MEDAN

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these sweaty missives – one of these reports banged out on a grungy keyboard under the flourescent lights of a PC room in a developing nation. But voila! Here we are again.

Minhee and I arrived in Indonesia today, followed thirty minutes later by Sammy, who booked on a different airliner. We are in Medan, which is the biggest city of Sumatra, the massive island where we’ll be spending the next three weeks. We spent the last two days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a cosmopotlitan sweatbox of a town that gives America’s “melting pot” idea a run for its money. KL is spanky, with shiny buildings and some stunning architecture, though look around corner into the smaller alleys and its all trash piles, shit, and decay. You can dress a town up all you want, but the tropics are the tropics.

We flew out of Busan on Wednesday morning and stopped off in Hong Kong for a few hours. I had barely slept for two days and was fighting the tail end of a self-induced sickness. Basically I drank my ass off for three days straight the weekend before leaving, and did some real damage to my insides, which were the same until yesterday. In Hong Kong I had the privelege to have the the first “publishing lunch” of my writing career, breaking bread, or more accurately, dim sum, with Mr. Marshall Moore, fellow writer and chief publisher at Signal 8 Press, the putter-outter of my book. I have “known” Marshall as an internet friend for seven years now; he personally offered to publish my book and did all of the editing work (which was akin to facial reconstruction surgery). It’s safe to say that we have had a reasonably close relationship over the years, kind of kindred spirit-ship turned professional, but up until two days ago I NEVER met the man in person. I was zombified from sleep dep and ill guts, but Minhee and I spent a couple of hours with the man and were both charmed. It’s nice when the real deal is as cool as it is on the internet.

KL was nice but generally pricey. We’re on the mega-backpackers’ budget on this outing, so its good to be on the ground in Indo, where, except for an ass-reamingly marked-up (and disgusting) lunch we choked down this afternoon, things are scandalously cheap, just how I like ’em.

What of Medan? Uh… it’s pretty much a gaping shithole, in that its dirty, car-clogged, and utterly charmless. It’s a transit point and a pure center of commerce, the transactions of Northern Sumatra’s resource-based economy all take place here. The sidewalks, when they exist at all, are death traps. They’re built three to five feet over runoff channels, and in many spots the concrete is missing altogether, creating an obstacle course of leg snapping gapes that must take their toll. The result is that the populace has forsaken the sidewalks and has instead taken to skirting the side of the roads, which are already overrun with buses, motorbikes, trucks, cars, and pedicabs. Getting about is dangerous business, and it’s a good thing booze is not widely available here.

Yes, we are in MUSLIM country. The Indonesians practice one of the more laid-back versions of the faith, but Islam is Islam and is nothing of not about RULES. Our little hotel room is right next door to the city’s main mosque, a massive domed structure that demands submissions from even us infidels. Today, being Friday, was an especially busy day there, with the hordes coming in to supplicated themselves before God while the meuzzin blares out the call to prayer, which is delivered over a sound system that would make Motorhead blush. But there is something romantic about being deep in the Muslim world. Minhee and I lay on our tiny bed this afternoon with the ceiling fan whirring and the window open, as an almost undetectable breeze blew on the curtain. The song of the muezzin rang throughout the neighborhood and echoed off the cracked walls or our humble room and for a moment we both remembered why we had come here. Bliss was achieved.

Despite this momentary bliss, we are leaving Medan as soon as possible. Tomorrow we shall kiss Sam goodbye (for the time) and board a bus south to Lake Toba, a volcanic water mass that is the largest in Southeast Asia. It is said to be deadly chilled-out there, so we hope that the spirit of wellness and relaxation seeps straight into our bones.

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