“I will find myself on Facebook”

19 03 2010

I’m tired of explaining to people that I’m not trying to “find myself” on this year-long trip around the world… I’d have to be lost, for that.  Rather, I describe it as “looking for what to do next with myself.”

Things I have considered doing, after my travel (presumably) takes a break at the end of 2010:

 – Spend a month or two volunteering with an orphanage in Cambodia
– See if I can get one of Raytheon’s highly sought-after temporary gigs in Antarctica. I already looked online, and there’s one I’m qualified for.
– Um, continue traveling…? January snowboarding in Canada (which would be only the second time I’ve attempted this sport), February Carnivale in Brasil, March for pre-Nyepi celebrations in Bali, April Songkran in Thailand… I’ve become quite good at filling a travel schedule.
– Move to Europe for a few months.  Learn some German and re-learn some French.
– Move to South America for a few months.  Learn some Spanish.
– Or, of course, there’s always the option of moving back to L.A. and re-entering the real world…

Ooof. I felt the twinge of a headache just then.  I’ll refrain from talking about the real world for right now.


Traveling alone kind of puts one into a speed-dating model of making friends… you meet in the common area of a hostel, or the pool of your hotel, or in a restaurant, and if both of you are in the market for a connection it’s a flurry of immediate conversation as you figure out if this is someone you want to hang out with during your stay, and maybe be “Facebook friends” with, and maybe even incorporate into future travel plans.

Just like with speed dating, you get a rehearsed schtick for the first two minutes… and just like speed dating, that sometimes means that your impression is dead wrong.  The British girls who are also taking a year off of work to travel the world can turn out to be obnoxious lushes who only want to drink at the pool all day, before carrying on to the next destination, where they will also drink at the pool all day.  The cool Australian guy who has a girlfriend can turn out to be a gropy jerk who insists that mutual masturbation would not be cheating on the girl he supposedly loves, but would rather be a satisfying and wholesome activity for both parties involved.   But inevitably, the boring girl from Belgium turns out to be a boring girl from Belgium, and the socially awkward and mildly irritating guy from San Diego turns out to be a REALLY socially awkward and irritating guy from San Diego… do not take a chance on these.

Twice now, I have been approached by French people in my hostels speaking to me in French, and then apologizing and saying that they thought I looked French.  It’s possible that this is just an icebreaker, but it’s a damn good one… since what American girl doesn’t want to look French?  Or at least like what our idea of a French woman looks like – which basically means oozing sex appeal.  So this bit of flattery is how I found myself at dinner with a girl who spoke far less English than I speak French, and her friend who spoke fine English but who was more interested in speaking with the Australian that joined us later than continuing to translate for us.  I was very shocked to find that, 13 years after I gave up on learning French, I can actually carry on a conversation – with the help of hand gestures, and the bonus of unlimited time to think up how to piece together grammatically incorrect sentences using the simplest words possible.

As we said our goodbyes, I wanted to tell her to find me on Facebook.  I thought that my French was very clear, having practiced the statement in my mind first… but she looked quite confused as she nodded. I realized afterward that what I had said to her, in confident and perfect French, was, “I will find myself on Facebook.”


Travel is an easy way to stay humble.  As soon as I start to feel proud of myself for being able to give lost tourists directions, I am ready to move onto the next place, where I will be the lost one again.  The night that I felt brilliant for knowing how to ride a songthaew (and pretty cool, since I was the only “farang” in the truck), I ended up clear on the other side of town with a full bladder and no idea how long it was going to take to finish what could have been a 5-minute drive by taxi, or a 20-minute walk.

And tonight, as I set out from my hostel to make the dark and lonely walk to the strip of restaurants nearby, I encountered a satay cart.  It’s kind of like an ice cream cart, complete with a little jingle.  I stopped the guy and asked how much. “SA-TAY” he answered, a little extra loud for the Javanese-impaired.  “RU-PI-AH?” I said, a little extra loud for no particular reason.  He pulled out a 5000 note, and then pointed at the skewers… “FOR TEN.”  I pulled out a 1000 note and pointed at the skewers… “FOR TWO?” – thinking that the best way to avoid food poisoning is to eat less of foods that are likely contaminated, rather than by avoiding them altogether like most sensible travelers do.  He shrugged and pulled over.

I would not have made such a ridiculous offer if I had realized that he was not going to just hand them to me; he was going to re-grill them over a little drawerful of charcoal in the bottom of his cart, and fan them, and flip them several times, and then place them ceremoniously on a banana leaf.  So immediately I revised my order to the standard ten, which was going to cost me less than a dollar anyhow.

At this point, one of the employees of my hostel came out, and the SA-TAY man said something to him that made him laugh – probably along the lines of, “stupid white girl tried to buy only 2 skewers.  If she can’t afford 10, why is she here, anyhow?”  And then he held up a banana leaf tube, to see if I wanted some of that too.  “What is it?” I asked the guy from my hostel.  “Rice.”  More Javanese… more laughter… “stupid white girl doesn’t recognize rice?!  What do these Americans eat, anyhow?”


My flight to Jogjakarta today was a last minute thing… as in, ticket purchased a mere 9 hours before my 6 a.m. departure.  Still, it cost me only $44.  I simply had to get out, though… I was staying in a miserable (although only $8/night) hotel with no air conditioning or internet, my decent Canadian company was outnumbered by the aforementioned drunken British girls and unwelcomely pervy Australian guy, and I did not want to do any more interesting things there since I will likely be doing those things in Bali when I return on the 26th to meet up with my friend Pamela and her friend, who are flying out from L.A. for 10 days.

So I came to Java – home of the largest Buddhist temple in the world, several scenic volcanoes, a majority Muslim population (like all of Indonesia, except for Bali), fewer tourists (and those that are here are interested in actually experiencing Indonesia, rather than just working on their suntan), and way more authentic food, in restaurants owned by Indonesians instead of mostly by expats or absentee investors. I feel like I’m traveling again, rather than on vacation.

Not that Bali wasn’t wonderful… I was there in time for the ceremonies that precede the Balinese New Year, and they were incredible… a sunset procession from the beach of people playing solemn traditional music and singing, and carrying temple effigies and other sacred symbols through town and then back to the water for purification.  The next night, a parade of “ogoh ogohs” through Denpasar… large and elaborate monster-like things carried with torches to exorcise evil spirits from the town, and later burned to symbolize ridding the people of the past year and starting fresh.  Then, Nyepi is a day of silence for the entire island – enforced by the police – during which nobody can leave their homes or hotels, turn on lights, or make noise.  Admittedly, that day was a drag… but the stars over a completely unlit island are breathtaking.

The day after Nyepi, I toured some sights and was ending the day with my guide at a temple.  As we were about to cross the street, I took a photo of a guy with a rooster tucked under his arm.  Who, I laughed, walks around with a rooster like that?  Cockfighters do, my guide laughed back.  Did I want to see a cockfight?  NO!  Well, maybe.  Ok, yes.

In Indonesia cockfighting is technically illegal, but usually it is not stopped by the police, who are often fans or participants.  It is especially “ok” around Nyepi, when done on temple grounds as a sacrifice… but out of respect, the men leave the temple to exchange money after each fight.  Before the fight begins, it’s a long process to decide which birds are fighting, then to strap blades to their feet, and then to get them riled up, and then finally to get the bets.  Betting is run by a man in the center of the spectators calling out the starting bet, and everyone who wants to place that amount chants the number until the betkeeper knows who’s in.  Then he calls the next bet, and the next round of people chant.  Bets are placed in an outmoded currency but still paid in Rupiah.

I asked my guide if they at least eat the loser.  “Yes, very delicious.  I have eaten many times,” Nyoman replied.  But I only stayed for one fight, during which no blood was shed… kind of the cleaned up tourist version of this brutal tradition, much to the chagrin of the rest of the onlookers.

“Do you want to watch another?  It will be better than this one.”

“No, I think it’s time to go home.”

Or rather, the closest thing to it.