So I hadn't done an adventure like this in 5 years. Primary reason was my lack of employment, but it's more complex than what your initial inference might be:
1. I could certainly afford to travel. Some people are perplexed that after working 16 years at a job that paid above average overall (though below average for my education), and not having kids, I somehow have money left over. I've continued going to Philly, spring training and a few WrestleManias. But I do have to watch my expenses, not knowing if and when I'll ever get a job interview.
2. The excitement leading up to the trip, the trip itself, and the time spent writing the travelogue (took me a month to do the one for Morocco) would keep me from applying for jobs for a while. Even if I got a job, it would be tough to immediately ask for several weeks off to go out of the country.
3. I used to travel as an escape from people. In 16 years at j2 I had very few coworkers who were exceptionally good people. Most lacked a personality and a sense of humor and any interesting qualities, and reminded me of people from The Far Side with glasses and no eyes, no spark, just anonymously existing until their heart can no longer support their 300 pounds and they die at 55. I had to get away regularly from that to be around people like me who are adventurous, smart, positive, upbeat and generally better-looking. Without a job, that need vanished. I'm still around comedians I mostly can't stand for 6 hours every other Monday, but it's still somewhat tolerable.
But then the grind of year after year of job applications with no interviews was wearing on me, and I needed to knock myself out of a rut, and G Adventures sent me an offer for $150 off (plus the usual 5% discount as a returnee), and a couple summers ago I went from chilly dry LA to tropical Philly and remembered how much I love warmth and humidity and rain and lightning and lightning bugs and mosquitoes (fuck you, Greta Thunberg) and decided that the next place I'd go would be Indonesia for that kind of weather, and Indonesia is the biggest country by population that I hadn't been to, and when I go to the zoo and the placard shows the animal's habitat it's usually Indonesia, and in 1993 we did this thing where we called LAX or an airline and asked how much it cost to go to exotic cities and I was assigned Jakarta and I forget what the quote was but 26 years later I had the urge to complete the transaction, and on somewhat short notice (I usually book 4-9 months in advance, but I booked this one Oct 5) I fell in love with the Best of Java itinerary and length and price, and pulled the trigger. Cheap, no months of anticipation to distract me, shorter than average (I've done a few other 9-day tours before, but most have been in the 2-week range), and therefore less time compiling this travelogue and less catch-up time (TiVo, Survivor Series, etc.) so I can get back to the job hunt and the rest of my non-travel life relatively quickly. It took me a couple weeks to get this trip booked because there was one spot left, then it filled, then it opened, then it filled, then it opened, and I jumped on it.
Here we go!
The afternoon of the 14th I weighed 151.5 lb. I was as low as 146.5 on Halloween, my lowest since the 1990s. Main reason is I was extremely busy in Oct-Nov (again, people are perplexed that someone with no full-time job can be busy, but I'm not a dullard so my brain is in overdrive 24/7 doing things) and forgot to have a 2nd meal on a bunch of days.
Left my apartment 5:31pm. Caught the subway 5:50pm. Most crowded LA subway ever. At 7th St (where people transfer from Red/Purple to Blue/Expo) it was so packed that when the "doors are closing" chime rang (I miss when they used to have a Mexican guy announce "doosa clozeen") people hadn't even started to exit the train yet. Arrived at Union Station 6:17pm. I got in what I thought was an unprecedentedly-long line to by my ticket for the FlyAway bus, but I realized it was all people who had just come in from LAX (you pay at the end). I just missed the 6:30 bus to LAX, but a 6:40 bus was right behind it. I think it's supposed to be every half hour, but the schedule is rarely adhered to.
I should mention that the first time I left for Southeast Asia was 14 years ago on the 16th (the day I arrive on this trip). My friend Mike gave me a ride to LAX after work that day. Along the way we passed the Formosa Cafe, which was appropriate because I was about to fly to the Isle of Formosa (as I'm also doing on this trip). Mike's funeral was 5 years ago yesterday (the 13th). Miss you, dude.
There were two women talking on the bus who gave me repeated ASMR tingles on my scalp. What a pleasant ride!
Arrived 7:20pm at the Tom Bradley International Terminal. I had to look at the monitor to find the check-in counters for my flight, and I thought it would be quickest to get the flight number from the G Adventures app than from the printed itinerary in my bag because I was carrying too many bags. The app kicked me out and wouldn't let me log back in. Bad update. Many people on Facebook reporting the same problem. This is the first G tour I'm taking where they're pushing us to use the app but I don't trust it so I printed everything out, smartly. G also got rid of the Watering Hole on the web site, which was a solid message board for tourmates to connect pre-tour. I loved when I walked into the group meeting in Turkey and Michelle recognized me because I'd been active on the message board and she'd seen my 2009 standup videos. G wants us to use the app for pre-tour chat now, but I'm a member of chat groups for 5 different tours, and no one has been using it.
Long line to check in. Why do people travel with so much stuff? Like a cart with multiple suitcases and boxes containing all their life's possessions? Or a backpack that juts back farther horizontally than they are tall vertically, when they can check bags for free? (This isn't limited to airports--on the subway a guy had a giant backpack AND a skateboard helmet strapped to and behind it. The rule is you're supposed to carry things low in crowded areas.) And why the hell are people still using hard-shell suitcases with wheels, against all advice? Luggage should be shape-shifting so it can be stacked and stored easily. People say I travel heavy. I take the same 11-kg duffel bag whether my trip is 2 days or 2 weeks. But the Taiwanese take it to another level.
In line there was a couple with 4 kids and they were all extremely blond with creepy blond eyebrows like Brock Lesnar and his daughter. Very Dutch or Scandi looking. Maybe the parents were related. No genetic variation among the kids.
Checked in 8:09pm. There were like 8 counters for China Airlines but I used the same counter as the couple who was waiting in line in front of me, because every other counter was occupied by high-maintenance Taiwanese divas who were taking forever. Just like my 2005 and 2010 flights on China Air. They're an odd people.
Ah shit, my jeans are falling down. See recent weight loss above. Also I didn't bring a belt. I always make the belt decision when I'm wearing jeans or shorts with nothing in the pockets, not laden down. Freedom can be found, laden down, under the weight of the wood. But I have to wear jeans only on the first and last days because LA is so frigid, and for the Mt. Bromo hike.
Hadn't flown out of the TBIT in a while. I missed the big board. There's my flight to Taipei at the bottom. On time. On this trip I didn't have any flight that left more than 11 minutes late, and a few got in early. In the US hours-long delays have become standard and expected.
For perspective. Behind me is the bank of phones where I photographed Amy Milov making a Jimmie Jane call in 1993, on that day when T-Luv and I made two separate trips to the TBIT to drop off Amy and then pick up LG who came back from Russia in love.
I went to the turlet beyond those escalators and there was a guy in one of the stalls (filled with luggage) talking on his phone. Chinamen are so peculiar! I thought only Israelis did that (talk to someone while feces are moving through and out of them).
I'm pretty sure Virgin Australia paged Taylor Swift. I tried to find a unified tour schedule to ascertain whether it matched up with a flight today, but could not. Looks like she's performing in NZ/Aus in the next month but the AMAs are in LA before that.
Through security 8:36pm. Didn't have to take my shoes off but I already did. Airlines and airports are so inconsistent with the shoe thing. And I went through a simple metal detector instead of the mm-wave scanner. Reduced security is a harbinger of a fun trip.
Ate at KFC. They have straws! Evidently LAX is exempt from the city's ban on straws. Colonel's Original sandwich. I'm not getting caught up in this Popeyes hype. I tried to go to Popeyes last week specifically to get something other than the sandwich, but the line was too long so I went to KFC, so now consecutive weeks. My other option at the TBIT was Panda Express, but I got spicy fried rice from my favorite Thai place two days ago, which was a dumb thing to do considering I'm gonna be eating fried rice every day in Indonesia. BTW, every Taiwanese person in the airport (likely on my flight to Jakarta) was in line at Panda Express.
On the way to my gate I encountered several moving walkways. At each one I had to scan the entire walkway before deciding to get on, because if there's even one person who's standing, it's not worth it.
Took my seat (window!) on the plane 10:45pm, which was the scheduled departure time, so I guess we left the gate a few minutes after that. And 10:45pm on Thursday the 14th immediately became 2:45pm on Friday the 15th as soon as I sat down. Took off 11:25pm/3:25pm. Instead of the familiar left turn over the ocean and back over Orange County, we went up the coast over land. Just under Alaska and over Japan is the shortest route.
Last time I flew China Air the meal options were chicken pasta and fish rice. This time the fish was replaced by beef. I asked for it but they were out. Blimey! The chicken pasta was still a big meal. Maybe KFC was unnecessary. But also who knows what else is coming before the group dinner Saturday. Also, I missed free wine on international flights.
Well this is odd--the airplane magazine has no sudoku. I always like to finish the puzzles before takeoff so as to mark my territory. The in-flight entertainment system had sudoku and I did the easy and medium puzzles, but I didn't attempt beyond that because it's less fun when you can't physically write things down.
Took a double PM pill (100 mg diphenhydramine) 5:20pm (Taipei time) and tried to sleep. Lights went out after dinner to help facilitate.
What's the deal with Asian sideburns? Most guys don't trim them horizontally and abruptly next to the ear. Instead they grow them down to their jawline where they kind of thin out to a point. But why do they thin? Like how do they shave the rest of their facial hair while the sideburn hair decreases in density down to where the shaving starts? I noticed this with Ichiro years ago. It's a bad look.
I was farting but was unable to conjure one up in the vicinity of 180° longitude for the Bihemispheric Fart. My GPS wasn't working over the Pacific anyway so it wouldn't have been accurate.
Everyone was startled (awake) by a loud bang at 11:30pm. Meteor hit an engine? That was temporarily scary.
I might have slept for a few short stints. Twice when I checked the time a couple hours had gone by. Temperature got in the way of sleep. It took a while to cool off, then it was too cold, and resting my head against the window was a problem because it was much colder than the cabin.
Lights on 3:25am. Breakfast. Cheese omelet with chicken sausage and potato wedges. It came with a banana, and I hate bananas. The guy next to me peeled his banana and I had a flashback to when we did the isopentyl acetate synthesis in O-chem in 1988-89 and Jenn Russo spilled hers and the 3rd floor of Holroyd Hall smelled like bananas for weeks.
I saw Nagasaki from the air. It was dark (this entire 15-hour flight was in the dark because we were chasing the sun) so no photo possible. I knew where we were from the in-flight map, and I recognized the larger lit-up area and the adjacent smaller lit-up area. I know from reading about the bomb that Nagasaki is kind of like LA where the San Fernando Valley is separated from the rest of the city by mountains, and when the bomb dropped the wind blew it into the "Valley" portion of Nagasaki where it detonated, reducing the death toll because of the mountain shielding.
Landed in Taipei 5:50am. I did not pee in the 15+ hours I was on the plane. If you ever have to pee on a plane, you have an alcohol problem or cancer. Get treatment.
The first time I flew through Taipei in 2005, a kid at the gate was screaming like Homer Simpson when he had the corpse flashback because his mom wouldn't buy him a Coke. The second time in 2010 there was chaos at LAX because a ton of Taiwanese guys had trouble with the security check and loose change was strewn around the X-ray machine and I picked up some of it. The third time, I used some of that change (NT$20, ~US$0.67) to buy a Coke from a vending machine. When you have a chance to do something that's a callback to anecdotes from 14 and 9 years ago just so you can mention it in the travelogue, you do it.
Flight to Jakarta left the gate 9:10am (5 min late), which now becomes 8:10am. Took off 8:35am.
Finally had fish rice on this flight. The fish tasted like the fish from fish and chips so it might have been cod. Also had 2 half-cups of wine. I miss the flights where they'd just give you a mini-bottle.
I think I kept nodding off and jerking myself awake like cute puppies do. This is the first time I've been sleepy in years, except for when I intend to sleep 4am-12pm but I don't fall asleep till 9am and then I'm at maximum sleepiness from 12pm to 2pm.
I tried to get a screen cap from my Compass app of when I crossed the equator, but my finger slipped. No fart either. Nevertheless, 12:08pm was my vernal equinox. First day of spring!
Hard landing at 1:22pm. To the gate a few minutes before the scheduled 1:35pm.
Through immigration 2:05pm. I had to show the agent my onward flight info (to prove that I'm staying less than 30 days, because you need a visa for a longer stay). First time I've had to show such documentation, even though it's ostensibly required at every border crossing around the world (unless, according to Democrats, you're Latino and/or travelling with people you claim are family members, in which case laws don't apply to you). The agent reacted to my name. I knew Putro is a common Indonesian name (we descend from the unrelated Finnish Putros) and he reminded me of that. He said it means "boy" or "man". We shall see which it is.
I've been checking out white girls since Taipei, wondering if any of them are on my tour. I forgot about this fun part of every trip.
I just realized my green shorts will also be falling down without a belt and unladen with stuff. I need to buy a belt, or gain weight.
First two ATMs at the airport didn't work. Found a third that did. Withdrew 1.25M rupiah (14,000 Rp = US$1, so $89). From what I read it's hard to find an ATM with a higher limit, and at best you'll find 2M Rp.
All the instructions I read said to use Blue Bird taxi, and be wary of any impersonators. I was in line for Blue Bird and an agent wearing Blue Bird garb came up to me and offered 380,000 Rp ($27). G said it was supposed to be 190,000 Rp or $20, but the conversion rate is off there, and G was off by half in Peru, so I figured G was inaccurate. G also said 1-2 hours and this trip was 48 minutes, so perhaps outdated info. At the hotel I looked at the receipt and it said Golden Bird taxi. I got swindled. But only $27 instead of $20 or $14. There was a train option for $5 but it was a winding route from the airport into the city and then a transfer to another line that went back in the other direction to the hotel and then I'd have to walk in jeans (that I was wearing because LA is so cold), and the 2nd line's web site wasn't in English so I couldn't figure it out, and didn't want to risk a late arrival at the hotel.
It's such a pain arriving in a place with a comfortable climate and having to take my jacket off and carry it in addition to my bags, plus wearing jeans instead of cargo shorts and not having a place to carry the stuff I had in my jacket, plus constantly having to take my reading glasses out of my bag instead of my jacket or shorts (especially with weak eyes on account of having my contacts in from Thu to Sat).
Arrived at the Erian Hotel 3:45pm. Upon check-in I was informed that I have a roommate, Toomas (not to be confused in any way at all with Toomgis). I hadn't had a roommate in years--sometimes because I paid extra, sometimes because I was the odd guy and lucked out. This time a single room was $459 extra for only 8 nights (7 nights not counting the homestay), and given the amount of travel and scant free time in the room, I figured it wasn't worth it and rolled the dice and got a roommate. I've done 2-week tours with a single supplement half that. Kinda wanted that classic tour group experience that I'd been missing.
Yes. The two biggest reliefs on any tour are getting from the airport to the hotel successfully, and seeing this sheet in the lobby. Putra. And as we know from Barry Soetoro, Barry is a common name for men born and raised in Indonesia. (I know, duh, Obama was born in Nigeria.) Looks like 8 guys 7 girls. Found out later one couple cancelled because the girl (older woman) injured herself, so 7 and 6. At least I have names and initials. Can't add everyone on Facebook quite yet. Then again, the sheet doesn't guarantee that. In Turkey I had everyone's full names from the sheet and started adding everyone on FB so we could tag each other in photos and whatnot, but Kate Campbell rejected my request like 2 days later, when we still had 2 weeks in Turkey together. What a weirdo. Maybe this first name last initial thing is for the best so I can't add people and find out that they're shitheads.
To my room. No sign of Toomas yet. Showered, sorted my stuff, transcribed, Internet.
Went down to the lobby at 6pm for the group meeting I mean Welcome Moment. I recognized Barry (CEO, Chief Experience Officer, aka tour leader) because I'd just added him on FB. Meeting was upstairs in the restaurant. 9 of the 13 people were there: Missy from US, Lindsay from Canada/UK, Clare from UK, Rose from UK, Barry (aka White Barry, as opposed to Barry Putra who is Black Barry, except Barry White was black and I'm secure enough in my heterosexuality that I would not have minded being made love to by Barry White) & Linzi from UK, Cam(pbell) (Rose's bf from UK), Ian from Aberdeen, and me. 4 more joining us before we hit the road the next day. Black Barry made things interesting. Instead of introducing ourselves, we had to talk to the person next to us and then introduce that person in the guise of that person. An improv exercise. As most of you know, I have 11 years' experience at introducing people and I'm extremely good at it. I introduced Ian in the guise of Ian and said I've always wanted to be an Ian. When Ian introduced himself/me, people sounded impressed that this was my 9th G Adventures tour.
Barry (Black, Putra, CEO, tour leader--henceforth "Barry" means him and not White Barry) said he learned English on the street. That's exactly what Fabi said in Costa Rica 10 years ago. I wish other countries like Mexico would legalize the learning of English on the street.
After the meeting we went to Yan Kedai Koop for dinner. Had nasi goreng sate (nasi = rice, goreng = fried, sate = chicken on skewers) and a small (330 mL) Bintang (4.7%).
It took a day for everyone to loosen up and start ordering the large (620 mL) beers.
Out in front of the restaurant. Pretty much all of Indonesia is like this trafficwise. That glowing sign is a Circle K. Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.
I took pics earlier of a kitteh who was meowing but they were blurry. Here's the second cat I ever saw in Indonesia. Didn't notice the cigarette pack until my sister pointed it out. Then a local guy tried to befriend me (I think using the cat to get me to come to his restaurant the next day) but I had to catch up to my group. Locals tend to be oblivious to groups.
Back at the hotel I found out Ryan (Aus) had arrived. Ian's roomie. That still leaves Toomas and Carrie & Stevie, also from Aberdeen. I've done a few trips where I arrived after the meeting and it hurts the dynamic of the group. I want to establish myself from the start.
White Barry and Ian and I had beers at the hotel, just till 9:45pm. Early mornings on this trip. 7am departure tomorrow.
Went to my room and Toomas's stuff was there. Dammit! And then he arrived at 10:15pm. He's from Estonia. This is his 5th G trip. Not bad. Bed 10:30pm.