Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

There’s No Place Like Home

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Jakarta, Indonesia – The final stop on our nine month journey was Jakarta. From there I would fly home just in time for my Neurotech appointments and Stuart would travel solo for three more weeks in Borneo. We decided to travel the seven hours to Jakarta via train. It seemed fitting to end our trip the same way it began – riding the rails. We felt like old pros until we almost got off at the wrong station in Jakarta. What a rookie blunder!

There was a big convention in town, so our picks for lodging were slim. We ended up at a decent, but shabby hotel located in the tourist ghettos of Jalan Jaska. Not the prettiest part of town, but I don’t think there is a pretty part of Jakarta. It’s pretty much your typical big, ugly city and was just a point of departure for us anyway. But we got in a few more great meals and a lot of last minute shopping for gifts.

In the night we were awoken by the sounds of a mouse scurrying around the room and Stuart found it under the bed snacking on several packages of cookies, go figure. Stuart went downstairs to talk to the hotel staff about the mouse and had a hard time communicating the problem, apparently no one on the night staff spoke English. Flustered he started pointing around the lobby at asking, “does that guy speak English?” And he found one that did. Unfortunately that guy didn’t work the hotel, nor did he speak Indonesian. He was a guest,  from San Diego. Whoops. Sheepishly Stuart gave up and came back to the room. With the food cleared out from under the bed we hoped that the mouse would clear out, too.

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And then suddenly it was time for me to go home. At 10pm on my last day, Stuart and I said our farewells and I took a car to the airport, for my 1am flight. Sad, but ready to go home.

I got to the check in counter and was told by the Air China agent that I needed a transit visa to fly through China, and that I would not be able to board my flight. I knew this was wrong. I knew because I had looked it up when I bought the ticket. Plus the Chinese consulate’s website states that if you are just passing trough, will not leave the airport and will be there less than 24 hours you do not need a visa. I begged. I pleaded. I had English speaking travelers on my same flight come up and advise the staff that I was right about not needing a visa. I was met with blank, expressionless stares and robotic answers. I argued. I cried. I asked to speak to supervisors. I asked that they contact the consulate, or look up the visa rules on their website. The Air China agents refused to do any investigation, or offer any help. I demanded to be accommodated since they sold me the flight in the first place and made no mention of visa requirements when doing so. I asked to be put on the next available flight that would get me home by Sunday, even at my own expense. Nothing. They said nothing in response to my pleas, they just stared and said “no”.

At the end of traveling nine months through Russia and Asia, cultural and language barriers were still as frustrating as they were on that first day in St. Petersburg, and they were going to leave me stranded in the airport, alone and upset.

I resigned to not getting on that flight and went for plan B: find a new flight. Pay whatever it cost and just get home. By then it was after midnight. Nothing in the airport was open. All the airline offices where closed, as was the internet cafe. My only option was to go another airline’s check in counter and try to get a flight. So I looked around – there weren’t many flights departing that night – and found an agent from Philippines Air who was sympathetic to my situation and promised to help get me on a flight home. Relived to finally find someone who was willing to do something other than just tell me “no”, I went with him to his counter. He started to look up flights on his screen and then leaned over and said, “This will be really expensive, but don’t worry, I have a friend, and if you pay me cash I can get you a good price…”

“Argh!” My savior turned out to be just trying to make a buck off of me. I figured out quick that he wasn’t going to help me get on the first flight home, but the on the next flight he could make a commission on. All I wanted was to get home in time for my Neurotech appointments. I just wanted someone honest to help me. I longed for America, where people didn’t see me as a pocketbook. Where someone would take pity on me and help me for the sake of helping me. Someone who worked for a company that has heard of the phrase “costumer service”. Someone who I could trust.

Angry, upset, and balling I left the ticket counter and decided the only way to find out what flights were available was on the internet. So I decided to go back into town. At least Stuart would be there. Lugging my bags, trying to figure where to catch a cab, a nice young girl came and asked me what was wrong. And I explained. She showed me such sympathy, I didn’t care when she took my bags and loaded them into her coworker’s cab – even though I realized that she had approached me just trying to get a fare. I told her what I really wanted was to book another flight home for as soon as possible and she did try and help me find a ticket office that was open.

On our way we were approached by an Air China representative that had arranged for me to get the transit visa they thought I needed, but not until Sunday night. I tried to explain that I had to be home by Sunday night, for some important medical appointments, but they weren’t quite getting it. At least they offered something, but I was so mad that they were clearly wrong about the visa, that it was little consolation.

I took the nice girl’s college’s taxi back into town – after insisting that I would pay no more that $35 (which was $5 more than I paid to get to the airport) – and woke up a surprised Stuart at 2am. I think it took him a few minutes to really get that I was there and not on a plane home. We rushed out to the internet cafe and booked another ticket for the next night that would get me home Sunday, in time for my Monday morning appointments.

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When our plans were derailed after I lost my passport in Malaysia and we went back to KL to the embassy, we were rewarded by eating at the newly opened Krispy Kreme. When my plans to go home were derailed in Jakarta, at least I got to spend one more day with Stuart.

Stuart was heading to Borneo the next day, so we took a cab to the airport together even though my flight wasn’t leaving until five hours after his. I didn’t want to make that trip alone one more time. We had our last lunch at the airport, A&W and Beard Papas for dessert – like I said, it was a small airport and we didn’t have much options.

With many hours to kill in the airport, I wanted to spend the last rupiah I had on some snacks for the flight, so I went into a little kiosk, where of course nothing had price tags on it. The guy working there, taking me for a sucker, tried to charge me the equivalent of $5 for a roll of Mentos. I called him on it and said ‘no thank you, that is too much,” and I left without buying anything and promptly stuck the cash into a charity collection box outside the store. Feeling sorry that my last couple of days in Indonesia had left such a bad taste in my mouth, I boarded my plane to Seoul. Well, I was sad the trip was over, but I had never before been so excited to go home.

It took a while: a seven hour flight from Jakarta to Seoul, a nine and a half hour layover in Seoul – which is actually a great airport to spend a long layover – and finally a ten and a half hour flight to San Francisco.

I landed at SFO on Sunday afternoon and was greeted by my my parents with candy and flowers. So happy to be home, for now….

One Comment

  1. Yo, what do you think this is, some sort of vacation? Where are the 2011 updates, punks?
    On another note, we’re out of India for April 2 – 10 (will be in Thailand). Can you drop me a note with a rough guess on your India dates—- I’d hate to set up something that conflicts.