Leaving home at 2pm on Sunday, I never arrived in Jakarta until 8pm local time (5 hour time difference) Monday. Feeling utterly shattered, since a screaming brat on the Jumbo ensured no-one slept for the entire journey, I was ready to turn in for the night when I got to the hotel. But a French ex fighter pilot named Serge I met in the reception lounge had other ideas. He was itching to go out on the town, and decided I was now his best mate.
Since it was still early, and you don't get to 'DO' Jakarta every day of the week (or any day of your life, for that matter) I was talked into accompanying him. To be honest, it didn't take much persuading. I think he mentioned the word 'BEER'. Ok, he'd found my weak spot!
Calling a fancy stretched white limosine, we sallied forth into the night. What a place!!! The contrast between have's, and have not's is overpowering. There we were, ordering drinks at what I thought were ridiculously cheap prices, till I was informed that what I'd just spent was what a lot of people here worked a whole month for...Hmmmmmm...makes you think.
Anyway, the French guy spoke fluent Indonesian, since he'd been working there for 16 years, and he was determined to give me a good night. After we'd done 5 different bars, each one completely different in theme, but teeming with girls, we turned up at the Hard Rock Cafe around 3am. More crumpet than you could shake a very large stick at. In England, most generally, guys chase the girls. In Indonesia it's a complete reverse, and then some. He asked if I fancied one for the night. I looked at him in disbelief, I couldn't believe what he was saying. Surely it couldn't be that easy? He told me that if you are white and European, you only have to stand there and the women flock to you. Smile at one and you're as good as in bed with them. Unbelievable to a shy, retiring bloke like me...Ahem. So I tried it. Look... smile... bugger me, she's coming over! and she had a gorgeous friend as well.
So the French guy did the chatting, (easy when you speak the lingo) and I just stood there like a lemon, dribbling into my beer, thinking "I hope they ARE girls" After a short while he told me it was sorted, and they are both coming back to the hotel with us. Holy moly, I've cracked it on my first night abroad. Suddenly, there was a huge commotion, and both girls came rushing to me and clung on like limpets. It turned out the Frenchie had enquired about the price for both of them, and they went bananas. It turned out they were not "Working girls" as Serge had mistaken them for, but a couple of friends visiting their family in the city.
They then insisted they were both coming back only to my room for the night, and Serge could stuff himself. (It may have lost something in the translation, but that's what it sounded like) OH MY GOD!!!. Surely this can't be happening. I remembered my room had a 7 foot wide king size bed, and you cannot imagine the fantasies going through my noggin at that moment. My last safety brain cell had now been switched off by the heady mixture of tiredness, alcohol, exotic perfume and pure unaldulterated LUST... So off we went to call a cab back to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. As we climbed in, the girls stepped towards the limo. Serge then snapped something at the driver, and we screeched off up the road, leaving the girls waving their arms frantically towards us. "What's going on ?" I wailed, seeing my horny night disappearing into the distance. "If I can't have them, nor can you" he growled back at me.
He's now my ex French mate, but looking back, he probably saved me from a visit to the clinic, or a frenzied attack on my privates in the morning with a bottle of Brobat and a wire brush.
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I woke up from my night in Jakarta with the throbbing of jungle tom-toms beating in my head. Or rather, it just felt like it after the gross amount of booze I'd consumed, and only a couple of hours sleep. Frantically throwing my belongings in a suitcase (I was more than a little over my scheduled wake up time) I scrambled out of the luxurious room I'd spent so little time in. One night, no evening meal or breakfast, £200. That focuses the mind when you look around outside at the reality of dire Indonesian poverty. Feeling really guilty about what I'd just spent on my accommodation, I sped to the railway station in a plush air conditioned limousine. Well, sped!!! Let's rephrase that. Nose to nose, bumper to bumper, beep beep, parp, parp, get out of the f*****g way more clarifies the snails pace journey through the center of Jakarta's sprawling metropolis.
Arriving at the railway station, I was horrified by the confusion and chaos that enveloped the place. Imagine dumping the entire population of a small African country into a place not much bigger than Fareham railway station and you are beginning to picture the scene. Bodies everywhere, all accompanied by the acid smell of rancid sweat. No room to move, or escape from it. I was continually jostled and bumped about all the way on to the platform. Being very aware of the amount of potential pickpockets about, I kept my wallet wedged firmly in my underpants. Let them try getting that without copping a handful of something nasty. Once there, I tried to find someone with the slightest comprehension of English so as to locate my train. There are only a couple of platforms, so it shouldn't have been that hard, but I remember my colleagues on their previous trip there totally cocked up and got on the wrong one. Java is a very big Island, get it wrong on an express train and you could end up 1500 miles the wrong way with no way of getting off. OOPS!!! Try explaining that on your expense sheet. By a process of elimination I found mine, and clambered on.
I was very pleased with myself that I had kept the swarms of predatory porters at bay till I got to my allotted seat. As soon as they touch your baggage, you've lost it. If they only carry it 5 yards, it cost 5000 rupiah per bag to buy them back. Little bleeders, I hate them. You need eyes in the back of your head to keep them off. Feeling rather smug, I settled down to enjoy the journey. Then I looked around. Whah!!! The window beside my head had a bullet entrance hole, with the exit hole on the opposing side of the carriage. Gulp!!! If someone was taking pot shots at the train, I didn't want to be a target. So I stuck my head firmly against the shattered glass. The theory being that he would have to be a bloody good shot to get another bullet through the same hole twice.
The train pulled away, and the lack of a credible suspension system on the chuffer became immediately noticeable. It rocked about like zebberdee on drugs (Magic roundabout reference, for those under 40). Marry that with the total lack of alignment of their rails, and it made for a ride that can only be described as "Interesting" We were shaken about like eggs in a blender for over 2 hours in what was comically called the "Executive" carriage. God knows what the other ones were like. I wasn't brave enough to find out. Next time, to satisfy my morbid curiosity and sick sense of humour, I must have a look. Anyway, we traveled on at a fair old lick considering the state of the rolling stock, through open plains of paddy rice fields which gradually evolved into thick luxurious jungle. A particularly funny incident happened when a mosquito managed to claw its way in through my personal window bullet hole. Everyone on my coach jumped up like an epileptic sand fairy, and had a go at splatting it. I got a round of applause when I finally copped it with a rolled up magazine. Malaria obviously holds some fear for them. Some of the bridges we crossed had the appearance of being built from balsa wood during the Neolithic period. Talk about unstable, what with the rocking of the train, and the rolling of the bridge, I felt like Jerry-Lee Louis. It was a bloody miracle I wasn't sea-sick. Peering down the seemingly 1000 or so feet to what looked like a snake infested swamp I wondered about my sanity in taking on this job. If this bridge collapsed, there would be no attempt at a rescue, or come to that, no chance of any survivors. It didn't appear to bother the locals on the train, but then life is cheap out there. Approaching the mountain range that surrounds Bandung city, I peered into the distance to try and see the active volcano that towers only 15 miles from it. Unfortunately the thick bank of smog and sulphur that envelopes the entire area completely blanked it out. Probably just as well, if I'd seen any lava I may well have gone into stress overload. I'd already heard they had an earthquake there only a week before I arrived.
As we pulled into Bandung Station, I was overjoyed to see a familiar face on the platform waiting for me. My agent for the week. Perhaps he could restore some sanity into what I considered a completely alien world.
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To anyone who hasn't had any previous experience of the third world, myself included, it comes as one hell of a shock to the uninitiated. Poverty, hunger and squalor on a scale unimaginable to a European. People young and old starving in the streets. Trains so overloaded with humanity they are hanging off the roof, bulging out the doors, and bursting through the windows. Rubbish everywhere. Nothing is ever thrown away, it is simply recycled down through a multitude of levels, to the point where the only stuff left is burnt and used to cook whatever people can find to eat. Interestingly, I never saw a single stray cat or dog the whole week I was there. I wonder where they all went???
Just so you don't think I had one big party on the other side of the world, I'd like to recount a serious incident which could have had dire consequences. On the morning of my last day, I thought I'd take a walk down to the traditional market which is held through the main road running down from the Sheraton Hotel. It was only 8.30am, and you would think you'd be pretty safe that time of the morning as those lucky enough to have a job would be preparing to go to work, and there would be plenty of reasonable people around.
Wrong..... I'd only walked about 50 yards when I got this strange uncanny feeling of being followed. When I glanced nervously back over my shoulder, I realised with some trepidation that the multitude of the great unwashed who normally just squat alongside the filth ridden street had mostly stood up and were slowly making their way towards me. The hair stood up on the back of my neck as I realised the dangerous situation I'd put myself in and how vulnerable I'd become.
Hoping to make a hasty exit back to the hotel, I took my life in my hands and darted between the melee of cars and motorcycles across the road. As I jumped up on the other side, to my horror I saw that half of the ugly bunch following me had crossed as well, cutting off my line of escape. "Oh shit, I want my mum" flashed through my mind. What do you do in a situation like this? Throw all your money in the air and run like hell? Fall down on your knees and beg for mercy? Pretend you're Bruce Lee, and start kicking wildy in all directions? None of these! I'm eternally grateful to say that from the corner of my blood-shot eyes (I'd had a rough night) I noticed the familiar shape of a hotel limo making its way smoothly towards me. Taking my life in my hands (I had nothing to lose) I leaped out in front of it and flagged it down. This is no mean feat, because beggars try this ploy all the time and they virtually never stop. But he could see I was in desperate trouble, and in the very nick of time unlocked his doors and I scrambled in. Boy did I owe that driver a drink. As he locked the doors again, the mob almost rioted outside the car.
10 seconds later, I was safely back in the resplendent confines of the hotel again. Phew!!! That was close. Change of underpants required. Don't think I'll be going outside of the hotel on my own again in a hurry . Do I get danger money for this job???
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After my nerve wracking walkabout outside of the hotel, the prospect of the train ride back to Jakarta filled me with trepidation. I never got the window with my personal bullet hole this time, which in my eyes only increased the risk of being shot at. But a bonus was that this train actually had a TV screen at the end of the coach, just like in an Airplane.
You had to laugh, no suspension on the ruddy train, but you had a TV to take you're mind off the bone jarring journey. What really tickled me was the program they were playing. Of all things, Mr Bean. He's really big in the third world by all accounts. It appeals to their simple sense of humour. I became quite a celebrity amongst the multitude of mixed race passengers when I remarked to the young chinese girl sitting next to me that this particular episode was made just down the road from where I live. (It was the one they filmed in Southsea, at the fairground). She stood up and announced it in 4 different languages (smart arse).
Boy did I feel a plonker, everyone trying to talk to me, and I couldn't understand a bloody word. Sometimes being English makes you feel so inadequate. We started chatting about Indonesian food and things in general, and she told me she liked dog. When the look of revulsion and shock appeared on my face, she hastily added that she had one at home very much alive. We had obviously been talking at cross purposes. In one week I had eaten roasted goldfish, I'm pretty sure I ate snake, but I do hope I never partook of poodle. (Whatever you do, never order a hot dog in Indonesia. You are very likely to get one...literally... with chips!!!) . One Japanese eating establishment I visited blew me away with the choice of fishy things you could eat with rice. Unfortunately, all of them looked raw, and I swear that some were still flapping about. Perhaps you were supposed to kill them with your chopsticks! I never stopped to find out. The remainder of the trip was mostly uneventful, which I was very grateful for as it gave me an opportunity to take in some of the fabulous scenery along the way. As the sweeping mountain ranges gave way to the more gentle sloping rice terraces once more, I took stock of the simple lives that the peasants led in this part of the world. With oxen pulling their ploughs, and back breaking work on the land from dawn to dusk.
STUFF THAT!!! Give me all the hedonistic pleasures of the Western culture. You can keep the Good Life. Forget it, it doesn't exist. All I saw in their decrepit shanty towns was poverty, filth, disease and squalor. I couldn't wait to set foot back on good old English soil. I swear I will never complain about this country again. Trust me, when you live in England, you are residing in the promised land.
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On the Thursday of my week in Bandung, the IPTN Aerospace factory I was out there auditing were expecting a visit from their current Indonesian president. This was a very big day for them, as you can imagine, and I was told everyone would be in their best bib and tucker for this splendid occasion. I was politely informed that it would be respectful if I made an effort as well (cheeky little buggers) Ok, not a problem, I'd bought a new suit the day before I went out there, so I was well prepared to do the biz. Thursday morning arrived, and I duly got myself all poofed up. Shirt, tie, woolly suit. Bearing in mind Indonesia is almost directly on the equator, and not to put too fine a point on it, it's pigging hot. An average day all the year round is mid to high 30's (90F ish) in the shade, the only difference is in the Monsoon season when you get hot rain. So we get to the factory at 8.30am, and I could not believe my eyes. Lined up outside the main feature block to greet his holiness were all the top managers, executives, and directors standing there in what I can only describe as immensly bright and flowery Hawaiian shirts. It looked like a Big Gay Al convention from South Park. (Sorry, if you've never watched this sick program, but I'm sure you get the idea). My contact guy Ari apologized profusely, explaining that the woofter shirts they were all wearing were actually called Batiks, and were traditional Indonesian dress for special occasions. I wish I'd known in advance, I'm sure I had one or two dodgy shirts from fancy dress parties that would have fitted the bill. It suddenly dawned on me that I was the only white man here amongst more than 8000 Indonesians, and perhaps they had me lined up for a swift head-hunting party and into the cooking pot later. If they started sneaking onions and turnips into my pockets, I was out of there. I stood there slowly melting in the blazing sun all trussed up like a pox-doctors clerk and looking a prize prune, as everyone else gaily flourished their armpits to the garrison of Presidential army protection personel who were swarming about like flies. Talk about the odd one out!!! I'll bloody well know next time.
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I've done some dangerous things in my life, including being the "chair monkey" whilst motorcycle sidecar racing at International level. But nothing eclipses last Fridays taxi journey from Jakarta railway station to the International Airport.
I had been warned about taking one of the dodgy taxis from the station, but I dropped my guard for just one second as the train neared the platform, and in the twinkling of an eye my suitcase and hand luggage had been whipped from under my nose by one of the "beep-beep" road-runner porters on the train. By the time I caught up with the little bastard, he was half way across the station, so it was too late to retrieve them without having to cough up some dough. So I let it ride, and followed him outside on to what laughingly passes as a concourse where all the taxi's queued up. He headed towards some posh looking cars and asked me if I wanted a cab anywhere (in Swahili I think, cos I couldn't make out a bloody word he was saying) I mouthed in very loud English....AIRPORT...thats the way you do it, isn't it? If they don't understand your lingo, you just say it louder....AIRRRRRPORRRRT....
Like a mug, I fell for it. He wafted straight through the posh cars, and out the other side. Arriving at the dodgiest looking toyota you've ever seen, he had my luggage in the boot before I had a chance to stop him.
Shit, I've done it now. Ok, it's my last day, let's give it a go, anything for a laugh. So I paid the porter, and climbed into the bag of this sorry heap of a jalopy. Big mistake.
The driver got in, and did what they always do out there because of security. He locked all the doors. I'm now trapped in the back of this shit-heap of a car. As we screech away I notice the inside of the car stinks of puke, and to my sheer horror, I realize the driver is pissed out of his brain. His head is swaying to and thro as we rocketed around the corners, occasionally slumping forward on to the steering wheel with his eyes shut, totally ignorant of anyone in his way. By now I'm pleading with him to let me out. No chance, he had a European fare (which is Indonesian for gold in his country), and I wasn't leaving till he'd got his dosh. So on we blasted, tyres squealing at every turn and braking point. Micheal Schumacher had nothing on this guy. ( By the way, this car had no air conditioning, which is almost mandatory in this part of the world, so I was sweating like a pig, half through sheer terror and half through the unbearable heat of the midday equatorial sun. The windows wouldn't wind down, and I thought I was going to die.) In Indonesia there are no rules of the road, no laws, no rights of way, no anything. It's just every lunatic for himself, and the horn is King. I never even sussed out if they are supposed to drive on the left or the right. It certainly never bothered this guy. Any side will do as long as we got passed the car in front.
Just before we got to the toll road leading to the International Airport, he completely lost it on a hairpin bend and sent two motorcyclists flying into the bushes. Not even bothering to stop to check if they were still alive, he gaily carried on as if nothing had happened. By now I was prepared to give him everything I had just to get out of this nightmare, but he would have none of it. The Airport I said, and the Airport it would be, if he had to kill everyone on the road to get there. The rest of the journey is just a blur which I'll remember sometime and wake up from screaming in the night, but thank God I made it in one piece.
NEVER AGAIN!!!!! Next time I book a limo from the hotel to pick me up. Incidentally, the next 5 hours at the airport were another nightmare, but that's another tale.
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Arriving at Jakarta International Airport at 2pm, grateful to still be alive after my nerve-jangling trip to the Outer Limits, I paid off the kamikazi taxi pilot. Beating off the hordes of porters trying to wrestle my bags away from me, (I had very little money left, and there is a 50,000 rupiah "Tax" to be paid to the rip off government officials, or they don't let you out of their poxy country) I staggered into the reception area to find the KLM gate. You've guessed it, I'd been dropped off at the wrong place. Under no circumstances was I getting into another dodgem taxi, so I half carried, half dragged my luggage the very considerable length of the departure gates.
When I finally located the KLM gate, there was no-one there. Steaming with frustration, I asked around to try and locate anyone who could speak English. Eventually I found an airport official who spoke French, so in my best 'O' level French I tried to find out some info on when the KLM gate would open. "5pm", he said. 5PM? 5PM????? Thats another 3 hours! "Oui" he congratulated me on my grasp of the 24 hour clock. But what the hell am I going to do for 3 hours in this God forsaken hole. This isn't exactly Heathrow departure lounge. He shrugged his shoulders, "not my problem". He knew the English for that, Bastard.
So I resigned myself to spending another hot and steamy 3 hours here, with nothing better to do than just laugh at what was going around me. Prostitutes were openly flaunting their wares up and down the length of the airport. Police officers would make a big show of moving them on, only to see them return 15 minutes later with a wad of notes in their hand from their last customer, and give a wad to the policemen to buy them off. I watched this happen regularly all afternoon, so it's obviously a normal scam for them. Everyone is in on corruption, from the lowest official to the President of the country. Ex President Soharto is in custody over there at the moment, accused of embezzling billions. I remember thinking to myself "How safe do you feel in a place where for the price of a meal you could probably get anyone you like bumped off".
After a while, my bladder reminded me it had been many hours since it's last trip to the little boys room. Problem! How to "go" whilst managing to retain my luggage within eyesight. Impossible. So I stacked it by the toilet door, no further than 15ft from where I would be standing. I felt a million slanty eyes watching my every move. Bugger this, so I took the lot in with me and piled it right behind where I would relieve myself. No sooner had I started to discharge, than I heard a rustling behind me. It was only the sodding toilet attendent having a good rummage through my hand luggage to see what he could purloin. I'd had a gutful of this, so beating him away, I collected all my belongings and spent the rest of the afternoon in a laughable Indonesian version of McDonalds.
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Fast food...That's the title given to the multitude of burgers and associated grub you get at a McDonalds, isn't it? Not at an Indonesian version! Although to be fair, the one I went into at Jakarta Airport wasn't exactly called McDonalds, but was a rip off version (just like their Rolex watches) I thinks it was called MicDunalds, or something very close. But it certainly looked inviting to someone who'd had nothing vaguely resembling a European meal for a week. So in I trotted, still dragging all my luggage with me, for you daren't take your eyes off it for a second (re. the previous toilet episode) Mmmmm, I fancied a Big-Mic...sorry, Big Mac. and fries. "With extra beef?" the waif of a girl asked. (Considering the place she was working, there wasn't an ounce of flesh on her. Perhaps it's a capital offense if they nick a chip. Come to think of it, no-one over there appeared to weigh more than 7 stone.) So, like a pratt, thinking "extra beef" meant "another burger" I nodded and waited in line for my nosh. And waited, and waited, and waited..... "Excuse me" I piped up from the back, in my best International loud English "Is my Big Mic ready yet?" The throng of hungry customers in front of me all turned around and looked daggers in my direction. I was very nervy that they may throw a few as well, so I put up and shut up. After what seemed an age, I finally got to the front. I noticed that behind the counter, food hygiene did not appear to stand very high on their agenda. Who am I kidding, that's an understatement of the 1st order. Some of the flies buzzing around the food had more fat on them than the staff, and judging by the times they landed on it I'm not surprised. With grave reservations, I watched them prepare my Irish burger. One slab of something vaguely resembling a quarter pounder went on the roll, followed by what can only be described as 2 slices of lard. This was obviously the "extra beef" that I'd ordered. They then buried the evidence of something nasty lurking underneath by shoveling on a mountain of lettuce, and decorated the top with some of the dodgiest mayonnaise I've ever seen. It was more yellow than the creamy white you expect. I'd now seen enough. I told the girl in no uncertain terms that they could stick their Big Mic where the sun doesn't shine, and started to walk off. Whoops, they didn't like that at all, and called over a policeman that was hanging around for his next bribe. Being very aware that this was not the place to be arguing with a copper (he did not your resemble your friendly local bobby, not with an AK 47 machine gun) I reluctantly paid the rip-off airport price for this piece of consumable garbage. It then went straight in the bin. Let me out of this Goddam country, I muttered angrily to myself. Roll on Singapore.
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Isn't it amazing how your outlook on life changes the moment you climb aboard an Airplane? One minute I'm in a Godforsaken airport from hell, the next I'm in a lovely air conditioned KLM Boeing 747-400 being waited on hand and foot by a gorgeous group of Dutch stewardesses. Although we hadn't even taken off yet, I already felt like I was back in Europe. Which was a bit odd really, because to the best of my knowledge I was the only Englishman on board.
Hard to believe, but I swear this is true. The plane was so smooth, I missed the take off. I was so knackered after my nightmarish return to Jakarta, that I dropped off for a moment whilst we were waiting on the runway for flight clearance. The first I knew about being airborne was when I was poked in the ribs by a Japanese woofter sitting beside me, who camply enquired if I wanted coffee.
Looking out of the window, Java gradually receded away into the night sky and within 40 minutes Singapore loomed large on the horizon. WHAT A DIFFERENCE!!! Singapore is wonderful, I cannot praise it highly enough, in stark contrast to Jakarta which is (if you'll excuse my French) a sh*t-hole. Everything is immaculate, you could eat your dinner off the runway, though I wouldn't advise it. The duty free shops are an Aladdins cave of electrical toys, the likes of which went mostly over my head since I didn't recognize most of them. Great though for techno freaks! I had an hour or so to kill, whilst the plane refueled, so I wandered around the maze of shops and bars. There was a live band playing upstairs in one of them. When I thought back to my air of desperation only 60 minutes earlier in Dantes Inferno, it all seemed like a bad dream. Now I could start looking forward to coming home.
After all, I said to myself, what else could possibly go wrong??? Talk about the kiss of death! The ride back on the Jumbo was very disconcerting, since we were cruising at very nearly 700 M.P.H. which is a lot quicker than most planes travel (I think we had a tail wind), but the upshot of it was we were losing 15 minutes of dawn for every hour we traveled. As the Earth revolves at 1000 mph this resulted in a 19 hour night. I began to realize how jet lag can effect you, because my stomach began to rumble at some very strange times during the next few days. This was my first go at long haul travel, and several days later I was still waking up at 2am ready for breakfast. As per the flight there, I had very little (if any) sleep. There is always something going on in a plane of that size. There hardly seems a moment when you are not being offered coffee, tea, biscuits, wine, beer, hot flannel, headphones, cushions, blankets, drugs, call girls, lap dancers....Ok, forget the last few. When we finally arrived at Skipol airport in Amsterdam, tiredness was really getting to me. I'd now been almost constantly awake for something well in excess of 32 hours. Your mind gets very addled when it doesn't get a break for that length of time. Today was still yesterday, if you get my drift. Everything that had happened to me from the scary walkabout in Bandung onwards was still crystal clear in my mind. It's a very odd feeling, which you have to experience to understand.
After disembarking from the Jumbo, I tried to work out where the gate was for my trip back to Heathrow. There was only 40 minutes to my connecting flight, and to my dismay, it was at the opposite side of the airport. Rats...Nothing for it but to start walking. You know how it is, when you're in a strange place, you tend to follow the crowd because everyone can't be wrong. But as I got nearer and nearer my alleged gate, less and less people headed that way.
By the time I got to the other side, out of the 400 passengers who got off my plane, there was only me and a very confused looking and non English speaking Chinaman left. Now call me paranoid, but that didn't sound right. So with very little time left, I left him there (which made HIM feel like he'd really got it wrong) and scurried the very considerable distance back to the KLM help desk. They told me that I was right all along, and if I didn't get my arse back pronto, I was going to miss my flight. DAMM and BLAST. I now had to leg it at breakneck pace back to where I'd just come from, and only just made it as they closed the gate. It made the Chinaman laugh though...
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What a glorious sight, the East coast of Britain from 30,000 feet at 7.30am. This view is normally accompanied by an air of manic depression, as it is usually seen at the tail end of a holiday. But this time I have never been so glad to see our native shores. The familiar profile of Old Father Thames came into view as it snaked its way into London. The plane actually flew straight over the top of the London Eye (the huge Big Wheel erected beside the Houses of Parliament) and then banked hard to the right. "Funny", I thought, "Heathrow isn't this way. Is the pilot lost? Perhaps he's just a little confused! Yep, that must be it, he's confused." We then cruised on for about 5 minutes, noticeably gaining altitude, "funny" I thought. As the plane banked hard left, the East coast of Britain swung into view. Hang on, I've just done that bit. No, I wasn't repeating myself, we'd been put into a large holding pattern. "Rack 'em, stack 'em, and pack 'em." (Quote from Die Hard 2) Everywhere I looked, above and below us there were planes going round and round.
Rats, here we go, the Tooley luck strikes again. All I wanted to do was get safely home and curl up in my own bed for a fortnight or so, and now it looked like even that little luxury was being withheld. 20 minutes or so later, we finally descended and landed. Thank God for that, only customs to go now and I'm on my way home............Brace yourself............... There was a large illuminated sign which said "E.U. Passport Holders this way" pointing to the left. But....there was another sign straight afterwards which said "Amsterdam Passengers this way" pointing to the right. Not knowing which one to take, I mulled it over for a minute, then thought "Well, so what" and went down the "Amsterdam" route. CLANG!!! What a mistaka to makaa. I came around the corner, only to find a huge queue leading to only two immigration officials, who seemed intent on knowing the entire life history of everyone who passed through their portals. Glancing around, I suddenly realized I had dropped a huge clanger, since by listening to the accents of everyone there it was obvious I was the only British passport holder. No problem, I'll just double back to the "E.U. Passport Holders this way" route. "Sorry sir" barked a jobsworth airport employee, "You cannot go back this way, you'll have to wait your turn in the queue" "But, but....I'm a British citizen, and I have a taxi waiting" He was having none of it. So for the next 45 minutes I seethed in a tortuous queue of multinationals knowing damm well I shouldn't be there. When it finally came to my turn, a smug faced official stated the bleeding obvious "You shouldn't be here sir, you're in the wrong queue" I could have smacked his patronizing face. Right, now just get through the "Nothing to declare" zone, and I'm out of here. Sod it, as I approached the green zone a young weasel faced customs officer, obviously intent on promotion, fixed his beady little eyes upon me. It was pretty obvious what was going to happen next. "Traveling on your own, Sir?" he asked. "Yes, I meekly replied" "And where have we just come from, Sir?" "I don't know about you, but I've just come from Amsterdam, but I'm not carrying any drugs" I tried to invoke a sense of humour into the banter, but he was now on a mission. "And where have we come from before Holland, sir?" I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I squeaked "Indonesia" "Would you mind stepping this way for a minute, sir, and place all your luggage on the table?" Oh Bums and willies!!! Haven't I had enough crap happen to me in the last week? This was all I needed. I was close to cracking, and perilously close to telling this whippersnapper his fortune. A little voice inside me told me to be polite, play the game, and perhaps he'll just give me the quick once over. Wrong. A minute? For the next half hour I got the third degree, with every single item I was carrying taken out and searched, including my whiffy socks. Served him bloody well right!!! When I gave him a knowing smirk, I was suddenly terrified that the old rubber gloves might come out for an internal forage about. So I quickly wiped it off my face. In all the years I've been traveling abroad, I have never had such a thorough going over. He even gave me a sweep with an electronic "Sniffing rod" to see if I had been carrying any narcotics. Why did he pick on me? Surely my bloodshot eyes with huge bags underneath, and the look of someone who hadn't slept for a week, hadn't influenced him. When he finally let me go, I rushed out into the arrival lounge to try and find my taxi driver. The poor bugger had been waiting for an hour and a half, and was on the point of giving up. One more minute and he'd have been gone. "Home James, and don't spare the horses" I cried. So ended my first trip to jolly old Indonesia. Roll on the next visit some time in October. I'm an older and somewhat wiser man now...
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