The Russian drunk

A unique solution to the Russian Drunk issue, administered by a tyrannical government.

“So what do you do for work?”

Here we go, generally my rule is that anyone who starts a conversation with this question is going to be a complete bore. However, this guy looks like a person who has lived an interesting life, maybe it’s something about the tattered old doctors case beside his scuffed brown cowboy style boots, I do not know but I decide to ignore my rule and have a chat.

“Well, that is one loaded question. Would you like the long or the short version?”

“I have four hours to kill, how long is the long version?”

“Ok, well then, the long-abridged-version is not much to be honest, I’m doing a bit of traveling, currently trying to get a book published, climb a few hills. In a past life I was a pharmacist. You?”

“I own a house in Indonesia, just got divorced, ride a Harley”

“Good start”

This is where Rob the pockmarked trauma surgeon gives me a half hour soliloquy in his Texan drawl which fills me in on his fifty something years. I find people terribly interesting. I am waiting for Jette’s 3pm plane to land and, being a tightwad, have caught the last hotel transfer which dropped me at the airport at midday. Rob and I chat for hours over a coffee. I last opened the mental folder titled “Pharmacology” two years ago and it is surprisingly refreshing to dust off the cobwebs and be talking about drugs, debating dosages and indications.

“So what is the most internal ricochets you have seen?”

“Three, I once saw a bullet which went in the hip, bounced up to the scapula and changed course on a rib. Low velocity bullets are worse, high velocity just go straight through”

“Big problem?”

“Everyone is damn well shooting each other in America, it gets tiring. What are the drug laws like in Australia”

“Rather strict….”

(I will skip forward fifty minutes to the interesting bit to spare you the shop talk)

“Did you hear about how the Russians fixed alcohol abuse in their remote villages?”

“Nope, Antabuse, Zyprexa?”

“No, it is crazy what they did, this is something you would never get away with in America…or Australia”

“Go on”

“Well, the Russian government needed an effective and cheap solution to the Russian drunk problem. They took villagers who were killing themselves with cheap moonshine and had doctors put them under anesthesia, they cut a small line in their leg, then stitched it up again”

“OK, what? How is this helping alcohol abuse?”
“Well, when the patients woke up they told them they now have a special microchip inserted in their leg which will kill them if they ever take a sip of alcohol away from immediate medical care”

“Like back at their villages”

“Wouldn’t they just not believe the doctors and try anyway”

“No, so here is the kicker, while the patients were still in hospital and attached to a drip they told them they had to check the chip was active, they gave the patient a shot of whiskey and out of sight injected a whack of a short acting neuromuscular blocker into their drip”

Note: Neuromuscular blockers stop people from being able to use their muscles and to breath for themselves-like Tacrine which was used in the London Subways some time ago-one is completely conscious, with eyes open able to see and think but unable to move or breath, not a pleasant sensation I would imagine. The heart continues beating as, being somewhat important, it has a few safety systems in place. The people in London were conscious but unable to breath and died from asphyxiation.

“You’re making this up Rob, surely”

“No, all true, the patient is lying there unable to move or breath and they bag them”

“Bag them, like with resuscitation with the little bellows breathing for them”

“Correct, the doctors then frantically ran about acting like they were trying to save the patient’s life, they also unplugged the cardiac monitor to give the flatline beeeep warning and injected saline into the drip, pretending it was lifesaving drugs”

“So, after five or so minutes muscle function returned and they were able to breath for themselves”

“Correct and the doctors would casually say to the patient, ‘well the chip is active’ and walk out, apparently it works, 100% abstinence after the procedure”

Sometimes I am glad to be a tightwad, sometimes you get to meet the most interesting people. Rob went on to tell me about his (recently) ex-wife who stole his prescription pads nearly costing him his license and about his love for Harleys and Indonesia. The best story by far was the drunken Russians, I thought I should share it!

British Airways airport horror

This is a horror story that happened to me in Heathrow, my own British Airways airport horror, well, near horror, more of a misdemeanor really.

One would think that after traveling somewhat these last 2 years I would have collated a better swearword vocab but all I can manage now is a mumbled “Fuck…Fuck-fuck-fuck”

Things start to go downhill when we don’t. The plane circles above Bangkok, I’m on the way to Christmas with my family nearby Jakarta, it is already five minutes past our scheduled landing. The two hours I have in Bangkok are slipping through my fingers. When I booked these flights in June my darling travel agent Mel said,

“Two hours is manageable mate, you should be OK, but don’t dawdle”

“Christmas is busy though Mel”

“You can run eh!”

“Yeah but if anything goes wrong future Ben will hate me”

“You should be fine”

“I suppose this is future Ben’s problem!”

I know never to question Mel, or to doubt her expansive knowledge of all things travel. When I ignored her advice about getting a visa early for Carnavale I had to detour to Uruguay for a Brazilian visa and missed three days of Carnavale. Now it turns out that Garuda Airlines do not play well with others. This means that in my two hours in Bangkok I have to exit through immigration, collect my bag, pass customs, go to the desk, check-in, enter through immigration, clear security and find the gate. I know the Suvarnabhumi Airport well-I have passed through it seven times in the last 2 years-they are efficient and quick but still, “Fuck,fuck,fuck” stop circling, land the bloody thing!

My commute to here has been fine. In Denmark I watched an octogenarian women systematically destroy three beers on a train at 11am. I flew over London’s center at night looking down on the big blue eye, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. While we passed I chatted to a very British man who told me about his friend. Gary’s friend wrote the well known “da, da, na, naah” jingle know it? It is played before advertising breaks on Molly Meldrum’s Countdown, the 80’s music show. Gary’s friend is paid six pounds in royalties every time it plays, this sounds like a piddling amount. However, the jingle plays four times a show and to this day repeat episodes are being aired worldwide, meaning that this little “da, da, na, naah” earns the musician around seventy-thousand pounds annually. I make a mental note to pull out the keyboard in Tassie.

On my flight from London to Bangkok there was an Indian guy seated directly in front of me who drunk gin the whole way, the girl to my right slept for ten hours straight. I watched some Art house movie with cello music and grainy pictures, drunk some wine. Fidgeted. Bear Grylles and Top Gear are listed under factual documentaries, which is debatable.

15:20 – 2 hours 0 mins to next takeoff.

Circling above Bangkok, thinking I will miss the first Christmas with my family in two years, I am as tense as a racehorse. The chief cabin crew manager Sam continually repeats what the captain says except with a lisp,

“Ladies and gentlemen we are in a holding pattern but expect to land soon”

Twenty-second pause

“Laideeth and gentlemen, thith is Tham the chief cabin crew manager ath the captain hath said we are in a holding pattern, we hope you have enjoyed the hothpitality of this Britith Airwayth….”

“I’ll show you hothpitality British Airways”

This annoys me more than it should, the man is just trying to do his job

“Laideeth and Gentlemen, ath Ben hath just thought, I am jutht trying to do my job, I hope…”

“Oh pith off Sam”

I have not slept for about forty-one hours, ‘humour level’ warning lights are blinking red on my dash.

15:50 – 1 hour 30 mins to next takeoff.

“Ladies and gentlemen we have landed within 40mins of our expected landing”

“Ladeeth and gentlemen, thith ith…”

I turn to the man in the aisle seat,

“Finally. Hey mate, just to warn you, when the seatbelt light thinks about going out I am running”

“No worries, good luck catching the next one”

“Cheers man, have a great Christmas”

It is taking an unusually long time to couple the skyway with the plane. I am unable to contain myself anymore so before the seatbelt lights go out I jump out of seat 48E-at the very back-grab my bags and make my way down the aisle. This prompts around four hundred other passengers to follow suit. Forcing my way apologetically down the crowded aisle I annoy everyone

“Sorry, about to miss a connection…excuse me, need to get off first…connection soon, sorry”

Midway, an elderly couple don’t let me through

“We also have a connection”

“Yeah, but I reckon I can run faster than you…excuse me, sorry”

They laugh and wish me good luck, I force a smile, wish them luck as well and push onward.

16:18 -1 hour 2 mins to next takeoff.

The plane doors open releasing a cloud of green, stagnant air into Bangkok’s brown atmosphere along with four hundred passengers. Dodging wheelchairs and prams littering the corridor I bolt. Try if you will, sitting still for eleven hours then sprinting 750 meters, this guarantees crippling cramps. I imagine blood clots being loosened from my calves as I run past relaxed holiday makers. Skidding to a halt at the nearest information desk I slam my itinerary down and gasp,

“Can you get me on this plane?”

While I jitter and twitch, the woman takes my itinerary, slowly taps on her keyboard, strokes her chin and casually asks a colleague something in Thai. My eyes bore into the top of her head as I think,

“Information desks are where airlines park slow employees who they don’t know what to do with, like trolley boys and CEOs”

She looks up then tells me,

“Sorry sir, you need to collect bag, immigration and…” I grab the papers and bolt to the crowded immigration area.

16:25 I run up to a suited lady with 55 minutes to go.

“Flight. Soon. Can you help me get through immigration?”


She leads me to a priority queue with only a small family being processed. Two young children are having a lovely time having their photos taken while Dad chats with the official.

“C’mon, hurry up, what is this?”

Mum looks at me angrily, I hold her gaze. I have morphed into my alter ego ‘Psycho travel man” Do. Not. Hold. Me. Up!

Laconically the immigration man waves me over. He checks my details carefully. Yes, I am still Ben West, was still born in Devonport…this has not changed since I last entered your country. I do not hang about to make the usual kangaroo smalltalk. With a stamp in my passport I run to baggage collections for rucksack time.

16:40 – 40 mins to takeoff. Still not checked in.

While waiting I mentally practice the move to get my bags on quickly. Small black pack on right shoulder, sling Big Red off conveyor onto left shoulder. Big Red on the back, small black becomes a canvas beer belly. Big Red trundles up the belt and into sight. It takes all my willpower not to run up the conveyor, Crocodile Dundee style, to grab it.

Garuda still do not know that I am here, I need to check in. Now loaded with an extra 30 kilograms I trot towards customs. Trusting that I am sweating from running and not a rectum crammed with heroin, the man accepts my declaration form without breaking my stride. This is where I break travel rule number one, I ‘man-down’ and load a nearby trolley. Running, I weave my trolley around groups of tired looking commuters and drunken toddlers to find level 4 and the check-in counter.

Going up the escalators I figure out why luggage trolley wheels have tread. Every trolley has a comb-like tread which slot into the escalator grip pattern to stop mad buggers in a rush trying to push their way up an incline.

16:50 – 30mins to takeoff, I dump Big Red onto the scales and gasp,

“Time enough, do I have?”

I have turned into Yoda

“Why of course sir”

“Great, thought, missed *breath* flight”

“No, you have just made check-in”

“Brilliant, Garuda not allowing remote check-in. I found out in Copenhagen, had to pass immigration, customs and that, phew”

“Why you no use transit check-in sir?”

“I had to get my bag”

“No, they fix for you”

“The information lady told me…”

“She is wrong”

“Oh well I made it”

“By the way your next flight is delayed about half an hour, Christmas time is busy.”

Hello again

Hello again, hello, hello, hi… I don’t want to start off awkwardly but get naked, cover yourself in honey and go stand next to an ants nest in the full sun for eleven hours and fifty minutes.

Ok, you have just had a more pleasant day than myself. It would seem that the German people have not improved their method of transporting large numbers of people since they were busily shoving Jews into overcrowded train carriages, hosing the outside down to stop them from dying and nicking the gold fillings of the ones who did. The trouble started at the Bangkok airport. At gate D4 we were all shuttled into a cubicle sized glass room which let in the blinding sun. Oh, sorry, I changed a few flights about after finishing my climb early and suffering a strong desire to be back in Denmark. As Qantas and some other airlines are barking on about union trouble I was forced to change flights and go via Berlin, with Air Berlin, the world’s worst airline, I say this despite that fact that I have flown into Lukla Airport with Yeti Air in a 1960’s Twin Otter.

Anyway, our box gave us a lovely view of the sky corridor (the walkway to the plane) just ending without a plane attached. I stood there in the glass room amongst fat business men who were sweating out last nights whiskey and numerous screaming children who fit the prescribing criteria of Ritalin (see movie; “The Exorcist”) I clocked five young mum’s holding babies and a few incontinent looking old couples. None of whom I wanted to be seated with, on long flight there is only one person I like being seated with, Jette, other than her I just pray for three or four empty seats located near the front of the plane so I can get off quickly after landing. I hate nothing more than being on the ground ready to get off the plane but having to watch short people making really hard work of lifting their huge hand luggage cases out of the lockers above. Seriously, two words; Hand. Luggage. If you cannot carry or lift it above your head it can hardly be called hand luggage now can it. While I am on this thin ice offending people I might as well jump up and down a bit….

I think that instead of making a blanket rule of 20 kilograms checked luggage and 7 kilograms hand luggage, airlines should give a total weight allowance for the flight. “Sorry fatty kind of used up your total weight allowance there, you can only take 5 kilograms, suggest you go and make friends with skinny baldie over there….” Well, the plane has to fly. Anyway enough of this, no just a little bit more, things I have learnt in flight about different cultures;

  1. Arabic people have terrible smelling feet and they don’t care, they also hog the armrests
  2. Chinese people fart, a lot
  3. French people complain about the food
  4. Nepalese people sweat nervously and are jumpy (as they were on the to Doha to be used as practically slave labour.
  5. Italians drink too much whiskey and kick the seat in front of them.
  6. Argentinians go out of their way to piss on the floor of the toilet and
  7. Ok, enough now

As no explanation was given for our lack of plane I could only assume that some last minute mechanical problem they didn’t want to us to know about was being patched up. I did get a chuckle when the Captain and Co-Pilot followed by babbling cabin staff purposefully strode down, past us and into the sky corridor. Hugely disappointed to not see the Captain fall off the end, Monty Python style, I again chuckled as I pictured them huddling in the corridor speaking in whispers not wanting to walk past us all again after their grand entrance.

Finally the plane casually rolled up like a petulant child with no explanation and docked with the corridor. This made me wonder who was driving as our Captain was currently huddled in the sky corridor. Like with cars, the mechanics probably draw straws on who gets to drive around in the machine they have just fixed. Anyway, they did over half an hour of pre-flight checks which convinced me that the delay was mechanical. We were left waiting in our glass box before being let us onto the plane.

To my great disappointment, but not surprise, my seat was in the crappy middle section with four seats, to my right an Asian lady was loudly munching on Pumpkin seeds and burping pumpkin burps and to my left was the aisle. Numerous German folk rubbed various body parts onto my left shoulder as they lent over me to rummage through my bag in the over head locker. Usually on takeoff the Pilot shows off a bit, does a bit of “Check out how powerful my plane is” for the ladies. You are pushed back in your seat as the Pilot uses less than a quarter of the runway length to be in flight, within seconds you whoosh upwards, ears popping and enjoy the flight comfortable in the fact that this machine which is currently suspending over two hundred lives, has the power to stay up. Think about it, it is really quite an amazing thing to be sitting in a seat, in the air, listening to music or drinking a coke, don’t you think?

Anyway our takeoff was somewhat slower, I heard the rush of the engines winding up but didn’t feel that powerful backwards push, we trundled down the runway slowly gaining speed. It would be easy to imagine the Pilot sitting up there, yawning to the Co-pilot to wake him once we got up to takeoff speed. Just before we turned left onto the city ring road we escaped the clutches of gravity and the ominous squeaking stopped, it was obviously a suspension issue which we don’t have to worry about again, until landing. The squeaking was quickly replaced with the high pitched squeal of the wheels retracting, this noise dominated the cabin for over half an hour.

Finally in the air I noticed that the cabin had something of a different atmosphere to the one I just flew in with Thai Air. Thai Air cabins firstly smell nice (from the flower scented super bug killer they lace the air with), the upholstery is spotless, looks brand new and is colored purple, yellow and other pleasant tropical colours. Thai attendants glide about the cabin with a small smile playing around their mouths and attend to your every need. As soon as a drink is finished they either whisk away the empty or refill it, if you sneeze they get a tissue to your nose before you are done. Oh, and the food is amazing, especially if (like I always do) you tell them you are either Vegetarian, Vegan or Muslim. This also means your food comes out first and you can enjoy your meal as the others around you watch the regular trolley’s glacial progress up the aisle.

This current plane kind of smells like raw potatoes and boiled cabbage, the upholstery is threadbare and depressingly dark blue, my cushion is 3 microns thick meaning that my ass is already numb, I have been sitting in my chair for less than twenty minutes. The attendants are kind of scary with angular features and that unnervingly penetrating blue eye stare Germans do going on. Mid-daydream, the attendant who glared at me throughout takeoff suddenly appears at my side and barks out an order in German. Cowering in my seat I plead; “ITWASN’TME-I-SWEAR”. Oh she is just offering me a drink, “Yes please I would like a coke” The Asian lady to my right and her boyfriend sneak off to the toilet together and return five minutes later, him looking very smug. I barely resist leaning over and saying; “Dude, that little effort falls outside the official rules for Mile high Club, go and try again champ” but just chuckle to myself.

Watching the ice melt in my glass, boredom starts to kick in. The hours slide by, second by slow second. On long haul flights, which this one is definitely going to be, normal airlines instal those wonderful little screens on the back of the seat in front of you, with a retractable controller in the armrest. You have a selection of Television shows, documentaries, video games, recent movies and cartoons for the little ones. This plane has two central screens which has shown repeats of the 1980’s hit series ‘Cheers!’ and ‘Friends’. The problem is that I cannot hear what is being said on the screen as earphones are three Euros each. Next thing they will be charging for snacks, I check the menu and find out that they are; 6.90 Euros for a cut sausage in gravy and 10.90 Euros for a cut sausage in gravy… with rice. My travel agent had better have a fat roll of notes as a refund waiting for my return to Tasmania.

Waking with a thoroughly cricked neck I wish I had smuggled in the Diazepam I bought in Laos for a back issue at least I would sleep soundly with relaxed muscles. I decide to look for better lodgings. I reach the very back of the plane where usually there is either a fruit platter or snacks and spot an empty double over the opposite side of the plane. Not wanting to wake the people sprawled across their hard seats in the middle I decide to sneak through the rear galley, nick some food, maybe get a drink, and enjoy my new seat. I pull back the curtain and indeed there is a fruit platter, surrounded by air hostesses’s, which is clearly not going to be shared with the rest of us. I flash a smile, which is returned by a blank, pale skinned stare, and ask; “Mind if I just sneak past to a different chair”. The leader of this Air-Hostess-Wolf-Pack looks at me and says, with no word of a lie; “You go other way like rest of people” I turn and walk back down the aisle, wake a poor soul to sneak past and just beat the skinny balding man to the free double seat, nice… take that baldy.

We are now flying around Katrachan, (never heard of it either, looks sandy) and I have just go to thinking, as one does when spending eleven hours and fifty minutes on a plane, I am thinking;

“If the pilot got bored, what is to stop him from taking a shortcut over Bagdad, apart from fighter jets and Derka-Jihads of course? Do the pilots get better food than the rest of the us? Why were air hostess’s in the sixties and seventies so good looking but now the standards have slipped, is this an equal opportunity initiative for uglies? Now might be the time to see what really happens when you smoke in the toilet? Why was I frisked three times in the Kathmandu Airport yesterday – maybe he just liked me?, What is that incessant squeaking noise? What to do for the next four hours?, If someone really got naked, covered themselves in honey and stood next to an ants nest, would they be able to sue me as I told them to?”

I ponder these big issues as the plane rattles on it’s detour around Baghdad, slowly bringing me ever closer to seeing my lovely Jette who I have not laid eyes on for way too long. This slight discomfort will be easily worth it.

Kidzania Jakarta – One amazing day with my nephew

I love the names of some Indonesian cars. Two have especially captured my attention. The tiny Suzuki “Rush” and the Toyota “Avanza”. Avanza is an antidepressant, and is especially useful when the patient suffers panic attacks. What a wonderfully apt name for a car headed to the street of Jakarta. Mel has organised for Ferdi the driver to help me out for the day. There is no way would I brave these streets myself, well maybe on a scooter, no way in a car. Ferdi has been driving in Jakarta for 18 years. The man deserves a medal as he always looks completely relaxed with his wide smile and a ponytail which pokes out from under his baseball hat. Getting out of the car to drop us off at Kidzania, Ferdi lights a clove cigarette and tells me not to rush.

8am, after our 45 minute drive, I explore a very exclusive and currently very deserted shopping complex with my four year old mate. Ameer is feeding me a steady stream of facts. “Fish makes you strong…I think Grandma is nice…I share with my sister, because I am nice to her…” (I also learn that sticky fingers show up really well on the crystal-clear Tiffany and Co window).

The reason we have arrived so early is to avoid traffic. Mel told me earlier, with a haunted shudder, that the commute here normally takes about 45 minutes but can stretch to over 2 hours in rush hour.

We walk past Prada and Louis Vuitton handbags in windows next to expensive looking suitcases and Jaguar cars. Ameer and I ride the elevators and muck around, killing time, as cleaners scrape chewing gum off marble tiles. This is the neighborhood where Mel’s other campus is, read rich people. I keep Ameer occupied by pointing out an arts exhibit. An artist has bent and stretched numerous red bikes into myriad different shapes. We try to guess what the bike riders would look like. “Uncle Ben, The man who rides this bike must have long legs…longer than Grandpa even!” he decides. I agree, the bike is over four metres long.

Just as I am starting to see the world through young eyes a steady stream of little Buddhas yelling signals 9am. Little Buddhas are fat, rich little Chinese kids. Dubbed little Buddhas by Mel, these kids display the most breathtakingly atrocious behavior. Over the course of the day I see them slap their nannies, push in line, punch smaller kids and acting like they own the place. They quite probably do.

grey Kidzania Jakarta   One amazing day with my nephewAmeer and I make our way to Kidzania. I know nothing about Kidzania apart from seeing a few photos from Mum’s recent visit with the kids. I also know it is meant to be quite a spectacle and did not miss the glint in Ameer’s eye when I uttered that magic word. I pay with real money and receive an electronic wrist band that is coded to show that Ameer is with me. The entrance price is very reasonable considering that we are allowed to stay for seven hours. Ameer is given a handful of Kidzos (The official currency of Kidzania) ands we walk to the ‘Air Asia’ counter. A fully grown lady greets us, she looks somewhat silly behind the small counter but takes it all in her stride. Smiling she checks Ameer’s ticket and waves us through immigration and into a plane-corridor.

We walk down this plane-idor into Kidzania. This incredible playground occupies almost the entire top floor of the shopping complex. Ameer and I stand in a tiny cobbled street amongst the first to arrive and try to get our bearings. Amazed I look at miniature two storey buildings, then up to the ceiling which is painted with clouds to resemble the sky. I feel just like Gulliver, except that instead of being tied and bashed, I am welcomed by costumed princesses, rabbits and policemen. They smile and wave, displaying early morning enthusiasm that fades as the day progresses. Tiny bakeries nearby warm their ovens for baking lessons, the kids can earn kidzos working in the hospital, putting out fires or fixing the race cars.

Our first job is to find the bank. I walk Ameer into the Kidzania branch and hear, not for the last time “Solly sir, only kids arrowed”. I wait outside in the street as Ameer makes his deposit. There are tiny “Kidzania Bank” ATM’s everywhere where Ameer can withdraw Kidzos with a real bank card to buy a drink or lollies at tiny supermarkets. Supermarkets are staffed by young workers who, not surprisingly are paid in kidzos. There is a whole economy here, as I watch Ameer in the bank I wonder if the global financial issues have affected the price of the Kidzos.

Both Ameer and I are somewhat overwhelmed by choice, we walk about for a while, dodging the ambulance which rushes a patient to the hospital for treatment by small doctors.  Ameer decides he wants to be a doctor so we walk, past small construction workers pouring cement and past painters gleefully covering a building with a vomit of colours, to the hospital. I feel a rush of Uncle-esk pride as Ameer, waiting patiently in line, ignores the little Buddhas and leans over to inspect a tree with interest. For the second time in less than half an hour I hear “Sorry sir, only kids allowed” Looking around slowly I try to come to terms with my exclusion from activity.

Every work station has large windows that allow stranded adults to proudly watch all the action (Me?, I watch with thinly veiled envy and pride). A man dresses Ameer in a white uniform and shows him into the back of an ambulance. It is not long before my nephew is whisked away to tend to a patient (from the acting school nearby) leaving me to look around. An ACA TM insurance fire engine with small fire fighters buzzes electronically past to an Acor TM Hotel which is on fire. The Honda TM driving school is next door and in front of me the Pokari Sweat TM-electrolyte drink” Hospital awaits my nephew’s return.

It all starts to make sense.

What better way to sell your stuff. Spoilt wives can drop their children here with nanny and go off to chase Tiffany and Co downstairs. I block out this blatant advertising as the ambulance speeds back to the emergency department, I see Ameer at work. He gently leads his patient to the consulting room where the grown doctor stoops and shows him how to use the stethoscope and remove bandages. With his patient fixed Ameer is paid with 5 kidzos and given a bottle of Pokori Sweat TM – electrolyte drink. Ameer hands this to me as it tastes funny. I thought it a bit ambitious, trying to market a sports drinks to a four to eight year old demographic. As we leave the hospital I spot children up in the second floor using a real, full size, Ultrasound machine on a patient. I want a go! Unfortunately this activity is for over six’s only, Ameer will have to wait.

I stand outside the glass door peering in as Ameer earns Kidzos making smooth, rich, Silver Queen TM chocolate, he grinds Java TM coffee and produces a tub of Pok Moi TM noodles. The noodle place amazingly has a real freeze dry machine and a proper packaging machine which wraps Ameer’s noodles, after he finished designing the label of course. I am torn between how truly amazing this place is, how much Ameer is learning and the in-your-face advertising which is every where. One little girl did look ridiculously cool as she whizzed by in a tiny electric Blue Bird TM taxi, with her plastic high heels and shopping bags blowing in the breeze as nanny gave chase.

Ameer starts to look tired after making his Noodles so, spotting a disco complete with short drink mixing station and tiny dancefloor, I decide he deserves a knock off drink. The sign on the door says; “Six and over only” but I put on my Uncle hat, crack my knuckles and prepare to dispense some important advice. To Ameer’s great delight I show him my best dance moves and give him a preparatory talk on sneaking in to discos. I try to get an identification card from an older kid but fail. Immune to my nephews big brown eyes, the ‘bouncer’ refuses entry so unfortunately Ameer will have to wait to road test my secret moves.

We share a lunch of tiny hamburgers made by small hands in the “Hungry-burger” bar. Without any prompting of pressure from Uncle Ben, Ameer decides to try the climbing wall. He is harnessed by a smiling man and for the second time today makes me very proud when he climbs right to the top of the building without hesitation and rings the bell. It amazes me to witness the difference between children and adults on a first climb. Adults usually freak out at some point, whereas kids trust so easily. When his climb is done, and about five metres above the concrete floor, Ameer just lets go and falls onto the rope, giggling. Once he is given his prize of two Kidzos Ameer takes me to the Walls TM ice cream factory where he makes a lime icy pole for me. My ice cream, however, mysteriously disappears before I can get to it.

Ameer is starting to yawn and looks burnt out so I decide it is time for home. We have only made it through four hours and done less than a quarter of the activities on offer. We walk through Kidzania immigration where the officer gives me a proper, no jokes, questioning. She tells me that we cannot reenter once we leave, I say this is fine. She then turns her attention to Ameer asking if he has spent all his Kidzos and if he has really finished. The immigration officer finally scans our wristbands, checking that this bearded guy really is Uncle Ben and grants us exit. I grab Ameer’s hand and walk out the door before the sounds of fun wafting to us from inside can cause any second thoughts.

In the car on the way home I am under instruction to keep Ameer awake at all costs so that he will sleep tonight. I frantically shove barbecue shapes into his mouth and put a movie on for him. Despite my efforts Ameer is snoring before the opening credits finish. As for me, I am still trying to come to terms with this incredible place. I’m trying to decide if it is a great playground or simply a marketing tool, a massive monument to cold war brainwashing techniques. It doesn’t really matter either way. Ameer is going to grow up to buy stuff with real money one day and he had great fun today so who cares?

Jakarta family time

Jakarta family time

Floating in a swimming pool somewhere in Jakarta with two crazy kids jumping on me screaming “Uncle Ben, Uuunnncccle Beh-ehn!”, red eyes and stupid smile (the kind of smile where your tongue half pokes out and you look like you have picked up an extra chromosome somewhere).

That is me after an especially brutal commute from Denmark. I seem to affect planes. They break. My travel superpower gave me an extra overnight in Paris back in April and a bonus night in Helsinki on this commute. I landed in Jakarta after nearly fifty hours awake, many of which were spend in airline ‘lounges‘ staring blankly at Panasonic flat screens which were repeating animal planet over and over. I now have an intimate understanding of the “Trials of life in africa” Lions are ‘majestic’ and gazelles ‘graceful’. I wander off the plane bug eyed, kind of pleased with my intrepid look and get an unconvinced hug from Ameer my four year old nephew. Mel, my big sister, gives me a more convinced hug.

Stoked to have some family time, the fatigue of the commute slides away as Mel and I frantically catch up on what skype and emails missed. Gotta love living abroad in this technological age. Straight to the swimming pool, I need to stay awake to kick jet lag as I know two little munchkins will be jumping on “Uncle B” early the next morning. Back at home I gave the kids their Lego. (thoroughly tested by me in Denmark) and Mel gratefully receives her pulped Multigrain cheerios, before I stagger upstairs and fall into a dreamless sleep.

Monday was spend watching Geckos and staring at walls in the heat while Mel and her husband Win worked. Win is currently in the last few days of Ramadan, kind of the Muslim version of Christmas. The difference is that they earn their presents! This means that for a month they cannot eat or drink during daylight hours. I have been curious to experience how this feels,  never curious enough to actually try it! In the afternoon wandered over to Mel and Win’s work to check out what they do.

The school is a very exclusive school built by a man who is stupidly wealthy. He has the monopoly on Jakarta’s water, power, resources…both the prime minister and vice minister attended the school’s opening. You get the picture. The campus more closely resembles a resort than a school. Manicured gardens surround water features, shiny new play equipment is surrounded by lush tropical plants. How do you teach a grade four kids who has his own driver, maid and helper? or the kid who got a new BMW for his birthday? or the kid who showed an interest in soccer, so his dad built him a soccer field, and bought him a European soccer team?

grey Jakarta family timeThe gap between rich and poor in Indonesia is breathtaking. Win told me of one grade ten boy who turned up to metalwork with a brand new Volkswagen golf, he gleefully spent a term trashing the car in an effort to turn it into a racer. Another kid turned up with a semiautomatic sniper rifle. Laptops are a monthly consumable to be trashed and replaced. Just down the road other kids cram into a single, non airconditioned building to learn.

These are school stories which I never tire of. The disregard for their privilege astounds Mel and Win. School fees start at $110 000 per year and increase every year from Kindergarden. Mel’s Campus is in BSD city, about a half hour commute from Jakarta’s CBD. There is a second campus in the city centre. Set on the ninth floor of a plush office building it caters to executive parents working in town. I feel sorry for these city dwelling kids as they would rarely have the chance to get dirty, let alone be outdoors. They get shuffled from apartment block homes to their apartment block school. No amount of iPads or consolation prize, guilt presents can offset this loss.

Somehow despite keeping in close touch with both Mel, Win and the kids we manage to fill our time with constant chatter. It is so very wonderful to be enjoying family time after one and a half year. I start to feel like an old bastard as I tell Ameer and Ambieka how much they have grown. Last time we were close my pharmacy partnership was in its death throes and I was understandably distracted throughout.

On Tuesday, being a good uncle I helped Ameer wag his first day from school and took him to Kung Fu Panda two, in 3D. I sat there next to my little mate, simply loving having time with him, both of us were wearing those dorky plastic glasses. I was determined to make the most of having a valid excuse to see kids movies!

Relieved that the Panda ended up saving the day Ameer and left the air conditioned building being slapped by the heat as we walked outside. Completely lost and needing to walk home we did a few laps of the shopping complex. Security guards sat laconically on plastic seats watching drivers risking their lives in the chaotic traffic. Making a game of my geographical embarrassment I asked Ameer which way was home. He said; “Silly Uncle Ben, see the flag over there, that is the grocery shop, behind that is the way” I took my pint sized guide’s hand and he led me through six lanes of traffic and home. All the way I was trying to convince myself that I would have found it eventually.

The heat here is killing me after the Danish ‘summer’. Mel knows my poor form in the heat and thankfully set the air con in my room to “Tasmania”. My room is my refuge from both the heat and Ambieka’s occasional two year old tantrums.

aaaand straight back to the pool.

grey Jakarta family timeWin came to the pool but after a day not eating or drinking he is happy to chill on the plastic pool lounge. I truly have no idea how he works through the day without sustenance. A friendly, grey bearded chap sporting a very hydrodynamic beer belly floated over and was soon wearing two kids on his back. It was Phil. One of the more interesting characters I have met in a long time. Phil is a retired catholic priest, an ex-school teacher, a lover of books, a great mate to Mel, Win and the kids, hilarious and outwardly gay. He moved to Indonesia for love and seems to be rather bored with himself here. Phil’s days are spend reading, writing and philosophizing. I got the distinct impression that his is an intellect not comfortable without challenge. We spoke at length about both of our writing projects and life in general before the family and I left for home. We wandered back in the heat to enjoy another night of each others company.

That night I figured out that the little stool near the toilet is not a foot stool for Mel, but a standing platform for Ameer. I also witnessed the witching hour first hand for the first time in my life….

The witching hour is that magic time after dinner and before bed when the devil himself takes control of little people’s bodies and sets them running around like demons, whingeing about stupid things, saying they are hungry, then saying “not really” and basically justifying my non-parental status. Mel took the kids upstairs to perform an exorcism this left Win and I to bitch about University fees. Well, I bitched after finding out I am paying four times more per unit than Win. Mel returned looking haunted and apologizing unnecessarily. On Wednesday I again stole Ameer from school to take him to Kidzania, (to be brutally honest, this was mainly for my benefit). Wednesday deserves its very own blog.

Wednesday night we desperately set about enjoying our last few hours together. Win ate and recovered from another day of fasting as Mel and I sipped on a cranberry and Vodka in the hot night. We watched bats chasing insects around a nearby lamppost, zapped mozzies with the electric big zapper and philosophized.

All too soon, I am kissing my Nephew and Niece, hugging Mel and Win goodbye and watching them drive off to school. In two more hours time I will be on my way to the airport to (hopefully) meet Jette in Bangkok. We have a hotel tonight planned but not booked. That is as far as our planning extends for our three week tour of Laos and Cambodia.

We don’t even know how we are going to even get to Laos. I want to hire a scooter. I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, and Mel and Win if you read this: “Terima kasih karena saya, senang melihat keluarga yang luar biasa Anda melihat Anda semua di natal, banyak cinta. B”

Buy this book!

The Red Rucksack - Available now

This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

This week's popular posts

My favourite video

Sometime getting home is the best bit!