Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hong Kong and Airports

Once again I find that it’s been awhile since I last put finger to keyboard.

It’s been a busy time of it.

Last weekend I went to Hong Kong for a 3day workshop for the IB and while this was my second time there, this time I was bunked down in the heart of Kowloon thus saw and did more than last time. It’s a fascinating city but I guess you either like it or just visit it. I found it to be a place to visit, look around, do some sightseeing, sample a few pubs then hop back on a plane. I know some love it, as evidenced by the teachers I spoke to who live there but it didn’t grow on me. Maybe you have to live there to really appreciate it.

It is well organised, people stand in queues, trains are on time, and everything moves with an order that is missing from Indonesia. The city is clean, despite the heavy smog that curls and wraps itself around the mountains and buildings that reach into the grey air.

The shops are full of all the good stuff, but most of what I saw and priced could be had here for about or less than the same price. It seemed that for all its reputation as a place to shop, I thought one could do just as well here. Go figure.

It’s a very alive place, a vast heaving metropolis that never quite slows down, crowds everywhere. As you walk along you have to constantly dodge people, yet the sheer fact that you could walk around for miles, and walk on comfortable footpaths at that, made it a good place to wander and view.

Seems everything is very efficient there, again a vast difference from Indonesia, and one did find oneself wondering if a city like Jakarta or Surabaya could ever hope to emulate this. I think not. The sheer cost factor of getting everything built to ensure such efficiency, and the organisation required, would be beyond the capabilities of local or federal government.

Then again, I guess if they did re-build jkt or sby to resemble Hong Kong, the cities would lose that certain flavour which makes them such interesting places to visit or live.

The other thing that struck me was the huge yet dynamic public transport system. You could get anywhere by train or bus, thus cars were not so much in evidence on the roads. Far more buses, taxis and only a few cars. Motorbikes even less so. I didn’t see one traffic jam while I was there, though maybe I wasn’t in the right place!

After the meticulous efficiency of the Hong Kong airport and baggage handling etc, it was business as usual when I landed back in Jakarta. Immigration queues stretched for miles, and all moved at a snail pace. The line I was in was taking twice as long as the line next to me. I noted that the line processed an average of 3 people to my lines 1. When I got closer I soon realised why. The immigration chap was very methodical, taking his time and also had this great interest in everything that was going on about him. He would start processing someone, then stop, take a good look around, chat to someone nearby, wave, smile, all very friendly, then slowly get on with the job.

The queue to my other side was for diplomats and ‘special people’. One fellow fully dressed in Arab national dress, three children and what I presume to be his wife who was covered head to toe in a black shapeless ‘abaya’ with a tiny almost unseen slit for her eyes, stood patiently at the yellow line waiting for the people in front to be processed. No such luck that it would be quick and I could see he was getting a bit agitated. Then, just as he was about to step up to the counter with a sigh of relief, a young female airport worker wandered in front of him with a few passports in hand and jumped the queue. I could see his face and it wasn’t pretty. A bit of arm waving and a senior official wandered over and ushered his wife and children through to wait on the other side. However, he still had to wait for the young woman to finish getting her passports done. Poor fella.

The next Arab behind him (must have been a flight in from those parts) was luckier and got through with little waiting, his wife also dressed head to toe in black but the opening across her eyes much wider, revealing beautiful almond eyes and meticulously curved eyelashes. She looked a lot younger than he and it did make you wonder what their story was.

The couple straight after them were also Arab but both dressed as westerners. An official glanced at her passport and then waved them away, obviously saying that they weren’t dignitaries. She responded with a wave of her ticket and I heard her say, “But we flew first class!” At this logic, the official gave way and they both went through the special desk quickly. Remind me next time to try that trick.

Watching people certainly helps pass the time!

Once through, it was around the corner to the conveyor and a 30 minute wait until the baggage grudgingly came through.

Have to admit though; the airport in jkt really does need a makeover. As one trundles off the plane and then into the immigration hall, you are met by dark grey cement walls and flouro lighting that makes it seem as if you are in Eastern Europe in the 50’s. All a bit forbidding. The stretch to the immigration hall is reasonable but rustic, then again, it does have its own unique charm.

Wandered off after collecting my suitcase to find my connecting flight, following signs that petered out after awhile so had to ask and be given directions. Had to go through customs to get out and then back in but when I showed him my 'nothing to declare' form he waved me through. I made to lift my bag onto the x-ray machine but he told me that it wasn't necessary. I must be getting that look of respectability in my old age. Sheesh.

Once in again, it didn’t take long to check in though again the lack of info as to what you have to do was missing when you get to the check in counter. The fellow gives me a boarding pass then directs me to a place to get my bag neutralised. That is, a bright yellow strap is wrapped around its middle, presumably to ensure that baggage handlers aren’t tempted to have a squiz inside. I go back to him with a neatly encircled bag, he takes it and I’m free to wander off to wait for my flight.

Now at this stage you might think all would be well. Not quite. I get to the F3 room as instructed but notice that my flight is not showing on the monitor outside its entrance. Notice another monitor outside F4 has a hand written word taped to its bottom with a message: “Surabaya”, so wander into that waiting room.

No, says the fellow, you are in F3 not F4. I shrug and go back, then realise I’ve still got a bit of time before boarding so head to a bar instead for a thirst quenching beer.

Time up, I go back to the F3 waiting room to find a new handwritten note taped to it directing me to go to the F4 waiting room where I had ventured earlier. Ah well, I think, hoisting my bag and go into F4, half expecting to be told that I would have to go back to F3. But no, this time the mysterious handwriter had done his/.her job well and despite no notification on the monitors, my plane does indeed board at this gate. I wait and board, to doze as we rock across Java, experiencing the usual turbulence.

One thing I sleepily realised as we bounced up and down was that to travel here one has to be patient and accepting. No need to get all het up, doesn’t serve any purpose, so you go with the flow and hope for the best.

Indonesia. For all its foibles, it really does have a charm all of its own.


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