, and sometimes meals in styrofoam containers. The problem of course, aside from the usual concerns about street food in tropical climates, being that I had no idea what was in them (and in this part of the world you really do want to know), no way to ask, and no way to understand the answer. Same goes for the price. So I ate bananas and coconut cookies. Again, thank god for those bananas. At one point in the morning a guy went past selling omelets over rice (with a cellophane top, so I could see it). I was hungry and getting sick of bananas, so I pointed, handed him what I assumed was too large a bill, and got what I hope was the right amount of change. It was an awfully good egg.

The southern provinces of Thailand, as I mentioned before, are Muslim to the rest of the country's Buddhism, and there's some separatist groups trying not entirely peacefully to win independence, so for the first eight or nine hours each car had a couple soldiers with machine guns for safety. Yeah, that makes me feel real good about my travel plans. It was mostly uneventful – a couple of times the train stopped in the middle of nowhere and the soldiers stuck their heads & guns out the window to look around, but that was mostly it. The one bit of excitement happened around 1am in lord knows what small town. There was some shouting in a car behind us before we pulled into the station, and everyone in the car was turned around, necks craned, to see what was going on. I don't speak Thai, so don't ask me. At the station the yellers got off, still far enough back that I couldn't see. It sounded like two or three men and one very shrieky woman. We sat there as they yelled for maybe forty minutes. Still no idea what was actually happening – maybe an argument? Maybe someone caught a thief? - but still it was interesting enough for everyone to stick their heads out the windows to try to watch. Finally we pulled away, and as we were going I heard from the station a gunshot, followed a few seconds later by a second. We kept going; I fell back asleep.

The other problem of all this was my sunburn. It had gotten less painful by the time I left Malaysia, but all this sitting was starting to really sting, and by the morning when I went to the bathroom I looked down and saw big chunks of skin peeling off my legs, probably prematurely from those damn seats. I looked like a victim of radiation poisoning, which actually I kind of was. (I'm still peeling from those damn sunburns, and it's September 1st.) That along with the heat and the fact that the seats really weren't all that comfortable made the last few hours of the trip rather unpleasant. Even gorgeous tropical landscapes get boring after 15 hours or so. I don't think I've ever been so happy as when we finally pulled in to the station in Bangkok.

The best part of Bangkok was my hostel. I was paying $12/night for a bunk bed in a dorm, but it was clean, and had hot showers, air conditioning, good wifi, and 24-hour electricity – I may as well have been at the Ritz. Also, across the street was a little place with a sign out front that said 'Duck House'. They served duck. Over two breakfasts I tried their duck soup and their roast duck with rice & chinese broccoli, both of which may have been the best duck I've had in my life. With a bottle of something to drink it came to a little under $2 a meal. Not half bad, eh?

The other great meal I had was on my first full day there. I was walking around the Democracy Monument (funny, that), and turned off onto a side street with a bunch of cafes. I picked one mostly by smell. They didn't speak any English, and I don't have a word of Thai, so I sat down and pointed to a picture on the menu. They pointed insistently at a picture of a basket of sticky rice to go with it, so I nodded. I swear, that lunch (which I found out later was larb) was one of the best things I've eaten ever. Again, I think it cost me about $2.

My first day was mostly temples, a lot of walking – Thailand has a wonderful subway and skytrain system, but it doesn't go anywhere near the parts of town with most of the sites – a lot of natives telling me I had to go see this or that site and pointing me to a tuk-tuk, which took me first to where I wanted to go and then to a tailor. Soon enough I gave up on those. The temples are gorgeous, of course, and I saw a lot of gold buddhas before the day was out. That evening I met up with my friend Fatima from CLS who's doing an internship at the UN in Bangkok for the fall and two of her friends at Khoasan Road, the backpacker center of Bangkok. We had dinner at an Israeli place – they'd been interning in a small town to the north for a few months and were somehow sick of Thai food – which was good but couldn't compare to the duck or the larb.

Tuesday I decided I was templed out, so I signed up for a cooking class at a vegetarian restaurant with a good reputation for such things. In the morning, after my duck breakfast, I wandered around the neighborhood of the hostel a bit and then caught a cab – no stops at tailors – out to the class. There were three people signed up but I was the only one who showed, so it ended up being basically a private lesson. The food was delicious, and I bought some of their curry pastes on the way out. That evening I got a foot massage and a mani-pedi, not as cheap as in Bali but still better than the States, an here they use nail polish. That night Fatima and her friends and I met up at the Vertigo Bar on top of the Banyan Tree hotel, one of the poshest spots in Bangkok. It's a rooftop bar on the 59th floor, overlooking the entire city. (Again, not New York – this was the tallest building around.) I had a Singapore sling – it seemed appropriate. The view really was spectacular. Not a bad way to spend my last night in Asia.

New York: The Big Apple

Wednesday morning I took a flight to Singapore, then had about ten hours to go back to E-Ching's house, repack all my stuff, eat dinner, and go back to the airport. It was a 24-hour trip from takeoff in Singapore to landing in JFK. My advice, next time you've got a long flight: fly Emirates. Seriously nice. There were hot towels before takeoff, blankets made of actual fabric, individual screens a great movie list – I saw Iron Man 2, Up In The Air, and The Men Who Stare at Goats; it was a George Clooney kind of day – even little stars in the ceiling when they turned down the lights. Before takeoff in Dubai – a 14-hour flight – they handed out little bags with a pair of socks, an eyemask, a toothbrush and toothpaste – I haven't seen that since I flew British Air in the mid-'90s. And, most shockingly of all, the food was actually good. Like, I enjoyed eating it. Mostly it was sort of Indian-leaning; I had a lamb dish, and one with mutton, and a chicken tikka wrap, as well as a nice European omelet. They even gave out metal silverware in coach. (Things I don't understand: going through security at the gate in Singapore, they confiscated my cuticle clippers. Since they're small enough to be legal to fly with in the US, I asked why, if it was special for flights to Dubai or what; the lady said you couldn't fly out of Singapore with them. I didn't point out that I'd already flown out of Singapore with them twice in the last two weeks. Come mealtime though I had to wonder – my cuticle clippers are too dangerous, but you give me a metal butter knife? Sure, that makes sense.) Anyway, landed In JFK, got through customs without a hitch – have I been near livestock? Of course not, there were no sheep walking past my house every morning or chickens in the streets. And plant products? Please ignore the coffee & tea & curry pastes in my bag, thanks. - took a cab to Jaime's and spent the night in Brooklyn. First thing I ate back was a slice of pepperoni pizza, and a bagel for breakfast. Friday morning I caught the train up to New Haven and now I'm home.

The one thing that's really struck me here is how quiet it is. No call to prayer five times a day, no kaki limas going past ringing bells or hitting sticks or yelling to advertize their food, no sari roti song, no sheep, no mufflerless sepeda motors, not even many cars on my street. Everything here is closed off from the street instead of spilling out into it like in Indonesia. Frankly, it's a little boring. Sorry, Connecticut. Plus I can't find tempeh for sale anywhere.

So that's the end of that. Congrats if you made it this far. I'll be writing again next time I go somewhere interesting, which hopefully will be later this year but who knows. Sampai nanti...

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