Tedoo cu Brad Florescu

Sumatra Tsunami Cafe (Episode 2). Oh, Batak Land!

How stars multiply in Malaysia. The last boat to Medan. How come Asians don’t go to the beach? The best car in the world. Facing 600.000 Chinese people on my own. Antony’s tear-drop.

How stars multiply in Malaysia. The last boat to Medan. How come Asians don’t go to the beach? The best car in the world. Facing 600.000 Chinese people on my own. Antony’s tear-drop.

How stars multiply in Malaysia

Hotel business works in mysterious ways. Just 6 months ago, the Bayview Hotel in Penang was a regular, clean accommodation. Nothing but the rotating restaurant on the roof top made it stand out. It wasn’t neither expensive, nor cheap, neither great, nor lame. It was just one of the average options for tourists in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. I could call it “a city of contrasts” but I hate clichés.

A lot must have happened to the hotel since my last visit there, because a new start rating had turned up on its emblem. It was a five star hotel now, though I would have scarcely given it three and a half. And, of course, the prices at reception had tripled. I looked around the lobby asking myself if I wasn’t in the wrong place. But I wasn’t. Nothing had changed – the obscure little bar that sold much too expensive coffee was still there and so were the Indian doormen and the two Sino-Malaysian front desk clerks, with their long, out of tune faces.

- How come you have a five star rating and have tripled the prices? Have you changed the non-adjustable air-conditioners in the rooms? Have you finally hired a man at the hotel pool? Is the Wi-Fi an all in service now? Or maybe you’ve fixed the seal pipes in the bathrooms so now the water isn’t leaking all over the rooms?
- No, sir. We now have new management. 5 stars management.
- Would you mind me asking you to not hire any new managers ’til tomorrow? I wouldn’t want to go to sleep in Bayview and wake up in Burj Al Arab.

I was just wasting my words, as I had already made reservations on Agoda.com for the old 3 star rating prices. The long face at the front desk got a little longer, but he gave me my key-card and went back to his computer. Good riddance.

The last boat to Medan

First thing I did in the morning was to go to the travel agency and buy a boat ticket to Medan. I also got a piece of bad news, hanging in the place’s window: “We regret to inform you that the last Penang – Medan course will be operated on June 14th. On and after this date this means of transport will be out of service.”

Kenangan 3, the boat that had connected Malaysia to Indonesia for so long had lost the war against airplanes. Why go 7 hours by water when you can get to the same point in 45 minutes? Why put up with the waves and the vicious weather when you can smoothly float at 8.000 meters above? And why pay 30 Euro for a boat ticket if a one way flight is only 25?

Well, one reason should be the love for the wind, for the smell of the salty air and for the play of the waves. Another is that, at sea, one can actually feel eternity. There’s also the passion for sale, explorers and pirates stories. And last but not least, out of deference for Lord Time, passing slowly and benign, just like a river. But that’s just the opinion of a poor romantic soul…

If anyone had tried to count the romantic souls aboard Kenangan 3, they would have been disappointed. Indonesians don’t go to Malaysia for fairy tales, but for money. Some do it the legal way; others risk their lives in crossing the Malacca Strait on fishing boats. Just a week before I got there, 16 illegal immigrants had died in the stowage of a launch that was turned over by the storm. Malaysia is a rich country, Indonesia is a poor one. Thus, life is worth less than an illegal, underpaid job as a pole dancer or a dishwasher.

Judging by their dialect, features and clothing, all the passengers on the boat were Batak ethnics, from the Karo heights region. It’s where the Sinabung volcano erupted. They were returning home loaded with packs of clothes and electronic equipment. The boat pulled away, passed the incredible Penang Bridge (13.5 kilometers long) and went into open sea. Right away, the poor highlanders got out their paper bags and started feeding the fish. I’m a good sailor but soon the air in the cabin got so unbreathable that I had to go up on the deck or else I would have tossed my cookies out of empathy with everybody else.

How come Asians don’t go to the beach?

In South-East Asia where people are a bit dark-skinned by nature, cosmetics companies sell skin whitening products. The reigning beauty has white skin and European features. And the intriguingly vast majority of pop stars, actors or TV stars are born in mixed – white and Asian – families. Pale skin signifies elevation while dark skin is thought to be unbecoming. The natives don’t show up on the beaches of SE Asia until the sunset. They ride their motorbikes covered up in clothing in spite of the temperature rising above 30 degrees Celsius. They only go out wearing baseball caps or using sunshades so that the sun doesn’t unmercifully tan them and thereby make them look ugly. That’s the main reason why I was the only one on deck that day. Everyone else would rather spill their guts out in the crowded cabin below than breathe the fresh air under the “mutilating” rays of the sun. That’s the world we live in, nowadays.

So I stood on that deck for five hours, gazing at the sea and learning a little Indonesian. From time to time I looked up and tried to make out the coast line. But the air around me was damp and foggy. It wasn’t until we passed by a cargo boat standing at anchor that I knew the harbor was near by and I got back to the cabin where I had unconcernedly left all my luggage.

At this time you probably expect me to tell you about how my laptop and camera were nowhere to be found and how I went and complained to the captain about it so that when we went ashore every passenger would be frisked. And that the coast guard caught the thief and I got my gear back, but they also rubbed my nose in it for leaving my luggage unattended.

Well, I would if I could, but none of that ever happened. My things were right where I had left them and the only thing threatening them was the wild dancing going on in the cabin. The stewards had got the witty idea of cheering up the vomiting passengers by playing a Marsada CD – a very hot band among the Batak ethnics. 150 people have spent the last few miles from home and the last miles in the history of this sea-faring singing and dancing amidst suitcases, packs and garbage cans.

„Boasama
Arian borngin lalala
Huingot ingot hoooo?”

“I wonder why
I think of you
Night and day?”

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