Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Part Two - Chapter One -

Place: Singapore / Jakarta / Yogyakarta

Time: July 1994


Do you know the feeling of coming home from a holiday trip and somehow feeling empty and confused? As I came back to Germany in late October 1993, I felt estranged from life. I had been almost two months in Thailand. The dark forces which I had encountered seemed to follow me. I had alienated from an ordinary life in western societies. A wanderer between the worlds, the worlds of West and East, the worlds of real life and shadows. I had lived a long time in the shadows. I felt thrilled going as soon as possible back to Asia, but certainly not Thailand. The encounters with lady boys, drugs and prostitution kept me from thinking about it positively. There had to be better countries without these problems. Certainly, Thailand was beautiful but going off the beaten track had been a too dark experience. Somehow, I considered being through with that country. On the other side, I had met good people like my friend Pee Pee. He deserved seeing me again. He should not think of me as someone that did not keep his word. I wanted to make a difference. The following year I spent planning a trip to Indonesia. I thought of concluding this journey with a short trip to Thailand. First, I had to clear my head, find some new meaning in life and then to go back with a better understanding and more distance. Asia should not swallow me again.


The problem with transits is that they are usually understood as easy however they can be full of complications. This time, I took KLM to Jakarta with stop-over in Singapore. Already in Singapore, I was back in the strange surroundings that had engulfed me on my first visit. I went out of the plane to a book shop and got me a book to learn basic Bahasa, the language of Indonesia. It is in my eyes important to speak some words of the native languages of the visited countries. I planned to spent two months there and so some pieces of the language could always be helpful. As I wanted to enter the plane again, I had to go through a routine custom control. Suddenly, the custom officer pointed towards me.
'What you got in the bag?'
'A book'
'Where did you buy it?'
'Just here, Sir.'
'Come with me!'
Well, my plane was leaving in ten minutes time. There had to be a misunderstanding.
'Sir, I am on transit. My plane...'
'Come with me! Now!'
 It did not make any sense to resist. It would only take more time. I followed the officer into a neighboring quarter where he looked at me sharply. Fortunately, he was interrupted by a superior officer, exchanged some words in Chinese and then he told me to get to the plane quickly. 
'Hurry up! You miss your plane!'
Well, it was not my idea to delay the boarding. 'Strange', I thought 'What did he actually think that he was doing?'
Singapore is a very clean and strict country. This is known. These two facts were a reason I have never planned of going to that country. In the previous year to this incident, I heard on the radio that a man had been whipped for parking his car in a no-parking zone. Chewing gums were prohibited. Did I look like I had chewing gums on me? Maybe. They have the death penalty on drugs. Maybe I had with my long hair the look of a drug trafficker. Further, long hair was once forbidden in Singapore. They took themselves the right to turn away visitors with long hair. Well, I was not properly dressed as well and maybe looked too much like a hippie.(1) Still, I was on a stop-over!  I had no intention to enter the country except the airport! Could I call myself lucky that nothing more had happened? What if the superior officer had not come into the room? I felt back in old shadows from the previous year. They had not left me, only given me a break. This I understood already as I re-entered my plane to continue my flight, a transit had become an omen.


One of the biggest problems that Asian capital cities have faced for a long time is pollution. The plane was scheduled to arrive in the capital city of Indonesia at 2 p.m. I was still shocked and slightly embarrassed after the incident in Singapore. The airport in Jakarta looked depressive. It was more like a warehouse than a proper airport. A lot of empty spaces, a hall as big as a football field and a few waiting lines standing lost around. I went to the baggage claim, got my backpack and left to the street. Outside, it was almost dark. Did the plane have such a delay? I asked a local for the time.
'Oh, it is 2 p.m. Why? Was your plane late?'
"No,... but it is dark. Any rain expected?'
 Great, I had thought that Bangkok was bad. I had never seen black clouds darkening the sky at 2 p.m. in the afternoon. I had to get out of that. I asked the man once more, he had understood English.
'How do I get to the train station?'
'Why? Don't you like it here?'
Well, I could not tell him that I did not like it, I hated it instantly.
'No, but I hope to get to Yogya by tomorrow.'
'It is a long way to the station. You can take bus. Four hours.'
I could hardly imagine that I had been able to pollute my body with all cigarettes of my life more than staying one day in this city. Pollution was bad in Bangkok, I think it is the worst in Jakarta.
Another exciting thing about major cities in Asia is certainly the chaos in commuting. The bus was crowded, I had to stand all the way long. Still, it was better than spending the night in this garbage pile. It stank, it felt bad, my eyes hurt after the first hour and it was too loud. I had to get out of it, only out. 

Another issue in some Asian countries is the security on the intercity connections. I was positively surprised that there was no delay. It was really only four hours to the station and there were still three options for trains to Yogyakarta that evening. The option after 8 p.m., arriving at Yogya in the early morning, sounded best. The platforms were crowded, people fighting for the best point to get early on and pushed each other forth and back. There were not many Europeans here. Following the survival instinct, I found myself quickly in a small group of a couple from France and an Austrian woman. Usually, it was not my style to bond that quickly, here it fulfilled a purpose, not being overrun by others. I had read and heard too many stories of these trains. People getting robbed or even thrown out of it, the police had too much to do to follow up in most cases. Bonding, the only option to get a small piece of security. (2)
 We arrived early morning in Yogyakarta. Nothing had happened to our small group in the night. We heard that two young Americans had been robbed in the next wagon. Well, I don't know if it is true. Still, I felt better that we had stayed in the small group. 
I had seen it in the previous year, some times locations and settings can lead to some tricks of the mind. There are some cities in South East Asia that have given me a kick, Chiang Mai was one of them, Yogya was another one. It was in 1994 a fascinating place. It was a million people city but it did not feel depressive, it looked beautiful and my reason being there was not even the city. I was more interested in its surroundings. There was the Hindu monument of Prambanan (3), a massive structure. I felt the presence of the old spirits that the builder had called to fulfill the impossible task to build 1,000 temples within one night. This was a holy site! I got goosebumps by walking slowly in the light of the early morning through the ancient alleys. The smell of the sultry floral aromas of the Lotus flower embedded the figurines like a sweet perfume. Maybe I got intoxicated by it as my mind drifted away and everything in my surroundings became somehow unreal. I was the wanderer between the worlds again, not at home in the presence, but not yet welcome in the surreal. The big yonic symbols of the dancers evoke in me the hunger for Asian beauties as I had not felt it on my previous journey to Thailand. It was thrilling to see the different erotic positions carved into the stone. Hence, it was a spirituality in this complex that I felt a form of higher enlightenment given also through the depicted sexuality. I spent the entire day in these surroundings and drove only back in the evening. Still, with a fuzzy mind fogged through the sensuality of the day I could not believe seeing a pretty Swiss girl in front of her bungalow. It had to be a dream, a persuasion of the impact of the lotus flower, better to go to bed.
After the experience from Prambanan on the previous day, I thought the biggest difference to it could be a holy Buddhist site. I had already visited various places around the city and there was still one big journey left, the Borobodur. I would not describe it as a temple, it is a monument. My understanding of a temple is a place of worship with monks and laypeople going to pray and make merit at a site. I don't want to be impolite or even rude but the Borobodur is a block of massive stone, which is spectacular as it must be one of the biggest monuments in the world (4). Like on the previous day at the Prambanan, I fell into a deep unnatural condition of tranquility. The ascent from one level to the next made me feel like climbing the universe itself. At the Hindu temple complex, I had felt partly guilty to see the expressed pleasure as a temptation and had been sexually aroused. Here I felt only warmly welcome by its spirituality. A warm and kind embrace by the ancient essence of the holy structure. It was strengthening and giving myself confidence to become part of this historical setting. This feeling made me wonder if I was maybe not only a tourist in Asia but if I maybe belonged to this part of the world. I felt woven into a silk mantle of South East Asia as if it was my real home. A mysteriously bright warmth spread through all the parts of my body. A lightness of being no longer physical matter but only to exist in the ethereal world of my imaginations. My European consciousness and education refused still to accept this and for the moment it was better this way. Borobodur had dissolved the sexual attraction of Asia but replaced it with a spiritual understanding that I belonged to Asia.

 I did not want to give up Europe that easily. I needed something to keep me away from giving into Asia that easily. There had to be something about Europe that was impossible to find here. So far, I had not met any Asian woman that had attracted me. Maybe, it was just this interpersonal connection to a female partner that I would never find here. My arrival back at my bungalow helped to focus on that idea. There was the Swiss girl in front of her shelter. She had to be the sign that Europe had positive sides, I made my move.

1)  Remember Singapore. Gongs, Long Hair and Chewing Gums

2) Expat Focus. Indonesia - Crime and Safety.

3) Asian Historical Architecture. Prambanan Temple, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

4) Buddhist Art & Architecture. The temple of Borobodur

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