Another Day in Wonderland

During our travels, I find myself constantly making references to Alice in Wonderland. I think one of the hardest things to convey to family, friends and readers is the disorienting cumulative effect of living in a surrealistic landscape of shifting cultural and environmental norms. Every day is another page in a nonsensical narrative with characters speaking backwards, bombarding us with riddles and inverted logic. Even a simple trip to Seven Eleven can be an excursion into the bizarre. And for some reason, I suddenly seemed to notice it.

I was on a mission to buy potato chips. I always have the same options, but at that particular moment in time they seemed odd: seaweed, grilled lobster, hot and spicy crab, hot chili squid…

Can’t I just have BBQ or nacho cheese?!

A single bag of “Salt and Sour” chips drew my attention; unfortunately, “salt and sour” were the only English words on the bag. As always, I analysed the bag’s pictures for clues. A bottle of vinegar, a lemon, what looked like a glass of orange juice, and a pile of rice. Hmmm. Well, at least it didn’t appear to contain any sea life.

Stepping out of the Seven Eleven, the everyday atmosphere seemed noticeably strange. A group of Nigerian gigalos Continue…

Thomas vs. Philip Morrisovich

Monkeys (and Russians) just want to have fun. But when this unsuspecting Russian tourist graciously offered a Balinese macaque a lit cigarette to clear his primate palette, ultra-radical environmental activist Thomas had to put the kibosh on the poor tourist’s Slavic fun.

Alerted from my perch atop a nearby temple by the booming echoes of Thomas’ enraged voice, I just had time to snap a shot of the exact moment he stamped out the cigarette. You could clearly see the disappointment in the poor monkey’s face… and the Russian’s. (Oh, so sad.)

Let’s just say, I’ve never been prouder.

Predatory Techno-Vampire Tourists

Do travelers scare locals?

In 2000, American ethnologist Janet Hoskins asked Sumbanese villagers to describe foreign tourists who visit carrying their mysterious metal boxes (cameras). The following is an excerpt from that description:

VILLAGER: We don’t really know much about them, but they are supposed to travel around, often at night, carrying metal boxes. They have long hair and disheveled clothing, and they smoke cigarettes dipped in potions that can make you sleepy. They are said to blow the smoke into children’s faces so that they lose consciousness. Then they take the children and hang them upside down, with feet near the rafters and their heads next to the metal boxes. They open up a hole in their heads and use a hose, sucking on one end of the hose to draw out the blood and make it flow into their metal boxes. They collect the blood, then leave behind the children’s bodies.

JANET: Do the children live?

VILLAGER: Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. They are very weak and may have nightmares about what the foreigners did to them. They lose a lot of their strength and often they die afterward.

JANET: What do the foreigners do with the blood? Continue…

Tony Goes Grey

Last night, I was casually discussing the concept of returning to Germany this summer, and the next morning, we discovered that Tony had gone completely grey at the thought. Really? Is Germany that terrifying? Continue…

Stone Table

As we were exploring the coast along Sumba’s southern Wanokaka region, we happened upon this solitary dolmen-like tomb under a magnificent tree. As a kid, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of my favorite books and I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia several times, so it’s not surprising that I immediately associated the site with Stone Table, the mysterious ancient site which figures prominently in the book series.

Situated on a plateau just south of a meandering river near the edge of a forest, the setting was eerily similar. I’m certain C.S. Lewis’ legendary site is NOT based on a Sumbanese tomb, but that didn’t matter to the eight-year-old in me.

Mr. Coca Cola

My name is Tony, and I’m a Coke addict. (They say admitting the problem is the first step.) I’ve known for some time that many around me believe that I drink too much Coca Cola. When friends Lisa and Garrett came to visit, they reported to my family on my troubling addiction, recounting that I would hit the bottle for breakfast. But I continued to deny my problems… until Alor.

When I stopped to grab a quick drink and a bag of chips at the local shop, the owner gave me the normal Indonesian afternoon greeting with one rather unique touch: “Selamat siang, Mr. Coca Cola.” He had my Coke waiting for me, but I had to request a bag of chips.

That was odd, I thought to myself as I left. Mr. Coca Cola?

I strolled down the main thoroughfare in Kalabahi killing time before I headed down to the bay, and a friendly local waved to me from across the street and yelled, “Hello, hello, Mr. Coca Cola, hello, hello.”

Hmmm. My denial was starting to fade.

Later that evening, as I was riding my motorbike back from the bay, another bike shot by flashing its lights and I heard, “Sooooreeee, Coca Colaaaaaa!” Evening, Coca Cola.

Clearly, I have a problem.

Staring for Success

Third-world visas are the bane of our existence. Here in Indonesia, many regional immigration offices have a reputation for bureaucracy, corruption, incompetence, and downright meanness. The office here in Maumere is among the worst. For weeks, I’ve been dreading the thought of trying to extend our visa here, but to continue on to the end of Nusa Tenggara, an extension was essential.

Their requirements for an extension felt like the ultimate banana republic scavenger hunt. Using a template given to us by the immigration office, we had to type up two letters in Indonesian adapting them to our own personal situation. (Thank god for Google translation.) We had to find a local to “sponsor” us, get that local to sign our extension request letters as well as convince them to allow us to make multiple copies of their personal ID card to hand out to every bureaucrat under the Indonesian sun. Finally, we scrambled to find and purchase an Indonesian “authentication stamp” to stick next to our signatures, which in some way is meant to “prove” that our request letters were “official.” Geez. (I’d like to formally thank Jonny who runs that roadside Internet cafe / xerox copy / printout / web design / buy-what-you-need hut for his assistance in getting us that “authentication stamp.”)

After jumping through a hundred hoops, we submitted our grab bag of useless crap to the immigration office. The comatose bureaucratress, annoyed that we were disrupting her daily soap operas, smirk-screeched that our visa might Continue…


Apparently, the number 3 is very important to these Ngada kids. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out why. Three musketeers, three little pigs, three’s company, three strikes out, three stooges? It’ll just have to remain a mystery. 😉