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In the north of the Indonesian island of Sumatra (apparently twice the size of Finland!!?) I was approaching Medan, a major city, when an incident happened to me which made me think more of the dangers of being an ICBM (Inter-Continental Bicycle Man); Usually, here in Indonesia, people are friendly, peaceful and cause me no harm, and, if they do assault me, it's only verbally. Shouts such as "Oi!!"; "Where do you go?!!": "Hello Misterrrrrrrr!!" (Or "-Miss!!" [?], "-Friend!!", "-Baby!!", "-John!!", or "-Money!!") or, of course, "I love you!!"
And at times, such as before 4 o'clock in the morning, the Azan (Islamic call to prayer) can seem like an assault. But this time it was physical; The road had just squeezed through a bottleneck town and traffic was just picking up speed again, urged by the sight of open, straight road, dividing an otherwise limitless-seeming expanse of oil-palm plantations. (For some people, speed is the antidote for distance.) And I was picking up my own kind of speed too, to minimise the velocity differential between me and the vehicles going for pole position. I was riding by businesses, shops and houses (sometimes combined), their stone boundary walls skimming tightly by my left hand side panniers.
Then the metallic-green side of a big Mercedes, long-distance, don't-care-who's-in-the-way, express coach eclipsed everything on my right hand side, overtaking much too closely for my liking, not going much faster than me, but leaving me nervous little living space.
No room for error or I'm the filler in a stone and moving steel sandwich.
Then came the error. A lad hanging out of the coach door or window (I'm not sure which) grabbed my hat.
Now my full-brim hat, for protection against sun and rain, has a rear neck-loop as well as a front chin-loop, to keep it on in windy conditions. So, pulling forward, the coach jester only succeeded in dragging it down over my eyes.
What the hell? There wasn't much light between the bus and the wall anyway. perhaps he thought I didn't really want to know what was going to happen anyway. Blindfolded before the firing-squad kind of thing. A last favour?
I was not in a position to take either clenched hand off my handlebars, or make any unbalanced movement aimed at my hat or the offender still tugging. Even my shout almost caused wipe out. So even if the lad let go there might be no reprieve. I think time stood still for....well, I suppose no amount of time because it was standing still. Teetering on the edge.
Judgement came in the form of the hat coming free of my head just as my assailant was forced to let go. And it dropped mercifully away from my eyes, but it also fell to the ground. And at the same instant the walls gave way to open ground to the left. The force was with me that time, Luke. The coach growled clear and I stopped to retrieve my scuffed hat, shaking and swearing.
I passed many an oil-palm plantation that day trying to rid myself of negative impulses towards that lad and his whole bus company.
Anyhow, I drew up a list of hazards I've encountered, excluding the obvious and the medical, and came up with such things as:-Eye-stinging, airborne chilli from roadside warungs (vendor stalls). Bee-, dragonfly-, butterfly- (they can be huge here), or other insect-strikes. Ear-splitting "super" air horns, sometimes on even small vehicles. (Some mini-buses are armed with large, refillable air-tanks on their rooves!) Uncovered man-holes; sometimes not so obvious until your front wheel is almost in one. The taut, cheese-wire lines of flying kites, stretched across the road. Randomly moving, preoccupied and oblivious kids connected to ends of aforementioned lines. All sorts of obstacles spread for drying in the sun on the road, eg. sheets covered with small fish, grain, beans, etc. People or cycle-carts carrying or dragging deceptively long poles of bamboo, 5m or more. The knock-dead whiff of the big, spikey, but soft inside, King of Fruits, the Durian. (Usually, my eating this has been regretted.)
Or more worrying than most of these relatively harmless things; The dense black clouds emitted by an alarming number of buses and trucks. ______________________
The hat incident was about 3degrees north of the equator. Since then I have ridden almost the total lengths of Sumatra and Java, been back to Singapore twice for new Indonesian visas and find myself in a small, peaceful losmen (guest house) attached to a secluded temple in rainy traffic-clogged Denpasar, Bali, 6 or more degrees south of the equator. This is an ideal hideaway for writing this to you. Writing to the sounds of thunder, cocks crowing, wind bells jangling, the temple manager using an oldfashioned, mechanical typewriter one-fingeredly, rain beating on big, tropical leaves, and dripping from the temples ceramic-tiled, multiple rooves. The smells of the carved wooden stanchions holding the rooves against the rain, incense, and what I think is cooking red beans and rice in the kitchen. My motivation; to get this written so as I can go beachbum a little, see dolphins, snorkel some and do something worthy of writing to you again about.
What I write about the orangutans of the Sumatran forests, or the volcano chain stretching all the way from there, through Java and onwards ahead of me, may have to wait for the book I plan to eventually publish. Or maybe I'll get it onto my homepage which is going to have a new, out-there look in the near future. Please remember to click on
to check on my progress when you like. Now I have to go to the bank. There seems to be a break in the rain. I'm healthy and alive. Still.Be so also. Richard
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