Reflections in an Airport – Bali, Indonesia

Reflections in an Airport
Bali, Indonesia

Even though my sources of amusement had long since dissipated, my patience dwindled to non-existence, frustration a good friend my thoughts were still happy. Standing in the terminal with the other passengers, most looking equally as frustrated, I became acutely aware of the finer details within the terminal that in previous years had never captured my attention.

International terminals within Indonesia � Bali especially � are full of the collective variables in mankind and their natures and mannerisms; however, each one an individual. People of all shapes and sizes, manners of dress and religion from the multitude of countries that paint a landscape upon our globe. Some were young � some old � and yet there were those yet to see the light of day. Perhaps the mother thought that to involve the unborn child with such adventure would, upon birth, be a walking and talking source of global knowledge.

This potpourri of humanity before me created numerous thoughts in my mind. As does a child in a playground playing guessing games, I myself was scanning the crowd attempting to guess their reasons for being here in the terminal. There were those tourists of course who came to the island of Bali to do the one thing they had saved their money for � to soak up the sun, shop crazily and in general have a good time. The ubiquitous backpackers – the ambassadors of the world, who trek into all manners of adventure, were checking their backpacks. There were always the well-dressed businessmen. They had come to Indonesia in an endeavour to procure trade in one form or another. It was, in a way, exhilarating to see people from different nations together in the one large Immigration hall; together without a word of anger exchanged or even a sign of bitterness.

Glancing at those travellers standing in the ‘tourist line’ as it is commonly known, I was extremely pleased that I had obtained a Social/Cultural Visa two weeks earlier from the Indonesian Consulate. At least I wouldn’t have to suffer the drudgery and nose-picking boredom of what my fellow travellers were now experiencing. There were only a few people at the Foreign Visa counter as I approached; the Immigration officers casting official looks in my direction. The questions asked by the officials were far more investigative than those asked in the tourist line; they had to be because of my length of stay in Indonesia. However, it was a mere matter of process.

After a considerable amount of grinning, smiling and appeasing officials’ questions with the right answers, my passport was stamped and I made my way to the baggage hall to collect my antiquated and well travelled bags. There has always been, or so it seemed to me, a mad scramble to obtain a baggage trolley. It happens every day in airports around the world, and to this day, I am at a loss to the actual purpose of this disorganised craziness. Even if one was, in some miraculous way, successful in procuring a trolley and emerging from the whole episode unscathed, the next step was to wait. Where is the sane reasoning in rushing when the final outcome is to just stand there in front of the baggage carousel looking dumb and edgy?

People were milling around in twos and threes; their excited chatter a dull sense of apprehension. Children explored where they shouldn’t explore; their excursions into the unknown seriously terminated by the numerous airport officials who wandered around looking official. The excited chatter faded into short sharp sentences with equally sharp answers as impatience encroached; respect, such as it was, reserved for smug comments. The baggage carousel shuddered and jerked, giving notice of the pending arrival of luggage. There were the usual comments, and at most times, summoned the odd glance of disapproval from the more discerning traveller. The carousel stopped.

I had always been astounded at peoples’ lack of patience. After all, it was only a few minutes after the quivering carousel gave notice that luggage was imminent in appearing before them that it stopped. The carousel shuddered again; the luggage began to appear like cars on a conveyor belt on an assembly line. People became ‘human’ once more and sanity prevailed. As I observed my fellow travellers; I had found a source of amusement. Unlike at a tennis match where people’s heads move from side to side as they tracked the tennis ball � at a baggage carousel people’s heads move in a circular motion as they track their respective luggage. It was hilarious and fascinating to watch those people who had never met previously in their lives, doing exactly the same movement in unison; poetry in motion.

Their actions reminded me somewhat of the clowns in side-street alley at a Fair where one must place a ping-pong ball into their gaping mouths in order to win a prize. As I watched the people’s heads move around and around, their eyes eagerly scrutinised every piece of luggage on the carousel in the vain hope of recognising their possessions. Every now and then there would be a pounce or a leap upon a defenceless and unsuspecting piece of luggage to be claimed as their own. Sometimes these vicious attacks were unfounded, and disappointment struck that somebody an embarrassing blow.

Looking across to the other side of the carousel, people were literally grabbing, heaving and throwing suitcases in all directions; their movements swift and precise. My idiotic thoughts intensified as I began to worry as to the whereabouts of my personal companions. I had crazed visions of a deranged and ritualistic baggage handler burning my old cases in an offering to the deities. After all, up until now I hadn’t espied them and yet quite a few of my fellow travellers had secured their baggage. Perhaps my cases had been thrown into a special rubbish bin for aged cases! I was saddened and deflated at such a prospect.

Those feelings quickly dissipated when I saw my two battered cases emerge from behind the dirty plastic flaps dividing the baggage hall from the holding room. A rather robust woman, beads of perspiration streaming down her cheeks who stood beside me, mumbling some foreign obscenity as I proudly pointed out my cases to her. I knew that nobody in their right mind would abscond with my aged and well-loved battered cases; let alone be seen dead with them!

Surprisingly, two couples had ‘doubled-up’ in trolley solidarity, and the spare trolley, alone and seemingly helpless, was now mine to procure. The ridiculous thing is that when an empty baggage trolley is actually available, a porter seems to appear from nowhere like a rabbit out of a magician’s hat. With my left hand I grabbed the trolley, with his right the same. It was a Mexican stand-off in Indonesia! His inquiring smile, polite and positive, was accompanied with stern words, “Which Hotel, meester?”

“No, my friend, I am not staying in Bali but travelling on to Yogyakarta.”

The porter stopped smiling. Whenever I have informed a porter that Bali was not inclusive on my journey and wished to have my luggage taken to the Domestic terminal, it’s as if suddenly I had acquired the Black Death. The Domestic terminal in fact is only a mere kilometre from the International, and a pleasant walk. The trolley disappeared with the disgruntled porter attached.

Porters much prefer to shuttle the tourists to the Customs area and then to the outside of the terminal so they can be dumped on their respective hotel representatives. Doing it this way, a porter can comfortably, and quite easily do this five times which enables him to pocket a tidy sum of Rupiah from just one flight. I could understand the profitability of this theory as compared to the ‘Long March’ across to the Domestic terminal. Being aware of the distance, I had always paid the porters adequate for such a journey on all my sojourns to Indonesia.

Needless to say, this lethargic porter disappeared and within minutes had reappeared with a loaded baggage trolley and flanked by two smiling tourists. The porter was wearing his ‘profit smile’. There were scores of porters in the airport and each of them plying their services to the massive influx of tourists on a daily basis; each of them happily wearing their profit grins! Eventually I found a trolley, loaded up my ‘old faithfuls’ and into my next adventure.

My last obstacle was Customs. After that hurdle, I would at last be home in Indonesia. I had always had this notion that I was never really in Indonesia until I was outside the terminal. The Green Exit � those with nothing to declare � was void of officials. Pleasing indeed because I was in no frame of mind for more interrogation. My one thought was to cruise through the Customs unchallenged.

Such was not the case six months earlier on my previous trip. There I was, merrily and yet reservedly proceeding through the green section of Customs and almost executed my pass when a voice behind, with the roar of a lion abruptly uttered, “Where are you going?”

Sporting a supercilious grin, my only reply, “Would you believe Yogyakarta?”

A smart comment that I was soon to regret in many ways. After rearranging my clothes, and in fact the entire contents of my cases, this heavy-set and muscular official then proceeded to inquire the whereabouts of my alcohol. “I don’t drink…alcohol, that is.”

I could tell by the bemused look on his face that my comment was somewhat perplexing for him. Igor, as I so affectionately nicknamed him, then returned to my cases and searched again. Remaining calm and positive, I wanted to make a witty comment but my better judgement prevailed. The humidity in the air was stifling, making me feel uncomfortable and testing my patience unbearably. Even when Igor began to dismantle the neatly packed gifts I had brought for friends In Yoygyakarta, I remained surprisingly calm. Igor grunted, “You are a tourist. All Westerners drink alcohol.”

A witty comment was required. Damn the consequences.

“Ah, but I am a traveller and not all Westerners drink alcohol,” were the only words that left my lips and I waited for the repercussions to my mediocre sarcasm. Glaring and grunting, again, Igor gestured that I should leave his presence. Looking down at my unpacked cases upon the wooden bench, clothes strewn everywhere giving the appearance of an upturned laundry basket, I then looked up at Igor, who by now had a grin from ear to ear.

Composing myself, I casually and snail-like in motion, heaped the mess back into my cases and then onto the trolley. Naturally I thanked Igor for his vigilance, smiled and walked out of the terminal and into the beauty of the Island of the Gods.

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