Archive for November, 2010

14th November
written by Ilana

When I thought about Bali I imagined beautiful rice patties and some sort of “spiritual” place.  God, what does it even mean to be a spiritual place??  Even though I hate to admit it, it’s actually quite obvious that I am generally a religious person, also I am fascinated by different religious traditions, so I figured Ubud, the “spiritual” capital of Bali would be the perfect place for me to relax and find my inner self…or whatever.

So what did I find in Ubud?

Well, for one, I found many Balinese men standing on the sidewalk saying “Taxi?  Transport?  Hello?  Taxi?? “  At first I responded with a polite smile and a “no thank you!”
Their response: “maybe tomorrow?”
“No, I don’t think so, sorry!”

Ten minutes later:  “Taxi?  Transport”
“No thanks”

Another ten minutes pass:  “Taxi??”
“No.  I do not want a taxi.”
“NO.  Not tomorrow either.”

Five minutes go by.  “Taxi?”
This time Bloom responds “Do I look shy to you??  Do you think I wouldn’t ask you if I needed a taxi??  I do NOT need a taxi, and if I need one, I will find you, and I do not need one tomorrow!”

I told Bloom that this was a rather aggressive approach, and seemed pretty rude.  “They’re the ones harassing me!” Bloom protested.  “And you want to spend three months in India??”  I asked him.  He ignored me.  I decided I was going to take the high road here.  I explained to Bloom that yes, these guys were annoying, and yes, they assume that since we’re white we are rich and want to hire private taxis to drive us everywhere, but the truth is we do have money, and even though we are not rich and have a pretty tight budget (that I am currently blowing on expensive lattes), it’s likely that we do have more money than they do, and so they have the right to harass us.

The next afternoon:  “Taxi?  Transport??”
I had just about enough.  Yeah, fine, they’re poor and I’m white and western and have some dollars, but step off!
“You listen to me, guy.  I DO NOT want a taxi.  I DO NOT need transport.  I am sure I will walk past here again, and you BETTER not ask me if I need a taxi.   Got it??”
The guy smiled and laughed and shook my hand.  “What’s your name?”
“My name is Ilana, and I’m on my way to dinner.  No taxi, got it?”

I looked at Bloom and apologized for being a self-righteous ass earlier.  Damn, these people were getting to me too.  I missed Sumatra where the people might harass you, but it felt friendly.

Ok, fine, I knew that Bali was a million times more touristy than Sumatra, I should have been prepared, but isn’t Ubud supposed to be some sort of spiritual haven and not a place of constant harassment?

So, about that spiritual thing…  I don’t know what exactly I imagined when I thought “spiritual haven,” but it was not a bunch of skinny American women sitting around with perfect posture and talking about raw food and their yoga class.  Ugh.  This is exactly how I imagine LA, which is why I don’t go to LA.  All this pseudo spiritual crap is making me realize that I am not zen at all, no, I am a Jew through and through, and not even a Jew-Bu at that!  Maybe I don’t actually respect other people’s religious journeys as much as I thought I did.  There is something that feels inauthentic about coming to a city and expecting that you will find some sort of spiritual enlightenment, just because other people may have had spiritual experiences there. Take Elizabeth Gilbert, the infamous author of “Eat Pray Love” for example.  There are now “Eat Pray Love” guided tours and different classes here in Ubud for you to experience your own “Eat Pray Love” style awakening!

WHAAAAT.  Look, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I like Liz Gilbert, and I liked her book, but just because she found something here in Ubud does not mean that I, Ilana G, will find something here.  My “journey” is mine and mine alone, which means I have to find meaning in places because it’s meaningful to me, not because it was meaningful to Liz Gilbert and to many Balinese people.

There’s also something that’s making me depressed about this whole place.  Are westerner’s so devoid of their own spirituality and meaning that they have to come and hijack someone else’s religious culture?

Ok, I’m being a judgmental ass right now, and I realize that, but there’s something so frustrating about this.  How am I any different than these spiritual seekers who come to Bali or India or wherever else?  Well, for one thing I have my own religious culture and traditions, I’m not looking for something completely new, I just want to see how other cultures practice their religiosity and then maybe see if any of their traditions can work within my own Jewish traditions.  Do they have something that I’m missing?  Do they have something that can enrich my own religious life?

Ok, so maybe I’m not so different than the alleged seekers.  Ugh, but I am!  Something just seems so disingenuous about this whole process here; people seem to just have automatic buy-in to yoga/ayurveda/chakra/healers, etc.

So Bloom and I actually went to a yoga class here to see what all the fuss was about, and because I have always thought it would be cool if I was into yoga.  So I guess I’m the real inauthentic poser here, taking a class because I think it seems cool and all…  But, in my defense, I also think it could potentially help lower my anxiety levels and help strengthen my leg injury, but anyway, back to the class.  There was a point at the start of the class when we were sitting there with our eyes closed and the teacher was telling everyone to think about their breath, the flow of your breath in your body, blah blah blah.

I of course got bored and opened my eyes a drop to peek around the room to see if anyone else wasn’t feeling it.  I looked at Bloom, he looked into it.  Hmm.  Ok, I tried again and closed my eyes and tried to think of my breath and nothing else.  Impossible.  I thought about how lame it was that I couldn’t focus on my breath, then I thought about how lame it was that everyone else was focusing on their breath.  Eventually the class was told to open their eyes and we all did some weird pulling at our knees and bending and stuff.  After pulling at our right knees for a while the teacher told us to sit back and see if we felt a difference between our right and left knees.  I thought about it and realized that my right knee actually felt loose and relaxed!  Had it worked?  I took the rest of the class relatively seriously, and had a pleasant time.  Maybe I can be a yogi yet?

But, dear reader, please do not be fooled by the fact that I enjoyed a yoga class.  This does not make me any less cynical than ever, but I do think that this whole yoga thing could be good for my pizza-eating, daily milk-shake drinking body.

So maybe I will go to another yoga class and see how I go.  The problem is these damn seekers everywhere.

Bloom just read over my shoulder and asked, “but how can you be sure that you’re not one?”
“Not one what?”
“Not a seeker.”

He laughs as he watches me turn back to the computer and type instead of answering his question.

12th November
written by Ilana

We arrived in Solo after a miserable night of not sleeping outside the airport and a massive fight when security took our really nice American spray sunscreen away from Bloom.  “What are YOU going to do with it??”  I yelled at the security lady at 5 am.  “You can put on now,” she replied calmly.  “IT IS DARK NOW.  I DO NOT NEED SUN SCREEN NOW.”  I yelled back, and then to Bloom, “WHY WAS THAT IN YOUR CARRY ON??”  I then stormed off and sat by myself for a while mourning the loss of the sunscreen.

This whole fight may sound stupid, and maybe it was, but when it’s 5 am and you’ve been up since 7am and have spent the day taking a ferry, then a bus, then 6 hours at the “airport” in Medan (airport being a very very generous term here, since it was more like a really crappy bus station) until finally flying to KL where you were kicked out of the airport and onto the streets to spend time until 5am when you can finally check in your bags…then you may not be in the best mood.   Additionally, when we got to Medan super early, I asked if we could go on one of the earlier flights.  The guy behind the counter checked his computer and then said “ok.”  Great, I thought, but I thought too soon.  The guy continued, “you will not get money back from your flight and you have to pay for the new one.”  WAIT, what?  “I don’t want to switch flights completely, I just want to go on the earlier flight, since I’m here, instead of the later one.  Standby, you know?”  He did not know, and was not hearing it.  We argued for a while, and I asked who was in charge, apparently no one.  We had six hours to kill until our flight, four hours before they would allow us to check our bags.  This set the stage for the rest of the evening.  And about that sunscreen—we have searched everywhere for a replacement, all over Java and Bali, and have not been able to find good sunscreen.  So, this is why a little thing like sunscreen was quite valuable to me.

Anyway, back to Solo.  When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised by the adorable airport and friendly people.  We had no place to stay, and didn’t have much of an idea of where we were going.  We found an information desk and the guy wrote the name of an area on a piece of paper for us, which we gave to a taxi driver.  We made it to this area, found a hostel, and slept for the rest of the day.

When we finally woke up, we wandered the streets, and we decided this was a cute place, and we wanted to give it more of a chance.  It was now Thursday night, and our original plan had been to leave Friday morning for Yogyakarta (for some reason pronounced Jogjakarta), a bigger city an hour away, but now we decided we would do an early morning bike tour before making our way to Yogya.  This was a wise decision, because the bike tour was really great.

Bloom and I, with a guide, set out early in the morning and biked around the city, and into the outskirts to see all sorts of artisans at work.

Crossing a river with the bike

We watched a guy painting traditional leather puppets, people making shrimp crackers, which was crazy, because it wasn’t a factory, but people making thousands of crackers more or less by hand, tofu-making, traditional gamelan (like a gong)making, batik making, and other such fun things.  At one point we ended up in a family home, where I was asked to please hold their newborn baby.  Our guide told me that in their culture it is very important that people have babies, and holding this newborn would “pull the baby” out of me.  I guess the idea is that there’s a baby inside me just trying to get out, and it needs help from babies on the outside.  He turned to Bloom and said seriously, “do not worry, there is no science to prove this yet.”  OK.  Phew.  I held the baby, who was only 3 days old (!) and the parents were very pleased and took many pictures.  I thought of my friend Becky’s baby who was having his bris on this same day, and was sad to miss it, but found it funny that I was meeting this other Indonesian newborn on that day.

Indonesian form of segulah

While at the tofu making hut, a torrential downpour began.  We decided to wait it out, while we ate fresh fried tofu and soy milk from plastic bags.  Shockingly delicious!  I have been craving soy milk ever since.  Our guide asked us why we had to take the early train, couldn’t we just wait and take the later train?  We explained that it was our Sabbath, etc.  He was interested in this, and asked us many questions about what we can and can’t do on the Sabbath, and then after a few minutes asked/said excitedly “You are Jews?”  Bloom and I looked at each other.  Should we admit it?  He seemed safe, so we said “Yeah, we’re Jews.”  He was really excited to hear this and asked us why we didn’t tell him this earlier, because he had many questions to ask about Jewish things and about the Talmud and the forefathers, and Jewish traditions.  We spent the next 30 minutes or so, waiting out the rain, and answering his questions about Jewish law and tradition while he compared it to different Islamic traditions.  We talked about Yom Kippur and Ramadan, praying 3 times and praying 5 times, torah reading and Koran reading, the Talmud and hadif, etc.  When we told him about different kashrut laws and what we ate and didn’t eat while travelling, he was very impressed and said “you are very serious!”  He decided he would take the train with us to Yogyakarta and help us find a hostel, and promised us it would all be done before Shabbos started.

Cracker making

Since everything was going so well with him, I stupidly decided to ask him why he thought Israelis were not allowed in Indonesia.  “Thailand makes tons of money off Israeli travelers,” Bloom explained, “Indonesia would make a lot of money if they let Israelis in.”  He looked at us seriously and said “Indonesia does not allow colonizers in the country.”  We tried to explain that surely Israel is not the only colonizing country out there.  In fact Indonesia can be seen as a colonizing country.  “Indonesia allows people to live freely,” he explained.  “What about China?”  I said, “You know, Tibet?”  “China is very good,”  He said, and looked confused when I mentioned Tibet.  I tried to explain to him that I agree that Israel has done some bad things, but in the country everyone can say what they want, there is a free press, etc.  We also explained that many countries do unfavorable things, but they singled out Israel as the colonizers.  He refused to budge on this one, but said “you are very open Jewish people,” and seemed to like us, even after the Israel conversation.

Overall, it was a great day and we had a nice time seeing artisans at work, and of course discussing religious philosophy with our guide.  When we got to Yogyakarta we had an hour to find a hostel and arrange shabbos meals.  We gave the guide a list of vegetarian restaurants, and he found us a hostel near a few of them, and it even had a pool.  Sadly, it rained for hours every day we were in Java.  On Sunday we went to Borobudur, a giant Temple, which was amazing, but again, there was a downpour and this time we had nowhere to hide.  We were also, again, bombarded by teenage Indonesian tourists who took many pictures with us.

I'm in there somewhere

We almost went to check out Mt. Merapi, but people were saying that it was probably going to erupt soon, so we deiced we would skip it.  It did indeed erupt, and I think it is still erupting, and has caused many deaths and lots of damage.  It started erupting the day we left Java, so I guess we had good timing.  We left Yogyakarta on Sunday night, taking a very loud overnight train to the big, not so quaint city, Surabaya.  The sole reason for our visit to Surabaya was that it is one of two cities in all of Indonesia where one can acquire a Chinese visa.  Since we only decided to go to China once we were in Indonesia, and since we wanted to get to China as early as possible in order to avoid freezing temperatures, we had to go to Surabaya.  We checked into a hostel at 7 am, went to get our visas, went to a mall in search of food, where we found Red Mango frozen yogurt, which was by far the highlight of the day.  Who knew it was in Indonesia??  And who knew it was in this random mall??  I was starving and sweating through every article of clothing, so Red Mango was a fantastic find.

We left Surabaya at midnight to see the sunrise at a volcano in Eastern Java called Mt. Bromo.  We arrived at 3 am, and it was freezing, which I stupidly, was not prepared for in my sandals.  We also had not really thought about the fact that we now had two bed-less, transit nights in a row.  When the driver kicked us out of the jeep at 3 am, I was ready to just skip the sunrise and sleep in the jeep.  The sunrise was nice, but it was packed with tourists and Bloom witnessed two Europeans get in an actual fight over God knows what.

After our time at the volcano we went to the bus station and hitched a ride to Bali with some French people.  We had no idea where we were going in Bali, so we told the driver we would go wherever he was going, and that is how we got to Seminyak, a fancy beach resort town.  More on that next time!

10th November
written by Ilana

When we finally arrived in Berastagi after one early morning ferry crossing, a long bumpy school bus ride, and then a crowded van ride, we were exhausted.  After walking around a bit, we found a hostel, dropped our bags and went looking for food and cold drinks.  Happily, we found both.

During our walk we were constantly followed by hordes of school children.  The followed us down the street, waved hello, asked us our names, and then asked us to be in pictures with them.

Posing with the kids

We were celebrities.  It was a hilarious introduction to what would be our lives for the next week in Sumatra.

Berastagi was alright, but while there I decided I should deal with the fact that my tongue and mouth felt swollen and dry, and had felt this way since we left Australia. At first I had assumed that I had just burnt my tongue or something, but as it progressively worsened, I realized this must not be the case.  I was constantly waking up in the middle of the night with a sore throat and mouth, and by the time we reached Berastagi, I was starting to freak out.

So, instead of taking the morning to climb one of the volcanoes, we decided to look for a doctor.  Luckily, we found one around the block from our hostel.  We walked into a small empty building.  “Hello?”  We called out.  After some time two women found us and asked us to take a seat.  “Doctor?” I asked them.  They shook their heads, “coming soon,” they said and began to take my blood pressure and made me write my name on a piece of paper.  A few minutes into this, a man walked in and proclaimed himself the doctor.  I was escorted into this office where I told him “MOUTH HURTS.  OUCH.  TONGUE HURTS” and then stuck out my tongue.  He motioned for me to say ahh, and then shone a flashlight in my mouth.  “tonsils swollen,” he said.  He walked out of the office and I followed him.  He gave me four different types of medicine.  One for cough, one for swelling, one anti-biotic and one for inflammation.  He then gave me a bill.  It was 75,000 indonesian rupiahs, which is approximately $8 US.

Wow.  I looked at my watch and saw that I had only been inside the building for 15 minutes.  This was the cheapest, most efficient doctor’s visit of my life.

I decided that before getting too excited about the amazingness of the doctor’s visit, I should probably call my aunt, who is a doctor, and check that these medicines were legit.  I found an internet café, where I sat at a computer surrounded by teenage boys playing video games and smoking cigarettes.  I turned to the boy next to me, “don’t you have to go to school?” I asked.  He gave me a confused look and logged onto facebook.  I called my aunt on skype who told me the medicines all sounded good. Mid-conversation I turned my head and found a small boy, maybe 3 or 4 years old, perched right over my computer screen on a small stool.  This place was weird.

Following the Indonesian teen’s lead I then logged on to facebook and started chatting with Feiber.  He asked me how I was.  I typed, “yesterday I fell in a toilet.”  I asked him if this seemed appropriate blog material and he said that not only was it good material, but it should be the title of the post, and so Feiber, here it is.

So, you may be wondering, Ilana, how in fact did you manage to fall in a toilet?!

Well, my friends, as you know, I am in the land of squat toilets.  I have not yet taken a picture of a squat toilet to post here, but imagine walking into a stall and finding a porcelain hole in the ground, on the sides of the hole are ridges, where I assume you are supposed to place your feet.  When we were in Medan having tea and a belligerent conversation with our ex-tour guide/driver, I went to the “bathroom.”  It turns out the bathroom was a family’s cement floored laundry room.  The squatter was positioned directly underneath a clothesline with wet, dripping clothes hanging from it.  While being dripped on by the laundry, I tried to maneuver my feet on the ridges, which were wet,  and my foot slipped and fell into the hole/toilet.  Oh, disgusting.  At least I had pre-emptively rolled up my pants since the bathroom is almost always soaking wet.  It was not my best moment.


After the doctor’s visit, and my foray into the internet café, Bloom and I decided to move on to our next and final Sumatran location, Lake Toba.  Lake Toba is a very large volcanic lake.  More specifically, we were going to be spending about a week on the island in the middle of the lake called Samosir, and even more specifically we were staying on a smaller part of the island called Tuk-Tuk.

We decided to save money and take local transport.  I’ve been backpacking for some time now, and I figured I could handle it.  Our first step was getting on a door-less minivan.  There were no real seats in the back, just 2 benches on either side of the van.  The van came to a rolling stop in front of us and after confirming that it was going to the right place, we jumped on.  It was packed with ladies and babies who laughed at us and our big bags.

On the first of many crowded vans

The bags were taking up too much space and were thrown on to the roof.  After around 20 minutes, we reached our next destination where we were put onto another van, this one had rows of seats and even a door.   I am pretty sure this van was meant to seat, maybe, ten people.  However, there were about 30 people squeezed in, a few babies, and one live chicken being held upside down by its feet by its lady friend.  I was lucky to have a window seat, and spent most of the 4 hour ride with my head out the window trying to breathe, and trying not to puke as we bumped over unpaved roads.  We reached our third destination and were put on yet another van, less crowded and chicken-less this time, but no window seat, where we rode for an hour before we were dropped off on the side of the road somewhere near Lake Toba.

By this point, I had had it.  I was proud of myself for saving money and for being a badass backpacker, but I also thought I would puke everywhere, and was quite grumpy about this fact.  We now needed to find the ferry that would take us to Tuk-Tuk in the middle of the lake.  One of those door-less minivans came to a rolling stop.  “FERRY??”  We asked.  They motioned for us to jump in and after a few minutes we reached the ferry, where we were told that it would not be departing for another hour.  I sat on my backpack and was grateful that I was not on a moving vehicle at the moment, but was not excited about the 40 minute ferry ride that was coming up.  As soon as I sat down a bunch of locals approached us.  “Hotel?  Tuk-Tuk?  Transport?”  We were being attacked on all sides, trying to be sold on hotels, food, drinks, etc.  I was in no mood for this.  “NOOO.”  I said loudly and aggressively.  They laughed.

Eventually, we got on the ferry, and it was actually a beautiful ride as we watched the sunset from the boat.  We got to Lake Toba, eventually found a hostel, which we left the next day, but we were exhausted and fell fast asleep.


We spent a week chilling out in Tuk-Tuk, which is the longest we stayed anywhere.  We ended up with so much time since we hadn’t done the long jungle trek, and we already had a flight booked to Java on October 20th, so we hung around.  It was a great place for loitering.  We were staying in a great hostel with a porch overlooking the lake and our own fridge, although there were constantly millions of ants everywhere, but it was still a great place.

Bloom went swimming every day, while I loitered on the internet, trying to keep in touch with the outside world and planning the rest of our trip, which was completely unplanned other than our flight to Java.  We planned on staying a few days in Java and then heading overland to Bali.  How long should we stay in Bali?  Where should we go next?  At first we decided we would go to Thailand to meet our friend Anna, which would be awesome, but then when we looked into flights for some reason it was very expensive for us to get to Thailand at that time.  I started looking into our other options and saw that China was actually not much more expensive than Thailand, but much further away, so we decided that from Bali we would go to China, starting in Beijing and then working our way south overland, ending up back in Malaysia in order to fly to India by the start of February.  We found a flight deal for Nov. 10th and booked the flight to China.

We also spent time just wandering around Tuk-Tuk, and one day we even rented a motorbike and rode around Samosir island.  Awesome.I was terrified, but it was actually pretty fun, and I got a kick out of Bloom driving a light pink motorbike.

In all of Tuk-Tuk we found two restaurants which met Bloom’s approval.  One was a tiny place, I think an old woman’s house, where she happened to not cook any meat or chicken.  We ate there once.  We sat outside her hut in one of the two tables available, and I watched as a chicken climbed on the table and walked around.  This was not my idea of ambience.  There was also a cute looking kitten who climbed onto the table and hissed at me.  It freaked me out and I moved my chair a bit and suddenly the chair broke into many pieces and I was sitting on the concrete.  Bloom was laughing hysterically, and the chicken and kitten just stared.  Needless to say, we did not return.

We found another restaurant where we discovered that they cooked all the chicken and meat  in separate pans, which was a lucky find, since it was a nice place and had decent prices.  We decided we would eat there for shabbos.  We had already been there a few times, and we spoke to someone there about setting up a tab, which was how many places worked in Sumatra, and we even asked if we should leave a deposit, but we were told it was all good, we would have a tab and pay later.

We ate a delicious Friday night dinner and when we got up to leave, we were approached by a waitress who told us we had to pay now.  We went to  the counter to explain that we had set up a tab, etc, and we ended up talking to a European woman who had not been there earlier in the day.  She was apparently the owner, and she did not take kindly to our tab.  “You are not guests in our hotel, so you cannot have a tab, you have to pay now.”  When we explained that for religious reasons we don’t use money on this day, she didn’t buy it.  “What religion is this?” she asked skeptically.  “Judaism, we’re Jews,” we explained.  “I’ve never heard of this.  It’s very weird,” she said judgmentally.  Europeans are such anti-semites, I thought in my head.

She tried another approach.  “Can I have your passports?”  We explained that on the Sabbath we don’t carry anything, not even passports.  She looked at us like we were idiots.  “Look, we were here earlier, we’ll come back tomorrow, we promise, we’re really sorry, we can give you our passport numbers, but we don’t have anything to give you.”  She seemed ok with this, and gave us a paper and pen to write our passport numbers down.  Oh God.  More awkwardness.  “Well…We also don’t write on this day,”  we explained.  She looked horrified at our archaic ways.  After the passport exchange she was still not satisfied.  “I don’t know about this…Isn’t there something you can give me..?” She asked.  “Take my wedding ring,” Bloom said.  “WHAAAT!”  I yelled.  I didn’t expect this to upset me so much, but I almost cried right there.  The European lady started to reach for the ring.  What the hell kind of person was this??  Was she really about to take his wedding ring?!  “You are NOT taking that,” I said to her.  I looked at myself.  I could give her my shoes and walk home barefoot… I had forgotten about my watch.  “Take my watch, it’s a good watch, and believe me, I want it back.”  “Alright.”  She finally agreed.

The Indonesian man who we had spoken with earlier stood by and watched the whole exchange.  Earlier, I had thought he was the owner, and maybe he was the part owner, maybe he was even this woman’s husband, it was unclear.  He gave us a look that said he was sorry about this lady’s behavior, and the next day he even approached us and apologized, which was nice, but I still felt terrible about the whole thing.  We would have left a deposit if they had asked for one!  Now I felt like some sort of Jewish stereotype living an antiquated life, and trying to get out of paying for things.  And what kind of European was this woman?  Did she really not know what Jews were??  It was humiliating returning there the next day, but the food was good, and we ignored the woman.

We even went back Saturday night with a Belgian couple we had met in Berastagi and had run into again in Lake Toba.  I told them the entire story about the food and shabbos, etc.  “Do you guys know about Jews?”  I asked them.  “Yeah, we learn about Jews in school.  We know about Jewish things, the Sabbath and all that.”  Hmm… So what was up with that woman?  We asked the Belgians if they recognized the woman’s accent, since we were trying to figure out where in Europe she was from.  They said they were not sure, but wasn’t the place called Tabo Restaurant and German Bakery…?  I should have known.

SIR, EMBRACE ME:  Our Encounter with an English Class

While Tuk-Tuk, like most of Sumatra, was pretty empty for most of our stay there, on Sunday it came to life with Indonesian tourists.

Our Hotel in Tuk-Tuk

Bloom and I went for a walk and made it only a few feet from our hotel when we were bombarded by teenagers who wanted to ask us questions, take our pictures, and get our autographs.  This was a much more intense form of celebrity than we had experienced in Berastagi.

We would walk a few steps, and then we would be interrupted by a teenager who would ask us a questions, usually “hello!  What is your name?” and as soon as we stopped to answer, 20 other teens would come out of nowhere asking us all sorts of questions.  The questions were immediately followed by pictures.  Some were group shots, but many of them wanted individual pictures with me or with Bloom.  After we posed for the pictures, the kids would shake our hands and thank us, and many would then ask for our autographs, and some even asked for our email addresses.  Many of them walked with us for a while and soon it was like a parade as more and more students joined us in our walk.

As we talked, we discovered that they were students in an English language course and they were on a field trip to Tuk-Tuk where they were hoping they would find native English speakers in order to practice their English.  Some of the questions they asked were standard like, “where are you from?”  “What are your hobbies?”  “What is the reason for your visit to Sumatra?” “Do you like Sumatra?”  “Do you like Indonesian food?”  “Do you like Justin Beiber?”   Some of the more unusual questions were, “What is the reason that American children are more smart than Indonesians?” and “Is Justin Beiber your brother?”  My responses were, “American children are not all smarter than Indonesians, why would you think that?” and “No, I am not related to Justin Bieber.”  They told me that Americans are obviously smart because they have advanced technology and that I look like Justin Bieber.  It’s true that we are both white.

The highlight of all of these interactions was that, more than once, one of the students said to Bloom, and I quote, “sir, embrace me.”  I found this to be quite a spectacular way to ask Bloom to put his arm around them in the photos, although I would not necessarily recommend using this phrase in an English speaking country.  People might get the wrong idea.

After a restful week, we packed up our bags once again, and were off to the Medan airport to fly to the next island, Java, to a city called Solo via Kuala Lumpur.  We flew via KL because it was cheap, and because then we were given new visas since we were going to overstay our original 30 day visas.  We flew to Solo because it was the cheapest flight we found to Java.  We spent from midnight until 7 am in the KL airport, which I thought I could tolerate, but when at 1 am they kicked everyone out of the airport in order to fumigate the place, I no longer supported my let’s sleep in the airport plan.  In the end, after some fighting and complaining, we managed to arrive safely and even happily in Solo, which I will write about in the next post.