23 July 2013

Never without my SIM card – nor without helpful Indonesians

Standing on either side of me are two Telkomsel – an Indonesian operator – employees. These guys* saved my life. Well, not literally, but almost, as having a functional, local SIM card is essential to my travels. As you’ll read in an upcoming post, I go out of my way to be as independent as possible when I travel, which sometimes implies that I have to be creative in, for instance, renting out motorbikes when it’s in theory not possible.

Sebastian between two Telkomsel employees, in Garut, Indonesia

Riding a scooter also means I need to know which directions I need to follow (duh, I know). And there’s not always someone in the middle of nowhere (literally) or in the middle of the night (when I want to be on a volcano top before dawn for instance) to confirm I’m heading in the correct direction. And even if I could probably still find someone (I actually almost always find someone, surprisingly enough), I’m still never completely sure I was understood well enough. That’s when Google Maps** come into play – and a local data SIM card, which is usually very affordable (since I don’t need a voice plan). Of course, it’s also useful when I walk around (having previously marked the spots where I want to go to), or to check emails (yep, work ones too, arg), or read reviews on ho(s)tels (since I usually don’t book them in advance), or read news. With some smartphones costing less than $60 today (Android** of course!), there’s almost no excuse not to use one (sure, you don’t absolutely need one – but I certainly couldn’t live without one).

Anyway, while I usually research what data plan I want prior to buying it, merchants are usually not used to only sell pure data SIM cards. It would usually take me an hour to get everything sorted out by going to an operator’s store. I should have remembered that under an hour, something was not right... The lady at Jakarta airport assured me what she was selling me was the right stuff. After a few days, I had hit the usage limit, arg. And of course, it happened when I was on the scooter, going up the Papandayan volcano at 5 o’clock in the morning.

So off I was, stopping at Indomaret, a supermarket store similar to 7/11, asking the cashiers to help me out, which ended up with them using three of their phones – due to batteries dying – to call my operator’s customer service and manage to get someone to speak in English... and who would finally explain I was not sold the right thing and I could buy a new package at a store in Garut, a nearby town. Gee, thanks.

Telkomsel employees, in Garut, Indonesia

At that store, these two guys in the picture listened to my story and actually felt bad for what happened to me so they spent two hours (yep) trying to fix things, giving me other data cards for free as a commercial gesture (really? yes, really). Thing is, their cards didn’t work at first and it took us a couple of hours to figure out that the last thing to fix was to recharge the phone with one cent to get the data connection to work. Whatever!

I encountered both hostility and kindness from Indonesians. Hostility did surprise me in some instances, but genuine kindness particularly touched me – such as those two guys closing their store ninety minutes past the closing time just to help me out, asking for nothing in return. Thank you, Indonesian friends.

PS: Okay, that was not a story I managed to make very exciting – sorry, I’m a bit tired today and I’m not happy with my other draft posts for the time being.

Telkomsel employees, in Garut, Indonesia