Cap Go Meh Festival in Singkawang

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photo courtesy of Ted Chang

Singkawang is different from other parts of Indonesia. The most common religion is Buddhism, followed by Confucianism, Islam, Protestantism then Catholicism. Nearly half the population are Hakka Chinese (followed by Teochew), and most of the population report they have some sort of Chinese lineage. There is definitely some racial tension between the Chinese and other ethnic Indonesians in West Kalimantan, and stereotypically, Chinese and Indigenous Borneans – Dayaks – will align themselves. But I don’t really know much about this, so I won’t go into it.

A sedan - you can see the nails which the Tatung have to stand on

A sedan – you can see the nails which the Tatung have to stand on

As Singkawang is predominantly Chinese, the Chinese New Year celebrations are much bigger than elsewhere. Cap Go Meh is a celebration held on the eve of the 15th day (last day of celebrations) after the Chinese New Year (literal translation is Cap = ten, Go= five, Meh = Night). It is a celebration to ward the evil spirits away from the new year, and to protect people. Traditionally it is celebrated in the evening with fireworks, but it has metamorphosed into something much greater than this in Singkawang.

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This year, Cap Go Meh fell on a Friday, which is a very big day for Islamic men whom are expected to attend mosque for 30 minutes to an hour (depending on what type of Islam is followed) at around midday. This meant, Cap Go Meh festivities needed to be finished by 11am. So, the festival started at 6am! I am unsure if this is the case every year, but I imagine it would be.

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We’d driven up to Singkawang Thursday evening, and Rob and I were reunited with Tommy, whom we have spent some time with previously. A group of us sat around chatting and drinking Tojak. One by one, everyone went to bed. Being the idiot that I am, I stayed up till 4am talking with Tommy before I realised I was incredibly drunk and was only going to get less than two hours sleep before I needed to be up again.

A woman Tatung

A woman Tatung

I was woken up just before 6, and stumbled out onto the street with the others. I was definitely still drunk. Some greasy Mie Tiaw and a black coffee later, I think I was a little more sober. I really wasn’t prepared for what my eyes were about to be exposed to….

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In wandering the streets trying to find the right part of the festival, we stumbled across a tent that was just full of pig carcasses lying on tables. These were being chopped up – apparently the meat was handed out to people later in the day. Clearly, one of the big differences between Islam and other religions is their dislike for pigs. In Singkawang, everything has pork in it….

photo courtesy of Ted Chang

photo courtesy of Ted Chang

Finally, we seemed to be where the real action was. I’d nodded and smiled at a younger man while I was watching something, and he decided he would be our guide for the rest of the day – helping us push through the crowds and showing us the way to walk. He didn’t speak any English, and I didn’t speak any Indonesian, so there was just lots of smiling and horrified looks shared between the two of us.

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I am not really sure my words will do any justice to the festival, but here is a quick overview.

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There are Tatung or spirit mediums whom are in trance, and are carried by other people on wooden sedan chairs, which have nails, knives, poles and other sharp objects which the spirit medium sits on. In addition to this, they practiced acts of self-mortification by piercing their faces with metal objects (wire, skewers, knives and daggers). By being in trance, they are supposed to be protected from being injured or scarred and should not show any, or feel any pain. While I would question how many were actually in ‘trance’ (it seemed like more of a show) they always had aids at their side to help them if they got into any trouble. There didn’t seem to be any use of drugs to achieve this trance like state – they just went into it, albeit, some with the help of a bottle or two of Guinness or Bintang. I’m not too sure how traditional that is!

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Many were dressed in the most incredible outfits. The Chinese were dressed in outfits which represent their soldiers and other higher military personal. These costumes were amazing. Not knowing much about traditional Chinese culture, I always just assumed the outfits in Monkey Magic were fictional, but I saw many outfits which resembled those in that TV program!

Amazing costume!

Amazing costume!

What makes Cap Go Meh so special in Singkawang compared to other celebrations is the inclusion of Indigenous Borneans in the parade. Apparently this is because they have similar spirits, just known with different names. So, as well as the Chinese Tatung in splendid costumes, there were also an amazing selection of different Dayak ethnic tribes – complete with skulls of smaller animals and feathers of what I can only imagine would be superb birds.

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The Dayak Tatung also tended to be a little more animalistic in their approach to Cap Go Meh. There were several men whom were biting the heads off live chickens – their wings still flapping about their faces as the birds slowly died. They then proceeded to eat the chicken. The act of eating animals is apparently a sacrifice to the Gods. This is clearly no easy feat in any normal situation, but even harder when you have metal objects piercing your cheeks! I obviously don’t endorse cruelty to animals, but, given it was a cultural celebrations, I just had to shudder and look away. We had also heard reports of a man eating a puppy the night before. Thankfully I didn’t witness that. It would have been way too much for me.

Eating the head of a chicken Photo courtesy of Ted Chang

Eating the head of a chicken
Photo courtesy of Ted Chang

Through all of this, we were still stopped and asked to pose for pictures. I found this absurd given there were men and women with metal poking out of their faces and nails in their behinds. A few of the Tatung even called out to me to say they liked my tattoos, which made me feel a little chuffed given the elaborate amount of ink on some of the men. But, as always, I should never underestimate the attraction of a bule in otherwise non-bule territory.

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After many hours of craziness, we returned back to the house we were staying at. I would have to describe Cap Go Meh in Singkawang as the most insane and crazy event I have ever witnessed. I would highly recommend going if you ever get the opportunity and can stomach it…

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Like I said, my words do not do it justice – so here is an overload of pictures for you to try and get a sense of what it was all about.

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These guys were eating this stuff and getting into trance

These guys were eating this stuff and getting into trance

Good to see Spirit Mediums can have photo's taken of them at the wrong moment as well.

Good to see Spirit Mediums can have photo’s taken of them at the wrong moment as well.

and that they smile...

and that they smile…

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Trance..via a bottle of Guinness

Trance..via a bottle of Guinness

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Girl tatung

Girl tatung

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This man is leaning his weight onto a blade

This man is leaning his weight onto a blade

The man in the red pants is sitting on a pole

The man in the red pants is sitting on a pole

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photo courtesy of Ted Chang

photo courtesy of Ted Chang

And, then someone brought a snake into the mix...

And, then someone brought a snake into the mix…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_0546IMG_0440IMG_0454IMG_0451IMG_0482The chicken eater The chicken eater

 

 

 

 

The chicken eater

The chicken eater

Another chicken eater
Another chicken eater

Another chicken eater

Another chicken eater

Another chicken eater

Another chicken eater

Another chicken eater

Another chicken eater

And one more chicken eater

And one more chicken eater

 

 

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Chinese New Year 2565 in Pontianak

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Quan Yin

Pontianak has a fairly large Chinese population. As such, Chinese New Year is quite a big celebration in Pontianak. Some friends and I went and checked out some of the Chinese temples that evening, before heading to the fireworks.

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We started at a Buddhist Temple a little further out of town, which had not only beautiful sculptures of Buddha, but also of other entities (I forget their names!). Then we went next door to a Chinese Temple where there was a very large and intimidating statue of Quan Yin or the Goddess of Mercy.

The evil looking dude in the Buddhist Temple. I don't remember his name

The evil looking dude in the Buddhist Temple. I don’t remember his name

After this, we jumped on our bikes and went and visited some Chinese Temples closer in to town. I don’t know much about Chinese religious customs, but their temples were unlike any other religious places I have been too. They seemed to be a hive of activity, with people walking around quickly to different areas of the temple to provide their offerings to (I assume) different gods. The Temples weren’t silent spaces, nor where they treated like a silent tomb which is how I often feel in churches. There was talking and walking and mess and incense. There was so much incense my eyes were running with water. It was quite a different experience to see a religious space utilised in this way.

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One of my new American friends works in a Chinese school, and he invited us around to his teachers house, where we had some food and Chinese rice wine. It was incredibly sour, but still enjoyable. He lived quite close to the main street in Pontianak, and the fireworks were already well underway and incredibly loud!

The largest candles I have ever seen!

The largest candles I have ever seen!

Finally, we headed to the main street to watch the fireworks. As I turned the corner on my motorbike, a massive big explosion happened about 30 centimetres away from my tyre. It was part of the fireworks display. The fireworks were just set up in amongst the crowd with no safety rails or anything around them… insane!

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You can also buy fireworks over here – so one of our friends decided to do so. He stood in the middle of the road, and lit his firework. I was expecting some tiny little explosion given he had just bought this on the street. Instead, fireworks so big they could have been included in the ceremony started shooting out of his stick. I was nervous-embarrassed and in awe all at the same time….

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Pantai Kura-Kura (Turtle Beach)

Early morning walk

Early morning walk

A few of us took off to one of the beaches near Singkawang for the weekend recently. In terms of my normal (mis)adventures, this was a very tame experience indeed, but lovely and relaxing. There isn’t a lot to write about, but a few lovely pictures to look at…

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We arrived mid afternoon. The earlier beaches were quite crowded, but people didn’t seem keen to take on the narrow rocky path to the furthest beach, so we ended up with it mostly to ourselves.

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There was a little warung, and the owners also owned a few little shacks on the beach. We asked if we could sleep in a few of them that evening, and the man consented. He then got a blue canvas tarp and went and nailed it to the beach shack to protect us from the elements during the night… the hospitality here never ceases to amaze me. (He wanted next to no money for his troubles either….)

Our little shack in the background with the blue tarp

Our little shack in the background with the blue tarp

That evening, Novi and I prepared a fire on the beach once again to cook our food. It is fair to say, if I ever go on Survivor now, I will kill it in the fire challenge (and still fail miserably at any food challenge).

Preparation

Preparation

Fire-Mistress (again)

Fire-Mistress (again)

Cooking chicken and shells

Cooking chicken and shells

We spent the night playing cards and stargazing. We were looking out over the South China Sea, and could see the tiny twinkling lights from the Bagon’s near Palau Kabung. I even saw two shooting stars. And, I could see ‘The Saucepan’ constellation, however, given I was just North of the Equator, it was positioned differently to what I am used to. That kind of thing really makes you think about the universe sometimes….

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I met some insane ants as well. They spent the night biting me on the face. And it hurt. The next day I noticed something on one of the wooden chair backs. It was a million ants holding in place a chicken bone. They were there for hours. They didn’t seem to be trying to move it, so I guess they were eating it….

Insane Ants

Insane Ants

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Obligatory Kucing

Obligatory Anak Kucing (kitten)

A not so brief fling with Melbourne

Victorian countryside

Victorian countryside

I think I need to rename my blog ‘The Misadventures of Me’. I don’t think it is exclusive to Borneo…

I headed back to Melbourne recently for my friend Court’s wedding. I was leaving at 7.20pm. I’d been chatting to a couple of girls in the office in the early afternoon, and one of them said there had been a lot of flight cancellations recently at Pontianak airport because there were many people returning to Pontianak, but not enough leaving to warrant flying the plane. I was a little concerned.

No sooner had I returned to my desk, my phone rang. I don’t normally answer my phone unless I know who it is – mainly because navigating the conversation is no doubt going to be difficult. Something in my belly made me answer this call.

The usual confusion transpired. Someone speaking to me in Indonesian, and me trying to say I can’t speak Indonesian. The woman at the other end then said;

‘Oh, you speak English’

‘Ya!’

She explained that she was calling from Garuda Airlines and that my flight from Pontianak to Jakarta had been delayed and they wanted to put me on an earlier flight to make sure I made my connection to Melbourne. The details got a bit confusing when it came to explaining the times, but I understood that I needed to be at the airport by 4.30pm. It was 3pm. I packed up my stuff as quickly as I could, raced home, finished packing then headed to the airport. My flight from Jakarta to Melbourne was then delayed by 2 and a half hours and didn’t leave until after midnight.

Worth the wait: backyard Espresso Martini's.

Worth the wait: backyard Espresso Martini’s.

As we were flying into Melbourne, I suddenly got panicked. I thought we were landing at Melbourne Airport, but the airport we were flying into looked so small and country-ish with the barren dry paddocks adjacent to the runway, that I thought we were landing at Avalon (an airport about two hours from Melbourne). I checked my ticket. It definitely said Melbourne. I was confused and very concerned. As soon as I landed I needed to get to the Indonesian Consulate in Melbourne to submit my visa application to return to Indonesia. Landing at Avalon wasn’t going to work well with this plan. After about 5 minutes of panic, I realised it was indeed Melbourne Airport, but I was so used to the colossal Jakarta airport that Melbourne seemed minute in comparison. Crisis two averted.

Melbourne

Melbourne

Transiting through any immigration other than your own is always a little scary. Do I look like a drug smuggler. Did someone plant something on me. Do I have something I shouldn’t in my bag. Will they deny my visa. Will they find something wrong with me. Did I fill in my arrival card wrong. When i return to my own country, I know everything is going to be ok, and I don’t have to be friendly or smiley or overdo it with the immigration people. The thing is, Australian immigration, even for Aussies, isn’t that friendly. Perhaps I wasn’t used to the Aussie twang yet, but the officials all sounded a little stressed, annoyed and even narky. Perhaps it was just because I could understand everything that was going on for a change….

At Duty Free, the kind lady convinced me to buy two 1 litre bottles of Absolute vodka instead of just one – as you can well imagine, she had to try very hard indeed.

Buster, the size of a small polar bear cuddling up on the eve of a 40+ degree day

Buster, the size of a small polar bear cuddling up on the eve of a 40+ degree day

Upon exiting the airport and waiting for the Sky Bus I noticed a couple of things. I could understand almost all of the conversations happening around me and I didn’t like it at all. People talk so loudly about such stupid things. The second thing was that people spoke to foreign people who had lower levels of English in an appalling manner. I watched a man who worked for Sky Bus literally yell at a woman because she obviously didn’t understand what he initially said to her. I rely so heavily on the understanding of people in Indonesia to excuse the fact I’m so remedial at their language, and very rarely have I been treated badly. I guess we have some sort of superiority complex that the language we speak is spoken in more countries then other languages –but it isn’t actually the majority language spoken in the world – that is Mandarin.

The third thing I noticed was how orderly everything was. When I was on the boat trip from hell, I reflected on all those times I criticised Australia for being a nanny state and having rules and regulations for everything. I realised that sometimes these rules and regulations are warranted and vowed to be more understanding of them when I returned home. But it was all just so orderly and…. boring! Where was the chaos? I wanted the chaos. Anyway, so my first impressions of being back in Melbourne weren’t off to a rockin’ start.

Mightiest of Guns @ The Public Bar

Mightiest of Guns @ The Public Bar

While waiting at the tram stop opposite Flinders Street Station, I managed to smash one of my bottles of Absolute on the tram platform. Some of my talents even surprise myself sometimes. I was thankful of three things: the bottle smashed in the bag; I was standing next to the bin, so I managed to get rid of it quickly (although I did contemplate trying to save that beautiful clear liquid somehow, but there were shards of glass in the bag and I didn’t fancy consuming them); and the third thing was that I still had one bottle left.

This elicited another observation. The initial smash sound turned a few heads, but as soon as people had established what this idiot had done, they all returned back to what they were doing (apart from a few sneaky peeks here and there). In Indonesia, people would have been circling around me to find out what had happened and if I was ok. I guess I wouldn’t be carry two 2 litre bottles of Absolute in Indonesia, so I guess it would never have happened…

Noodle

Noodle

Once I found the Indonesian Consulate, I took my ticket in the queue (behind two people), sat down and pulled my somewhat crumpled visa documents out of my bag. As I pulled them out, I got a waft of vodka. I assumed it was some left over residue from the broken bottle which had permeated my bag. As I looked down at my papers, I noticed most of them had little splotch marks on them, where some liquid had smeared the ink of the pen. That liquid was indeed vodka and the smell of vodka was coming from my visa documents .

I contemplated my options:

1. Leave and try and find somewhere to re-print them, but time was ticking away, and the Consulate closed between 1-2pm for lunch.

2. Pretend like nothing was wrong, and just hand them in.

3. Politely explain that I had literally just gotten off the plane and had come straight to the Consulate, and something had spilled a little in my bag (hoping they could not smell the vodka) on my documents. If it was a problem, I have the documents on a USB stick, and if you would be ever so kind to re-print them for me, the problem would be solved.

I opted for option 3. However, a few words into my spiel, the not so friendly gentleman stopped me and broke the bad news. My return flight had allowed 5 business days for the processing of the new visa, however I was going to need 6 as there was an Indonesian public holiday in amongst those days. I begged and pleaded but to no avail. I didn’t have a working phone at this stage, so the only thing I could do was head to my friends place as planned.

I arrived, we said hello, then I told her I was in the middle of a drama…I actually think my friends are used to this from me these days. She let me use her phone, I made several rather annoyed phone calls to the organisation that places me in Indonesia to see what options I had – didn’t get much help – but it was all very manageable with a vodka, soda and fresh lime in one hand, a cigarette in the other and a good friend to vent to between annoyed phone calls.

Eventually I changed my ticket at the cost of $25, then we headed back down to the Consulate. When we arrived at the Consulate they had shut for the day. We’d missed it by about 15 minutes. I knew this meant I was going to have to change my ticket date again, but I figured I could deal with that the next day – I had more important things on my mind: having my first pint of cider in 200 days with good friends in a sunny beer garden….

Yuki demonstrating how to keep cool on a 40+ degree day

Yuki demonstrating how to keep cool on a 40+ degree day

The next day, I rang Garuda back, and was told that I had been misquoted the day before, and no matter what change I wanted to make, it was going to be $451 extra – minimum. Lots of swear words later, I ended up changing the date and gave myself an extra day in case the visa took longer to process, went back to the Consulate, submitted my visa and decided to forget about it and try and enjoy my time back in Melbourne….

That part of the wedding

That part of the wedding

The wedding was magnificent. Court was the most beautiful bride I have ever seen (there was never any doubt that that would be the case). At midday on the day of the wedding, I went to the most beautiful Victorian Terrace house on Beaconsfield Parade in Middle Park, where we sipped champagne and chatted like ladies, while the Bridal Party got ready. At 7am the following morning I was stumbling out of the Public Bar after heading over there at some ridiculous hour in the morning to watch a friends band. I looked at my dress later in the day when I woke up, and it was covered in crap. I’d hate to actually think what I looked like after 19 hours of drinking…

While I was in Melbourne, I got to hang out with great friends (including old and new found furry friends. Also, a big shout out to Nat, Kate, Lou and Josie for putting me up!), see some live music, go to a friends birthday party, see my beloved cat, catch up with my dad, experience the longest heat wave in over 100 years (I don’t know what everyone was complaining about, I felt refreshed wearing a summer dress in the dry heat instead of my normal jeans and a long sleeve top in super humid conditions!), go to the beach, eat lots of bacon and some cheese, and drink way too much – especially cider and delicious red wine.

The one, the only, my beautiful little baby - Tutankhamun

The one, the only, my beautiful little baby Tutankhamun (giving me the evil eyes for leaving him behind)

Then, it was time to head ‘home’. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to come back, it was more that I didn’t want to leave. But, once I was here, I didn’t have much choice but to readjust to the cold showers, squat toilet, smoggy air, constant near misses on my motorbike and eternal chaos. In fact, it all felt pretty normal as soon as I stepped off the plane… Maybe this really is home?

Zen wanted to come to Borneo with me

Zen wanted to come to Borneo with me

The boat trip from hell… with some lovely scenery and friendly people.

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Part 1: A trip to Sukadana on Christmas Day

Part 2: Sukadana Continued…

In planning our trip back to Pontianak, Novi suggested we get a longboat instead of a speedboat. The speedboat was approximately AU $20 while the longboat was approximately AU $7.00. The speedboat took 5 hours, the longboat took…. Well, I wasn’t really able to establish how long it was going to take or when it left or when it would arrive in Pontianak – the details seemed to be elusive. Given I had to be at work the day after I returned, I wasn’t committed to undertaking a voyage without really knowing the ‘finer’ details. Or, lets be honest, the details at all. The information I was privy to was:

1. It was a ‘longboat’
2. It would take longer
3. The boat would be slower
4. I would see more scenery

Pretty much all of those points could be deduced from the first point. My gut was telling me to speak up and take the speedboat. But I didn’t. And so it was decided we would take the longboat rather than the speedboat.

We’d gone down to the Sukadana harbor two days before our departure, wandered around a bit, bought some fresh mangos before finally being pointed in the direction of the man that would be taking a longboat back to Pontianak on the day we wanted. He said he’d be leaving at midday in two days time. So, on the day we were due to leave, we headed down to the harbor at 8am. The harbor was only five minutes down the road, but we needed to allow ‘time’ – this is Indonesia after all. We convinced our excitable and friendly workers at the guesthouse to take us down for free on the back of their motorbikes.

Once we were down at the harbor, we were told the boat wouldn’t be running that day. Something had ‘happened’. Again, I failed to speak up and say ‘let’s just get the speedboat’ and instead, we went back to the guesthouse where we were told we could wait for a bus that would take us to another harbor about an hour and a half away. So we waited. We were told the bus would be here soon. Then at 9. Then at 10. Then at 10.30. At 10.15, the bus came.

It was a crowded little rusty local bus, that was full of bodies and luggage. There was an expectation you could jump on the bus as it rolls up – but, in our case, they stopped. After traveling for a while, we stopped, people had a little bit of food, and then back on the bus we got. I didn’t really have much idea what was going on – I was just going with the ‘flow’, but there wasn’t much ‘flow’ happening either, so when Novi moved, I also moved.

As we pulled into our second stop, a group of men came running at the bus – many jumping up onto the steps as the bus was still moving. At first I thought they were all vying to get a seat on the bus, as there wasn’t much room left, but I soon realised they were all ojek drivers, trying to secure the customers to take them from the bus to the harbor in whatever the town was we were now in.

Despite their persistence, we chose to walk. One of the ojek drivers kept following us. He was a little scary looking – although I am sure he was really a nice guy. Some of the men here have a really long fingernail on their little finger – this guy had really long fingernails on all fingers. He said he’d take us the the harbour for free, but we both had to get on the back of the bike at the same time. Given we had our backpacks, we declined. It wasn’t a particularly long walk – perhaps just 15 minutes, but in the late morning heat, with our backpacks on, we were soon sweating.

We’d been told the boat wasn’t until 4pm. But we’d also been told that there was one at midday. And also told there was one at 2 pm. The sooner the better for me, as, I had also just discovered that it was a 14 hour boat ride. At the harbor, we booked our ticket, and were told that the boat actually left at 3pm. We had plenty of time to kill, so we headed back down the street to grab some food.

At the warung, while we were in the middle of eating, two men came and sat at our table. I didn’t know what they wanted, but soon, the man sitting next to me asked for my phone number. I get this a lot, and the easiest thing to do is for me give my number. I’m not sure what would happened if a person you just gave your number to called your phone to make sure it was correct, and it didn’t ring. I just prefer to err on the polite side over here, even if it does result in some random and sometimes a little creepy texts from someone I’ve met along the way. After a few minutes, he leant over and said in English;

‘I like you, do you understand?’

And I just said ‘yes’ like a ditz and hoped that would be enough. I wasn’t really sure what he was expecting, but we got up and left as soon as we’d finished our meal and headed back to the boat. We had hours, but we figured if we got there early, we could secure a decent spot.

Empty boat

Empty boat

We were one of the first on the boat. Novi kept moving from spot to spot, trying to find the area she thought would be the best. I wanted to steer clear of the engine and perhaps be somewhere with some fresh air so I could at least try and get some sleep, or at least some rest. We decided to sit up near the Captain’s cabin. It was on a little raised platform, but on either side were sliding doors, so we figured we’d be able to get fresh air throughout the 14 hour journey.

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Filling up…

Other passengers started arriving and boarding with their luggage. And the passengers just kept on coming and coming and coming. Soon, the boat was completely full, but people still kept getting on. Eventually, the boat was so full that it just couldn’t take any more people, and the latecomers which arrived simply couldn’t fit on. The top of the boat was loaded up with motorcycles, gas canisters and oil drums. We were low in the water.

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Getting too full…

Just before we were due to leave, Novi leapt up and said she couldn’t take it – she wanted to get a different boat – she wanted to get a speedboat! She got off the boat, wandered around a bit, then came back. The other boat – a big ferry due to leave soon was also full and there were no more speedboats for the day. We were stuck on this one.

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Very full….

At 2.30pm, the boat left. I think it left early to prevent more people squeezing on board. We were nestled amongst a woman with her three children, and another couple with their nine month old baby who was clearly unwell. We were pretty squished, and I definitely didn’t look forward to 14 hours of this, but at least I could stretch my legs out in front of me or cross them if I wished. There wasn’t any room to lie down, so I figured I wouldn’t be getting much sleep.

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Too full….

The Captain and the crew were super friendly to us, and let us come and sit out on the bow with them during the daytime to watch the scenery as we chugged down the river. I think he probably changed his mind when he had to yell at me to get out of the way when I stood up blocking his view, not once but twice – but he seemed to be a pretty relaxed kind of guy and just laughed it off. I asked permission to take a photo of this really cool looking guy – very Muslim looking, with a long wispy beard and a little crochet cap on his head, and he said yes, but then the Captain shouted out from his cabin ‘No!’ – then laughed and said ‘Bin Laden’. I have no idea what that was all about – the Captain had no problem with me taking photo’s of the other crew members… but this one guy he just didn’t want photographed. This guy later sailed the boat… perhaps it had something to do with that?

Top of the boat, laden with bikes, gas canisters and drums

Top of the boat, laden with bikes, gas canisters and drums

The crew even let us sit up on the very top of the boat (and pulled the horn while we were up there scaring the living daylights out of the two of us!). I sat up there on my own as dusk settled, and watched the changing of the light over the river and the forest. I even saw some large birds soaring high up in the sky at one point. It was incredibly peaceful up there. Eventually I decided to go back into my cramped little quarters.

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Just after dark, we stopped at a place on the rivers edge to get some food. I was busting for the toilet, and Novi wanted to get something to eat. She checked with the women around us, and they confirmed they would look after our bags for us.

Some of the lovely crew

Some of the lovely crew

We got off and I headed to the toilet. There was a myriad of little food places, but I was pointed to the toilet towards the back of all these places. Hidden at the back of these food places, in the dim light was a women lying in a hammock, yelling out to me in great amounts of pain – or perhaps it wasn’t pain – perhaps she had lost her mind a little bit – but whatever it was – her face was screwed up in pain, she had no teeth and whatever the words where she was saying, she was howling them out. I felt like I was in some sort of horror film. I quickly went to the toilet and headed back to the boat.

At the boat, there were people pushing and shoving to get back on. I patiently waited, while people pushed in front of me. I figured if I was standing there, the boat wouldn’t leave without me. What I didn’t realise, was they were actually accepting MORE passengers and everyone was pushing to get on to secure a cramped little space on the boat. I figured it would be ok, as we already had our small little turf and our bags were there.

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As I finally boarded the boat, I saw an old man sitting in my spot. He sat there, with his legs crossed, clutching his bag, and he looked grumpy. Really grumpy. I could tell, without hearing or understanding that he was defending his decision to sit where we were sitting. The woman with the young baby was beckoning to me, but I just couldn’t get back to my ‘seat’. It wouldn’t have mattered, he wasn’t going to move. The grumpy man’s daughter and grand-daughter had also sat in the space previously occupied by Novi and myself, the mother and her three children, and the young couple with the baby. That meant an extra three bodies in our already squashed space.

The older man refused to move. His argument being that he’d paid the same price as us to be a passenger on the boat, and therefore he deserved to sit wherever he wanted. I guess that was true. It just felt unfair. So, unhappily so, we crumpled our bodies up into the space we had left. After a few minutes I was incredibly uncomfortable. One of the younger children was stretched out lengthways fast asleep in front of me – which meant I couldn’t stretch my legs out at all, and I didn’t have enough space to cross them, so I had to sit with my knees pulled up to my chest. I had pains in my knees and cramps in my legs and at least another 7 hours left on board this boat.

I recently watched some of the Australian Open, where some of the players had to play in 40+ degree heat. The commentators kept talking about how the players would be suffering cramps, but they just had to stay mentally tough and push on through, knowing that the end would eventually come (Once, about 4 years ago, I kicked a soccer ball while jogging, and since that day, I equate myself to being an elite athlete – warranted I think). While watching that match, I understood their pain – I just had to keep pushing on through. But, the closer we came to the end of the trip, the more I just wanted it to be over….

Mr. Obstinate was getting grumpier – he was very loudly saying that he didn’t want to sit next to the girls with the fat arses who had stolen his spot and made him uncomfortable. Some of the men around us laughed, but when I looked over at them, they would give me an apologetic smile.

The woman with the young baby tried to make room for me to extend my legs, but I coudl only stretch them out at an angle, so it meant putting all my weight on one arse cheek, which would soon turn it numb and I wasn’t able to reposition myself to place the weight on the other one, so I’d have to draw my legs back into my chest for some relief from the twisted back pain and numb arse cheek.

The young boy asleep in front of me was in the way of Novi and myself, and his legs kept flopping onto the woman with the small child and the intruder woman and her young daughter. Needless to say, he was very much in the way of many people, and his position hindered many of us from being slightly more comfortable – but it was unfair to wake him, so he remained soundly asleep despite the fact both of the other women kept having to move his legs off them. At first they did this gently, but as the time went on, they resorted to shoving his legs – tired of him kicking them – but when one woman would shove a leg on one side, his other leg would spring out on the opposite side, hitting the other woman. It was a never-ending battle.

As the night wore on, people started drifting off to sleep. It was just a sea of bodies everywhere, limbs intertwined and overlapping. The mother with the 9 month old baby had her baby suspended from a little hammock from the roof. She sat up almost the whole time, patting and calming the baby. If and when she laid down for a few minutes sleep, she would bolt upright the second her daughter would make the slightest noise, and she would calm her again, as her eyes became drowsier and drowsier. Her husband lay next to her, sleeping for the majority of the journey.

A little further to my right was another mother with a young daughter. She sat cross-legged with her baby lying in front of her, holding onto the baby as she fell asleep sitting up. Later, when her baby was unsettled, and the only way to settle her was by standing and putting her in a sling against her body, she made her husband hold her around her waist so she didn’t fall over when she drifted off to sleep standing completely upright.

I was losing the plot. I had to get off this fucking boat, and soon. My finely tuned elite athlete mental capabilities were wearing thin. The only way I was coping by this stage, was by standing up and stretching my legs every few minutes, but the pain of folding myself back up into my position was almost unbearable. I was tired, and I was watching everyone else around me sleeping (to some extent) and I just couldn’t.

I started ducking outside every half an hour or so for a cigarette just so I could stretch my legs. While I was ‘sitting’ near the door, it was still a challenge to get there without stepping on a body part. It also meant I had to almost step over mister obstinate which just made him more cranky.

It was dark outside. There was no light on at the front of the boat. I wondered how they could see where they were going. We seemed to veer very close to the river bank, and at one point, I felt the underside of the boat scrape along the bottom of the river. I also noticed, when other boats were passing us, the crew would turn the light off inside where I was sitting on the little raised platform. I wondered if they drove with no light and turned this light off so other boats couldn’t see how overcrowded our boat was…. It all seemed a little dangerous being an unlit object, sailing down a river in the dead of the night.

Apparently the reason the boat was so crowded was because it was the holiday period. Children under a certain age could also travel for free on the longboat, which made it much more affordable for families. I imagine this may have contributed to the extreme overcrowding if the children on the boat weren’t counted in ticket sales. We looked at the tickets and there was no insurance. If anything happened, there would be no compensation. There only seemed to be a few crusty old life vest hanging from the roof. I wondered what I would do if there was an accident – there were so many children nearby that would need help….

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. I’d begun noticing a smell when I got up to go outside for a cigarette. As the night wore on, this smell started to get a little stronger. I hadn’t managed to figure out what it was – but it was stinky. When I stood up at one point, I realised my jeans and my towel which I had placed under my bum for extra padding where damp. It was this liquid which smelt. And what did it smell like? Fish. My absolute favourite smell. The box beside me was carrying some kind of fish – and over the course of 12+ hours, the cardboard box it was in could no longer contain this wet product, and the box had disintegrated and the contents had leaked – onto me. There was nothing I could do, but sit back down on my fish liquid soaked towel, and continue this fabulous journey with the increasing aromatic fish smell permeating my nostrils and pores.

Eventually, about two hours after the discovery of my new fish aroma, we arrived at the Pontianak harbor. Novi and I legged it off that boat before it had even been tied up. It was 5 am. We got a little minivan to my kost. We didn’t have small enough notes to pay the driver, so we had to wander the streets until we found someone to change the notes. Finally, I managed to crawl up the stairs to my room, take a cold shower to rid myself of the fish smell and crawl into my beautiful bed for some sleep before work….

Sukudana continued…

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Part 1: A trip to Sukadana on Christmas Day.

The next morning we hired a motorbike from the excitable boys who worked at the guesthouse. There was one guy, and every time he said something in English, he’d peel over laughing like he’d said the funniest thing in the world. It was pretty endearing. They were a good bunch of guys…

Beach Cows

Beach Cows

Ducks and coconuts

Ducks and coconuts

We spent the day riding around on the bike – first we headed down to the beach, where there were beach cows, chickens, goats, cats and even ducks wandering around like they owned the place. There was a group of ducks which would walk in a line – even when crossing the road, which could be a little problematic if there was a bike coming along. They didn’t seem to care – they kept in their line and didn’t speed up at all.

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Dark and stormy

Dark and stormy

Women working the rice fields

Women working the rice fields

We hung out at a warung for a little while (near Café Spongebob) before deciding to head off into the countryside. Amazing scenery – little rivers that appeared to be fishing hubs, rice paddies, jungle, monkey’s hanging out in trees and plenty of swallow houses. The swallow houses are concrete multi-story buildings which are built to allow swallows to nest in. The nests are then sold for a substantial amount – it is a delicacy.

If you look closely, you can see monkeys in the trees!

If you look closely, you can see monkeys in the trees!

In the evening we decided to head back to the warung we’d hung out at during the day, with the plan to cook a chicken on a BBQ. But first, we needed a chicken. So, after being told where the traditional market was, we headed off. I was expecting a traditional market, but instead it was just someone’s house. Novi asked for a chicken, he grabbed one from the garden and then slaughtered it halal style. Apparently that is just facing towards Mecca, reciting a prayer and then cutting the throat in a particular way. (I didn’t watch. The whole thing made me a little squeamish. For me, the animal chicken which wanders around is different from the chicken you eat. I’ve really got to get over this animal/meat dichotomy). I heard a noise after this. I didn’t find out until later that this noise was the sound coming from the machine that removes all the feathers. Yes, there is a machine for this! The chicken is still literally whole (claws, head and eyeballs), but is as bald as Bruce Willis.

Cooking chicken!

Cooking chicken!

Once we had our chicken, we headed back down to the beach. The owners of the warung were so kind. They prepared the chicken for us, then, as there weren’t actually any BBQ’s, we dug a little fire pit and they gave us a little grate to use. Novi and I sat there for the next two hours or so cooking our chicken over the fire. It was pretty damn delicious – although a little charcoal on the outside.

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The next morning we decided to head to Ketapung – a bigger town about two hours bike ride away. Novi had a nephew there who we met up with, had a delicious lunch, and then he took us to visited a few different beaches near the town. There was one beach, which had a series of little bamboo shacks out on the water. They didn’t feel terribly stable, but we didn’t fall in – so they obviously were ok. We drank some young coconut water and chatted before we had to head off.

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Unfortunately we were driving back in the dark which isn’t great for a number of reasons:

1. It’s dark.
2. There is no lighting on the bendy windy roads and thus the roads are… dark and dangerous.
3. I seemed to have the ability to hit every single pothole on the road in the dark.
4. Because it is dark, I had to have my visor up. Insects the size of small dinosaurs ended up in my eyeballs.
5. As it was dark, there was no sunshine (really?) and I got cold. Like really cold. (No hot shower to warm me up when I got home either.)

The next day, we returned to our little warung. We both spent the day working (yes, as I have said before, I do sometimes work…), watching the beach animals, and being introduced to the teenage breastfeeding cat…

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A trip to Sukadana on Christmas Day

Early morning harbour

Early morning hustle and bustle at the harbour

On Christmas Day, I got up early, walked about 20 minutes, then caught a local bus to one of the small boat harbours on the Kapuas River in Pontianak. We shared the local bus with a posse of street performers- their instruments taking up a large portion of the very small van. After they got out, Novi said they would have had a monkey in one of the instruments they were carrying….

Instruments

Instruments

I saw a monkey once in Pontianak. S/he was wearing little army trousers, a faux leather vest and had one leg straddled over a miniature motor bike, the other being used to propel itself forward on the bike. The monkey was on a lead, which was being held by the owner – who was also helping the monkey wheel itself along the road. I was really shocked at first – perhaps even a little outraged. Perhaps I still am, but then again, who am I to judge? I’m from a country where we dress up dogs and keep them in confined spaces. In a society that has competitions for best-dressed animals where the animals are kept in cages to be judged, and we have horrendous horse racing which ultimately kills many horses each year for our ‘entertainment’.

My initial outrage was born from the idea that a monkey isn’t a pet. But who decides what type of animal is ‘allowed’ to be a pet and those that aren’t supposed to be pets? It was just another lesson in cultural relativism – to refrain from placing my own western ethnocentric ideas on a culture which is different to my own. Hard to do sometimes, and I don’t think I actually achieve it – I manage by remaining silent when I would otherwise speak out.

Boats

Anyway, we arrived at the dock and it was hustling and bustling at this time of the morning. People milling about, boarding boats, some even rowing up with items for sale fresh from the jungle. We’d gotten there early, so after we paid for our ticket on the speedboat, we sat down and had a coffee. We chatted to some men at the table we were sitting at, who turned out to be the owner of the speed boat, as well as the driver. Everyone seems so friendly here – always interested in trying to have a chat, even if, from my point of view, I end up having the same conversations over and over – but they are the questions I understand and the responses I can give so at least I can engage a little. Most of my time is spent giving stupid smiles to make sure they get the idea that I am friendly, I just lack the language skills to be able to engage more.

Fresh Rambutin from the jungle

Fresh Rambutan from the jungle

Finally, after an hour or so we boarded the speedboat. We’d been given the best seats on the boat (in my opinion), the two up besides the driver. This meant I could look out at the scenery as we sped along. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great, so we kept having to pull the tarp down to keep us dry from the heavy rain. With the tarp down however, it soon became ‘panas’ (hot) and everyone was desperate to get them back up again. The woman sitting behind me was cradling a child, so she only had one arm free. Every time the rain stopped, I had to undo the tarp to my side, then awkwardly turn around and then undo the ties next to her and role it up. It was my entertainment for the trip.

The scenery (when I could see it) was beautiful. We sped down the Kapuas River, and then we’d veer off to smaller rivers and eventually came out at an estuary in the South China Sea. The shorelines were predominantly mangroves, but behind them you could see the jungle.

Lunch stop

Lunch stop

The driver of the boat explained to Novi how people are chopping down the mangroves to produce charcoal, which is then sold for a very good profit. In many areas, you could see the first line of mangroves, but the heavy clearing behind it. This practice has been deemed illegal, but like most things in KalBar, it continues. It is difficult to conflate these issues at times – while the government plunders natural resources which ultimately provides little benefit to these communities (much of the ‘profit’ made from KalBars rich natural resources are used in other parts of Indonesia – very little is reinvested into infrastructure or services for the people these resources have been taken from), these communities are economically empowering themselves by using what is available to them.

Yet, on the other hand, it is detrimental to the ecosystem. It is easy to say they shouldn’t do it, but I am coming from a lived and learned perspective, where we almost destroyed many of our own ecosystems before we realised how important they were. Perhaps the realisation has to be made by the people themselves in order for them to want to stop such practices. Should they be made to stop, but in doing so, have little access to income and remain at or below the poverty line, or should they be allowed to use the natural resources available to them? Perhaps, instead of saying they can’t do it, the government should provide programs using the money they make from Kalbar resources to educate the people on why they shouldn’t be doing it, and what long term detrimental impacts it will have on their own communities and environment. But nothing as revolutionary as that ever seems to happen…

Sukadana

Sukadana Harbour

After the 5 hour speed boat trip, we made it to Sukadana. We got an ojek (motorbike) to a Losmen (guesthouse) and chilled out for a little bit. The guys that were running the losmen were great. They were all pretty young and very excitable. They seemed to spend most of the day hanging out the front of the losmen where they sold bersin (petrol) and pulsa (phone credit) listening to music (like Justin Bieber) very loudly, smoking and chatting.

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Sukadana Harbour. The concrete buildings behind are for swallows to nest in. They are everywhere!

I’d read in my trusty Lonely Planet guide that we could hire motorbikes from ASRI, an NGO operating in the area. Sukadana is one of the entrance points to the Gunung Palung National Park – one of the national parks which you can still see wild Orangutans. Unfortunately, it has been heavily logged, and again, despite this being illegal, it continues. In order to curb the logging, ASRI provides affordable dental and medical services for those communities who choose to actively conserve the forests. Community members can opt for long term payments, or, according to Lonely Planet (we didn’t hear any of this information from anyone in Sukadana) can opt to barter using vegetables or handicrafts. Is this a good thing? Is it providing education around why people shouldn’t be logging in the national park? I hope so. I remember learning about ‘randomised controlled testing’ at university in relation to development projects, and the controversy surrounding them. Is it ethical to provide an incentive for some people, but not for others? Does the incentive change behaviour, or as soon as the incentive stops, does the previous behaviour continue again?

Sunset at Sukadana harbour

Sunset at Sukadana harbour

Anyway, after walking for a while, it turned out ASRI was further than expected. It was getting dark, and while I was enjoying the walk, it was fair to say Novi wasn’t – to her, 20 minutes was more than an hour – so we turned back. It was probably a good thing, because the next day we found out ASRI was closed for the holiday period, so we wouldn’t have been able to hire bikes anyway. It was a real shame we didn’t get to meet these people and talk to them about their work and their project. It sounds really interesting. Next time.