Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Coming Of Age In Indonesia

I have undergone an Indonesian rite of passage. It’s not circumcision. (I’m not a twelve year old boy.) It’s not leaping over a large rock. (I’m not from Nias.) It’s not sexual promiscuity. (That’s Samoa, not Indonesia.) It’s much simpler than all these: I have travelled.

Remembering how miserable the trip to Bali was, and having heard some good news about my future finances, I opted to splurge, somewhat, and fly home. However, there are no direct flights from Denpasar to Semarang, so I booked a flight to Surabaya and figured I could catch a bus from Surabaya to Semarang.

Mistake! As I sat in the airport for over five hours, waiting for my delayed plane, I rifled through my Lonely Planet again and realized, with a sinking feeling, that Surabaya is not three hours from Semarang, as I thought, but, depending on who you ask and what you ride, either five, seven, or nine agonizing hours.

I ran downstairs to the ticket offices, hoping to find a flight from Surabaya to Semarang. No dice. I called the bus station to ask about approximate distances—yep. Nine hours, putting me into Semarang at, roughly, four in the morning. I called the train station to ask about train times. My plane would be too late to catch the five o’clock, but maybe I would get lucky and on the seven o’clock. The train was clearly the way to go—I could take a taxi from the airport, hop on the train, and sleep until Semarang.

After much questioning in the Surabaya airport, though, I realized I would have to pay more for a taxi to the train station than for the train ticket itself. I changed my plans: ride a public bus from the airport to the bus station and ask about buses. Done.

Once at the bus station, though, I learned that, first, there were no luxury buses to Semarang, meaning I wouldn’t have airconditioning for those nine hours, and second…well, actually, that’s it. I mean, come on. Nine hours. Without AC. I just couldn’t do it.

I changed my plans again, wandering around the bus station until I found a guy with a motorcycle willing, for a price, to give me a ride to the train station. I balanced precariously, for about forty-five minutes, on the back of his motorcycle, clutching my bags tightly less they fall, and me with them, into Saturday night traffic in Indonesia’s second-largest city. At the train station, I paid him the $2.50 the ride cost, ran to the ticket counter, and bought a ticket for the seven o’clock just minutes before it was about to depart. After leaving Ubud around twelve noon, I arrived in Semarang at one in the morning, giving me a solid half-night’s sleep before waking up to teach Sunday School the next morning.

I’ve simplified the story somewhat, but in any case, this was a trial by fire: an epic journey, the kind that could only work because I can speak (some of) the language, and, therefore, successfully ask people for directions/rides/to stop staring and get the hell away from me, and I feel inordinate amounts of pride in having accomplished it. What’s more, I survived the whole trip without breaking down in the airport and paying $7 for People Magazine, without losing the Zen calm I’ve been practicing, and, what’s even more impressive, without breaking Lent and eating any of the chocolate I so desperately wanted. Now that’s real maturity. Give me the tattoos, driver’s license, alcohol, or whatever this culture uses to mark entry into society: I have passed the test. I have fought the good fight. I have come of age.


Melyngoch said...

Congratulations. I can't wait to see your tattoo.

Th. said...


This one looks nice and appropriately zenny.

Petra said...

th.: Looks good. Can I get it on my ankle?