Fugee fun, part 3: Back to Bangkok and beyond

August 28–September 7, 2011

We arrived back in Bangkok that day and headed straight to backpacker heaven. Yep, we’d arranged to stay in the Khao San Road area—where old hippies don’t die, they just start up pad thai noodle shops bars serving younger, hairier hippies. Anyway, the Fortville Guest House (fortvilleguesthouse.khaosanroad.com) would be our stay for the next few days, with a short break to Pattaya, the self-styled “extreme city.” Hmmm.

Fortville served THE best coffee.

But first things first: a same-day, mind-warping trip to the British Consulate via a splashy water taxi to get an emergency travel document (in this case, an emergency passport), all of which was unusually easy (administrative and bureaucratic nightmare stories will resonate with many expat readers). Actually, I have to give full credit where it’s deserved: Rebecca shouldered a lot of the organizational work and much of the stress; she even picked up the forms I’d need for a new passport when finally in Jakarta. Assuming I got there eventually without further deportation issues…

River taxi for the penniless. Only 11 baht per person one way!

Bless her heart, Rebecca also arranged our time there in Khao San, making logical and informed purchasing decisions on everything from new luggage to sun hats. (The latter a challenge for me as I have a big head. No, I mean it literally: my head is huge.) The room, while functional, was a lot better than an airline security office floor, and since that time I’ve started to see a bed to lie on and a working pillow as a God-given reason to count my blessings.

Matt, with the only hat that fit his large head.

We even managed a few nights out in Khao San Road, including Rebecca’s birthday, singing along to a local duo in a packed second-story bar in which I was perhaps the oldest person there (notable favorite: Wonderwall by Oasis).

Khao San's answer to Hard Rock Cafe

In between, and also organized by Rebecca, we managed a trip to Pattaya (“Good Guys Go To Heaven, Bad Guys Go To Pattaya,” or so the T-shirts say). We almost didn’t make it, though. Our driver, arranged by the guesthouse, drove literally at breakneck speed (I have what is medically termed ankylosing spondylitis, or, as we sufferers like to know it, a pain in the neck) and I really did fear for my life—so much so that I complained to him in my best Thai. We ended up at the port for the island of Koh Samet, about an hour from Pattaya. Total travel time: five hours. Still, we saw the X-Men movie prequel.

Hilton Pattaya, NOT where we stayed.

In Pattaya, we managed to fit in all the cultural and intellectual activities on offer and after those 30 minutes were up, we hit the strip bars and go-go joints. Well, when in Rome…

We returned, packed, checked out and headed to the airport. To be honest, my memory of that time is now a little hazy, partly as I was so spooked that I’d somehow get turned away at Jakarta airport, and partly due to lack of sleep. I shouldn’t have worried. We departed Thailand early morning with no fuss and arrived in Jakarta a few hours later.

Needless to say, our arrival was somewhat rushed and hectic. Rather than check in to my serviced apartment, I headed straight to the office where some of my luggage was stored from a previous trip. Along the way, we took some musghot photos for my new passport application, and on arrival, I filled in the form and had it ready for posting. And without pause for breath or thought, I launched straight into a full-fledged magazine proposal that very afternoon.

At the time of writing this, I now have a new passport, ID card, KITAS, work permit, police book and police registration card. I’ve even registered with the embassy. I am the most legal expat in all of Jakarta. Life, at last, is good.

*The Fugees were a band in the 90s who had a brief but shining time in the spotlight with a cover of  “Killing Me Softly,” originally by Roberta Flack. The band name is a contraction of “refugees.”

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

How I met your father

Kids, it was simple. But damn it was not easy. It took several career jumps for me to reach the stratosphere where he was at. Then I finally met him, gave him my number, and a week later, he gave me a call, a sweet surprising long-distance morning call.

In 2008, after successfully launched Mother&Baby Indonesia, I thought I should go international, or go regional at least, publishing or no publishing. So I applied to two interesting posts: promotion executive for Singapore Tourism Board and editorial position at DestinAsian magazine. STB never called back –thanks! DA called me in for an interview. It was a swift process landing the job, but it took two months, a massive 3-day fair, and one thick anniversary issue till I finally left M&B.

I was happy with my new desk. Luxury travel was a completely new world for me. I could give you a list of several painful placenta abnormalities, but I didn’t know there’s a hotel brand called “W”. I needed references from (rival) magazines and hours worth of armchair travelling every day. I ploughed through back issues of Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia over my daily dose of cafe latte. I only focused on its “Stylish Traveller” page to get fashion shoots ideas. But, like many avid readers do, I always read magazines’ editor’s note.

At one point, I read one TLSEA editor’s note too many. Just from the wit and humour, I felt the pull. It drove me wondering how great it would be if I worked for this charming editor-in-chief. I dropped this fantasy pretty quickly. I didn’t think that highly of myself to apply to him for a job. Then again, it was merely a daydream.

Two years and one big move to Bali later, I was dispatched to Singapore, representing Bali in a travel trade show. For three days, the crème de la crème of travel and tourism industry gathered at Suntec Convention Center, networking and contracting (and partying too!). It was not a surprise that I bumped into a friend, lovely sales manager from TLSEA. But I had completely forgotten about my old daydream when she introduced me to “her editor”. He was standing there in all his glory: suited, handsome, with a hint of coffee breath (granted it was at a coffee stand).

But yeah… there he was. Matt Leppard in the flesh.

So kids, that’s how I met your father.