Wednesday, March 15, 2006

First Impressions

The landscape at first reminded me of Florida – flat and bepalmed. But en route to the Arcadia Hotel, we passed men under makeshift muslin tents fishing in the brown-green canals. I wonder about the mutations that might lurk below. We passed scores of skinny miniature goats gamboling uncomfortably close to the road. Medians covered in fountain grasses and white alien flowers rocked from the traffic’s constant tumult. Light posts are covered to the hilt in a sheath of tangled ivies. Collecting toll tickets, paying the cab driver in unrecognizable currency. The grey-brown air already burned my throat. And then the highway rose up out of the jungle plain, offering a view of the sprawling city ahead. Corrugated rusted tin and blue plastic roofed shacks flanked the huge pink Hotel Ciputra as we careened off the highway and onto Jakarta’s chaotic streets. Short, white onion-domed towers sprout out of the landscape like capped lactaria mushrooms.

This is no Florida, no Bloomington, not even Shanghai. We look at each other as the car pulls up to the hotel.

“Whoa,” I say, “we live here.”

Space Travel

From the air, the rice patties along the north coast of Java decorate the landscape with wet, irregular trapezoids. And over the land mass below, the sky seems to boil into a froth of towering thunderheads. The whole scene is infused with grey haze. It looks hot.

A thirty-four hour air voyage isn’t nearly as bad as I expected. I slept for eight hours of the trip, and waking hours were full of distractions like bad snacks and bad movies. One forgets after a few hours that there’s thirty thousand feet of atmosphere underneath the seats, and that the world’s mightiest ocean lies below that. We had central aisle seats for the longest leg of the trip from San Francisco to Taipei, and couldn’t see the full moon as we chased it across the globe. Knew it was there all the while, though.

Inflight movie ‘Prime” seemed to take up at least 6 hours of the flight. The chemistry between Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep is…inert.

The hardest part of the trip was facing the dozens of cart porters and taxi agents at the airport. They’re aggressive, and our defenses were down. We got to a Blue Bird taxi and all the way to our hotel nonetheless.

Will have to post pics later- dial-up internet cafe won't cooperate. Stay tuned.