Vicuna by Timothy Chapman
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Sept (Dreaming of Good Hair)
Dreamt that I encountered a good hair salon that I used to use back
home. I was overcome with excitement at the idea that I might actually
have an opportunity to get a "real" haircut. It was like a mirage,
and even though I thought it might not be real, I decided to approach
the counter anyway and try to make an appointment. So I went up and said
to the woman behind the counter, "I live in Japan," and she
said, "No shit," or something to that effect and I realized
was still in Japan. We laughed and laughed. Obviously, I'm distressed
about the state of my hair after not having had a decent haircut in nearly
a year, and my subconscious knows it.
Sept (The East
Went to Indonesia for a week. On Tuesday, I arrived in Jakarta. Upon arriving
at the dingy, unairconditioned airport, I exchanged 20,000 yen for Indonesian
cash. The woman behind the money exchange counter slid the big stacks
of bills across to me without smiling, bowing, or saying thank you. Outside,
my hosts, Daisy, Lisa, Lisi, and Daisy's driver were waiting for me. They
greeted me warmly, hugging me. We drove back to Cianjur from Jakarta.
The driver was racing along the freeway at a breakneck speed. The freeway
had three lanes, but the drivers totally ignored the lane demarcations,
making 4 lanes or sometimes 5. At some point, someone mentioned that in
Indonesia, there was no speed limit. I said that I was beginning to wonder.
(I have since found out that there is indeed a speed limit, but most Indonesians
assume it doesn't exist since everyone ignores it.) After we passed Bogor,
the road narrowed and the streetlights disappeared. The passing scenery
was all obscured in darkness. All I could see was the dark outline of
the hills on the horizon.
I stayed with my host family in Griya, a subsection of Cianjur. The first
night, I went straight to bed without waiting for my host, Yudi, to return
home from his English lessons. The 4-room house was very small and modestly
decorated. The floors were made of concrete and laden with white tile.
Immediately upon entering the house, there was a sitting room with a couch,
some chairs, and a coffee table with fresh flowers on them. I later learned
that all Indonesian homes are decorated this same way. That night, I was
awakened by mosquitos that were trying to eat me alive. In the wee hours
of the morning, I was awakened by a very loud, deep male voice singing
and chanting over a loudspeaker. It didn't occur to me that it was the
mosques announcing the call to prayer. I had never heard it before.
The next morning, I met Yudi. We sat and talked for a while. He was of
Chinese descent, born to Chinese immigrants, and his English was impeccable
as he had lived in New Zealand for several years. His wife came in and
served us breakfast, sugared toast and some Indonesian coffee. Indonesian
coffee is undoubtedly the best coffee I've ever had. The grounds put into
a tall glass followed by boiling water. You have to wait a few minutes
for the grounds to settle to the bottom of the glass before drinking.
I was a bit put off at first because I could see that it had no cream
and there were some coffee grounds floating around the top. But the taste
was wonderful! And so strong and sweet, exactly the way I like it.
Afterwards, my guide, Ridwan, came around to take me to the nearby tea
plantation. I was introduced to the Angkot, which is the main form of
public transportation in Indonesia. We were standing on the dusty road
and I these little red vans
with some writing on the side
kept driving by. They were everywhere. Ridwan explained that they were
public transportation vehicles. I couldn't believe it at first. Turns
out that pretty much anything with wheels qualifies as public transportation
in Indonesia, including motorcycles. If you offered someone money for
a piggy back ride, they'd probably take it. In a country filled with people
desperate to keep their heads above poverty, they find a myriad ways to
provide any kind of service you can think of. Everything is for sale.
So we climbed inside the Angkot, which is basically a van with the interior
gutted and fitted with two low benches. For some reason, the interior
lights were always ripped out, leaving a darkened patch on the ceiling
with wires jutting out. Everywhere we went in Cianjur, we went by Angkot.
The cost was 1,000 Rupiah and that would take you anywhere in the city.
1,000 Rupiah is about 10 cents American. We rode to the tea plantation,
taking 2 or 3 different Angkots along the way. This was always the way.
Whereever we went, we always had to change Angkots two or three times.
All the Angkot drivers careened wildly through the city's dusty streets
while holding smoldering sweet-smelling clove cigarettes between their
On the first day, I was a little shocked by the poverty, the desperation.
After all, I had just stepped off the plane from Japan, the land of affluence.
Everywhere I went, someone was trying to sell something: a ride on the
back of a motorcycle for 10 cents, a box of cigarrettes, food, drink,
anything. And everything for a pittance in a country where a dollar is
a lot of money for most people, where a dollar will buy you quite a lot.
People were unbelievably poor. Most of them wore plastic thongs whereever
they went, some of them were barefoot. Their clothes were ragged, dirty,
and torn. Everywhere I went, there were men crouched down in the dusty,
littered streets, talking and smoking clove cigarrettes, the one luxury
most Indonesians seem to be able to afford.
So Ridwan and I walked to the tea plantation. Basically, we just walked
around the plantation while he occasionally pointed out the beautiful
view, which to me just looked like a forest decimated by over-cultivation.
Every single inch of those hills was cultivated by tea plants. There was
only a tiny patch of forest remaining. We ran into an old woman carrying
a massive load of sticks on her back. She looked like she'd been working
like a mule since the day she was born, but she had a big smile on her
face as she greeted us.
3 Sept (Back in
I'm in Busan, South Korea now. I've got a 2 1/2 hour layover in a waiting
area, a really small one with only a couple of duty free shops selling
the usual duty free merchandise: perfume, liquor, jewelry. There's a small
stand with drinks and snacks. There was this little Korean man in a suit
standing at the counter, thrusting his fat little index finger at his
selections and demanding to be waited on. So impatient.
People are milling around, glancing a their watches, talking on their
cell phones. When we got off the plane, we had to stand on the tarmac
and wait for a bus to take us to the terminal. "This sucks,"
I thought. A Korean man knocked me in the head with his shoulder bag as
he walked past. I remembered what a friend of mine had said about his
trip to Busan, how the people were so f***ing rude.
I'm back in the land of the have's, after spending five days in the land
of the have-not's. No matter where you are in the world, the rich and
poor are all alike.
11 Sept (WTC Anniversary
Today, as I was sitting downstairs at Asahi Junior High School, checking
my email, the history teacher, Mr. Sakae, approached me holding a slip
of paper in his hand. He's very tall for a Japanese guy, a big guy. He
was holding this slip of paper and just standing there nervously as if
there was something extremely important he wanted to say but just couldn't
get it out. Finally, I looked at the paper and saw that it had the word
"mourn" written on it several times, misspelled and crossed
out. Haltingly, hesitantly, he finally got it across to me that he was
sorry for the terrorist attach on the WTC a year ago today. I said thank
you and we stood there for a few awkward moments. It was a very thoughtful,
carefully executed gesture. So Japanese.
There were a couple of men standing outside the grocery store, holding
placards and shouting something about the terrorist attacks over loudspeakers.
I couldn't make out what they were saying, but whatever it was, they sounded
very passionate about it.
13 Sept (Koshuku
Standing in class today, a half-English, half-Japanese kid that was sitting
near the front kept prodding the students sitting around him with this
retractable metal pointer. "Little turd," I thought. Then they
were pretending to impale themselves on the pointer, like harakiri. Harakiri
literally means "belly slicing". It's a method that Japanese
warriors used to disembowel themselves as a means of suicide. And he was
doing all this while the teacher was standing only inches from him, trying
in vain to teach the class. I thought that it must be so strange to be
half Japanese and half Western, to have two feet planted in two so totally
At lunchtime, I took my bento (box lunch) to the beach at Ohama. There
were people there snorkelling and swimming around in the ocean. The sea
was very quiet today. I could hear the voices of the people in the ocean
as if they were standing right next to me. The sea was so blue, so beautiful.
I was giving a talk about Indonesia in one of my classes today. One kid
stood up and said that he wanted to go to Indonesia so that he could kill
Osama bin Laden.