Day 52: A New Friend

Trip Start May 20, 2008
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Trip End Aug 19, 2008


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Where I stayed
Ary's House in Surabaya

Flag of Indonesia  , Java,
Saturday, July 12, 2008

A 4:30 am wakeup call got me up just in time to catch the first bus to Borobudur, the nearby ancient Buddhist temple ruin, largest Buddhist complex in the world & hyped as one of SE Asia's truly great monuments. It lived up to the hype, but was very touristy and lacked some of the desolate jungle atmosphere googled pictures had promised. I bumped into the Spaniards here as well, who were doing fine and managed to get a room at that first guest house after sticking it out for a bit. It was at this point that my camera batteries decided to inconveniently die, forcing me to suck it up and buy a new pair from the resident merchant touts.

"Batteries are 30,000 Rp"
"Psshaw, ten thousand."
"20."

I was about to cave, but an adjacent Indian couple winked and whispered "No, pay only ten thousand." Perhaps due to their reassurance, I was victorious in getting the price I wanted. My bargaining skills have gotten quite the work out since this trip started, Cody had better watch out. Sunrise at Borobudur was gorgeous overall, though if this monument is considered on par with Angkor Wat I'm gonna brace for Angkor to mildly disappoint. Got some of the better pictures of the trip here as well.

It took until noon-ish to get back to the hotel, where I made a spontaneous decision to forgo the central marketplace (Jogja's last remaining sight I hadn't seen) and hop on the next train to Surabaya, the next big city on the Jogja-Bromo-Bali backpacker trail. Though it might sound like I rushed it, many of these SE Asian cities are low on sights and heavy on atmosphere, meaning one or two days is often enough in each place. A recommended itinerary for Vietnam in the Lonely Planet book scheduled just one night per town, for instance, and they're usually big on spending more time in less places. The train station had an unusual but efficient ticketing system, you get a number from a machine and when your number is called, you go up to the desk and buy your ticket without waiting in a line. During the wait for my number to be called, I met a middle aged Australian couple traveling in reverse direction from Lombok (the next island after Bali) to Jakarta. The wife seemed mute, but the chatty husband chatted a bit with me a bit. He was an HR psychologist and told me neat tales of his travels while I shared mine. After realizing how singularly awesome his accent was, I deliberately shut-up and let him do most of the talking. Australians have the greatest English accents I think, though according to Nepalis the American accent is the best (because it's apparently the easiest to understand.) The train I wanted was full, though there was another in an hour & I successfully reserved one of the last free seats on that one.

I was supposed to arrive in Surabaya by 7 (told the hotel I'd be there by 8), but the train broke down en route and wound up turning into a defacto semi-overnighter. It was just a bit miserable. While waiting on the tracks for them to pull the broken train away and send a new one in (a surprisingly fast process, though it took about a half hour for them to realize they needed to do this) I befriended 29 year old Ary, a shy Indonesian dentist who didn't look a day over 19. I assumed our brief interaction on the platform would be the extent of our friendship, but that did not turn out to be the case. About 2h out of Surabaya, the attendants began passing out meals of Nasi Goreng (shrimp fried rice.) Assuming it cost extra, I rejected the meal... but they forced it onto me saying "Here, for you friend!" ignoring or not understanding my cost inquiries. I ate the meal up, but feared them coming back around again to slap some rip-off bill on me. Sure enough, they did, after 30min or so... I eyed the Indonesian passenger next to me to check how much he was paying (a wise precaution, they like to overcharge oblivious whiteys), whipped out my money belt... and the attendant rejected my payment:

"No, your friend paid for you."
What? I had a friend?

She pointed to the back of the car, and I turned my head to see a smiling Ary standing up and waving his hand around. The only other time a near stranger paid for my dinner was over a decade ago at an Italian restaurant in Encinitas, Mommy should remember that well. Score more points for Indonesian friendliness. I had some tea sent his way on my dime later during the ride.

At 2am, the train finally pulled in to Surabaya Station. LP described this city as difficult to navigate and not cosmopolitan, something that made me very nervous considering my room had definitely been given away by this late hour. Ary approached and asked what my plans were. Without a room and considering the city's low number of attractions, I told him I was probably just going to stick around the station and join some Germans on the next train onward to Mt Bromo, skipping Surabaya entirely. This seemed to break his heart. Considering he paid for my dinner, a devious thought entered my head... "You know what would be awesome? If he let me stay the night at his house!" He met up with his elderly father, a petroleum executive at some local company (money was no object for these people, needless to say), who also inquired about my travel plans. I put on the classic puppy dog face and said "I was going to spend a night here, but the train was so late and I don't have a place to stay, gee golly gosh I don't know what I'm going to do now..."

"You should stay at our house! And then tomorrow, Ary can drive you around the city!"
"YES!"

For a traveler, a night in a local home is probably the best case accommodation scenario. It's usually free, and you get to experience a night as a real Indonesian and away from touristy things. I had struck backpacker gold. The family lived in an upscale (though not blow-you-away rich) area of the city and had a clean house. Ary asked if I was hungry, and despite my attempts to reject what was obviously another incoming free meal he drove me out to one of the only two local 24h eateries, a random seafood stall along a bridge. The other option was McDonald's, blegh. It was tasty to my easily amused taste buds, but Ary said it was sub-par by Indonesian seafood standards (which are very high.) I tried to pay for the fish, but again he rejected the money. I insisted I had no way to repay him for all this good he was doing and would do tomorrow, and he gave an apparently very good reason for his generosity: "Native English speakers are rare here, it is very important I practice with you. You talking with me is payment enough." =:-O

We returned to his house and I passed out, smile spread across my face.
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