Archive for January, 2009

One of several cats in China not being skinned and cooked for food has to be in the neighbor’s apartment whining incessantly while I’m trying to sleep. GAAAAH!

My flight from Lombok to Denpasar probably would have been the most miserable I’ve ever experienced if it weren’t so short. The cramped plane had been baking in B.O. all day and resembled one of the Seattle downtown-to-CapHill bus lines after dark.

I stayed at the airport to check into my next flight. That sounds easy enough, but I had to walk all the way around to the Departures terminal with my bags in tow, and just like with everything else in Indonesia, I was doing it all outside. When I finally got where I needed to be, I learned I would have to exchange more money to buy a visa out of the country. Goddammit.

Two long plane rides containing screaming kids later, I arrived in Shanghai. Why can’t there be family-designated flights? Okay, I know why, but still. If I somehow woke up one day and found myself with children, I wouldn’t add flying to the equation. I’ve obviously done something wrong, so people can come visit me for awhile.

Despite the early hour, I found my friend Dan waiting for me at the exit and I nearly fell into his arms. Relief washed over me, knowing I was going to be able to put my junk somewhere for longer than a few days at a time, hang out with one of my best friends, and use the bathroom indoors.

We took the Maglev train and then a cab to Dan’s apartment. After stopping at the nearby Thumb Plaza for a quick breakfast and some Starbucks (fuck yeah, Starbucks!), Dan went to work and I spent some quality time in his nice, enclosed bathroom.

Shut up, nasty! I was taking a shower! And then I did my hair and makeup for what felt like the first time in ages. It felt so nice to get out of the shower and not immediately feel sticky.

Dan had NO food in his kitchen (not even condiments!), so I returned to Thumb Plaza to shop at Carrefour. Carrefour is a french-owned store resembling somewhat of a Chinese Walmart. Upstairs, there’s an electronics section, cheap clothes, some toys, and other miscellaneous house stuff. Downstairs, there’s food… which I figured out after walking the entire perimeter of the upstairs. The two floors are connected by a moving ramp that takes you buy an aisle of Pocky and flavored Lay’s potato chips.

I always found Pocky silly and unsatisfying. It’s one of those things Americans think is cool just because it came from overseas. The cucumber potato chips, however, I could get behind. I don’t understand how they can slap the word “natural” on the package with a straight face, but I did enjoy them. The blueberry and steak taco flavored potato chips that were also available seemed kind of gross.

Dan came home later that evening and showed me part of Shanghai. Once again, we headed back to Thumb Plaza, this time to visit the Irishman, a popular pub in the area. Daniel McPartland and Katie Taylor going to an Irish pub. Who would have ever imagined? Some people actually thought we were European until we opened our mouths. For the last two weeks, people have been guessing that I’m from London, which I think is oddly funny. If the sharp look in my eye doesn’t tell you, my big round ass is definite proof that I am indeed a purebred American.

I was supposed to fly out of Lombok around noon today and land in Denpasar. I was hoping to put my stuff in an airport locker and spend the afternoon touring the Ubud area at the advice of a few knowledgeable American friends. At around 10:15, I was all packed up and ready to go when the front desk called me to say my flight was “delayed” and my new departure time was at 4:30pm.

Whaaa? Luckily, my flight from Denpasar to Jakarta wasn’t until after dinnertime, and then I was to continue on to Shanghai. (Yes, that’s three planes and about a day of traveling.) But I knew when I booked my flight there were four departing flights: 8am, 12:15pm, 4pm, and 6pm. I asked if they added another flight, but what really happened (I found out after 30 minutes of circular conversation) was that Merpati Airlines canceled the noon flight because there weren’t enough people on it. The front desk wanted to tell me when I needed to leave the hotel, not when my flight was. Are the people who visit this place so stupid they can’t simply be told when the flight is and make an arrangement?

Anyway, the fact that the front desk had such a hard time explaining what happened made me rather untrusting of whether or not I would indeed get on the 6pm flight, so I considered chartering a boat. It would be about a hundred dollars. There was no way I could afford to miss my flight to Shanghai.

The money was a small part of it. The bigger issue is the fact that the week before Chinese New Year (which falls on January 26 this year) marks the largest migration of the human population each year. I learned this crucial factoid watching BBC World at my hotel in Singapore and thought, “Hey, I should probably think about booking my flight to Shanghai.”

Anyway, there were definitely worse places to spend my last day in Indonesia, but I was starting to get a little tired of the chi-chi hotel restaurant, the beach with its many dealers of miscellaneous junk, the happy honeymooning couples engaging in the extraneous use of camcorders…

It may be cold in Shanghai, but I was tired of doing everything outside. All the bathrooms are outside. All the restaurants are outside. Most of them come with their own set of gnats and flies.

I wish I were Æon Flux so I could trap them in my eyelashes. My skin would also be white instead of sunburned. And I wouldn’t have to pack so many clothes because she wore the basic equivalent of a horse’s bridle, despite what the disappointing film starring Charlize Theron would like you to believe. I could really save on access baggage charges.

Around mid-afternoon, I walked up the shore to a small restaurant near my beachside villa for a late lunch. I noticed four guys surfing in the distance, which I thought was kind of odd. There were waves, but they weren’t big. By the time I reached the restaurant, one of them paddled in and started talking to me.

He pulled his long curly hair into a ponytail and lit a cigarette. He was a decent looking guy, save for a horribly off-center top row of teeth. He seemed really set on talking to me, and I couldn’t exactly get out of it because he and his friends had dropped their stuff right in front of the place I was headed. His name was Sonny, he was 32, and wasn’t I staying on Legian Beach in Bali a little over a week ago?

Um… yes? Why do you know that?

It was a little strange at first, but it’s easy to get from island to island, and I’m traveling alone, so I know I stand out. Given the super-relaxed nature of most of the Balinese people I’ve met, I don’t think anyone here has the energy to be a stalker.

Sonny invited me to surf with him and his friends, but I wanted to eat, so I did. I said I might join them when I finished eating, but I guess that wasn’t good enough. While I ate, the guys took turns waving at me from the water and motioning me to join them.

When I was done, they were all ashore, and I said I’d come back in an hour or so after my food digested. I know I didn’t have to make good on this promise, but I’d never surfed before and figured I might as well try some activity besides laying around and enjoying my vacation.

I changed into my bathing suit, covered myself in sunscreen having recently suffered a miserable sunburn, and returned to the shore. A wiry guy named Isak who came up to about my chin lent me an extra board and took me out on the water, away from everyone else. It would be known as the Great Handoff of 2009.

I kept slipping off the board and never could stand up at just the right time. Isak had to keep grabbing me and placing me back on the board every time a wave came. I knew ahead of time that learning to surf would be a lost cause, but I gave myself a gold star for trying.

I figured my falling off the board would be the most awkward thing about the experience, but 30-year-old Isak was asking me a lot of questions and laying it on pretty thick. Compliments are nice and everything, but after the first five or six, they become kind of embarrassing for both parties.

“Are all Americans as beautiful as you?” he asked.

“No, actually. Most Americans are fat since they eat a lot of fast food and play video games instead of maintaining healthy active lifestyles. Also, due to the rise of the suburb, most people don’t live near most of the establishments they visit, so they’re walking less than ever. Due to an influx of immigrants and availability of complex equipment, we also find ourselves doing less and less manual labor…” I kept steamrolling him until he interrupted me. I don’t like being asked questions that don’t have answers.

Then Isak asked me out to dinner… like 100 times. He asked if I had a boyfriend while we were on the water, and I stupidly told the truth. Even though I am technically fair game, I don’t want to be seen as such when I don’t feel like dating. I hemmed and hawed, but as long as I was there, I thought it would be cool to spend an evening eating where the locals eat and doing what the locals do. I told him I’d hang out, but I had to make it an early night. Once again, I went home, rested, changed, and returned.

I met up with the guys right at sunset. They had finished surfing and were seated in a circle by a tree. A couple more guys joined us. They passed around glasses of palm wine. They said it was non-alcoholic, so I tried some. It didn’t taste like anything, kind of like textured water, so I stayed out of the rotation.

Next came marijuana. A few years ago, I would have been all about sampling some island herb on the other side of the world, but I’m getting a little old for this shit. Beyond that, I just didn’t feel like it. I said that I had a bad experience with it and don’t want to do it again, which is true. Each person made sure I knew that it’s good stuff, I was welcome to it, they’re good people, etc. I appreciated the offer, but I was determined to stay out of that rotation too.

While they smoked, I pulled out a book that my friend Eric gave me to write about stuff on my trip. Isak asked to see it, so I handed it over. He came across a self-deprecating passage I wrote about furthering the American stereotype and asked me what it meant. I tried to explain the concept of using sarcasm and exaggeration to mean the opposite of the words you’re saying. Needless to say, that worked out real well.

The guys made plans to go to some Balinese dance festival up the coast later that night. Isak said he would take me to dinner and we’d meet up with the group afterward, which sounded like an appropriate plan. He had a car instead of a motorbike, and I appreciated that minor amenity, until he went and spoiled his game the second we backed away from the beach.

“Are you scared to be alone in a car with me?”

“No,” I replied indifferently. “Should I be?”

It was such a ridiculous question. The guy was tiny. And if I didn’t want to ride with him, I had plenty of chances to back out. Even if I had been the slightest bit scared, my sheer annoyance with the stupidity of that question trumped any other emotion I could have been feeling at that very moment.

And boy, did he keep the mood intact.

“I am a romantic,” he declared, “Are you a romantic?”

I used to think I was, but now I know I’m not. I had already been overriding his thinly veiled complimentary questions on the beach and didn’t want to sound overly cruel, so I said, “I am practical.”

He laughed and said, “You can be both.”

“Not really.”

I’m going to break here and just say that I know this guy made his intentions abundantly clear and I know I obviously wasn’t digging his action and could have easily avoided hanging out with him. But you know how sometimes you just know that something is going to be so incredibly awful that you want to stick around just to see how bad it can actually get? That’s kind of what I do all the time, and I’m not dead yet.

As we headed toward Senggigi, he asked, “Where do you want to go?”

Another dumb question. I know he thinks he’s being all nice letting me choose the restaurant, but what it really shows is his lack of forethought. I don’t live there. I don’t know where to eat. He asked me out. The least he could do is have some idea of where he’d like to take me. So I asked him to take me to his favorite place, and with much more to-do than I would have liked, we pulled into an Indo-Chinese restaurant adjacent to the inexpensive Hotel Linda.

Dinner was probably the best part of the evening, although it was as awkward as the majority of my dinner dates last year. Ever since I re-entered the dating pool, I have been faced with a huge influx of men with nothing to say and the inability to keep up with most of what I’m saying. They’re more than happy to stare blankly and bob their heads up and down while dumping the burden of being interesting on me, even though it should be effortless if you’re living the kind of life you want.

Isak seemed to really enjoy his career as a social worker. I liked listening to him talk about taking kids off the streets and putting them in foster homes. He also founded an organization that houses and educates handicapped children. He had lived on the streets himself until he was 10. Then he was adopted by family in Holland where he was educated before returning to help out his homeland. All the site visits and organizational aspects of the job kept him quite busy. His ex-
girlfriend felt he spent more time working than he did with her, so they broke up last year.

Thus, the conversation segued into a discussion about relationships. I told him I know someone out there was probably telling the same story about me and that things had been kind of crazy ever since I left my long-term relationship in late 2007. It was a rough year, as far as relationships were concerned, and I was mostly looking for friendships at this point.

Out of the blue, he asked, “Do they have sex education in the US?”

It was kind of a weird question, but I answered it. We talked about abstinence versus contraception and disease prevention. Given his line of work, the topic was legitimate enough. Education is different everywhere, and given my own work with a non-profit teachers’ organization, I am happy to talk about it.

But while he chose interesting conversation topics, I didn’t get the feeling we really conversed. He would say something, I would respond, and it was onto the next thing. I chalk some of that up to the language barrier. His English was the best I’d heard in Lombok, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for him. Anyway, I’m used to guys just running through their list of standard things to say and being unable to let the conversation take its own course. At least this time, it wasn’t entirely his fault.

At one point, things got quiet. As I was cramming buttered water spinach down my throw-hole, I looked up and caught him staring at me intently.

“What’s up?” I said, my usual reaction to such nonsense.

“I am just looking at you. You are so beautiful.”

Ugh, get over it! I don’t need this kind of weirdness while I’m trying to enjoy one of my daily feedings.

We finally got the check and split it. I wanted to check out the Balinese dance thingy for a bit and head home. I was getting tired and my sunburn put me in a lot of pain. Of course, Isak jumped on that last nugget of information and offered me a massage.

“My entire body hurts,” I replied politely, “I don’t think any kind of massage would feel good right now.”

“I could give you a special kind of massage,” he said with a knowing grin.

Oh, vomit. Even for being in a place where massages and gratuitous touching are totally common, this was getting gross. He was beginning to sound like my ex from college. For someone as perpetually horny as he was, he was a fucking terrible lover. Anyway.

We got in the car and headed back upshore to the Puri Mas Temple where the dance festival was supposed to be. It was a couple of miles past my hotel, offset from the main road but right along the water. I had looked at my map of the east coast of Lombok enough times to know pretty much where everything is. Things were about to get ugly, but I was hoping we’d make it to the festival first.

“Would you put your hand in mine?” he asked from the driver’s seat.

“You’re driving,” I said nicely. The real answer is that I hate touching people I don’t know, but the fake answer makes me sound considerably less neurotic.

“I’m a good driver,” he replied.

“Sure, but there are motorbikes whizzing around, dogs walking in the street, that guy standing in the middle of our lane who we narrowly missed just now…”

He laughed and admired my very concrete reasoning.

“You know, we don’t have to go to the festival,” he said.

“I want to go to the festival,” I replied.

“Maybe we could go somewhere, just the two of us,” he offered. He paused. “Would you like to have sex with me?”

“Are you fucking kidding? No!”

“Why?” he moaned.

Oh HELL no, I thought. I had just gotten through telling him that I’ve had a rough year and I’m not interested in dating. I was done being nice.

“I have condoms!” he continued insistently. “Look! See?”

He pulled a box of condoms from his glove box and placed them on the dash in front of me.

“Good for you. I don’t feel like having sex right now.”

“But I know about the diseases! I use protection!” he whined.

“The answer is no, and that’s just going to have to be okay.”

Pride be damned, this kid was not giving up. He kept pleading as we turned down the dark side street where the Puri Mas Temple is located.

“We can get a hotel room together, just you and me, just for tonight,” he said.

I couldn’t stop myself from laughing out loud. “I’m staying in the nicest, newest resort on the island. Why the hell would I want to do that?”

I forgot that he might ignore my tone of voice and take the question literally, but I didn’t care. I was thinking less about spelling out my rejection and concentrating more on my surroundings. I knew exactly where I was, but I immediately regretted wearing sandals. I was starting to think I might have to bail, and I might have to kick this guy somewhere as I did so.

I made peace with the fact that I would have to ditch my sandals if I needed to run, but I could buy a new pair the next day to hold me over until I got back to the States. On second thought, I could jam them into my bag and then make a break for it. It’s unlikely that he’ll go after me on foot for very long, and I can easily duck into the woods so he can’t follow me in his car. According to the map I had committed to memory, I was about a mile and a half upshore from my hotel and less than half a mile from the main drag. I probably had better luck taking the main road instead of walking along the beach, even though either one would be sparsely lit.

Fortunately, all these considerations were unnecessary. We drove by the temple and it was dark. Who knows if there was even a festival in the first place? I said I wanted to go back to my hotel, and he obliged. Something in him must have known he’d been defeated, but the madness still didn’t stop.

We got back on the main road and headed downshore.

“Are you scared to have sex with a Lombok man?” he asked.

“I’m not scared to have sex with anyone. I just don’t want to have sex with you.”

“But it has been three years since I have been lonely.”

Welcome to Shit That’s Not My Problem, with your crotchety old bitch of a host, PlatKat.

“You need to look for a nice girl on the islands that you can have that kind of relationship with,” I told him.

“I would like to have that kind of relationship with someone off the islands,” he said.

Oh goody! Another long distance relationship! Because those have gone so bloody fucking well the last few times I’ve tried them. (That’s a good example of sarcasm, by the way.)

“Well, it’s not happening with me. Oh hey, here’s my hotel. Just stop here,” I said.

“I hope you don’t think I was pushy,” he said.

He only asked me to fuck him, what, 20 times? I burst out laughing and made sure I had everything before getting out of the car.

“Can I at least have one kiss?” he asked.

“Keep dreaming. But hey, thanks for not raping me. Stay classy.”

I hopped out of the car and followed the path to my villa. Although I took a shower a few hours earlier, I felt I needed another one. I wasn’t sure which was more annoying, being pressured to have sex or being told I’m beautiful umpteen times thus negating any value I may have as a living, breathing, talented, interesting, thinking, feeling person who inhabits this planet. One day, I’m going run out of “pretty” and then what’s going to happen? I’ll reach a point where I can no longer be objectified. How will I spend my evenings then?

It’s no secret that I love dance music, so I was quite happy with most of what I heard throughout Indonesia. The track selection at Qunci’s beachside restaurant was usually decent. You know you’re in good shape when you hear a song you recognize and it turns out they’re playing the whole album, which you own.

Every now and then, the music was a little too clubby. If you’re going to play house music somewhere without a dancefloor, it has to be deep house, which is more jazz-inspired and relaxed in tempo. Sometimes a few places went over the top with the house music and it felt kind of weird.

But hey, at least they’re not playing uber-cheezy tiki music. While I openly admit that I own several Mondo Exotica cds and listen to Illinois Street Lounge on Soma FM fairly regularly, I warn people who are planning to play this genre in public spaces to choose their music carefully.

Also, I’m glad they’re not playing the Beach Boys. I think the era of associating their obnoxiously giddy surf jams and trite love ballads with every stretch of populated beachside on earth is finally coming to an end. That still won’t stop that gay-ass song, “Kokomo,” from getting stuck in your head from time to time.

Um… sorry about that.

I think there should be a song about Lombok, particularly the Mangsit area where I’m staying, and great care should be taken to ensure that it doesn’t suck. The mountains, the lush vegetation, the calls to prayer off in the distance… everything about this place is what you’d expect from a high-end, truly exotic tropical vacation. Seriously, Hawaii is for amateurs.

Unfortunately, “Mangsit” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. It sounds more like something you’d give your dog to prevent fleas. I really hope I can get back here before it gets too crowded.

Breakfast is probably my favorite thing about Lombok. You fill in your order, stick it in the basket, and put the basket outside your door.

And in the morning, you get a deerishus breffast!

When I took the above picture, I had ordered a banana pancake. They’re not as good here as they were at my hotel in Gili—too much like regular pancakes. Every other day I ordered mie goreng. It’s like chow mein but with a fried egg on top (sunny side up!), which is the way everything should be. Cheeseburger? Fried egg. Apple pie? Fried egg. Eggs? Fried egg. Old-and-busted relationship? Fried egg. Less-than-a-month-long relationship? Two fried eggs! Eggs make it all better.

In fact, that’s what the banana pancake needed. Eggs.

I wasn’t digging Gili so much, so I got on a boat headed for Lombok. I was going to find somewhere scenic and peaceful if it killed me.

So, I went back to the port with my heavy suitcase, treading back through the water behind a guy carrying it for me. The boat ride was shorter and significantly less nauseating, but when we got to Lombok, it was the same old shit. I rolled up my pants, walked ashore, and paid the guy hauling my suitcase through the muddy beachfront.

Suddenly, this other asshole popped out of nowhere and demanded to see my ticket, probably so he could charge me out the ass to take me somewhere. I’ve been paying the white-person tax on everything since I left Singapore, so I felt entitled to the whole story anytime anyone wants to sell me anything. From the looks of the people, carts, and other miscellany scattered across the shore, I highly doubted they were organized enough to have prearranged rides (which they’re charging extra for anyway) according to ticket.

A new guy grabbed my suitcase and put it on a horse cart. Then they loaded a European family of three and their stuff. These carts are tiny and I’m not even sure how we all fit, let alone how the horse managed to drag us up the hill. At no point in the transaction was it mentioned, “We’re going to a parking lot.” But that’s where we went: a nasty, muddy parking lot with a few dilapidated vehicles.

They started loading the family and several other people who came on another cart into a van.

“Get in the van.”

“Where is it going?”

“What hotel you stay at?”

“Where is it going?”

“It take you to hotel.”

“How much?”

“Just get in.”

“I haven’t chosen a hotel, and you’ve loaded that thing to capacity anyway.”

The van clunked away and I was faced with a stringy looking older man who stood at about my height, demanding I pay some ridiculous price for his stupid horse cart ride. About half a dozen young men stood around us. I didn’t feel threatened by numbers, they were all just watching. The man and I got into it a little bit, and I was really tempted to hand him a fake 1,000,000-dollar bill that someone in Seattle was handing out during Miranda’s visit last year. We must have looked at the damn thing for 10 minutes, trying to figure out what company or event was being promoted. I had stuck it in my wallet; it was so weird. Anyway, the thought crossed my mind, and quickly exited. There’s no need to be funny when I’m arguing with someone from another country in that said country.

I ended up getting my own van with a burned-out driver and a “tour-guide” who looked like an Indonesian Usher for $20. Not a bargain, but it wasn’t going to break me. It was worth it to be able to ride by myself. I made them take me to Senggigi, the largest city on that side of the island, to buy some stuff before we headed along the coast in search of a place to stay.

I had read about Qunci Villas before I came. They’re a little pricer than the rest, plus they added a bunch of new villas six months ago anticipating the completion of Lombok’s first international airport. It’s a good time to be in Lombok, not yet overrun with tourists and their garbage like Bali.

Ah, what the hell. It’s the off-season, and I’m sick of half-assing it. I’m already spending about half the amount of time in Lombok that I wanted to, so yeah, I’m getting one of the new beachfront villas, I’m gonna quit worrying about being nickeled and dimed every day and just pay the price for the good stuff, AND I’m gonna sit on my porch and read and write and smoke and play Tetris and drink tea, and the whole world can kiss my beach-proximate ass.

So that pretty much sums up my day-to-day life during my week in Lombok. No need to shoop dis whoop, I looked at this every day:

So what’d I do first? I climbed into my big, comfortable bed and fell asleep.

This is Lulu. Lulu is evil.

I set out this morning to walk around the island, as Reena had done. She said it would take a couple of hours, so I decided I would do it before lunch.

I hadn’t gone far when I encountered a monkey tethered to a pole. It was by itself, just sitting there on the beach. Since it had a leash and harness, I figured it was safe to get closer. I kept outside its range, but slowly stretched out my arm to take a picture with my phone.

I didn’t even get a chance to hit the button before that monkey snatched my phone and jammed it into its mouth. Still holding onto the other end, I began to shake the phone violently. “EEEEY, you little shit! Give that back! You are a monkey. You can’t talk on the phone. T-mobile doesn’t even get coverage out here.”

After a short game of tug-of-war, I recovered my phone and snapped a picture. Then I discovered the teeth marks on the screen and I felt some taunting was in order. I took some more pictures, dangled the phone in front of it from a safe distance, tugged at the leash, and acted like an all-around jerk until it got boring.

I continued on my way, periodically stopping for shells (not rings). Further up the beach, I was approached by a guy named Man, who told me there was one monkey on the island, it’s a girl monkey, and her name is Lulu. I informed him that Lulu is up to no good.

I never saw the monkey after that. I kind of wonder who she belongs to. At some point, she has to eat something that isn’t my phone. Perhaps she exists only to haunt my dreams, like Chris’s evil monkey on “Family Guy”.

I decided to check out the island of Gili Trawangan under the advice of the travel agent at the hotel and actually grew excited about it when Reena told me it was her favorite place in the world. I liked that she acknowledged that different people have different tastes, but it was nice to hear some positive affirmation that I wasn’t being sold on something lame. She and I seemed to agree on most other things.

Reena wore a white shell on her ring finger that she picked up while she was walking on the beach there. She proudly announced that Gili Trawangan asked her to marry it, and now they are united forever in true love.

Well good for them. She won’t have to worry about infidelity as far as I’m concerned, since I didn’t like the island much at all.

My trip there involved a nauseating boat ride that I almost missed because the idiot working the front desk at the hotel forgot to reserve transportation to the dock. They held the boat for me, and quickly loaded my giant suitcase into the boat for my prissy ass.

When we got to the island, there was no pier, but I was so happy to be on dry land where I could use a bathroom that I gladly rolled up my jeans and walked ashore while some guy walked behind me with my suitcase on his back. There are no cars on the island, only horse carts. So I took one of those to a place up the shore, which charged me almost twice the rate listed in the Lonely Planet book I read. Thanks a lot and fuck you, I’m leaving in two days.

The rate wasn’t a big deal though ($40 instead of $25; I’ll live). I thought the island would be quiet. I mean, come on… NO cars. Unfortunately, there were clubs with obnoxious thudding music, renovation happening somewhere, and a mosque that regularly broadcasts prayers over a loudspeaker. I swear, the damn thing is next door. From what I’d read, I expected to hear these calls to prayer several times a day. I didn’t expect them to be rattling my walls at 4:30am.

There were a few good things about today though. Before trying and failing to get settled, I enjoyed walking down the main thoroughfare in relative peace, not being coaxed into a store every other second like in Bali. A lot of people said hello though, which was okay. But since I’m an introvert at heart, I got sick of that too.

“Hey, beautiful. I would like to take you as my wife.”

Heh. I pity da fool.

The best part was lunch. I sat by the beach and ate mie goreng, a fried noodle dish similar to chicken lo mein. It usually has a fried egg on top. Downtempo music played at their airy outdoor cantina. Black Mighty Orchestra, followed by a Bebel Gilberto standard, followed by a Sarah McLaughlin remix. Nice.

After a day of walking up and down the west coast of Bali, I concluded that it was kind of nasty there and I wanted to leave. The beaches are littered with garbage and so are the streets. I caught whiffs of smells that rivaled those in Mexico. It was all the crap you see in the average beach town with none of the cuteness. I’m sure at some point, it was just a quaint, remote beachfront, but tourism got big and the city didn’t provide extra resources to compensate for it. Back at the hotel, I made a reservation to take the fast boat to the nearby island of Gili Trawangan. My other option was a six-hour ride on the slow boat, but that would have required a level of patience I so rarely possess.

It was truly at an all-time low after last night’s stay in this dump of a hotel. I guess the Marina Mandarin spoiled me. But I still maintain that the people who write the Lonely Planet books have an extremely liberal sense of what is “clean and comfortable, a good value.” This place creeped me out. The blood stain on the bedspread was almost a deal-breaker. Someone, somewhere had period sex on my bed. I’m not against period sex, but christ, you don’t need to leave evidence!

Since I knew from last night that it would be raining on and off as soon as it got dark, I decided that I would sit at the hotel bar, get drunk, and meet people. If you happen to be reading this, Reena: yes, even you were premeditated.

Around nightfall, I walked down to the outdoor bar/lobby and took a seat between a group of young blond Australian boys and a girl about my age with long brown hair reading a book about Southeast Asia. Girl wins by a longshot. We already had something in common. I asked her where she’d been in Asia, and she was happy to list the half-dozen countries she’d hit. Basically, Reena was doing all the world traveling bullshit that everyone back home thinks I’m doing. She’d been totally slumming it, staying in hostels and doing everything on the cheap. At one point, she asked if I was bothered by the mosquitoes last night. I said I had a room with A/C and she seemed a bit impressed. I will happily pay an extra $20 for A/C… I just wish it also included blood-free bedding.

She told me she was from Estonia and explained where it was without any prompting. That was really nice of her because I actually didn’t know. She told me a little bit about the cold weather and overall feel of the place, which explains why it’s not high on most Americans’ travel lists. I still internally chastised myself for not being more familiar with European geography.

I drank watered-down gin and tonics and she drank the local beer, Bintang. She said it was her favorite, so when I had one I resisted the urge to verbally lament that it was no Shiner or Corona.

However, throughout the evening we frequently lamented that more of our friends don’t travel. She said her friends complain they don’t have enough money, which she said was crap because she doesn’t have any money. (She worked as a travel agent in Estonia. I guess it’s not a lucrative job anywhere.) From an American standpoint, most of us have enough money, but we’re scared and/or complacent. Most of us don’t value travel as a life-enriching activity. We can really tear up a buffet though.

Reena’s travel companion, Marie, woke up and asked if we wanted to clubbing. Eh, why the hell not. Oh wait, I know why, it was raining. But I was drunk enough not to care, so we changed clothes and took off.

For about a dollar each, we hopped on the back of some random dudes’ motorbikes and sped recklessly to a downtown area in the temporarily drizzling rain. I know the ride situation looks sketchy, but there are guys on bikes circling around all the time offering rides. I had refused all day… sketchy! But Reena and Marie were doing it, so at least I wouldn’t be dying alone.

They took me to a reggae club they had been frequenting. I don’t particularly dislike reggae music, it’s just so damn predictable. A live band playing Bob Marley covers. A dozen white people geeking out to it. Christmas lights. Ganja jokes. Fine, whatever. I got another beer.

A guy Reena knew got us into the club for free and gave us drink tickets. Reena and Marie went to dance after they got their drinks. As I got comfy on my barstool, I saw this guy getting fresh with Reena’s backside. She didn’t look thrilled, but I guess permission was earned.

I stuck around for an hour or so, but the beer was making me tired. My fatigue coupled with the rain allowed me to get hustled for unreasonably high cab fare. Although I wasn’t wet and this pleased me, I think I would have paid less in New York.

But at least I was now tired enough to fall asleep in my creepy, weird-ass hotel room and get up early to take the fast boat to Gili Trawangan the following day.