Top Travel Moment No. 2: Cultural Faux Pas

So, as Kim and I I am wont to do when we travel, we spent a night in an Indonesian airport on our way to Bali. Spending a night in an airport is one of my favorite ways to save a little bit of money by avoiding paying for a room for a night here and there. I’m pretty sure the airport in question was the Jakarta airport, but the specific airport doesn’t really matter.

night in airport

Kim during one of our many nights in an airport

We found out the hard way that this particular airport shuts down at midnight, kicks everyone out of the building, and doesn’t let anyone inside until 5 am. It was a warm, humid night, so the prospect of sleeping on the sidewalk outside of the airport, where hundreds of travelers waiting for their flights were sleeping, wasn’t too appealing.

So we wandered about, not really knowing what we should do, when we stumbled upon an empty food court, found a couple vacant seats, and set up camp there. It was far from perfect – one of us had to sit up straight while the other half laid/half leaned on the other (imagine being in the fetal position, but laying on your back). Needless to say, no matter how we twisted and turned, neither one of us was comfortable, and Kim started giving me the “why did you make me sleep in an airport AGAIN to save $15?!?!” look, and at this point, I had no justifiable answer.

(Note to future travelers: being selectively cheap when it comes to your partner’s comfort is NOT a good idea – i.e.: don’t purchase an overpriced beer at the airport when you’ve claimed you are saving money by sleeping for the night in said airport – you kinda lose the whole “saving money” justification thing.)

Around 2 am, Kim went to the bathroom, and when she came back, she excitedly said to me, “I found the sleeping room!” Too tired to question this amazing stroke of luck (nor why there was space available in this room with hundreds of people sleeping on the concrete outside), I quickly donned my donkey persona, tossed our bags on my back (doing everything I could to make up for the terrible decision of sleeping in the airport), and followed Kim to this wonderful room that had been set aside for people just like us.

As we entered, we took off our shoes and set them alongside the pile of shoes that were already there and noticed that on one side of the room there was a spot where both of us could lay down next to each other. We made our way to our “bed” for the night, and in my sleep-deprived state, I noted the oddness of the elementary school style blackboard divider that was splitting the room in half. But, the prospect of stretching out and sleeping outweighed any oddness in how the room was set up.

I also noted that, where we were laying down, we were surrounded by women who were staring wide-eyed at me. But, having been in India and Nepal for the past five months where being a white guy with a big red beard made me a spectacle everywhere I went, I’d become immune to such stares. It doesn’t take many shopkeepers caressing your beard – without bothering to ask before doing so – before you learn to disregard small things like stares, so I promptly ignored my wide-eyed roommates and fell fast asleep.

In what seemed like 15 minutes (but in reality was a few hours) we were awoken by a man yelling. My first thought was, “who the hell is yelling in the sleeping room?” After a few seconds he didn’t stop, so I looked around the room to give the yeller my best stink-eye – and noticed that all of the women (besides Kim) were gone and there were only men in the room.

And all the men were on their knees on prayer mats.

I shook Kim awake and urgently whispered “wake up – we have to leave NOW.”

“Why?” She asked groggily, understandably not wanting to wake up yet.

Because we slept in the prayer room. We need to go!

So as fast as I could, I gathered up all of our stuff, re-donned my mule persona and, as respectfully as we could, stepped around all of the worshipers on their mats as we made our walk-of-shame out of the prayer room.

As I carried our bags out of the room, I thought to myself, I may be doing my best donkey impersonation right now, but never in my life have I felt so much like an ass.

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Author: Brian

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