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Stuck Inside of Java with the Bekasi Blues Again

Jakarta"s International airport

Soekarno-Hatta, Jakarta’s International Airport

Indonesia: The Nightmare Continues
Patrick Guntensperger

JAKARTA, INDONESIA – I’m sitting in the airport transit hotel drinking an overpriced Bintang and listening to JJ as he watches cartoons in the bedroom of the only room they had left when I checked us all in…an overpriced suite with a view of the glidepaths of the “international” airport’s runways. JJ loves watching the planes as they depart, waving and saying, “bye, bye!” as the jets climb away, close enough that through the aircraft’s tiny windows you can almost see the flight attendants showing everyone how to inflate their life-vests in the unlikely event of an oxymoronic water landing.

We almost made it. Yolanda, JJ, and her father were already in the departure lounge and all I had to do was clear passport control, then we would have been out of this wretched hell-hole. I had checked with the immigration department and they told me that my exit visa (which had expired as the result of my having had to wait for all the Indonesian civil servants’ broken promises and false assurances to be fulfilled) could be extended simply upon request and production of certain documents at any immigration office. I had asked the supervisor at the main Jakarta office and he told me that the immigration office at passport control at the airport would be the quickest and easiest forum for such a simple matter.

My turn at the counter; I explained my needs and with no formalities I found myself in custody at the airport for trying to leave the country without proper documentation. Cathay Pacific agents helpfully had our luggage pulled from the cargo bay of our getaway vehicle and had it returned to the terminal. My wife, my hyperactive 3 year old son, and my father-in-law were escorted from the departure lounge and our plane left without us. They were permitted to leave Indonesia, but opted to stay if I couldn’t join them. It seems that what I had been told was, to put it clearly, utter bullshit.

The truth was that only the Manado office (2,500 miles away on the island of North Sulawesi) could issue me an extension or new exit visa as that had been where the first one was obtained, and that even attempting to obtain one elsewhere was an offence. Why this should be the case, why every civil servant I spoke to told me differently, why I was finding this out under these circumstances was never explained. Just big smiles and admonishments that this was Indonesia and I had to respect her laws. When I realised that these sadistic pricks were having too much fun fucking my life up even to take a bribe to do what could be done in any civilised country – let a person who had done nothing whatever wrong simply leave with his family – I pointed out that they could expect me to obey Indonesia’s laws, but asking me to respect them was an idiotic request.

Further, it only took a couple of phone calls to determine that the only penalty for attempting to leave without an exit visa was the requirement that one be obtained; being held in custody was nothing more than a scam to elicit a bribe. I let the scumbag airport security know that I was leaving their custody and they’d have to shoot me if they wanted me to stay. So I left. They were chagrined to see that day’s coercion income walking out the door, but it was a game of chicken…I kept going; they shrugged and went back to their perches and waited for the next likely looking victim.

So, after having spent the last 12 hours cancelling and rescheduling flights, (Jakarta-Hong Kong, Hong Kong-Vancouver, Vancouver-Qualicum) absorbing the thousands of dollars in cancellation fees and increased fare prices, having Yolanda’s sister Fali fly to Manado with bribe money and my documentation, settling into an overpriced transit hotel with more luggage than Marco Polo took when he travelled to China, and eating Xanax like M&Ms, things have settled down a bit. Now I’m ready to do what one does best in this piece of shit excuse for a country…wait for people to fulfill their lying promises and live up to their bullshit utterly empty assurances.

So here we are. Tomorrow we move to Bekasi (a suburb of Jakarta, where Yolanda’s father has a house) with all of JJ’s toys and books, all of Yolanda’s excess baggage, the one carry-on out of which I have been living for the last three months, and all of the parting gifts we were given when we left Indonesia for good, or thought we did. There we will wait to see if the “promised” documentation is completed, all the boxes ticked, and the civil servants responsible for doing so properly bribed. Then we will try again. All we want to do is leave this wretched shithole never to return; it’s still an open question as to whether that will be permitted by a culture that thrives on lies, theft, corruption, and the suffering of others.


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  1. I hope you are out by now. I do wonder why you didn’t just pay up rather than suffering all these add ons. I am not sure how I would have handled it but I would have thought that those agents might have offered some degree of sympathy and latitude, without too much effort? I get the impression they are sadistic heartless turds.

  2. Sadistic heartless turds; if that’s the impression you got, then I expressed myself clearly…that’s what they are. It’s a sport among Indonesian bureaucrats and civil service employees to create as much trouble for others as they can; it increases their sense of self worth and creates an opportunity to take some graft.

    Thanks, JOhn!

  3. Jeff (owjak) says:

    Most of the stuff you write about, is why I have Dogs and spend most of my time in my well fortified bunker! The only problem with this earth is the people.

    • Mark Twain said: “The more I know people, the more I love my dog.” Seneca said something similar 200 years earlier. It’s not an uncommon sentiment. Sometimes I agree wholeheartedly.

      But fundamentally I believe in the perfectibility of humanity; I think that everyone has a shot at improving themselves. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I keep assaulting the citadel.

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