An India Interlude In Indonesia

En Route: Holi, or Phagwah, in Queens, N.Y.
En Route: Holi, or Phagwah, in Queens, N.Y.

JAKARTA, Indonesia — It’s not every day you hear a hard-bitten journalist speak effusively about anything.

During my longest bike ride in a long time — an estimated 60 to 80 kilometers around Jakarta — one of our stops was the bar where foreign correspondents congregate and swap war stories from years of covering natural disasters and political instability throughout the region.

Hazara Restaurant and Face Bar sits across the street from the Deutsche Bank building, which houses much of the foreign media, including the Australian Associated Press, CNN and Al-Jazeera. (That the bar was a stone’s throw from several newsrooms came as no surprise, having learned early on that journalists will not walk any farther than they absolutely have to for booze.)

Over a round of caipirivoscas — basically capihirinas made with vodka instead of rum — we chatted with a couple of expat journalists, including Tim, an animated Englishman.

Tim got on the topic of gin and tonics, telling us that during the British occupation of India, the government ordered its subjects to consume large quantities of quinine, which is what gives tonic water its lovely bitterness, to combat malaria.

“How long do you suppose it took for someone to mix it with the local gin?” he asked rhetorically. “It probably happened the same night they got the orders.”

After a few hilarious tangents, which I cannot do justice here, and Tim asks about my itinerary. When I mention India, his face lights up.

“India is incredible,” he says. “That ad campaign is absolutely accurate. That never happens.”

The “Incredible India” campaign, whose vivid posters I first encountered picking up my visa in New York, also made an impression on me. But I’m easily dazzled from time to time. Later, I caught the TV commercial, which stars a slightly scruffy 30-something guy having the time of his life while being doused in colored dye during the Holi festival, falling off a camel and camping amid snow-covered peaks.

Funny.

My mind whirled with the far-flung images I’ve seen and read about, but I have yet miles to go.

Next stop: Jogyakarta.

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