Thu, 08 May 2008 08:00:52 +0000

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I did, in fact, wear pyjamas and socks last night, as well as insect repellant. Of course, I have no way of knowing if this saved me from bedbugs, or if there weren't any to worry about in the first place. But there were definitely mosquitoes, so it was probably a good idea. I'm adopting the same strategy tonight.

After last night, I was feeling in a rather apprehensive mood about Medan - worried that I'd get lost or sick or ripped off. So the theme of today was regaining my confidence. That's probably why I was in such a good mood most of today: my favourite thing about travelling is turning up in a big scary incomprehensible city and getting a sense of control back. I guess that's why I move from city to city so quickly: it doesn't take long to figure things out.

I overslept this morning until about 8:30. That'll be because of those early mornings I've been having recently. Luckily it's a luxury I can afford today. So I went off in search of breakfast. There were a few street stalls active, but not much of a selection. For reasons of hygiene I was really looking for something cooked on the spot, but they all seemed to have pre-cooked food. So I adopted a strategy of making my way towards a big shopping centre, Sun Plaza, and hoping that I would find something along the way. In fact I made it all the way to Sun Plaza without working up the nerve to actually buy anything. And Sun Plaza itself was closed. The Starbucks was getting itself organised, and the guy said they opened at 10:00. That's the first hint I've had that Indonesian time is an hour behind Malaysian time. Good to know.

So I wandered back out into the street and found an expensive-looking bakery. They didn't have much available, so I bought a slice of cake and a donut which turned out to be topped with grated cheese, of all things. Not very nice, I have to say. So then, spotting a place that did soup, I decided to try a street vendor after all. I got some coconut milk-based chicken soup and a plate of rice with some very spicy green relish. It was delicious.

With that done, I went back to the Sun Plaza to relax a bit. It's a huge place, with everything a westerner might want, and quite a large food court. But I discovered that there's free wifi in the Starbucks, so I spent an hour or so there. When I first went around the world, I was so nervous about local food and local restaurants that I mainly ate at McDonalds. This time at least I'm eating local food, but I seem to have picked up the habit of drinking at Starbucks. I guess that's an improvement.

It was a late breakfast, but that's no reason to delay lunch. I had that in the food court. They have a rather complex system, where you buy credit on a swipe card and each stall deducts the cost of your food from that. But it seems that there's a minimum 10,000 rupiah on the card or something. No-one spoke English, so there was quite a lot of confusion. But I got my food: a vegetarian platter and melon juice. I need my vitamins.

Next stop was booking my ticket out. I decided to fly to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. It's pretty pathetic only spending one full day in Indonesia, but I'll surely have an opportunity to visit some other bits at some point. I booked a ticket with AirAsia, which I chose largely because they have nice professional-looking red logos. Who says marketing departments are a waste of time? My ticket was issued with all the efficiency you would expect from Indonesia, four people taking just under an hour to complete the transaction. But my plane leaves at a rather civilised 10:40, so I'm happy. The lady kept describing that as "ten past forty", by the way, but I can see how you'd make that mistake. English can be a bit of a bugger like that. I knew what she meant.

The one piece of proper touristing today was the Maimoon palace. Like the grand mosque, it was actually designed by a Dutchman, but the Dutch do seem to have done a good job. It's an odd tourist attraction: it appears to be inhabited by the caretakers, since their washing was out the back. And it quite possibly also serves as a mosque. The bloke at the door said that I had to make a donation, but the amount was up to me. I gave 20,000 rupiah, which in retrospect seems very small, but is more than I've paid for any other single purchase in Medan. The guy didn't seem disappointed by that or anything.

I had a short nap in my hotel, and then set out to find a postcard and a stamp for Volker. I had a proper paper map by now, with the post office marked, so although it was quite a walk it wasn't hard to find what I needed. It really is extremely cheap postage in south east asia. I hope they are actually delivering these things. On the way I got a few skewers of chicken satay from a street vendor. To be honest, I prefer the recipe I use, originally taken from the label of a jar of peanut butter.

And then back to Starbucks. Sorry, but I had some research to do for Thailand. I hung out there for an hour so until it was time for dinner. I also had dinner in the Sun Plaza, but this time avoided the confusing food plaza for a restaurant. I had seafood nasi goreng, which didn't look like much but was really nice. The squid was beautifully tender, which is what usually goes wrong in these things. I was going to reward the restaurant by ordering desert, but they took too long to bring me a menu. Instead I went to another place and got a fruit waffle with icecream. Yummy.

I'm now back in the hotel, and not only is there no hot water in the shower, there's no water at all. So it doesn't look like I'll get a shower until Kuala Lumpur. Oh well. At least the bedbug bites are starting to fade, slowly. I've booked myself a much more expensive place for Kuala Lumpur this time, which hopefully will be bug-free. I expect I will continue to use decent hotels for a week or so until the itching fades, and then I'll forget how unpleasant it was and lower my standards again, before suffering another attack about two weeks from now and starting the cycle once more. At least there are Hostelling International places in Bangkok, so there at least I expect reasonable standards of cleanliness.

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