Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Ah, so this is Asia. My proper introduction then, came - as it should - on a bus. Arrived at Jakarta airport utterly spaced after forgoing a night's sleep at KL airport. Getting the airport bus to the bus station was the easy part, it was just after that things started to get a little frazzled. My bus to Cianjur (the ’c’ pronounced like ’ch’) was leaving from Kampung Rambutan station and getting off the bus felt a little like being fed to the lions and sure enough there was a pride waiting for me when I disembarked. A flurry of questions ensued - 'Where do you go mister?' 'You come my bus!' (granted that was more of a statement of intent) etc etc.
Quickly found the Cianjur bus by myself (it's difficult giving a tout the impression that you know where you're going when you're glancing haplessly at each bus and you're gripping your copy of the Lonely Planet in your hand) and found my way to the back seats where there was at the least the promise of some leg room. No sooner had I sat down than Phase II of the attack commenced. 6 hawkers clearly sensing fresh meat made their way towards me plying their wares. Not only was I not hungry, I didn't have much of an idea what it was they were selling. I shook my head firmly, they got the hint, had a conversation probably along the lines of "tightarse fucking bulé (foreigner)" right in front of me and sodded off. Once the engine of the bus was up and running I assumed that we were about to hit the open road, but no. It took us half an hour to leave the station itself - buses tend to wait until every seat is taken as so timetables are an arbitrary thing but it gave a phenomenal stream hawkers free rein to sell, sell, sell. Then came the buskers. Three groups - I could have sworn I saw Glen Hansard - each of them a guitar/vocal combo (there was a trio, the third member clapping sheepishly out of rhythm with the guitar- the fifth Beatle, I thought). Well, if crime doesn't pay, then neither does busking in Java as each successive group sidled off, near empty cap in hand ready to jump the next bus out of the station.
The bus itself was 'ekonomi' which basically meant no air-con and - a la Ryanair - designed to fit as many bodies into as small a space as possible. The back door which I had foolishly sat myself beside rarely closed as it picked up and deposited both passengers and the unrelenting stream of hawkers ready to pounce whenever the bus slowed, which was frequently. The drive itself was beautiful as we climbed out of Jakarta through the hills outside the city. In the three and a half hours it took to bring us to Cianjur, there was scarcely a patch at the side of the road that was unmanned by a food stall or mini-market selling the freshest fruit. Stalls selling teeming heaps of unrecognisable snacks, local specialities and - bizarrely - baseball caps proclaiming 'I LOVE PERSIA'. It’s up there on my most wanted list now along with a Nick Cave doll.

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