Ever since I’ve been here, Doug has been mentioning his unease that I didn’t have a cell phone. Hear it every day, that I need a phone; no, it is essential here. I’ve put my palms up, acquiesced, said okay, whatever. But he knows my dislike, so he’s being patient. But this afternoon, he scheduled a trip for the two of us down to Batam.
First I needed to stop at a pharmacy, and good thing I had a translator along. I just needed eyedrops and Pepto but even with Doug, it seemed the message was having trouble being understood. On the eyedrop side, I brought an empty Visine container to show what I wanted. For the Pepto, though, we gave them the name on paper, they came back with a thick book with descriptions of medicines – in English. Actually, it was more like doctorese. I said okay to the drug they indicated and bought eight tablets. The total was about $3. Took a tab right away, expecting to die, but it seems to have solved my problem. (Memo to self: Don’t travel without Pepto tablets.)
So, then we went looking for a cell phone for Ken, one of the few remaining sane people on the planet who don’t want to be saddled with an electronic device. Oh well, like I said, my palms were up. There is a large building in town that is divided into dozens of small shops, all selling cell phones. I don’t know how you choose a booth to buy from but we stopped shortly after entering. A young couple helped us from behind a 6-foot glass counter with cellphones inside. They had two feet of space between the counter and the wall, and no space on either end, basically an 8×4 space.
I just watched as Doug picked out my first ever cell phone – unless you count that wireless phone I had back in 1995. I told him he knew what I needed and what he was prepared to spend, so whatever was fine. He looked at a couple before deciding on one. After some phone programming (like making the interface in English), we were off. Now the punchline:
I have an iPhone. (My journalistic integrity requires me to reveal that it is a Chinese knockoff, complete with Apple logo aand all the same features as Apple’s.) I think it cost about $83. Had to get a charger and a SIM card, as well. So now I await all the snide comments from my friends, who I have swore to I would never own a cell phone. But when you think about it, I don’t own this phone. It belongs to the company. I’m just using it. Ha!
When we came back from our buying spree, I worked a little late and so did the two women in the office. As they were getting ready to leave, it turned into “Let’s find out about this new guy” time. Mawar is kind of the office manager, maybe 30 or so. Sida is early 20s, petite and wears a headdress for her faith. She smiles and laughs a lot. Mawar is more serious. Also in the office are Sarijan and Hidayat. We haven’t chatted yet.
It was kind of like I had been there long enough that they were comfortable I would be staying – and thus they needed more information. Where was I from? What did I do before coming here? Family stuff. Is my wife back in the States with the kids? They were absolutely amazed that I had been divorced (the second time) for 17 years and didn’t mind not having a permanent partner. “Not lonely,” I said, “I have my friends.” Not sure they were buying it.
I told them of my travels and that led to me showing them a bunch of my photos from
Rome and Croatia. They’re probably never been anywhere outside of Singapore, so they were enthralled with the shots of Rome and the Croatian coast. They thought I was rich because I could go to these places. To them, I am rich. To Americans, not so much – in dollars, anyway. It ended with me thinking I made two important connections – and made two new friends.
Friday, I’m supposed to interview someone for an article. My writing here will be advertorial style. This is all about marketing. We had an immediate hit from the first newsletter I’ve been involved in here from someone who wants us to write about his company. Guess that someone is me. Last night, met two guys with a new business who needed a copywriter, and their eyes lit up when they were told I was a “journalist.” I think my buddy Jack once asked me why I call myself a journalist. My response might have been inadequate, but in the places I’ve traveled since leaving Costa Rica, everyone knows what a journalist is. It’s actually a respected job title in most of the world.
Another task within the next few days is that Doug wants to take me to the “entertainment” district, they call it “kampung bule” (white man’s village). This is where most of the bars frequented by expats and populated by girls chasing their money are located. But it’s not what you think. We’re going there to talk with the owners about marketing opportunities. “If you pick up a girl, so be it, ” Doug said. I am supposed to bring my camera, guys.
I know I’m not going to get any sympathy, but this is not like I’m living on a paradise island. I’ve worked every day since I’ve been here, although I’m loving every minute. Sometimes the work is interrupted by trips for island orientation, but my personal time has been reduced a bit. I’m basically living, working, eating and drinking in a gated community. It’s all very convenient but it feels a little like being in a gilded cage. This will change as I get my bearings.
I don’t see much opportunity to fish here, however, which is a shame. Maybe a scheduled day of fishing with someone occasionally, but the daily fishing from the beach as I did in Sarasota is over, or at least suspended. I would only be able to go on the weekends anyway and I’ve forgotten what it feels like to hook a big fish. It’s been two years.
There are 6-7 young women who work in the restaurant. A couple are cute and they’re all very nice. I haven’t learned everyone’s name yet but they all call me Mr. Ken. Della, who adds up the amounts owed and prepares the bills (all by hand, as the electronic billing is being replaced), is like a first sergeant. She works evenings and sits gruffly behind the counter, adding and subtracting, getting signatures or credit cards. She always looks angry, so I decided it was my job to get her to smile. Tonight, she did. I’ll have pictures of all these people eventually.