Brainstrummings from a Bug-Eyed Bookworm

Tiff is a PhD student in English literature at UC-Berkeley. She takes no prisoners, bars no holds, holds no bars.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Part 6: Those Wild and Crazy Airlines!

Although Indonesian airlines are admittedly not the safest way to fly, they definitely have pretty good comparison with United States airlines. In fact, the low quality of domestic air travel in the United States has pretty much made it the butt of bitter jokes in the international jet-setting community. PM and I, like the US-residing bumpkins we were, couldn’t help but be amazed at the fact that we were served food even on the humblest airlines on the most rickety planes. In fact, we practically cried tears of gratitude and joy when we opened the little cardboard boxes whenever the stewardesses passed out to us which usually contained a juice/tea box, a little sweet cake, and a little savoury snack....kind of like orphans allowed for the first time to suckle from the teats dispensing the milk of human kindness.

But enough with convoluted and somewhat graphic metaphors involving teats...back to the..erh...offbeatness of Indonesian airlines!

Our first encounter with this offbeatness was on the Lion Air flight from Jakarta to Papua: Lion Air is basically the Indonesian equivalent of US no-frills airlines...which I guess, means all US airlines which don’t officially advertise themselves as no-frills airlines and where you have to pay for food and snacks. Tucked inside the seat pockets were little laminated brochures listing various food, drinks, and Lion Air paraphernalia available for purchase onboard. Also tucked inside the seat pocket, along with the safety “what to do in case of an emergency” card was a prayer card. read me right...a prayer card: a little laminated booklet with prayers that followers of six different religions(Christianity, Islam, Catholicism (which they consider as different from Christianity), Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism) could utter in order to ensure the safety of the flight. They were pretty standard: Lord, please ensure the safety of the passengers, the crew, the pilots, etc....but the fact that they were so brazenly relying on divine intervention, for some odd reason, didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the abilities of the flight crew or the newness of the aircraft. In terms of inspiring confidence, Garuda Airlines (Indonesia’s main and most recognised carrier) had gone the extra mile, as we’d found out on the flight from Jayapura to Biak in Papua. As the plane was preparing for take-off, a special song composed for Garuda Airlines played over the loudspeaker, featuring a grand, operatic score and a baritone singing the praises of the airline in both Indonesian and English. As the song soared to its climax and the requisite climactic key change, the baritone gave it his all: “GA-RU-DA INDONEEEESSSIAAAAA! Hand in hand we feel the pride we cherish DEEP in our HEAAAAARTS! GA-RU-DA INDONEEEEESSIAAAAAA!! I will stand by you for country and for HOOOOMMMEEE!!!!!”

Equally amusing (and perhaps almost as terrifying at Lion Air’s prayer cards) were the slogans of the various airlines, which for some inexplicable reason, were often in English. Lion Air’s slogan, “We Make People Fly” has a draconian feel to it. And then there was Batavia Air’s somewhat ominous slogan: “Trust Us to Fly”. But the slogan to beat all slogans was the one from Wings Air (the subsidiary of Lion Air), whose posters proudly proclaimed in white lettering against a crimson backdrop: “Wings Air. Fly is Cheap.”

Having finished with the Papua part of the journey, PM and I were to bid farewell to one older-generation travelling companion (my father) and say hello to another: Lian--my family’s housekeeper, head-cook, the nanny who had raised me from birth. At this point in the journey, my father caught a flight back to Jakarta, and we flew on to Makassar (on the island of Sulawesi) where we met up with Lian, and then took a flight the next day to Ambon, and from THERE, we were headed to our second leg proper of our Indonesian adventure: the isolated and pristine Banda Islands—part of the famed Spice Islands of 15th-18th century European lore!

Stayed tuned for the next instalment: “Getting to Banda...No Piece of Cake.”


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