Monday, 29 August 2011

Bintan, Indonesia

My passport says Indonesia, but I could really have been anywhere, lost in the polite anonymity of the resort hotel. The ferry ride there is uneventful. I read (The Solitude of Prime Numbers), listen to music (Fleet Foxes, Sigur Ros, Mumford & Sons, St. Germain), stare out of the window at the rain on the water.

It's pouring, and the sky is an unbroken sheet of heavy gray. It is perfect.

We arrive at Tanjung Pinang and disembark. Those of us who need to, wait to pay for our visa on arrival. The woman at the counter is unprepared to make change, and leaves for "5 minutes." She returns 20 minutes later, and leaves again. We are told she will be back in 5 minutes. We wait 15. Five more, we are told. "So, half an hour," I say, eliciting a laugh from the others. But, impatient as we may be, there is no anger. A shrugging acceptance of, "Oh, well. What can one expect?" There is more laughter than anything. The woman returns to a small cheer. We pay up and move to the next bottleneck. Going through immigration takes some time, and some fingerprints. Eventually, though, we are all through.

Outside, we wait for our shuttle. It smells of rain and smoke and sweat and fumes. Not unpleasant, as it turns out. Our shuttle driver arrives and we pile in. I end up at the front, with an unobstructed view of the traffic ahead.

I will never drive in Indonesia. It is cliche to speak of the traffic; but, dear heavens, the traffic. The concept of lanes is negligible, as are safe passing distances. Trucks, cars, SUVs, motorbikes, electric and not-electric bicycles swarm the streets in a cacophony of noise, fumes, and revving engines. Our driver is good, and navigates the melee expertly, but I still clutch my elbows, as there is no seatbelt and no armrest. The trip to the hotel is long, it is pouring, the streets are narrow. it is utterly unlike anything I have ever seen.

And then we arrive at the hotel. A resort, of all things. Also something not within my usual experience. I check in, am given my key, go to my room.

The bed is large. There is porch with chairs. It looks out onto the ocean. It is raining. It is perfect. For two days and one night, I read three more books (The Imperfectionists, Comfort Me with Apples, The Spy in the Coffee Machine: The End of Privacy as We Know It), have a decadent massage, walk on wet sand and rinse off my feet in the ocean and then again in the shower, drink lemon Perrier, sit on the porch, eat noodles with vegetables. I relax.

I check out, and sit on the restaurant deck waiting for the shuttle. The sun is shining, the breeze is cool off the ocean. It is perfect. We return to Tanjung Pinang the same way we came. At one point on the way back, on a narrow, twisting section of roadway, we follow a couple on a motorbike. He drives, she sits behind, legs stretched what looks uncomfortably wide around him, hands planted firmly on her knees. As they spin along the roadway, he reaches back, caresses her forearm, slowly takes her hand, cradles it around his waist, but when he grasps the handlebar again, her hand returns to her knee. He speaks, animated, turning his head, gesturing. Again, he reaches back, caresses, grasps, envelops. Again, she returns. As we pass them, her hand alights back on her knee for the third time. I wonder at their story.

We arrive at the ferry terminal, and wait for our boarding passes. We receive them, and go through immigration. The immigration officer sees my passport, looks at me, smiles, and says, "Obama." I smile back, and agree. "Obama."

We board the ferry, return to Singapore. I unlock the front door, and the door to my room. Unpack my things. Pick up dinner. Read and write emails.

I am, for the moment, home.

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