Longs day on the back of a bike in Medan added with lots of pot holes, my pie hole is really feeling violated.
Being part of the flow, it’s Zen as it gets. The traffic becomes personal. Fucking asshole.
Huggy Bear is learning the language of the street. He curses an old fart on a bike who cuts in front of us.
Now I’ve accidentally hit the mirror of a bus with my elbow. No damage, but the driver will want aquick buck. Huggy is playing kamikaze in the traffic and the bus driver can toot his horn all he likes.
’He’s not getting any money on my shift,’ says Huggy, as he weaves around a wall of motorbikes, cars and trucks. We are on the way to a Batak restaurant where they serve Huggy’shometown food. It’s nearly an hour ducking and diving and I’m thinking this food better be fucking good.Not even cigarettes could filter the highly polluted air that was billowing in two stroke clouds.
Medan is life itself. There’s no compromise in this city. The energy levels are high. The chances of survival are low.
Now it’s up and over the railway bridge. I walk whileHuggy hugs me from behind on the bike. He says they cut bags from your shoulder and zoom away. Carrying my valuables on a back of a bike is work within itself. My eyes are scanning every bike that nears us. And Huggy is on the look out of any other suspicious activity.
‘Theystab youin the kidneys thensnatch your bag,’ he says.
They’ll have to get through a lot of blubber first, though.
Huggy is still laughing as we pull into a restaurant on the side of the road. On one end of the wall is a large mural of Lake Toba. The food is ordered. Huggy is relaxed now. He’s been hanging out for some village food. And I’m his meal ticket. The milky fish soup with a large jungle root goes down well with rice. A burger at Mc Donalds, across the road from my hotel, would have also done the trick.
‘Where is your sense of adventure,’ says Huggy, who orders more food. Surprisingly the food is very cheap. The young waitresses are flirting with me. They don’t see many foreigners in this part of Medan.
Ok, maybe they were flirting with Huggy, but I was the one paying the bill.
We are still along way from the hotel. It’s another hours drive.
‘No it isn’t,’ says my driver. ‘Only thirty minutes if I take the short cut.’ He’s really earning his money today. He’s taken me to his favorite restaurant. He’s got me to pay for the bill and the petrol and on top of that, his generous daily allowance.
Huggy Bear is home here and he’s animated.He’s smiling. He’s with his own kind and I hand over his payment. He’s doubly happy now.The Batak seem like a lost race of the Hobbit’s and are avery proud people. “The Javanese were slaves in Sumatra under the Dutch. The Batak people never worked for the Dutch slime.’
He said that wasn’t entirely true. ‘The Christian Batak would sell their grandmother and their kitchen sink for a profit, so maybe a few of them offered their labor to the Dutch.’
His heritage goes back to the Srivijaya empire. ‘We were cannibals once upon a time,’ he says. ‘But we don’t eat dog meat like the Christian Batak around Lake Toba.’ He says they also eat pork. ‘They call me a dog or pig. I say at least I don’t look like a dog or a pig. You are what you eat.’
So you eat humans. I didn’t go there. He says cannibalism died out about 500 years ago but I’m really not sure I want to visit his village now. He’s reading my thoughts. ‘We are civilized now. Islam guides us in our cleanliness.’
Huggy ain’t stupid. He told me has met two big time movers of weed, and both were English. ‘The first one I ran into two years ago. He was super paranoid. His wife owned land in Aceh. He wanted me to arrange to move 200 tons of weed to Singapore via a fishing trawler and from there he’d move it to Europe. He was too scared to take a bike. He only wanted to travel in a car with black tinted windows. He stayed at the Aston Hotel and said people were looking for him.’
Another Howard Mark’s figure, I thought. I think Mohammed saved you from the firing squad.
Another Englishman, who paid for his university education, wanted Huggy to carry two large suitcases into Heathrow. ‘He was here in Medan to pick me up. But I told him to wait a few days until I graduated. He was on a tight schedule and got angry. He never contacted me after that. He said he lived in Cyprus and was an import-exporter. I have no idea what he wanted me to carry.’
He probably had a very good idea.
‘But the fucker wasn’t prepared to pay me the going rate.’
Now it’s all making sense. I said he had been grooming you and your friend was most likely in jail or dead. And his Rolls Royce was seized by the police in the UK. And that he most likely wanted you to carry two suitcases full of Durian which fetches a high price in London.
That’s my code word for weed, dopey! You can never be too careful in this town.
Huggy Bear’s stories are real and visceral. Only the other day he picked up a guy from Aceh. “He refused to pay me,’ he said. ‘ButI refused to go empty handed.I snatched his bag. Only clothes but good enough to wear. I gave most of them to other motorbike drivers. We take what we can.’
The city is dead of tourists, says Huggy.‘Most of them make their way to Lake Toba to get shit faced on weed that grows in the mountains,’ he says. ‘And being a Southern Batak Muslim,I have no chance of entering the lucrative turf of the Christian Batak.’So I eke out my living in Medan, which is a dying city. The tourists just aren’t staying here.’
So he ekes out my living in Medan. ‘And try my best to save tourists from being stung by the religious police who think every foreigner wants to smoke dope.’
I still couldn’t figure out that American who brazenly came up to my table at the hotel and asked if I liked to smoke dope.
‘He was trying to set you up.’
He wanted me to take a trek.
‘That’s where they make you feel it’s safe to smoke dope,’ says my guide who also doubles up as bodyguard. ‘Then his partner calls the police and there’s payoffs for everyone. They need a young Westerner to lure in the tourists.’
I wanted no part of him. I wasn’t fooled for a moment that he was a journalist for a Chinese newspaper cover a food festival.
‘ That’s why they don’t want me at the hotel,’ he says. ‘If I know any tourists are being set up, I’ll confront the thieves. It’s usually those Acehnese. They are the trouble makers.’
Itold Huggy about a guy I metat the Alpha Mart the other day who asked me all these pesky questions likewhere am I from and what hotel am I staying at and what is my job.I ask him if he’s an undercover police. Huggy Bear says the police don’t’ spy on him, ‘but I spy on them.’
He says this guy was clean. And I’m wondering if the locals are scaring away the tourists with too many questions.
You never can be too careful in a far-flungIndonesian city with outlaw status. None of the normal rules apply.
We are watching a live band over a coffee. I’m treating Huggy for being a lazy bastard. A local drunk wannabe mafia whispers in my ear, ‘Jasmine Rice.’Or it could have been Guns N Roses? ‘It rhythms with ganga,’ said Huggy Bear. ‘He wanted to sell you dope so he can buy more arak andget even moreshit faced.’
Maybe if I got shit faced I’d feel better about life.
‘That’s when they’ll fleece you,’ he says. ‘Once you lose your senses, they’ll promise you a whore then set you up. An irate husband will arrive at the hotel with the religious police and that’s when things start getting very sticky.’