Hasta la visa
Today is a regular occurrence. We expats have to depart these shores every so often in order to renew or change those visas which give us permission to live, work and play in Indonesia, and I'm going to Singapore tomorrow.
The rules and ruses are complicated and I'm certainly not going to explain them here, mainly because I don't understand them. As an immigration official at Soekarno-Hatta airport
told me some years ago, he knew the rules but wasn't allowed to tell me and, by the way, could I bring him a present back from Changi airport
I'm going to take a domestic flight to Batam, and then catch the ferry. The main reason is that I will have to pay 'only' c.$50 fiscal (departure tax) because I'm leaving by sea, rather than twice that for an international flight departure. All departees are currently liable for this, but we expats also have to obtain an exit permit, another expensive on-cost. Unfortunately, the abolition of fiscal
, widely touted by the current government, won't happen until next year, at the earliest. If then.
However, I also like this slower route because it is just that, slower. Having time to travel makes the journey worthwhile. Looking back one can understand better where one has been. Looking forward, one can anticipate the adventures that lie ahead. Although 'travel' is a variant of 'travail', I have rarely found a journey to be hard work. Physically uncomfortable, maybe, but a measure of stoicism overcomes that.
I've always enjoyed good travel writing, but rarely enjoyed TV documentaries such as Around The World In A Mini Moke
. This must be because with a book, one can pause, inwardly digest and invoke mental, as opposed to visual, images. A Writer's World: Travels 1950-2000
by Jan Morris was published last year. The Guardian says of it, "In a world of digital television, videophones, low-cost airlines, web logs and travel supplements, Jan Morris will be one of the last people entrusted to be our eyes and ears over such a span of distance and time.
I include this because I'm beginning to wonder if the madness in the world today isn't largely due to the instant impact of our digital world. For a TV critic
forced to watch all scenes of horror as they happen, it is horrible in the true sense of the word. Except, we too are vultures. We devour the images served up by the editors and producers. The only selectivity we have relates to the ability to surf the channels. Or to switch off.
Peter Conrad, in today's Observer, commenting on the works of Goya
and Picasso's Guernica
, Between the event and the representation there was, traditionally, a pause for thought. The images that commemorated such disasters, or the stories told about them, consciously took sides and pointed morals. They did so in retrospect, reviving a moment from the past in order to ponder its significance. Today, the technologies of news-gathering have accelerated the cycle and garbled it; the event is interpreted for us while we're watching it happen, and the interpreters are participants
So what do I do with the megabyte-worth of photographs I've been sent which show the scenes of utter devastation in Jl. Rasuna Said? Why are there crowds of onlookers? Morbid curiosity is one answer, a "thank-God-it-wasn't-me" feeling, but I can't be sure that thrill-seekers such as these know what it is to lose a loved one. It is an intense, truly personal emotion which few can articulate.
In his book This I Believe
, Carlos Fuentes writes movingly
"of the pleasures and privileges of parenthood and the devastating sorrow inflicted by the illness and death of his talented young son."
What joy it was to learn that Carlos, gifted with an intuition that was both wonderful and terrible, spent the last evening of his existence, in Puerto Vallarta, phoning all his friends, all over the world, telling them about his plans to finish his movie, publish his book of poems, exhibit his artwork, telling them he was happy, strong, full of creativity, in love with his girlfriend Yvette
Isabel Allende suffered similar anguish and wrote whilst her daughter, Paula
, aged 28 lay in a terminal coma following an acute attack of porphyria disease. As a result of Paula's death, Isabel Allende went into temporary seclusion in her California home. And yet, despite the pain, Allende soon returned to her work. She was unwilling to let death defeat the gift of life.
Sacramental light and unfathomable darkness. I am everything that exists, I am in every leaf of the forest, in every drop of the dew, in every particle of ash carried by the stream, I am Paula and I am also Isabel, I am nothing and all other things in this life and other lives, immortal. Goodspeed Paula woman. Welcome, Paula Spirit.
Their thoughts give us thoughts; we can pause, bookmark and assimilate at our own pace.
Enough of these wanderings and on with my packing. I'll be back here no later than Wednesday.