Banged up abroad!

Matthew posted a three-part story about our Southeast Asian adventure that started the day he got deported. He promised himself to blog about it… but because it’s a long story and he’d been back traveling since then, it took him 4 months to finish the story. Here, I’m going to help you with a synopsis and links to read his posts.

This is a story about an editor-in-chief of the bestselling travel magazine in Asia, a British passport holder who was based in Bangkok and had a girlfriend who lived in Bali. Obviously, he traveled a lot to Asian countries, namely Indonesia, China, and Cambodia, all of which give out large visa stickers on visitor’s passport. Even though his passport wouldn’t expire until 2019, it’s a no brainer that he would need a fresh one much sooner than 2019.

Naturally, this series of unfortunate events include the British government issuing a new regulation that says all British in Asia that wishes to renew their passport shall send it to Hong Kong office and wait for 4 weeks to get a new one. This regulation was issued in 2011, just the year when Matthew travels fortnightly.

(rather) fresh passport but full of stamps

Around the time when there was no blank full-page in his passport, we were planning to get engaged in the UK, so he thought he might as well renew the passport in London. But *long sigh* since Matthew doesn’t live in the UK, he cannot renew it in London. God save the Queen!

Change of plans: Matthew secured a job in Jakarta (Hallelujah!), so why not just go to Indonesia with what was left in his passport page and stay there for a month till he gets a new one out of Hong Kong (*rolls eyes*).

It was the Muslim’s Lebaran holiday that week. Since I tragically lived in Bali at the time, we both flew from Bangkok to Bali to unwind for a few days before Matthew starts his first day.

I got my baggage and waited for Matthew’s long immigration queue. It was way too long. Apparently, he had been moved to detention. It’s official: Matthew Beech Leppard is being deported.

You would think two people with connections like us could have asked someone to help out, wouldn’t you? Well, it was August 29, a public holiday in the UK and the next day was August 30, a public holiday in Indonesia. All of our friends in the “high places” were on a nice long vacation and incommunicado.

De.port.ed.

It means, he would be sent to his last port, the one city he had grown to hate: Bangkok.

Since I was innocent, immigration wise, I was free to go. But looking at my poor refugee, I guess I could be the Good Will Ambassador and stayed with him. But staying in an airport requires one thing: a flight ticket. That’s right, I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok, while canceling all my meetings and gatherings for the following weeks.

The Terminal

He needed me. I have never been certain about anything else. He needed a translator while being held captive for 24 hours in Bali airport. He needed a personal assistant while his big-move suitcases were scattered in Bali, Jakarta, and Bangkok. He needed a mother to protect him from cockroaches or just cocks. He needed a secretary to book his next flight, appointment with multiple embassies, find a room to decamp, and an ongoing flight to ensure any immigration we would have to encounter that Matthew was not going to permanently stay there, where ever “there” is.

So we went back to Bangkok...  Thank goodness Muslim holidays are not celebrated in Thailand. The UK embassy was open! Matthew got his single travel emergency passport.

One.Single.Travel.To.Indonesia. Alright!

Short of cash and short of breath. We decided to take a road trip to Pattaya and have a taste of backpacking.

Of course, with Matthew’s bad back and my menstrual period, we ended up dragging suitcases on the streets. I managed to feel good about myself. Easy. Just look at every single woman in Pattaya.

I celebrated my birthday in Bangkok, on our way back to Indonesia. This time, we opted for a direct flight to Jakarta.

We arrived midnight, buying us enough time in the morning to get Matthew’s photo taken for his new passport application. But the British government asked someone in Jakarta who is not a family member to write a statement that they have known Matthew for over 2 years. Man, he just arrived 7 hours ago! C’mon!

Well, the following day I was due to fly back to Bali. I had to wrap it around my head that I actually have a job to keep. So I left Matthew in Jakarta without a single paper that says who he was.

Today, he has about a dozen of papers, books, and cards that say: Matthew Beech Leppard, subject of the Queen, resident of Jakarta, technical advisor of a media mogul, fiance of Fredina Rebecca. Phew.

Cunning trilinguist

I just ordered a cup of coffee in Bahasa Indonesia And this without hand gestures, broken English and confusion on all sides. A small victory of sorts.

When I first got together with Rebecca, learning Indonesian was not (I hate to say) a major priority. She is basically natively fluent in English, albeit with a cute American accent, and a journalist (in both languages) and PR pro. Communication was never an issue.

But having met her family in April and having now moved here, and commanding a staff of 72 Indonesians and one Malayasian, learning the local lingo has become a must. As with Thai, I think it also shows a certain respect for the country one is a guest in.

Bless her little white cotton socks (she does have some), Rebecca did teach me the basics, and while she perhaps thought I didn’t take it seriously, I still remember them. But two lessons down and I am starting to get to grips with conversational Bahasa. Yes, I still talk “like a robot” (she says) since I have to recall each word: sentence construction is not easy for me yet. But hey, it’s two hours of lessons and I can still ask for coffee, tea, and so on.

I feel quite proud of myself. In Thailand, it was three years before I could hold an actual conversation. And that was simply: “Barman, 10 more pints!”

I do remember Thai, and I can still speak it I think. But I do have to simply “turn off” the Thai in my head and switch to a Bahasa head.

*As written in coffee shop outside Bank Mayapada on Forbes Indonesia business… See attached pic! Now onwards into a meeting with some rich people!

Writing this, before Forbes meeting

Our anniversary: love, life and a fresh outlook

Day 366: October 22

With a very trying half-week behind me, and having only said goodbye to my Rebecca a few days earlier (she left Jakarta for Singapore on Monday morning; I left Wednesday afternoon), it was with a perhaps unexpected level of trepidation that I left for the Lion City.

First off, we’d had some worries about what our one-year anniversary meant to us. Our first encounter at travel trade show ITB a year ago, while clearly significant, was colored with a few elements that have had some resonance ever since.

Not only that, but my experience of Singapore had largely been negative up to that point. As I’ve related to Rebecca and a few others, my first brush with the place involved an early flight coupled with the onset of severe flu, carrying tens of magazine copies (yes, even tens weigh a ton), and, on arrival, a panel discussion with Nancy Novogrod, veteran editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure magazine, as well as Lucas Krump, the Ari Gold of my then-magazine’s commercial side (Entourage fans take note).

Subsequent trips always revolved around trade shows, and I view trade shows like I view house spiders. I cannot stand to be around them or even aware of them, but I know they serve a purpose; they are a necessary “evil” in God’s good world. And largely given the company I was always in (expat party people) and having been in the grip of an emotional deadness for decades of my life, there was normally only one way to kill off the long, lonely hours of empty trade show tedium: by drinking to blackout excess at evening parties.

No more. Don’t get me wrong, though. This trip got off to a very inauspicious start. The flight from Jakarta was delayed. Twice. When I arrived at Singapore, I signed up for a local SIM card without activating my BlackBerry service. I sms’ed Rebecca twice, forgetting that it cost her the earth to receive SMS’s. Moods and tempers were frayed on arrival.

But as soon as I saw my Rebecca, I melted and I think it’s fair to say she did too. I then realized that I always would melt like that, and that I really am destined to mope and whinge when she leaves me for Bali or even to the shower, and to wag my tail, thumping it on the floor, when I see her again. Well, I am a Chinese metal dog… And what followed was an enchanted night, too.

But it was not until the next day that the real magic happened. First, I was in Singapore, shopping at Ion Orchard, and not hating it. This, for me, is akin to sprouting wings and flying. The fact that Rebecca is such a gifted shopper and can find me a shirt, or a tie, or a jacket that we both love really helps. And we laugh. We joke. We share. This is all so new to me still.

Our eyes even alighted on the same blue tie and said: that one!

Second, the evening was a surprise. While I love certain events, and certainly love those in which I can see and be seen with the only woman in the room that counts, trade show events leave me cold. Rebecca twisted my arm to visit this one particular show, and I went with (I thought hidden) reluctance.

The party was nothing special, though not as bad as many. But as Rebecca put my glass down and led me outside, I felt the “little boy lost” come out in me again, as Rebecca seemed a little angry. Had I been a bad boy? I had had a few drinks, but I wasn’t drunk. I did ask if we could have a cigarette… But we didn’t.

But she had a plan, of course. She led me to the waterfront so we could see the hotel where we met (at an event party, of course) and the hotel where we stayed. And as if that wasn’t magical enough, she then gave me the sweetest present I’ve ever received. Words fail me (they seem to when I’m with Rebecca in Singapore) as to how that affected me. Suffice it to say that I knew and know that this is it.

We had other great times there after that night, and the Hotel Fort Canning deserves, and will get, a separate review. But sitting here at Changi, washed over with love and not with boozy nausea, I know that this was meant to be. That night was truly special, and our actual anniversary day out in Singapore on the 21st was full of laughter and love and life.

All trips should be like this. And they will be.