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Two neighbors but a completely different world YOGYAKARTA - It is a completely random day at the end of August. Time to catch a plane to head for a new destination. Fortunately I know what is waiting for me on the other side. This is, for me personally, a lot less stress. I tend to arrange everything into the smallest details, and that from someone that tries to build a life in Indonesia. Yeah, I know, it sounds strange, but until now it was relatively easy for that matter. The bright red AirAsia plane touches down after about two hours of flight. The environment still is tropical and green. It is clouded, that is the only thing I notice directly. That means that here at least I can see what kind of weather it is, because that is a big difference than just two hours ago. Because Jakarta is always covered under a thick layer of brown smog and other lethal stuff.

When touching down, a big group of Indonesians wakes up. They are where they had to go and now they want to get out of the plane as soon as possible, because they are undoubtedly eager to start working as a so-called TKI (Indonesian workforce abroad), at least so it seems. When the plane leaves the landing strip and enters the taxi-lanes, some of them get up in an effort to get to their luggage. A somewhat fierce voice makes them very clear that it is not allowed to get up right now and orders them to sit down again. Including safety belt that it, because we didn't stop yet. That is right. We roll forward over the tarmac of the international airport of Kuala Lumpur, in a neighboring country of Indonesia; Malaysia, before we come to a complete stop.

The one world

When unboarding the plane, some ground stewards show you where to go. The pedestrian-areas are clearly marked and people walk like a string of lemmings towards the terminal building. There is not a single one who tries to pass a pillar or pylon on the wrong side. Of course it is not really that dangerous on the wrong side of a pylon, but there is a Malaysian standing guard which loves to nag at people when they want to try it. He doesn't only nag at Indonesians; also the tourist who thinks he can out pass the string via the left side will be reprimanded. Just follow the course and stay in the pedestrian zone.

Customs here wear a button that states that they welcome people here with a smile. However not entirely true they look somewhat more friendly and thus more relaxed than their Indonesian colleagues. Rows here are not extremely long, but here as well a guard which nags at a few Indonesian girls which have never learned the meaning of a yellow line. That is second time within a few minutes. Just wait for your turn, this is not Indonesia! Waiting for luggage takes some time here as well, but that is relative because customs are quite fast. At the luggage checkpoint there are some customs sitting down, with a friendly face they show you the exit. There are no check-ups now.

A plane of Malaysia's AirAsia on the tarmac.  LensaMalaysia, Creative Commons.
A plane of Malaysia's AirAsia on the tarmac. LensaMalaysia, Creative Commons.

Outside the doors of the terminal building the same tropical heat, overwhelming crowds and a coming and going to taxi's, buses and private cars. They park everywhere they like here as well. I had spent nine Ringgit for a ticket on the express bus to the main station of Kuala Lumpur. By that time I was in downtown Kuala Lumpur and from there it was just a little distance to Chinatown. The bus is clean and looks new. My ticket is torn and handed back to me. The bus just leaves one minute late with a full load, not overloaded - everyone has a chair. The trip is nice and without loud music in the bus and other elements that I can do without very easy. I doze away and before I know it I am at the central station, and from there it's just a mere ten minutes to the hotel.

However it all looks a little bit more stiff - or more organized - here too it is busy with a mix of traffic, pedestrians and sounds. It's the small things however that are different than the environment I was in a few hour ago which causes me to get a completely different impression of this country. The presence of a big group of Indonesians as well as the language that is spoken here - with Indonesian you will be able to help yourself perfectly, however some words will be completely different - it is still somewhat of a trusted environment in a certain way. For that matter Malaysia is not that different from Indonesia when I arrived there for the first time.

The other world

After a week I had finished the things I had to do in Kuala Lumpur and I was able to go back. The way back was just as simple and as a precaution I decided not to depart at seven in the morning - the last time I tried to do that I missed my plane. I got on the bus to the airport somewhere in the morning, where the procedure was executed in exactly the opposite way now, so the plane was able to depart almost full with passengers and on time. That was Malaysia, now I was on my way back to a completely different world across the Malacca Strait.

After another two hours - with a time difference of one hour it only looks like one - we are safely on the ground and here too it's quite some time on the airport's tarmac towards the gate. Here too people jump from their seats as soon as they think it is safe and here as well they are told to sit down immediately. It is an AirAsia plane, Malaysian. As long as possible, Malaysian etiquette is applied to every single person on board of the plane. That is exactly until the moment that they step outside the plane, because all of a sudden they turn into real Indonesians again. Until the immigration everything is fine. They are remarkably friendly here now. Maybe the open booths - instead of those glass shelters - help improving the atmosphere here. After the immigration however the 'hell' breaks loose.

An Indonesian flag at the airport of Soekarno-Hatta near Jakarta. The greyish sky doesn't announce the arrival of dusk, it is merely heavy pollution.
An Indonesian flag at the airport of Soekarno-Hatta near Jakarta. The greyish sky doesn't announce the arrival of dusk, it is merely heavy pollution.

Near the luggage-belts it already got crowded, all people want to be first in line with their cart, even if others have to be forced aside for that. This while the luggage isn't even on the belts, and they might as well be waiting at the wrong belt because all people followed one man in a uniform. The word uniform doesn't mean anything in Indonesia, even the gardener has one, it's the color that matters. This one had black pants and a green shirt, a porter. The newly installed LCD-screens gave the same information remarkably... did he just read it? As usual my luggage is later than average. No problem, I check in early, so eventually you have to wait longer to get your luggage because yours is at the bottom.

Passing customs here is quick and without problems as well. No smiling faces here, but a group of customs that are busy talking to each other. Fine as well, at the end the result is the same, no checkup of my stuff so I can go out quickly. I still had four hours to catch my next plane, so no need to hurry at all. Directly outside the doors there is a long row of men and women yelling at all that walk by: 'Taxi!', 'Hotel!' and things related to that. I didn't need that at all, but I was happy they were not able to leave their booth to drag me along. The taxi-drivers however are in between the visitors. The calo, a 'helping hand' for everything are there as well and are prepared to help you with anything you need. Tickets, transport, your luggage, everything is possible. At the end you will have to pay up a high fee of course.

I didn't need all of that. Knowing that I already had an onward ticket to Yogyakarta and I had been awake for hours now, one of the calo took his chance when I slipped my tongue telling him I was going to Yogyakarta. 'No problem!' and he directly reached for his cell-phone to arrange the upcoming trip for me. That was quite useless and to avoid any discussion about paying for his expenses or whatever else I informed him again that I already had a ticket. In one way or another he didn't seem to understand that directly. He kept on asking until I decided to sit down on an empty seat in the terminal and grabbed my National Geographic from my bag.

In the hours that I had to spend at the airport I moved to the domestic departures area at the other side of the airport. There I spent hours sitting down and walking around with the trolley. It is that kind of moments that you see the most strange of things happening. A taxi driver is dozing away in his taxi while girls with too much make-up and hard to understand English are used to lure costumers just a few meters away. That's the easy life. A lane further is completely choked with big imported cars. They use too much subsidized fuel and you can see that by the fact that doors are wide open while the air conditioning is running at full capacity as well. Fortunately using the cars horn doesn't cost that much fuel otherwise the average Indonesian would need a refill every fifteen minutes or so.

Another lane ahead a string of horning cars slowly progresses. Everywhere people have to get in and out of cars while this is prohibited clearly. Does anyone care about it? The airport police at the location cruises around in circles near the terminal buildings and like a ten-year-old they play with the different alarm-sounds they have. No attention from anyone for this as well. A guy with a mob seems to clean the floor completely random piece by piece, searching for a new spot every few minutes. Under the watchful eye of an Indonesian man dressed in a white robe - including turban - two light-skinned Indonesian women in fairly short skirts are looking for travelers that want to spend some time in their massage saloon.

When I start walking with my trolley - I had to change it two times already because the bolts of the wheels were not too tightly fixed - a security guard shows up. He greets me and asks me where I come from. My habitual reply if Yogyakarta, which automatically triggers the next question where I really come from. The Netherlands. The security guard tells he is from Maluku and that he has family in The Netherlands. He greets me again and walks ahead in a firm pace. In that few hours at the airport I have more than one of those short encounters with a large diversity of people. Some I don't want to get involved with, others can have a normal conversation if they like that. With a delay of about one and a half hour the plane left for Yogyakarta. The chaos around me seemed to fade away gradually while I realized that it wasn't really happening. Does that mean I am home?

Posted in Travel @ 06 October 2007 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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