Jogjakarta, Indonesia

Never trust a man with a neck tattoo. Especially if he is trying to help you buy an airplane ticket. Nothing says “I don’t like authority figures and I have no future plans to hold down a steady, respectable job” like a neck tattoo. So if some man with a big spider web tattooed up and down the side of his neck offers to help you buy an airplane ticket in Indonesia, I suggest you find another travel agent.

So I am in Jogjakarta, Indonesia right now. I fly to Bali tonight to meet my brother and his wife and two little girls for two weeks together on the beach. I left New Delhi (India) eleven days ago to start making my way towards Bali. About a week ago I woke up in Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and caught a six hour bus to Chinatown in Singapore to pick up my stored luggage and have a quick lunch. Then I caught an evening flight from Singapore to Jakarta (Indonesia.) It was another long day on the road, with three capitol cities in one day (and two different Chinatowns.) By the way, the Chinatowns in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are both very nice and interesting. And I spent two months in China in 2001. China is a lot like these Chinatowns, only much bigger.

Sorry I don’t have any pictures for you in this newsletter, but I can’t find a PC with Microsoft FrontPage, which I need to upload the photos to my server. So I’ll just fill up some space and your precious time with more typing.

Thank you for your emails and comments. I received about 100 emails after my last “Lexpedition” newsletter on September 24th. I read them all and laughed at many. I apologize that I have not responded to all of you yet, but I did read each email and enjoyed your humor and comments. Please be patient and I will try to respond to you when I can. In the meantime, please keep the emails coming.

I have been exploring the idea of creating a lazy vacation retreat/party/reunion next year in some beautiful location. Just a peaceful time with no cell phones or Blackberries or email or agendas or appointments. Just relaxation and good company and beautiful scenery, and a chance to reward and pamper yourself. Because we all deserve it. It will be called “Siestacon 2007”. Stay tuned for more details. Any suggestions?

Indonesia is beautiful. This morning I walked through an outdoor market here and saw people selling all types of fresh fruit and vegetables. And also they were selling live birds and lizards and snakes and ferrets and squirrels and roosters and chickens and all kinds of living creatures. And live worms and maggots and crickets and mice and rats and rabbits and pigeons. Most were in cages or boxes. Basically, if it moves, you can buy it here. And right after you buy it, if you want to, you can eat it. Because just a few feet away, scattered within these animal vendors, there were people cooking and chopping and selling every type of “food” you can imagine. Who wants brains? Chicken necks? Fish eggs? Gizzards? Tofu? Spinach? They had something for everybody today.

And last nite I was enjoying a cold beer in the restaurant next to my hotel. I befriended some of the locals at the table next to me who were drinking some strange beverage. One of them came over and asked me if I wanted to try some of their “local brew.” Sure I said, what’s the worst that can happen? I smelled it and almost gagged. I looked up and tried to smile at him, but my eyes were watering and I was sweating and having trouble breathing. Finally I collected myself and took a small sip. It tasted like vinegar. Actually, it tasted like someone pissed in a bottle of vinegar and then added some salt, and then set it out in the sun for a few days and then pissed in it again.  I think I’ll stick with beer from now on. Mmmmmmmm, beer.

The Great Mango Bus Ride

I took a six hour bus ride from Bandung to Pangandaran (Indonesia) a few days ago. I was the only tourist on the jam-packed bus, mind you. In case you have never enjoyed a public bus ride in a developing nation, each time the bus stops in a village along the way, several vendors hop on board for a few minutes to sell bottled water or fruit or coffee or straw hats or puppets or peanuts or eggs or small children. A mango vendor hopped on the bus and rode with us for about thirty minutes, trying to sell mangoes to each and every passenger on the bus. He walked up and down the aisle for THIRTY minutes, showing his fresh mangoes to every customer while repeatedly announcing to every one that he had fresh mangoes for sale. For THIRTY minutes he did this. Back and forth. Up and down. Over and over and over again.

He approached each passenger at least six times. He would put his mangoes directly in front of each passenger, say something about his mangoes, and then move on to the next passenger. I don’t speak Indonesian yet, but I think he was essentially saying something like: “Mangoes for sale. Do you want some mangoes? I have fresh mangoes. Look at these mangoes. Do you want to buy some fresh mangoes? How about now? Have you changed your mind? I know I asked you two minutes ago, but just to remind you, I have fresh mangoes and they are for sale. I’m the only person on this bus with mangoes for sale, so if you want a mango, you’ll probably have to get it from me. Do you want a mango? Take a good look at these mangoes. My friend climbed up his neighbor’s mango tree this morning and picked them himself. They taste like fresh mangoes. Do you want a mango?”

Then after being ignored he’d move on to the next passenger and start all over again. For THIRTY minutes. And there were only about fifteen people on the whole bus. I felt like I was on Candid Camera. Up and down. Back and forth. Over and over. And he did not sell even one mango. NOT ONE! Every passenger was totally ignoring him.

So finally I did what any peace-loving benevolent capitalist would do. I called him over and told him I wanted to buy his entire inventory of dirty mangoes (all twelve of them.) I gave him the equivalent of one US dollar and thanked him for his mangoes. He hopped off the bus at the next village with a very happy face and hard-earned dollar in his pocket. Then I gave the mangoes away to the driver and a few of the passengers and took my seat in the back again.

People were clapping for me. I felt like running for Mayor or President or some local Indonesian political office. Problem solved. Everybody was happy. Or so you would think. In the next village a woman selling papayas hopped on board and started with a similar sales approach. I thought to myself, “I’ve seen this road show before.” Time for a nap.

On a serious note… right before I left New Delhi there was an outbreak of Dengue Fever and many people were dying. Singapore and Kuala Lumpur were experiencing the worst air pollution on record due to bushfires in Indonesia, where farmers and loggers illegally burn the trees and brush each year to clear their land quickly and cheaply. A few more people in Indonesia died this week due to the Bird Flu Virus. The beautiful coastal village of Pangandaran (where I spent the prior three nights) was hit by a massive tsunami on July 17th, 2006 that killed 600 people and destroyed much of the village and tourist-based economy. Even though they are living in (sometimes) difficult and unsanitary conditions, in general, the people I have been meeting are amazingly resilient, hard working and generous. And the vast majority just wants to have a good life with a good job and a strong, happy family. They truly are doing the best that they can with what they have. I am doing my best to stay healthy and to stay aware of my surroundings, but I have yet to feel threatened or unsafe in any way. I am having a blast and am thoroughly enjoying my adventures.

Finally, my sister, Anastasia (formerly known as Stasia, and previously known as “the artist formerly known as Prince”) recently informed me that there was a strong storm in September in Kentucky and my garage was completely flooded. Basically, everything that I own (that’s not in my backpack here with me or in my bank account) was destroyed. Oh well. I guess I’ll start over when I get back.

Thank you all for your support and friendship.

Peace & Love,

Lex Latkovski