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November 23, 2016

Another Sticking Point…

Tom McLaughlin

Pontianak, Indonesia – I hate paying bribes. In this part of the world, extra money is expected, and we have to cough up, but Indonesia went beyond the pale this time.


I had to make a Visa run down to Pontianak on Borneo Island. I am only allowed to stay in Malaysia for three months. Then I must leave the country and come back in. I usually fly to Singapore but this time I missed the cheap flights, and others were just too expensive. So, a nine-hour bus ride it was.


Again, about five months ago, I vowed never to do it again, but things dim in my addled brain.


The problem was my passport. Indonesia requires six months before it expires. I didn't know that. Most countries require just three. I had already stamped out of Malaysia and was awaiting my stamp into Indonesia when the border guy told me I had less than five months left. I looked at him quizzically and he informed me of the Indonesia requirement. I said I didn't know about that.


He took me into a back area where he called another guy, his boss, who was dressed in a light blue uniform. He looked all of 15. He said I could go through if I paid $35. I said I did not have any American currency.


The two conversed for about two minutes and said they would take Malaysian dollars. I gave him one MYR 50 note. The guy in light blue (boss man) told me to give him another one that was as close to $35 I had. He stuffed both bills into his pocket and told me this was normal. He stamped my passport and I was allowed through.


Usually, bribes amount to $3 or $4, and I am good with this system. The Indonesian authorities are paid very little, and if everybody pays a little extra for their services than that's fine. But $35 is way out of line.


What choice did I have? I had stamped out of Malaysia and needed to stamp into Indonesia. A no-man’s land! Next time, I will make reservations for Singapore and fly back the same day. Besides, when you add in the hotel bill and taxi fares from the bus depot to town, it's a bit cheaper anyway.


Speaking of taxi fares, I asked a local how much I should pay. She said about 100,000. I entered the cab for around 150,000. When I got to the hotel, I was quoted 175,000. Then I was told, by another lady, it would be 125,000. I grabbed the 125,000 price.


The bus ride was long, but I had a good book. I spent most of the time dozing off and looking out the window. I got in a conversation with a guy from Bima, I think that's what he said, somewhere near Bali. He told me he had three wives, two in Bima and one in Malaysia. He was heading back to Bima for a month to visit the two. He said he was a security guard in a town near Kuching.


I can barely afford one wife, let alone three.


The hotel I found on was a usual Asian Hotel. I walked around the town and the area it was in was mainly industrial. What I mean by that is that there were repair shops for motorcycles everywhere at the bottom of shop houses. One sold tire tubes, another repaired the engines and another had a copying machine, while still another was a karaoke place.


There was everything but a place to eat, and I was too tired to explore the town. I ordered a burger at the hotel restaurant and had to pay a 25% tax and service charge. The meaty hamburger tasted like vegetable mush but there were veggies like cucumbers and a red tomato.


...Life is good. . . . .


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