Posts Tagged ‘Indonesia’

39. Lost in Translation

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010


For some time, I’d intended to write a post about signs, menus and other printed materials that featured funny, ridiculous or nonsensical translations to English.

But upon finding a NY Times slideshow (accompanied by an article by Andrew Jacobs and a readers’ gallery of submitted photos), I’ve resigned to the fact that I simply couldn’t do a better job than hundreds of people at once. Check them out.

There are some real gems among the submitted photos, such as:

#9: “Decent Public School” in Varanasi, India (taken by Justin Hefter).
#20: “Careful Drowning” in Putuo Shan, China (taken by Jonas Crimm).
#43: “Genuine Fake Watches” in Instanbul, Turkey (taken by Jules Villamor).
#44: “Each hour takes about 1 hour” in Seoul, Korea (taken by bmarconi).
#59: “Stay away from the deer with ANTLERS!!” in Miyajima, Japan (taken by cesse123).
#82: “No Wasting GARBAGE!” in Indonesia (taken by Anthony Zak).
#88: “Sorry we’re open” in Instanbul, Turkey (taken by Skidel).
#151: “Wikipedia fried with eggs” on a menu in Beijing, China (taken by cohenhead21).

Some highlights that come to mind, from my travels, include:

  • “Beatiful ladies” outside a strip club in Tijuana, Mexico [Beatify: to declare (a deceased person) to be among the blessed and thus entitled to specific religious honor].
  • “Sea products” and “Shepherd’s bag” on a menu in Bratislava, Slovakia.
  • “Meet balls” on a menu in Bangkok, Thailand (see above photo).

If you have any you’d like to add to this list, feel free to post them (with a link to the photo) as comments.

Taken in Spain by Rhett Larsen

Taken in Spain by Rhett Larsen

31. Traveler’s Diarrhea

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

This post should really have appeared earlier. Like somewhere in the top five. I guess 2. No Toilet Paper falls under the fecal category, so that about covered it for the top thirty. You can’t be writing a blog that talks about shit every five or six posts without people calling the cops (coprophiles) on you. Besides, to me, the word “fecal” represents a more solid image in my mind. And the topic of this post is decidedly far from solid. Yup, this is something entirely different.

That’s why I realize now it should have cracked the top five. Having this malevolent organism inside me was probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to me while traveling. Worse than getting pickpocketed (that’s number-two). I’m fucking serious. I was scared of it. Not scared, like I thought I was gonna die, but I was scared it would last longer. If you’re laughing and calling me a pussy, you’ve obviously never had it. It is THE WORST.

I  got my first case of real TD (they actually call it this) in Africa, of all places (beenou). Because I’m a visible minority, I like to brag to my white friends that I’m more immune to things than they are. Like sunlight for example (even though I still do get sunburnt, from time to time). I’d traveled to third-world countries before, so I was a little cocky. Our guides told us repeatedly, “Don’t drink the tap water. Only drink bottled water. No iced cubes. Make sure raw fruits and vegetables are washed in…” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought. I can handle it. I’m not white.

I’d been diligent, though. I’d been drinking only bottled water for weeks, even brushing my teeth with it for chrissakes. But I mistakenly thought that I’d gotten some bath water in my mouth once or twice, and was unaffected, so I rolled the dice. We were in a small local straw-hut of a restaurant. No tourists in there (beenou). They didn’t have any bottled drinks, only water. It wasn’t even tap water. They were ladling it into metal cups out of a bright blue garbage-pail-sized plastic bucket. I was conscious of it too, thinking, “Is this gonna make me sick?” right before I drank it to wash down a bite.

It most certainly did. I fell into a haze. Not immediately, but I started feeling off about an hour after eating, a little dizzy. Then I had the bubbly gut, then a stomach ache. I’d had food poisoning before, so I thought it was just that - that I’d puke or shit once and that’d be it.  I was struck by the worst case to diarrhea I’ve ever had. It started running Friday, I practically spent the whole day in the bathroom Saturday, I thought it was over and it came back Sunday, and Monday was just as bad as Friday. My memory of the experience is all foggy. I couldn’t eat. I felt so weak. All I did was sleep and get up to shit. I drank gallons of water. Imodium and antibiotics had no effect the entire time. It just kept pouring out. My butthole was raw from the constant wetness of pooping and water wiping (see 2. No Toilet Paper). By Tuesday, I felt decent enough to get out of bed and try to function. All I could stomach was water, tea, bread (dry, as butter is banned during bouts of TD) and the local equivalent of animal crackers. The runs had become more of a mealy, loose paste. It took five days before I had a solid stool and  I was honestly near tears when it plopped against the surface of the toilet water.

One thing my horrific TD taught me is that you need the support of other people to endure it. My friends took care of me. They brought me water and food, if I could eat it. They checked on me and even bought me a thermometer to make sure I didn’t have a crazy malaria-induced fever. You’d think I’d learned my lesson, but I got it again about a month later. Turns out, I was less immune to it than my white friends. They didn’t get it once.

I didn’t get TD again until about three years later, in Indonesia. Due to the foolish ingestion of fish(chicken?)ball soup, made with fishballs and steamed noodles that were sitting in a lidless container at room temperature, in the sun, likely for hours. Again, I thought about the possible consequences as I took my first slurp, hoping that the steaming broth they dumped the spongy, pre-cooked ingredients into was hot enough to kill the nefarious bacterium. But my friend, a feminist, separatist gal from Quebec, was keen on the soup. She insisted it would be fine. Yeah, she was fine. Yet again, I proved myself less immune to something than a white friend. I should learn my lesson, eventually.

- Thanks to Karen, for suggesting I go ahead and write this topic. She must have had it once too. Thanks to Alain and the Diaws for all the animal crackers in Dakar. Thanks also to Isa, Claudio and JP for keeping me alive in the Gilis.

29. The Local Hustler

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

There he is. Waiting for you at the dock or train station. Smiling a toothless smile, chewing on a stick or something. He’s smiling because he already knows he’s got you, right from the moment your eyes meet. He’s your local hustler. He and his counterparts are encircling you like vultures.


You’re conflicted, because you don’t want to be a sucker, but The Lonely Planet recommends hiring one, if only to keep the other would-be hustlers/tour guides/drivers at bay. You’re a foreigner here, a bona fide target. You’ve got dollar signs flashing in your fair eyes.

You need him just as much as he needs you. Together, you’ll develop a truly symbiotic relationship. Yet, like the bird that cleans the crocodile’s teeth, it will be awkward at times. But what the hell, you bite the bullet and agree to let the local hustler show you around a bit.

This is where it really gets interesting.

There’s a constant battle of wits. A feeling-out process whereby the local hustler figures out what kind of traveler (and spender) you are. He teases you and goads you with a bounty of food, souvenir and leisure possibilities.

“Up to you,” he says encouragingly. You say you want to see “the real [insert destination here].” He says, he’ll show it to you. You both know he won’t. He asks you if you will eat [insert disgusting local delicacy here]. You squirm inside but keep a straight face. ”Maybe,” you say. You both know you won’t.

He can be such a fucking pest. As your link to local tourism, dining, souvenir shopping, entertainment and — in some cases — drugs and prostitution (those are the real hustlers), he’s holding all the cards. In Morocco, at some point during the tour, he’ll be taking you to buy extravagant and outrageously priced rugs. In Thailand and Vietnam, he’ll drag you to buy a tailored suit. In Indonesia, he’ll insist that you buy a batik painting you don’t even want in the first place (see photo, below).


"You like the art? You drank my tea, now you buy."

Invariably, the local hustler will take you to the usual tourist attractions, which annoy the hell out of you, so you to ask him to show you the real thing. Problem is, the real thing consists of him bringing you to the restaurants and shops that pay him a commission. Most of the time, they’re not bad. They’re seldom the best. And unfortunately, sometimes they just plain suck. They employ all kinds of guilt trips (e.g. serving you “free” tea or booze while you browse) to force you to buy, only to waste your precious sightseeing time. Besides, you’re backpacking — what use do you have for an 85-lb. Moroccan rug?

Nevertheless, it’s a necessary evil. You’re a fish out of water here. It can be exciting to deal with somebody who has personal ties to the foreign wonders around you, to meander off the beaten path, through a city’s  hidden streets and back alleys. But he may also have ties to the seedy local underground. But because you’re forced to trust him — he’s already driving you around, eating with you and smoking your cigarettes — you try to ignore the possibility that, at any moment, he and his thugs could pull out a gun, rob you or hold you hostage. Such possibilities become significantly more likely if he’s taking you to drug dealers, strip clubs or worse yet, brothels.

My buddy Ben was in downtown Dakar, Senegal when three guys approached him and said one of them just had a baby. “They’re happy as shit and I’m happy for them,” says Ben. “Then one of them gives me this golden-looking piece of metal, says it’s gold from the Congo and that it’s good luck to give it to a foreigner. Sure, why not?! Then they ask if I want to join them to celebrate. Always up for an adventure, I go.

“They take me to the top floor of a two-storey restaurant. No one else is around. Then they start pressuring me for money — for food, for the celebration, of course. Enough for a bag of rice or some shit. I’m trying to figure out how to get the fuck out of there because it’s getting real sketch, real quick. In the end, I pay for their cokes and get the fuck out of dodge.

“It’s funny because in hindsight I seem like a real dick, but the thing is, sometimes you follow these people around and it works out,” Ben concludes. “And I guess I was willing to take the chance. Oh well, makes for a story, right?”

To scenarios like this, my buddy Sid, another seasoned backpacker,  says, “Lesson learned: Never get cornered in a situation where you feel compelled to pay just to get out of it.”

Sid recently visited Egypt, where the hustlers are notoriously tireless. “When we first arrived in Cairo, we decided to take the local bus, because it cost $2 instead of $70, but it was nearly impossible to find the right bus into town,” he says. “An Egyptian guy, about 30-years-old, was happy to show us the right bus, as he was also taking it into town. We get off at the center of the town and he gets off with us, grabs my bag and refuses to let me carry it myself. Then he points us in the direction of our hotel, but also suggests a very good one nearby.

“That’s when the intial hustler alarm bell went off, but at this point, we totally trusted the guy. I even gave him my Egyptian phone number. We end up finding our hotel and decide to stay for one night, and tell the guy we’ll give him a shout.

“Early the next morning, he calls and I don’t answer. Then he calls another 15 times and I still don’t answer. At this point, we realize something’s up and I swear he called me constantly for three more days. Lesson learned: Never give your phone number or any other details to anyone you don’t know well.”

27. One-uppers

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Traveling to a cool place is like going to an awesome concert. The experience is so good that you wish everybody could see and hear what it’s like. This type of feeling gives one a false sense of superiority, the delusion that other people are missing out big time. “You really shoulda been there,” or “OMG, I wish you were there,” or “You would have LOVED it,” are common manifestations of this feeling.

Don’t be fooled. These statements are stone cold, back-handed beenous. The back-handed beenou is a standard backpacker conversational maneuver. The speaker feigns a desire to share, but really it’s a need to gloat, so he tickles his uvula and pukes out a quick beenou for all to behold.

kristen-wiig-as-penelope-snl-kristen-wiig-323108_1024_768But even when somebody hasn’t missed out — when they’ve actually been to that place or seen that concert — it doesn’t compare. This is one-upping. Somebody sneaked out a little horn toot, which led Mr. Big Shot to pull the tugboat foghorn. The exchange takes on a sudden “check, check mate” silence, leaving everybody feeling stunned and staring blankly at the table.

“I absolutely loved Amsterdam,” somebody says.

“Yeah, Amsterdam is pretty amazing,” says Mr. Big Shot. ”I met a Dutch guy when I was backpacking in Indo. His mom was born in Indo when it was still a Dutch colony. Anyway, he was in Indo trying to get in touch with his roots. On a jungle trek we went on, he got bit by a snake and I sucked the venom out; saved his life. Years later, I went to visit him; he lives in Amsterdam. His dad like owns Shell Oil. So we got blazed, ate krokete and drove Maseratis through the streets of Amsterdam all fuckin’ day.”

You see, one-uppers can’t help but shit all over a perfectly good conversation between well meaning travelers. It’s a collegiate thing, sort of like how the goof with the ponytail challenges Matt Damon to an intellectual duel only to get absolutely demolished by Damon, who cites plagiarism and famously proceeds to get Minnie Driver’s number. My boy’s wickid smaht.

The point is: One-uppers will do whatever it takes to make conversation revolve around themselves and their enlightened, shoulda-been-there experience.

The weekend after we ran with the bulls (beenou, see 1. Aussie Guys), my buddies and I went to San Sebastian. The place was awash in backpacker overflow from Pamplona. We ended up partying with some Americans and amid the drunken blur of pub hopping and running into a number of annoying Brit lad parties with matching t-shirts or rugby shirts, I recall getting caught in a heavy downpour.

We retreated to an apartment a few of the Americans had been renting for the past month leading up to the Running of the Bulls. We proceeded to keep drinking and people were playing CDs. Completely dating myself, as this was pre-iPod era. Somebody put on Dave Matthews Band. And an interesting wrinkle in the time-space continuum gave rise to a compound beenou of unseen magnitude: A backpacker bragged about an awesome concert.

“Oh this song reminds me of when we saw Dave in some dive bar in Memphis,” said the backpacker, a fat dude from Georgia. That’s right. He called him “Dave,” like he knew him, not Dave Matthews. “This was way before Crash, before college radio made him huge and lame. He and the band were only doing small shows in tiny little venues. Blahblahblahblah…”

I wish I had more quotes from this guy, but I was drunk and, as a habit I tend to block out one-uppers.