That Rockstar Feeling

25 Oct

Z's face cropped against sea background

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]We saw some amazing things from the roof of the slow boat the other day.

Flying fish. Not just the big, silvery ones, threading running stitch across the sea like giant needles. But little dark critters, gliding low, low over the wavelets like flocks of aquatic sparrows, slender wing-fins carrying them for as much as a hundred metres before they splash into water which seems –- well, quite the wrong element for them.

No dolphins or turtles, this time, though on every other boat journey around Maluku we’ve seen one or t’other.

But, here, just north of the equator, an entire pod of killer whales, soaring and playful as dolphins, their giant dorsal fins pincushioning the water, gigantic black and white shadows sliding under the boat, hissing mushroomy fountains of spray…

Photo opportunities aplenty (had one a camera). And our fellow passengers had their mobile phones out in force, shooting for an entire hour.

Their subject, gentle reader? Not the wildlife. Ten a penny here.

But us…

It would be fair to say that travel within North Maluku is not for the camera shy. Relatively few bule come through here, and those who do are easy enough to spot.

Sitting? There’ll be a curious semi-circle around them.

In motion? There’ll be a trailing entourage. Walk past an island school at chucking out time (noon, or thereabouts) and it’s like the Pied Piper just hit town.

In transit? On the beach? Well, that’s when the mobile phones come out.

It’s a weird feeling. We’ve been in Asia long enough to internalize the cultural normalcy of staring.

Which, as things tend to, cuts both ways.

We’ll quite happily wander up to a knife-maker, boat-builder, spice-harvester, coconut-smoker or basket-weaver going about their business, squat down and watch for a while. We’ve been to weddings and funerals, and gawped at those.

So if, in our turn, we provide the kind of riveting drama and diversion from small town life that touring players provide in Dickens or Mark Twain, well, who are we to complain?

Take our arrival on Lelei, the lovely little island where we’ve spent the last four days. We climb off the boat. (I do, incidentally, mean climb in the fullest sense of the word.)

We ask for the man who runs the beach chalets where we’ll be staying in a unqiuely Indonesian combination of luxury and back-to-basics: dining on upholstered chairs at a lace-clad table on food we have cooked over an open fire below the raised floor, washing in a pink-tiled Western en suite from a black plastic bin full of well water…

Oh! He was on the same boat as you!

From Ternate?

Yes! From Ternate.

Not to Ternate?

No, from Ternate.

Where is he now?

He’s gone to his house. He’s not yet back.

When will he be back?

Not yet.



So we sit on the broad, low platform in the shade outside the village store till he, or someone who knows, arrives, making small talk in pidgin Indonesia.

Folk sit down beside us. The platform fills. A semi-circle forms in front of us. It expands into a circle.

Behind us, small children peek out nervously from the arms of their big sisters. Mothers in bathtime sarongs, their faces yellow with the spice paste women here use to lighten their skin, emerge from their homes.

How many people live on this island?

Six hundred.

I do a quick headcount of our audience. It’s over fifty.

Which means that nigh-on ten percent of the entire population of this two-village island is sitting or standing, in the shade of the big tree, by the little grocery at the end of the pier, watching us do…

Well, not a lot, actually.

In fairness, since fruit and veg are not considered essential to the diet in these parts –- far from it — and not much grows here but chilli, bananas, sago, cassava and coconut, the lettuce we have brought with us is a novelty.

As it’s green, and sticking out of a bag, we nibble on it. Raw!


Yes! We like vegetables.

No rice?

No. No rice. In English schools, children learn that they have to eat five fruits and vegetables each day.

No rice?

We have potatoes.

Yep. Potatoes.

Now, the first time I heard a foreigner in Indonesia expressing an opinion along the lines of “Oh god, not rice again”, I passed a quiet judgement on their cultural ignorance and insensitivity.

Of course it’s rice, I thought. We’re in Indonesia, goddamit.


I’m not averse to rice. Far from it. But I have eaten a lot of the stuff over the last nine months in Asia and (whisper it) the rice in these parts is dull. Even when combined with packet noodles in the local answer to the British chip butty.

Though it’s still infinitely preferable to dried sago.

But, as my French grandmother used to say, ca suffit. Or, enough already!


We sit. Time passes.

I smile at a chubby two-year-old. He howls in utter panic. Folk laugh. His mother, too, even as she clutches him close.

More time passes. Z requests an apple.

I stand up and move all of, ooh, three feet along the platform to where I have put the bag.

An audible gasp runs through our audience. The two-year-old, who was recovering well from the smile trauma, dives howling into his mother’s arms. Even the bigger kids, the five to eight year olds, flinch.

What is she going to do?

These crazy bule!

I move slowly towards the bag, unzip a pocket, rummage and remove –- audible gasp! –- an apple. Which Z eats…

You can imagine the excitement the first time we light a fire and cook… (Vegetables! No rice! And, no, we’re not vegetarian. Far from it.)

Anywise… Back to the boat.

We’ve been through quite a few of these impromptu mobile phone shoots.

It goes like this. We are on, say, a quiet stretch of beach. A crowd gathers. Someone summons up the nerve to ask if they can take their picture with one of us (usually Z) –- arms round each other, big smiles.

The poser’s best friend will take one picture on their phone, one on the poser’s phone. Then the rest of the crowd will extract their phones, and take that picture.

Someone else will come up and pose. First the two camera picture. Then the rest get their turn. Someone else will come into the picture. The same routine.

And so on. And on.

Until all, and I do mean all, possible permutations have been exhausted.

I mean, let’s face it, it’s not as if one can invent a convincing appointment dragging one away from the beach… “Terribly sorry! Got to dash! On my way to, erm, the dentists…”

And the odd thing is how, well, natural it becomes. You put your photo face on. Hold it. Drape an arm around someone with just the right amount of simulated warmth.

Just like the stars you see in magazines, caught with fans en route to premiere or twixt hotel and limousine…

And, just like the stars you see in magazines, you’ve genuinely made someone’s day.

After a while, you can continue the conversation you were having before, during the lulls when the audience compares their mobile phone pictures, before another new friend comes up, even while everyone’s aligning their shot or the best friend is checking how the poser’s phone camera works…

It’s just a matter of adjusting arm position – oh, and height weighting.

In the West, I’m not tall. I’m 5’7” (though folk tend to think I’m taller).

In Maluku? I’m a bloody giantess. (In all dimensions. Knickers at the mall come in two types. There’s “free-size”, pretty things which might cover a UK size 8 butt when stretched, but certainly not a 10. And XL – flesh-toned granny pants in a UK 12 with all sorts of curious panels tailored, I’m guessing, to a height of around 5’1”.)

I posed with three new female friends on the boat today. Not one of them came up to my chin. Two of them were no taller than Z (who generally stands head and often shoulders above his age group here).

Actually, none of the guys reached above eye level, either. Though I’ve acquired an interesting range of Katie Holmesesque kneebend manoeuvres to minimize the height thing.

The boat? Well, the impromptu photo shoot, there on the roof, took more than an hour of the journey. Kneeling. Standing. At the back of the roof… By the radio antenna…

Between us, we have developed quite the photo face. Which we can hold for quite an impressive amount of time. No need to say cheese here!

And I have also learnt, as, I think, has Z, that being a genuine, bona fide star would come close to hell on earth.

We head to Bali in three days’ time, an island on which we will most certainly not be a novelty, then Australia, where anonymity is, in the places we’ll be going to, guaranteed.

And where are we going after that?


Back to Indonesia.

Of course.

Go figure.

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13 Responses to “That Rockstar Feeling”

  1. Daniel October 25, 2010 at 6:26 am #

    I don’t have anything particularly interesting to say about this post in particular, except that at 6’2″ I can imagine this will be interesting when my wife (5’9″) and I go on our RTW trip.

    However, I just wanted to comment about what a pleasure it is to read your posts. Detailed, insightful, and funny. Your blog is a joy to read.

  2. mukuba2002 October 25, 2010 at 8:08 am #

    you seemed to have had a great time. I wish i started travelling as early as 9 years old

    • MummyT October 26, 2010 at 12:47 am #

      Thank you! He does enjoy it, god bless him.

  3. LL October 25, 2010 at 9:38 am #

    I love your stories! I get to live vicariously through you while I sit and stare at out the dark window at the pouring rain 😉

    • MummyT October 26, 2010 at 12:49 am #

      Oh god. It’s that time of year in Sweden, right?

  4. Snap October 25, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    MummyT, that’s a fabulous shot of Z…and one day, I’d love to find out, if and how you planned your itinerary…or are you just winging it?

    • MummyT October 26, 2010 at 12:54 am #

      Why, thank you! It was a loose itinerary to begin with, with some fixed points where we’d agreed to meet up with friends and family, and a list of countries and a broad route, with some must-sees. Then the pace was wrong, so we extended the trip.

      And now we’ve discovered Indonesia, we’ve moved to kind of winging it: just had no idea how much there was here… Though we do have a route in mind, and some must-sees: decided to do Papua, and Borobudur, also Flores… But it was always supposed to be a sort of organic, largely plane-free route, going from A to B by way of C rather than hopping on and off planes from one destination to the next.

      We do have a loose plan for post-Oz: which runs westward through Indonesia from Papua (Z’s keen on PNG, but I need to check prices there) to Java, to Laos (not sure how much of the intervening peninsula we will explore), into China… But I need to get my thinking cap on.

      Oddly, it was when I bought an Indonesian SIM that I realised we really, really weren’t done here… So, yes, I’ll try and do a post on this subject, which will be a bit more coherent.

      • Snap October 26, 2010 at 7:01 am #

        I know you’re a brave woman, but be really careful in PNG. I don’t want to be a scare monger, but it can be a bit of a hairy place.

      • MummyT October 27, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

        We will stay out of Port Moresby, I think. And, yes, be extremely careful. Got myself into a very, very hairy situation in pre-apartheid S. Africa when I was 19, and far too old for that sort of reprise, let alone running any risks with Z. Had to be rescued by a passing stranger from the Victorian fate worth than death. I will write about it at some point.

  5. Jenny October 25, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    I’ll never forget the first time someone asked to take a photo with me when traveling. el oh el. What an experience it is.

    Speaking of, over the weekend I was treated like a rock star and signed about 50 autographs!

    • MummyT October 26, 2010 at 12:55 am #

      Autographs?! Now, that’s a new one…

      We were ambushed by a group of students today. Not looking to practise their English. But sent out by their lecturer(!) to get photos of themselves with tourists. Took about half an hour, all in all. Very polite. Very pleased. But, yes, it’s a very weird one…

  6. Empressnasigoreng December 5, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    I sent you a PM via Thorn Tree. I am taking my 11yo to INdonesia in a few weeks. She LOVES being the centre of attention so is going to love the rock star treatment in INdonesia. 😉
    I liked your comments about the underpants and feeling tall too.

    • MummyT December 6, 2010 at 12:21 am #

      I reckon she will! I’ll pop over to Thorn Tree and check my messages (I’m not on there as often as, maybe, I should be). How long are you going for? She will have a great time…

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