Thank You, Liam Neeson

I’m either an idiot, or I enjoy the surprises that come from terrible planning. My ego much prefers the latter as an excuse for my hastiest decisions, including the time I jumped on cheap tickets from SFO to Jakarta after booking a room in Bali. “I’ll just bus it after landing; shouldn’t take more than a few hours!” I said to myself, failing to notice the 800 or so miles, tiny sliver of water, and probable culture shock that separated Jakarta and Bali.

For a moment, I also conveniently forgot that I was a helpless twenty-something female—which my parents were happy to remind me of. They had recently watched Taken (starring Liam Neeson) and were quite convinced that I was irresponsibly flinging myself into rape country, and that rural bus travel definitely meant I’d be kidnapped and enslaved by sex traffickers. Not wanting to provoke any heart attacks, I eventually abandoned the land and ferry connection to Bali and added another flight.

When I landed at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport, I had six hours to kill before another plane would sweep me off to Bali. But first, I had to find out where that plane was in the sprawling, multi-terminal layout. It was my first time being lost in a foreign country, and thank goodness it was an Asian country! All I had to do was keep looking confidently Asian (I am Filipino), and none of the locals would try to swindle me or force me into prostitution!

Until I opened my mouth, that is. As a fear-fed American girl, late at night, in a dark, empty, shady-looking airport terminal where aggressive cab drivers loomed outside, looking to cheat you out of a decent fare—I didn’t ask anybody questions and tried not to open my mouth and say things such as “like/asif/whatever.” I also attempted to look a little taller, and pretended I knew exactly where I was. When they didn’t have wi-fi at the closest open KFC, I rolled my bags up some garbage-strewn stairs that lay past prayer rooms, airport hotels, and whole families who were sleeping on benches as they waited for everything to open up again. Where the hell was my airline? I looked at the map. It definitely wasn’t in this building, which I had already paced twice. I asked a nice-looking woman in a hijab and she told me in broken english that it was in a totally different terminal, and that I would have to take a cab there.

Well, great. It was two in the morning and I did not yet want to deal with cab drivers. In my head, they were a species of sinister con artists—but perhaps they would be a little nicer as sunrise approached and more people appeared. (This would later turn out to be a wrong assumption, however.)

I rolled my bags further and found an open cafe with a hospitable manager who welcomed napping Western wanderers to rest at his comfy tables. And there were a few: the middle-aged blonde woman reading GQ; the young guy with the fro resting his feet on a Patagonia backpack; the Asian man and his son; and, me, with the drool-stained copy of Farewell to Arms that was to get more use as a shitty pillow than an intellectual pursuit. We were like the ensemble cast of my imaginary screenplay. I hoped one of the other tables would speak up, start some witty banter, and we’d all become lifelong friends and the inspiration for a future mumblecore film that I’d write and then dedicate in the credits “To the Lifelong Friends I made at that one cafe in Soekarno-Hatta.” Most of all, I was hoping one of them was lost, too, and would take a cab with me to my terminal. But alas, nobody spoke.

After five minutes of pretending to sleep, I figured I should stop being a ridiculous wuss and go find my flight. I ventured out to the cabs again. My posture was commanding, expression stern as could be. But I was still tiny with an involuntarily sweet face, so the eager drivers swarmed me like I was a worm and they were birds. One of them won me over with his low fare and family photos. He then betrayed our brief friendship when we arrived at the much more posh Terminal 1, with its shiny metal facade and curved accents. Tell me, how does 40,000 rupiah turn into 80,000? Is that real math? What did I learn at Berkeley?

The check-in desk hadn’t opened yet, so I spent a couple more hours in the open-air waiting area, accompanied by feral cats and other travelers, all of whom would also not become my lifelong friends; especially not the feral cats—I am allergic and they likely had rabies.

I spent the remaining two hours napping in the garden before I checked in, bought an avocado-flavored doughnut, and took off for Bali, where I had an amazing time and managed to further avoid rehashing the plots of kidnapping movies.

 

Patrici Flores is a writer and photographer in Oakland, California.

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