After a tearful goodbye at the Farragut West metro station, I sat down with the legions of commuters heading to work. I was also heading to work that day, but it would just take me about 2 days to get there. Yes, from National Airport I headed to Atlanta, to Tokyo, to Singapore (where I had a long layover in the wee hours of the morning), to Penang (where the baggage handlers broke the handle on my suitcase and then very graciously reimbursed me for the cost – already a very good sign of things to come. We broke your luggage? You only have about 20 minutes before boarding your next flight? Well let us please expedite the claims process and here is cash in hand. Thank you very much kind ladies at Penang International!) and then Banda Aceh!
From Penang in Malaysia it was only a short trip over. I had some very clean and unfolded large US bills thinking that I could change them into the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) at the airport. Nope. The Banda Aceh airport is small – there is no money changer. Since I’m really horrible at taking pictures myself I will be taking serious advantage of Google’s plethora of available images. Click herefor a picture of flying into Banda Aceh. Countless hours later, my new coworker, Kelly Schut, picks me up from the airport with one of our helpful drivers. We have to go register with the local police in order to generally make my presence known and confirm my status here as not just a plain tourist, that it will be completely normal for me to be poking around in the affairs of patchouli farmers, and so I can apply for visa extensions in the future.
We had to wait for the police station to open, as it was a Friday meaning that from noon to 2pm the office that we needed to register with was closed for everyone to go to pray at the mosques. We killed time by getting necessary passport sized photos with a red background, as in Indonesia official photos have a red background for some reason. Once finally at the police station to register my presence it was the first of many encounters where I was met with complete certainty that I was Chinese or Korean, but no, what? I’m American. But where was my white skin? My white-person facial features? It was all quite odd. Was I not “Orang China” ( pronounced “Cheena.” Direct translation: person China)? No, I am bule (pronounced “bulay.” A not exactly proper way to say Westerner). Given Indonesian’s affinity towards combining two words into one (for example thank you is “terima kasih,” but is more frequently said “makasih”), I told them to just call me “bucha.”
It then became a whirlwind of grabbing some money from an ATM, buying a phone SIM card, buying an external USB modem to have internet at home, buying toilet paper and then grabbing a BEER! Unlike as reported there is alcohol in Banda Aceh. It is at a select few restaurants that cater to foreigners, the selection is limited, the prices are relatively high – but it is here! Glory yes. Kelly and I are slowly, slowly saving up a coin stash to buy a case of beer as coins are the unwanted currency here (as everywhere it seems). Anyhow, I had the weekend to somewhat acclimate, get over some jetlag before starting work on Monday, August 1st, 2011.