Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tuk Tuk, Pulau Samosir, Danau Toba, (Tuk Tuk, Samosir Island, Lake Toba)

Tuk Tuk is a small resortish place on the island of Samosir on Lake Toba, apparently the biggest lake in South East Asia. It’s a bit of a cop out from the backpacker thingy but, due to a dearth of visitors, still backpackerishly cheap. The people here are Batak Christians which means no muezzin. The alarm clock of the ummah is put on snooze here. Also, this is the first time since I have been in Indonesia that I have not heard traffic. Sheer bliss.

After getting here I had a “slap myself on the forehead” moment. I managed to forget my Indonesian language book on a bus and therefore I can introduce myself and my family and can greet someone at the airport but no more. Very useful indeed. I also learned a valuable lesson in overcomplicating things. I was feeling a bit dodgy since I got here and could not work out what I had. I excluded Malaria and Dengue but that just made me even more paranoid. Add the Delhi belly and I was soon rifling through my Traveler’s health guide in all seriousness, somehow convinced I had caught something horrible and my mild symptoms were just the initial stage of something that would culminate with a worm eating its way through my eyeballs. I was drinking gallons of water so I had ruled out dehydration. It took me a week to realize that I was not replacing the salt in my system. Once I had twigged that I got some salt and gave it a go. Felt better ever since. Truly, truly stupid.

The way here was slightly less fun as I took a more expensive bus. The driver understood that air conditioning has several different settings so I had to wear a jacket but no thermals. They also had a video that played some Bollywood action films that the Indonesians enjoy. Unfortunately they also had a good sound system that they used constantly. Indonesian pop is not the worse thing in the world but it comes close so I rigged up my earphones with some tissue for makeshift earplugs. I understand the really expensive buses have Karaoke systems, though why that is a selling point is beyond me. The bus made much fewer stops than the last one I took and the bulk of these were religious.

It’s interesting to be in a Muslim country during Ramadan. In the west most people know a few Muslims and know about the custom of fasting but it is often just another trait we assign to some of our acquaintances. What is strange is seeing everyone wait for the official sunset to have a sip of water or light up. The oneness of it all is unfamiliar to me as the only time I have participated in such behavior is at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The Muslim concept of Ummah is much more tangible here though still difficult for me to grasp. On the way here I added a lie to what are now 3 little lies about me that I find useful. I claimed I was a Christian.

Indonesians are used to people of different faiths and used to variations in the strength of these beliefs. What is strange for them is someone who does not believe in anything. The language barrier also prevents profound analysis about the human instinct to generate cosmologies so when asked if I was a Christian (which they presume most westerners are) I have started to answer yes. They usually ask if you are Protestant or Catholic but one chap threw me and asked “what kind?” I believe that good lies should be close to the truth (makes them easier to remember) so I answered that I was Church of England. I then had to explain Henry the 8th, the reformation and Renaissance religious politics to this chap. Slightly trickier than greeting a friend at the airport.

The other two lies are also benign but make my life easier. When asked I tell Indonesians that I am gainfully employed. The economic situation here is dire and most people are struggling to make ends meets. When they have a job they hang on to it for dear life. To tell them that I packed in a job to sod off traveling would be like gloating so a bona fide desk monkey I am. The other bollocks that I often claim is that I have a fiancée. Useful all around but particularly in Pulau Samosir.

Batak Christians are not allowed to marry within their own clan and these are quite extensive as well as being geographically concentrated. As a result the local girls are keen to catch husbands from outside the community and especially rich western ones. It’s very ego boosting here as you sometimes have young women flock to you and tell you that you are handsome. However it’s not in a sordid “me love you long time” way but more a keenness to demonstrate that they would make good spouses. It makes for great table service. As I am not in the market I simply claim that I am engaged and feel elevated at the look of disappointment on their faces. For some reason this can lead to an invitation to sing. Mine is not to reason why.

For those who are looking for a wife this might be a good place to go hunting. One thing I have noticed is that the local women raise wonderfully well behaved sprogs, particularly infants. In the west, a baby in a confined space (church, waiting room, airplane) is a guarantee that your eardrums are going to suffer. Here they might start to sound off but are efficiently hushed by their mums. We have much to learn from these people.

Pulau Samosir is a very nice place to walk, scramble and swim. Though suffering form the same economic downturn as the rest of Sumatra, there is less hucksterism around. Even the touts are mellow and shy in their approach. It could be the Batak mentality but I suspect something else. Magic mushrooms are legally available here and on offer everywhere. So is weed but the local lads seem to consume most of the stash themselves. Unsurprisingly I have declined the offer of both. If I am going to be wary of the food I certainly am not going to throw caution to the wind when it comes to psychotropic drugs.

This place is actually a resting hole for expats and well-off Indonesians though there are less and less of those. The peninsula of Tuk-Tuk could probably deal with a 1000 visitors but there seems to be at most a 100 here. There are plenty of abandoned construction sites around. It seems that local entrepreneurs believed the “if you build it, they will come” adage and got punished for it. This place does show starkly the economic problems of Indonesia today. I will elaborate on this on my last post in this country.

Grub wise I have just had the chance to taste a suckling pig prepared Batak style. I have met a bunch of French expats from Banda Aceh, which is strongly Muslim, and they rustled up a pig. It seems they had a hankering for schwein that is hard to satiate in Aceh. One of them also sorted out my ferry tickets to Malaysia for me. I was not looking forward to finding a way across the straits on Eid al Fitri so I am quite relieved he could sort it out with a phone call.

Next stop is Penang, Malaysia

Selamat Malam



Blogger Pater said...

Great stuff! And very glad you are well and not entrapped into a Good Marriage with a nice Batak Christian girl. But as Lord Copper wired to Henry Boot in Ethiopa, more colour please - scents, sounds, colours of the exotic East. Is the sky indigo at night? Do smells of fried cardamom drift over the bazaar to the tinkle of bells on the braided manes of the yaks?

Saturday, November 05, 2005 9:13:00 AM  

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