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November 19, 2014

It Didnít Exist, But There It Was

Tom McLaughlin

Balikpapen, Indonesian Borneo – This is a fast-paced oil and gas town with business people signing contracts, salesmen from all over the world arguing which product is best and westerners busy training the locals. Cranes are everywhere constructing new high rises buildings.


There is a mix of old and new. Ancient hovels sit next to gleaming new buildings. Motorbikes, hundreds of them, pass Rolls Royce’s and BMWs in the streets. Large Toyota Previa's seem to be the car that one graduates to from the motorbike as they everywhere.


The sea front is a large wall. Shifting with the tide, the stink of sulphur is almost unbearable as the odoriferous fumes penetrate ones clothes. The air exchange system in the hotel barely keeps up with the ebb.


We had come here to visit the museum, only there wasn't one. It had never been built. The closest one was 18 km (11 miles) away. We had to make ongoing reservations back home as our trip was coming to a close and we were looking for a place that sold artefacts.


We wanted to fly back to Kuching on the other side of Borneo where we lived. Easy we thought. After visiting travel agencies, we finally found one that could handle our request. The first one had problems with the Internet and could not make reservations across the national line. The second one could not make airline reservations while the third could make them, but we would have to wait a couple of days to get the tickets.


At the second or third one, I forget which, we asked where we could find an antique shop. No such place existed we were told. In fact, the concierge had informed us, the girl at A & W related, and other myriad of people swore up and down there was no such place. The second travel agency gave us a hint on where to find one but she seriously doubted it.


We hopped on an Ankot, a small minivan which seated six people if you were Asian, four if you were westerners, and arrived at this medium sized mall. The place had a roof with individual flea market like stalls. The “stores” sold mainly batik cloth in the form of dresses, t-shirts, pants and an array of other items.


The stone stands held thousands of different types of semi precious gems to be attached to a ring mount. If you didn't like any of the ones on display, you could choose a rock and have the stone polished down. People were in the centre changing these crags to magnificent pieces.


We finally found our antique stall among the 30 or 40 there. I saw two brass figurines that I knew were valuable because we had one and the University of Hawaii Museum had the other. I immediately paid $57.00 after negotiating for only a few moments. I was happy.


Then my wife took over and I took care of Dzul. We watched the men clean the stones with diamond sand paper, ate prawns and fresh fish at the outside stall and looked for other artefacts. We bought a few other items. We left for a couple of days to visit the museum about 18 kms away. The lady was looking forward to seeing us come back.


...Life is good. . . . .


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