My flight to Singapore suddenly landed in Kuala Lumpur. The landing wasn’t sudden, but my realization that I was in fact headed to in Kuala Lumpur didn’t dawn on me until I was already en route. I had been focused on organizing Trinh’s flights through Singapore that I hadn’t remembered that mine was through Malaysia. I felt like a flight attendant who knows what they are doing, but not where they are going. Go ahead ask a flight attendant where they are going and you’ll be surprised how long it takes them to remember.
I’m excited, this is my first solo trip to a new country since December 2016 when I went to Sri Lanka in 2017. I love traveling to and with my friends and colleagues, but there is something special about heading out on your own to a new place. The first 6 of this 11-day trip will be on my own before Trinh joins me in East Java to see Mount Bromo and the Ijen crater.
I’m hoping, like all travelers, to reclaim some of my optimism. Growing into a heavy set adult, accustom to routines, millennial angst, and office etiquette has been sobering. I can’t say my mood was all too awesome this last month. I anticipated this somber feeling around the holidays. Just as winter goers feel sad near the winter solstice. Monsoonaries, like myself, feel grumpy when the rains stop. Without the cathartic release of the weeping clouds, the smog and crowds on the unwashed city can creep into the unwashed mind.
Globalization has exported air pollution to Southeast Asia- where smoke factories make the goods Americans don’t make anymore. The levels of air pollution we experience after the rainy season are disgusting and frustrating. Although Vietnam is winning in the US-China the trade war, with more factories moving to Vietnam to avoid tariffs, the price the environment pays for that success is the abysmal path of pollution that China led. To further this irony just as the rain ends in November the factories ramp up production to feed my beloved capitalist Christmas crave. Although Americans resent offshoring manufacturing, Erin Brockovich and I are certain that pollution levels in the US have improved greatly. Offshoring production is offshoring air pollution. Air pollution is a crime against humanity. I’m inspired by Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence Speech for straight talking my fragile countrymen.
Indonesia is thousands of islands – I love that salad dressing. The fourth most populous country in the world, and has the world’s largest Muslim population. It is also the historical center of power for the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Java’s past. I recommend watching the Extra History Series on the Kingdom of Majapahit for a fun and fascinating view of Javanese culture.
One of my goals in going to Java is to climb some volcanos. I have never been near an active volcano and am excited to see smoke billowing out of the cater and hear it rumble. I’m also planning to do more serious climbing in the future and so I want to give hiking a serious test run. Before coming to Java I bought hiking boots, a headlamp, and some hiking pants – consuming my way to the top.
My plane landed in Kuala Lumpur and I passed Malaysian immigration for fifteen minutes before walking up the stairs to the departures level and exited the country. I should have booked a through ticket instead of two individual tickets. In the airport, I sat at Starbucks and wondered if the Star Buck could be the world’s first truly international currency if it existed. Then after two hours, of finally reading about Yogyakarta and the mountains that surround it, I got on the flight and wrote this. Now I’m writing some Indonesian phrases in my notebook for getting around.
Southeast Asia essential phases
• Hati-Hati: be careful
• Hati-Hati Nati Mati: be careful or you will die
My first impression of Yogyakarta was that it was a warm green town in the hills. The jungle/city mix was like Yangon. It was charming to see from overhead that the city was wide and had almost no multi-story buildings. All buildings had red tiled roofs and the creeping stain of tropical mold.
I fumbled around the small airport trying to get a SIM card, food, and exchange money. The airport and its amenities were basic. I took a Grab to the hostel from the airport for about one hour. On the ride over I heard the call to prayer as the last sunlight made the sky a dark red. The call to prayer even came through the radio. My initial impression of the city was that Yogyakarta was just like the Philippines in many ways. To get the nuance of this observation you can read about my brief stay in on the island of Luzon in 2014 .
When we arrived at the hostel. I was surprised to see that no one was there at all. It seemed like a ghost town. It had a funk to it and a few examples of the regions greatest tradition; unsafe electrical wiring. I thought that I ought to upgrade to a better hotel.
So after checking in to the hostel and showering, I went for a walk around the block. I looked at another hostel and remarkably the accommodations were worse. I was unimpressed with the area. I was in a city designed for cars, with no pedestrians. As I walked one direction, I decided and then said aloud, “Nope, I’m over this.” So I decided to stick with what I have and went back to the hostel.
I bought some peanuts and took a chair to sit in the driveway of the hostel to avoid its dank deserted main room. I got to talk to the Indonesian guy, Tony, working at the hostel.
The first time Tony ever left his home island was four years ago to come to Yogyakarta to live with his cousin, the owner of the hostel, while he completed his studies in mechanical engineering. I mentioned to him that I work in Vietnam to help young engineers find manufacturing jobs (with US companies…shhh). So I was interested to hear about his career plans. Tony told me that his dream is to work in Europe or Japan. Then he told we that he isn’t brave enough to go because he doesn’t have connections there.
“if there is another job in Southeast Asia, I won’t go there, but if there is a job in Singapore I’ll go there. Singapore is Europa.”