Colour Vision: #CCCC33

by Ant Stone on July 30, 2010

in Features,Indonesia

Welcome to another edition of Colour Vision, the weekly showpiece that I think has best been described as: “a stream of consciousness”. It’s my melting pot of worldly memories, where travel gets scribbled on by maniacal crayons. Let’s see what I’ve got.

This feature is a kind of brain dump for me. As a writer I’m often penned in by blue-collar picket fences. People want SEO and formal structure. Whereas I want to scratch chalk down the board and force them to listen to my bendy prose.

I am not sure my clients readers would appreciate it in the same way you might.

Thus, I often feel like a blind man, forced to push a candy cart around the world.

Hang on to this sweet-tasting image — and be warned — because this short piece could very well turn your stomach.

Spaniard and the Swamp
CCCC33. What do you see? How do you feel?

I see a swamp, but I hear an angry Spaniard, freeing himself from the tomb of a collapsed tent.

“Si si, si si… free, free,” he chimes exuberantly. He looks so happy to be free from the thin veil of his morning prison. Like a fallen matador, brought to his knees by his stained muleta.

Then he stumbles into my swamp. “Ha!” I shout, “serves you bloody right, you daft sod!” I taunt him from my writing desk. “Didn’t you know I wrote this swamp?”

He looks at me with a pair of angry eyes. I can smell his distaste for Englishmen from here. “Get on with your real story,” he gestures with a look.

I watch him for a minute, as he struggles up and over the shoreline of the swamp I camped him in. And then we go our separate ways, unwithered by our brief encounter.

So where does CCCC33 fit into the realities of my own travels? The aura is kind of gross; it’s a noxious gas; a runny nose; an oozing mass of pickles and puss.

Hold onto your bile. This could get a little messy.

There’s a bus, parked in Sumatra. I’m on it, sat beside a quiet Minang man; he appears to be in his late fifties, though he’s probably much older.

A narrow aisle separates me from two younger men, sloping around the peaks of their teens. Around us all, the bus effortlessly swallows boarding passengers, and their tightly wrapped luggage.

As the thin white loner, I’m a natural spectacle in this Minangkabau district depot. People laugh at me. I try joining in, but apparently that’s even funnier. For comfort, I stretch out a grimace, which mimics a smile.

I’m alerted by sudden noise, as the driver flicks on his radio and slowly twiddles with the knob as he searches the airwaves for a suitably annoying screech. He settles for a piercing shrill.

The engine snorts, and a dozen clove cigarettes light up around the dented innards of this steel beast. It’s like an animation cartoon.

Thick, sweet smoke. Incessant music. Laughter everywhere. Spirals of fun I can never understand. I hate it already. And then we’re off; sweeping between two thinly dusted verges.

Within an hour, the young man across the aisle bows his head, still loyally clutching his cigarette. Then his friend’s head slumps forward. They’re quiet now. Like broken puppets.

I look over at them.

They look hypnotised, slumped on chairs upon a stage of dry-ice. Their branched fingers rise instinctively to meet their thin lips. My heart is beating so hard, it feels like a gorilla playing the drum.

“Please don’t.” I scream silently.

Their fingers act like tiny paddles: as they spew, large sour chunks are held back, before thumping to the floor of the bus to join the swamps of acrid swill.

This happens in the first hour of a ten hour journey, and people appear so utterly oblivious, I start to believe I imagined it. As the bus swerves around corner after corner, the liquid stench of CCCC33 creeps ever closer towards my bare feet.

The men raise their heads upright, and continue smoking their clove cigarettes; and I impale myself on the bull horns of their lives.

Not the nicest experience, I’m sure you’ll agree. I think the acidic subject matter toned my writing down this week.

Travel sickness is an unfortunate fact of travelling sometimes. Despite the many bus journeys back and forth across their country, Asians are inherently bad travellers.

It’s not nice, and often hard to accept. I’ve had people literally lean over me to puke out of bus windows, and on most journeys I’ve been witness to people heaving rhythmically into small plastic bags.

No one makes a fuss, because the fact is, if the driver had to stop every time someone was suffering, they’d never get anywhere.

I hope today’s post hasn’t grossed you out too much — I did think twice about publishing it. However, I figured this is all part of travelling and I aim to deliver the truths; and this is an indubitable fact of travelling by bus in Asia.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s Colour Vision piece, and welcome any questions you have about Sumatra. If not the vile subject, perhaps you could offer some feedback on the style of writing I delivered in this short story?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Verity July 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Wow… what a great way to start my morning ;). Just kidding… I don’t get squeamish after growing up in an extended family of medical professionals I can even watch House while eating (while my boyf quietly retches at the gross symptoms). This was really fantastic! So evocative. I really felt your dreadful anticipation of the coming spew. And yuck! That must have been such a disgusting experience. There is nothing worse than that smell, especially if you are feeling a little travel sick yourself. And the colour was spot on… it really is a rather disgusting shade.

Ant July 30, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Isn’t it just. Thanks for your support Verity, your comments are always welcome. I enjoyed delivering this one, it was a release in more ways than one! So glad you enjoyed it.

Laurence Norah August 2, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I spent twelve weeks in China once, and a lot of the travel to the more inaccessible places was done by bus. Despite some of the buses being relatively luxurious (and all of them for some reason showing True Lies on repeat, a film I can now reel off pretty much verbatim), I can confirm that a definite feature of the whole trip was people calmly throwing up into little bags. I think this may have been linked to the manner in which the drivers handled their charges, usually in the belief that they were in fact invincible. Most of the bus stations we went through had large posters up showing horrific accidents, presumably to remind the drivers of their mortal status. This didn’t work.

Ant August 2, 2010 at 7:02 pm

The thing I love about the travel blog genre, is the nonchalance people afford to such lines as:

I spent twelve weeks in China once…

I’ve never noticed the posters you’ve referred to, but I know the presumption that the driver thinks he’s invisible very well. It’s much better for people to travel on night buses in certain regions.

Sure, night time brings certain added perils — but the darkness also masks the oft hair-raising driving manoeuvres attempted by Chinese bus drivers.

Gourmantic August 4, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Oh gawd… I really picked a doozy to get acquainted with your colour vision series! First thought when I saw the colour was baby poo. I was close…

Ant August 4, 2010 at 4:32 pm

I have tried to warn people. I tried to bend my mind away from the topic, but once I’ve latched onto a colour, it just kind of spills out (no pun intended). Like I say, it’s a genuine fact of travelling life so there is a lesson in there, amid all the grossness.

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