McDonald’s is my local where I drink endless coffee. It’s here where I met Bob and his sponsor. It’s here where I observe. It’s here where I’ve become a fixture. It’s here where I’m spied on while I spy on them. I always have my camera out. I’m zooming in on the old lady in the jail. It’s in the mosque. She’s in jail. And I’m taking stealthy photos of this poor lady. What the fuck is she doing in jail?
I pay for the first coffee and the rest are free. It really only applies to the soft drinks but the managers have a soft spot for me. They are going the long distance to make this foreigner feel welcome.
I spot the guy who sells rings. He’s another Taliban wannabe and is Rizal’s friend, the driver who is going to take me for a day trip to Lake Toba. I’m sure he’ll be reporting my movements.Soon Huggy Bear will be hanging out with me here. We’ll become a permanent fixture before I get raced out of the area.
But for now Huggy’s been put on hold until Bob and his sponsor fly out in a few days. He’s going to Thailand and she’s going to Australia. They’ll be a fixture missed in this part of the world.
‘I can’t wait till he goes,’ she says to me. And I can’t wait till you go. I just can’t keep up with their charade.
‘You don’t need too,’ says Bob.
I think she needs a good fucking. She’s in her forties and is quite tidy.
‘It’s not going to happen,’ says Bob.’She only goes with rich old guys who have one month left to live.’
Bob and his sponsor swing by and pick me up at McDonald’s just moments after I’ve had my imaginary conversation with the voices in my head. Bob usually carries his own drink. ‘I could buy a meal for the same price of a drink here.’ I’m on my way to a posh shopping mall with Bob and his sponsor. We are taking the mini bus. I don’t mind the buses at all. It’s a chance to meet and greet the locals and costs next to nothing. I’ve not quite agreed to go with Huggy Bear yet. I know once I commit, my funds are going to flow faster out of my pocket.
I’m on my way to a posh shopping mall with Bob and his sponsor. We are taking the mini bus. I don’t mind the buses at all. It’s a chance to meet and greet the locals and costs next to nothing. I’ve not quite agreed to go with Huggy Bear yet. I know once I commit, my funds are going to flow faster out of my pocket.
Outside the mall, I eye up a vendor selling deep fried bananas. Bob looks at my gut and advises against it.
He’s a sportsman and knows these things. ‘It’s saturated in oil and is only going to sit in your gut with all the other fat.’
He’s going to introduce me to some models. They are Middle Eastern refugees. His sponsor says I stink too. I love their honesty in this part of the world. I stink and I’m overweight. What more can I say? And she’s a little gold dig. Huggy will confirm it.
“She marries old bule(foreigners),’ says Huggy, ‘who usually die much not long after they tie the knot. She has a house in Jakarta and the Gold Coast in Australia.’
See, Huggy never gives me a bum stare.
Bob said not to speak politics when we arrive.
They were the persecuted. They had better mobile phones than me. They were better dressed than me. And they never said I stunk. They had manners. They were a great bunch and waiting for relocation and learning a skill along the way.
Bob was exploring his photography and the catwalk was where he gravitated. He’d take pictures, edit them and give them away, freely. He was very generous in that way.
‘Besides, I can’t work in Indonesia,’ he says. ‘And if they catch the wind that I’m making any money from it, they’ll deport my ass.’
Why worry, I said. They are going to deport your ass if you don’t leave.
‘ I was taking photos of a flash demonstration,’ he explains. ‘ They demonstrators wearing colorful clothes and I thought it was just a cultural event.’
He’s serious. He’s deadly serious.
The demonstration was about against extrajudicial killing of a factory worker, he says, ‘unbeknown to me, two striking workers were killed by the police two years ago. Immigration pulled me up and made me sign a form promising that I’d refrain from taking any more photos.’
It was a case being at the wrong place, at the wrong time. I left my Medan story out. He just wouldn’t believe that one.
‘Four years I’ve been taking pictures,’ he says. He points his camera at one of the Afghan models and offers a few pro tips. Tilt your head, he says, ‘yeah that’s it, now smile.’ Bob doesn’t read books but he says he’s a philosopher. I just don’t have a comeback for that one.
It’s mostly a sausage fest today on the second floor of the mall. They are mostly Afghan and one Palestinian. Of the two women, one is from Afghanistan and the other from Iran.
And the guys are all touchy as I Bluetooth over some of the images. I think they need to get out more often.
‘I’m the only expat who has been documenting this city for the past four years.’
He says Medan doesn’t attract too many expats. ‘They prefer Java or Bali, or any other place. Medan is raw. It’s edgy. It’s not a kind of place expats wants to settle down.’
‘That’s what they call me. Everyone knows I’m still taking pictures. Maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe my visa has been revoked for not obeying the authorities.’
All of the above, I’d say.
‘That’s it. But I can’t really openly say it. I’ve breached the terms of conditions of staying here and they aren’t going to renew my social visa.’
Bob is thinking things through.
He’s now showing the six-foot Iranian female model a few frames. It’s all hush what they are doing. But a UNHCR man has given them the green light.
‘And they are getting work,’ say Bob. ‘They have gone a long way in the last three weeks.’
The owner of the modeling school is gay. So is the choreographer. They adore the young middle eastern men.
The agency is on the second floor. And I’m bored fucking shitless. I pull out a cigarette and puff away. Wait, I need a crap. The laxative I took in the morning is mounting a full on assault. I’ve been constipated the last few days. Taking pills, lack of sleep, and being locked up in a decompressed chamber, oh and lack of vegetables, really does block me up.
I find the toilet. And it’s now been spray painted. There was a storm bubbling up in my bowels. And I’m about to get out of here. This ain’t my scene, I tell Bob. Show me the real Medan, you fucking wanker.
‘It’s always sensitive,’ he says.
Very sensitive I say. If you post a picture of them online, their enemies will find them.
‘That’s the official line,’ says Bob. ‘But they are economic refugees. All they are running from is a bad economy.
So will you upload their pictures? Bob smiles, as he sets up another photo shoot. All the models are walking down the corridor to very loud techno music. I can feel a flashback. Am I at the Stadium in Jakarta? And I’m about to peak. Nonsense, I say to myself as Bob continues.
‘They know I’m not going to post pictures of them online.’
But you post pictures of everyone else online, so I really can’t see how this is different.
‘Good point, but I just haven’t had time to upload the images yet.’
He says editing takes up all of his time.
‘I only sleep two hours a day.’
I said where was he getting the speed from and could I have some.
He tells one of the Iraqi models to lift his chin up. Now he’s telling a group to jump in the air.
I’m taking pictures and blue toothing them over. This is my contribution but I can feel the laxative I took earlier today is about to take it’s course. Refugees are just humans too and deserve their freedom. Later tonight they’ll be locked up in a holding cell at immigration.
‘Refugees are just humans too and deserve their freedom,’ say Bob. ‘And later tonight they’ll be locked up in a holding cell at immigration.
‘No, it’s a house,’ says one of the young boys. He has bushy eyebrows and has the swagger of a playboy. ‘And it really sucks. I can’t go out in the evenings to find fuck buddies at the club.’
His family escaped Syria after a death threat. ‘My father was a businessman,’ says the teenager who has a taste for Indonesian pussy. He has been living with his family in Medan for the past seven years. ‘My father was a very rich businessman.’, only 17, has been here in Medan with his family for the past seven years. He speaks perfect Bahasa and is a hit with the girls.
He still is. You need money to buy the latest smartphone and he’s decked out in designer clothes.
He’s only 17 and hits the clubs most weekends.
‘I sneak out.’
You mean you pay the immigration guards.
He’s not telling. So much for the curfew.
He speaks perfect Bahasa and has been here for seven years. He’s still waiting for relocation. But he’s in no hurry to leave.
‘The girls are loose here. After one date, they spread their legs.’
He knows every whore friendly hotel in town.
‘The Chinese run hotels.’
He says Indonesia is not the same as Syria.
‘We have to marry them before we get to fuck them.’
I said that’s how it is in Malaysia.
He seems very well adjusted and is going to do just fine.
‘I’m only modeling so I can pick up easy fucks.’
‘He’s in the right game. For a young buck, he’s really got his head screwed on,’ says Bob.
I’m surprised about that. Bob is very focused. Usually, if the conversation is not about photography, he’ll switch off. He doesn’t let his guards down like this. The real Bob is hidden deeply behind a front that really doesn’t suit him.
He’s been in Medan for four years and ‘traveling Indonesia since the 90s.’ He says Medan is slim pickings. ‘Foreigners don’t stay in here.’ Has he lowered his standards by hanging out with me?
‘You could say that.’
I say goodbye to the models. I’m supposed to meet them on the weekend at a cultural food festival at another swanky mall.
I have a feeling we’ll meet again. Bob is going also. And so is a young American I met at the hotel. He’s an English teacher working in China and is here to cover the story. He sees all the Red Bulls and coffees stacked on my table and wonders what story I’m going to cover.
He’s talking about splifs.
‘Idiots,’ says Bob, ‘they have no idea how treacherous the Indonesians are concerned.’
It sounded like he wanted me to go on a tour with his friend’s travel agency and set me up with some dope.
‘That’s about it,’ says Bob.’You just can’t trust anyone in this bloody island.’
I told Bob how I met the yank’s Indonesian friend.
‘I know him,’ says Bob.’ The deal is the yank gets every backpacker at the hotel to sign up for a treack and he gets a percentage. The guy was just trying to stooge you. He says to everyone who is drinking coffee or Red Bull and who is chain smoking, that they are Hunter S Thompson. Many of us are charmed by it. He conned me into signing up for a jungle trek. It was a total rip off.’
I said to Bob he pulled the same trick on me. But because I’m not big into trekking, he didn’t pursue it.
Did he try and sell you dope?
‘Yep, they had lots of it in their bungalows in the jungle. And I’ve visited about ten foreigners in jail who have already who have been stung by this yank. He’s an informer. He doesn’t even teach in China. He’s totally full of shit.’
But what about his Chinese girlfriend?
‘She works for the Indonesian government too. Don’t be fooled by their lies. It’s a trick that’s been going on around here for the past decade.’
So they make out they are getting tax free cash and pushing the dope lifestyle when really all they are doing is setting up travelers for a big fall.
‘Yep,’ he says.
Just as I suspected and I thank Bob and said we’ll catch up on Saturday.
As I said, I’ve got nothing to do and I’m on my last leg of my year overseas. And it’s a departure from my usual routine.
‘What,’ says Bernhard, ‘you are still a lazy wanker even when you are traveling.’
Agreed, leaving a block away from wherever I might be staying always puts me in a funk.
‘It means you got to walk back you lazy cunt.’
Well why walk back when you can just go out of the hotel, refill and return back to your room.
Bernhard’s tuned out.
‘Got business to attend too.’
What kind of business, I wonder.
‘Business in Sweet Smelling Water.’
More like whoring, I thought. Rub it in cunt.
I like areas that are self-contained. Traveling is all about convenience. Nothing worse than having to travel more than two kilometers to find a convenience store. Nothing worse. Even worse is having to walk past aggressive street dogs. Sonka springs to mind.
Long long behind me now. But I do miss the 7-11.
Who were you talking to Bob, he asks. Never mind, we don’t have enough time to explain.
I say goodbye to Camera Bob and thanks him for showing me his Medan.
‘It’s ok,’ he says. ‘I’m the only one who carries an expensive Canon around.’
I was really curious what Bernhard was up too. If we could speak, surely I could just teleport onto the set of Sweet Smelling Water.
‘Welcome back cunt,’ he says and slaps me hard on the back. I’m in a little whore house in East Java.
I correct him. I’m an ankle, two and a half feet below a cunt.
The boys laugh – Frank, Brian, Sambo and Duncan and Bernhard.
‘This beats puritanical Medan,’ I tell them.
‘Welcome to my world,’ says Bernhard, who hands me a Bintang. ‘I bet they don’t even sell booze in Medan.’
It’s hard to find. But I know where they sell tramadol. And arak, that rice whiskey, is easy to obtain too.
Now I”m haunted by this Bert character. Never met him from a bar of soap.
‘Not what he says,’ says Sambo, who is smoking that pungent weed again. ‘He’s waiting for you in Perth now.’
Why the fuck is he waiting for me?
‘He’ll wait for eternity,’ says Bernhard. ‘He blew you a kiss and you knocked back his advances.’
Well fuck a duck, is that what Sweet Smelling Water is about.
‘It’s a dubious plot at best,’ says Frank, who is juggling some big East Java tits – the horn dog. ‘ But my advice, get rid of him from your book before he caps you.’
He tried to cap me last when I flew black home.
“He’s calling in his bikey contacts,’ says Bernhard. ‘But what he doesn’t know, I’m a sergeant in arms in fucking whores.’
So I’m safe.
‘They work on intimidation,’ continues Bernhard. ‘Of course you are safe. We all have our hangups and Bert is just like us all, he wants to be loved.’
But that army crap smells just like it.
‘Truth be known,’ says Sambo, ‘and I’ve looked into it from my buddies in the Department of Defense, Bert was never in the army. He’s was a participant on a test for a new drug, and it backfired. Hence the payout.’
How very interesting. So I’ve got a psychopath after me.
‘Kinda,’ says Brian, the Canadian famed for his taser gun exploits, ‘but we have located and I’ll willingly liquidate him.’
I’d have to think about that one. Meanwhile, I had my own drama unfolding in Medan. Bye boys, I said, unfinished business to do.