That press trip in Indonesia with bloggers and Influencers I didn’t think I’d get along with
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Dedicated to Rod, Luke, Tatsuto, Noah, and Jaejun – with all my heart. And to all the people on this trip who reminded me, it’s not blood that makes you family.
I am writing this at this hour, 01:56 am of December 16th, 2018, 3 days after getting back from my recent press trip in Indonesia. Our Whatsapp group is still very active with tittle-tattles that are very irrelevant at present circumstance. You see, this Whatsapp group was made to organise a big group of bloggers, Influencers, vloggers (honestly, I don’t know what to call us anymore) when on a press trip, media trip, FAM trip, blogger trip (this one’s confusing too, but you get it, right?)
No matter how much I wanted to mute this chat for a year, I couldn’t do it – at least not yet.
About 2 weeks ago, I was e-mailed by The Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia asking me once again, to be part of their press trip (let’s settle with this old-school term for the rest of this article, shall we?). Press trips are usually conducted by tourism boards all over the world where they invite social media Influencers to come to visit their country for an all-expense paid trip.
For many of you, this is a dream. For us, it’s work.
There are a lot of rules and conditions when we agree to join a tourism board’s press trip. We need to work. Creating Instagram images and blog posts may sound really easy but I’ve talked about this job a bunch of times. You know we always need to work for “free” travel.
I’ve been in this kind of trip with Indonesia twice and when I received the invite, I really did think twice. I remembered how hectic the schedules of Indonesian press trips could be. I remember we had a 12:00 am call time to climb Mount Ijen when we just slept at 10:00 pm. I remember having to pretend to be sick in Bali just because I wanted to enjoy the luxury hotel pools. I just didn’t want to be out that day because this trip is always a 2-week daily back-to-back tour. I remember having to create a blog post while I was on tour. I remember getting dizzy on the bus. I remember not drinking alcohol because most of the time, the Influencers I am with don’t drink (or just pretend they don’t drink with the fears they will be judged).
However, I also remembered the good things. The Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia is the only tourism board in the world that is doing things right. I have always been treated well so I said yes. I knew they wouldn’t send the flight ticket until the very last minute so there wasn’t an assurance that I will go. But knowing the crew, I was 100% sure it will push through.
I sent the signed agreement and got ready for the trip. The next reply I got was the list of Influencers who I was going on the trip with. Normally, I wouldn’t care who I’ll go with as I have always been a little (just a little) friendly to every new person I meet. I carefully browsed the Influencers’ list to see if there’s someone familiar.
Ave and Gael were the only ones I knew. Good, I have allies! These girls are not just my online friends but we’ve had our shares of genuine friendships through the years and I was really happy we are going to reunite in this trip. Ave, Gael and I have different priorities when we are in the Philippines. We never hang out even if we were in the same country because I don’t live in Manila and Manila is just too tiring for them. They cannot be bothered to go out nor can I be bothered to drive all the way to Manila. Meeting up never happened for us except for press trips like this.
Whether you’d like to believe it or not, I did not stalk the other Instagram handles in the list. I would like to be surprised. These days, who we are is quantified by the number of followers we have on Instagram and I don’t want to have this impression on people. It took me so many years to understand that our social media profiles do not define us and that we are way more interesting in person than on the Internet. We are way better seen as humans who are good at what we do and are living the life we always imagined.
I flew with Ave, Gael, and Glenn from Manila. Ave’s friend, Jorden, was also with us on the flight. He’s an Australian Youtuber who happened to be in the Philippines before the trip. We were all seated together. There were 5 of us from the Philippines but we didn’t see the famous @ninjarod who was allegedly on our flight.
Okay, let’s call him Rod now. I honestly have nothing to say about this person and I am sure the rest of the group is with me on this. All we know is that he takes maximum awesome photos and that we are all secretly stalking his 400k strong Instagram account. But other than that, I know nothing about this person. I was a bit curious about the face behind the camera. He always portrays himself as miniatures in his pictures so I never really had a real image of him. We could harrow the entire plane to see if he’s on-board but none of us really know what he looks like.
We landed steamy Jakarta earlier than the rest of the delegates. We were told someone will wait for us at the Immigration and that person will take care of our smooth entry. Smooth, meaning, VIP – we didn’t have to talk to the grouchy Immigration Officer who will probably talk to us in Bahasa Indonesia because seriously, we just look like them. We didn’t have to do a small talk and/or explain the complexities and unexplainable job that we do and why we were visiting Indonesia. In a flash, we were in a van, on our way to the hotel.
Shoot, we saw the Ninja! He was really on our flight! Hmmmm, first, small talks. Gael and Ave already had a quick chat with him but I didn’t have a chance so I thought I’ll wait a bit. I was too tired to engage with my fellow Influencers but was comfortably chatty with the staff who picked us up at the airport. The ninja can wait but me inquiring if I was going to be in a smoking room can’t.
The van approached the hotel lobby and as usual, the hotel staff is standing in straight horizontal line with garlands, juices, and hot towels. When the line was divided (yes, like Moses parting the Red Sea), a short-haired Indonesian woman accompanied by a tall man in white polo shirt and eyeglasses greeted us.
I shook the woman’s hand first. “Hello, I’m Trisha.”
“My name is Ika. Welcome to Indonesia.”
Just when I was about to say thank you and have a small chat with Ika, the other dude comes to me like we’ve been friends for ages. I looked at him weirdly and slowly reached my right hand for introduction.
“Trisha, it’s me, Pinneng!”
“I know it’s you!”
Holy fecking sh*t. I did not know it was him. The Pinneng I traveled with during the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign in 2015. The Pinneng who is luckily married to one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life. The Pinneng whom I am totally jealous of as he gets to scuba dive the most beautiful waters of Indonesia. Why the feck did I say I knew it was him?! I mean, his habitat is the sea – why the feck was he wearing pants, shoes, and what — wait, white fecking polo shirt?! It all became so confusing to me.
Apparently, when he’s not in the water, he is organising trips for the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. Now that I am typing this, I actually knew it for years. I just didn’t expect there will be a change of wardrobe. He really looked different!
“Trisha, you’re not in the smoking room but we can change it for you if you want.” Through the years, Pinneng actually never assumed I stopped smoking. He just offered this option on the table without even asking. It’s just the first hour and I am already enjoying the perks of having old friends on a trip.
Pinneng lead us to the restaurant where an Indonesian feast was waiting for us. I have not had this cuisine for a long time and I honestly missed it. Nasi goreng, ayam betutu, mixed satay platter, and sop buntut sabang were prettily laid on the table. When in Indonesia, I always enjoy the availability of sambal, an Indonesian favorite made with really spicy chili peppers, oil, shrimp paste, fish sauce, and all the good things (you name it).
There wasn’t sambal on the table but I heard the Ninja ask for it. It was kind of interesting to know that someone else in the table can eat something very spicy as the sambal. In the Philippines, spicy dishes are very uncommon so it brings me joy to find a fellow Filipino enjoying fire hot add-ons. Ninja was beside me indulging the spicy feast while Ave, who was sitting across me was having a hard time choosing what to eat first. You see, Ave is one of the Filipinos who can never tolerate even 1% of spiciness. I needed to try all of it for her to know what to eat and what not.
On my left ear side, I can hear Jorden’s voice blaring. I was hearing inaudible as I don’t follow the conversation but Ave told me (in Tagalog) that Jorden is pretty chatty. It’s actually super nice to have the liberty to talk in Tagalog (there were 5 of us Filipinos sitting on the table vs 1 Australian Jorden vs Bahasa speakers Pinneng and Ika) so we can still conquer the table with our language where everyone will be left with mouths open.
“I feel like I am going to be out of place spending two weeks with you guys. You’re all going to speak Tagalog all the time!” Jorden said.
Having traveled the Philippines, Jorden is no stranger to our loud, vulgar weird-sounding Tagalog language. He is well aware that Filipinos refuse to speak in English even if we are so good at it because we really love our God-forsaken language. It makes us feel like home and having the freedom to speak it in front of a bunch of strangers (which is very impolite) somehow gives us a sense of home.
Well, the Tagalog-speaking table did not stop Jorden from talking, talking and talking. I kind of admired how he can maneuver the conversation back to English. I have not had a conversation with him yet but from hearing him speak, he seems like he is just always thinking out loud. He speaks his mind at any given time and circumstance.
After lunch, we all went to our rooms to rest before the welcome dinner. In Indonesian press trip cultures, welcome dinners are traditional. Even if I have not seen the entire programme yet, I know we have it. We always had it.
I tried to take my afternoon nap but I couldn’t. In my past trips in Indonesia, we didn’t have this luxury so I guess I got too overwhelmed with the amount of free time that we have.
The Welcome Dinner
I did not get the memo that I should be dressed. The moment I entered the ballroom, there were 3 very Asian looking guys who were dressed shabbily. They were in a mini-circle together with Pinneng, Gael, and Ika. I was not in the mood to be chatty as I’d be spending 2 weeks with these people but just before I tried to sneak out for a stick, Pinneng called me and introduced me to the guys.
Let us pretend I remembered all these names the first time but he said, “this is Luke from Singapore, Jj from Korea, and Jun from Korea” in that order. I shook their hands and confidently introduced myself: “I’m Trisha from the Philippines!”
Pinneng already gave away where they are from so there was no way to start another conversation. In my 9 years of traveling the world, “where are you from” has always been the ice-breaker in awkward stranger conversations. I was not feeling creative in coming up with a conversation starter. I don’t vividly remember this happening but I think I just impolitely took off and went to our table?
But then, they also went to our table. Jorden, the chatty boy that he is did the work for me. Normally, I would be the noisy one but when Jorden is around, I can take a break. You see, Jorden is ADHD and ADD combined, with a little mix of a sugar rush. While I, on the other side is just ADHD and ADD combined. I am exactly like him without the sugar.
He started chatting with Luke, Jj, and Jaejun which are again, inaudible to me. But what is clear to me, during the few hours that I have known Jorden is that he is not like most Influencers who are always talking about social media and nothing else. He barely spoke of his following even though he is heavily soaked in his phone doing Instagram stories. He’s never boasted about any of his channels like every young Influencer would do. He just has thoughts. His brain is just too active but I’d rather have that than drown myself in a ‘who’s-got-more-followers-convo-marathon.’
I can see that the other boys in the table (Jj, Jaejun, and Luke) are not those types of people too. I was really liking the beginning of the trip, much more when I knew there were only 12 of us! A small group, thank God! If you refer to the group pictures of my Indonesian press trips in 2015 and 2016, you will see there are over 30 Influencers in each trip and that is just exhausting! Though I loved each and every person on those trips, I felt like I didn’t really have a chance to know them deeply because 2 weeks is just not enough to know 29 people.
We were asked to introduce ourselves one by one starting with the staff. The Indonesian bloggers followed. This tall, lean and beautiful woman went first. For an Asian, she’s pretty tall and I was awed by the totality of her look – she is really fecking beautiful. She introduced herself as an Indonesian supermodel but I did not get her name.
Two guys come in late. I assumed they were friends since they came together but if you look at these two people, they are the perfect image of cross-cultural besties. Guy number one calls himself as Beau (bow, not beau as in beautiful). His buff built is covered in tattoos – full tanned arms, and if I can still try to peek inside the shirt, probably full back. He is very physically attractive and he’s the type that girls in Bali would dare to look twice. Or thrice. Beau is one of those guys whom you will definitely check out if you come across him on the street. He does have the pay-attention-to-me-b*tches aura. He’s undeniably pretty but definitely not my type.
His companion (wait for it) is a solid long-haired Japanese guy who looked like he just woke up from ages ago. He was wearing this bright yellow jacket and pajama bottoms and in the duration of the dinner, his feet were up the chair. I am 100% sure raising your feet on the chair while eating is part of deep Japanese culture. Japanese people are more conserved and move in minimal ways but this guy is an interestingly different Japanese. His name is probably some kind of Asian tongue twister so I didn’t get his name.
The last person I remembered introducing himself was Jaejun from South Korea. He is originally Jj but there was another Jj (from South Korea, too) so he said we should call him Jun. He confessed he’s never met another Jj in his life. Not even in Korea.
I know I said there were 12 International Influencers in this trip but when it comes to introduction, I don’t 100% pay attention. That night, I just wanted to go to my room as I know we will have a full day ahead.
After the dinner, I did the French exit and went ahead everyone else. While I putting the key card in, I remembered: Damn, I still did not speak to the Ninja!
Getting closer in Jakarta
The Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia is really fond of Filipino bloggers. We are the most active social media nation in the entire world. We even beat Brasil which is a country 100 times bigger than us! Many YouTubers go to the Philippines to grow their channel as this is always a guarantee. If you’re a good-looking white person, post about your travels in the Philippines and you will definitely get 40k followers in a month. If you’re not good-looking and just white, well, it’s worth a try.
As a result of this proven study, whenever I am in Indonesian press trips, Filipinos are always the biggest delegates. In my 2015 trip, there were 4 of us; in 2016, it was 15. In this trip, we are 5 out of 12.
5, but our voices are like 12. Honestly, when we are traveling abroad, we’re not like the Australians or the Israelis who are besties with their fellowmen they meet on the road. We are totally snobbish. When we hear Tagalog, we run away as far as possible. Luckily, 3 of us already know each other so it wasn’t hard to assemble the pack.
We established a seating arrangement in our mini bus. I sit next to Ave and Gael next to Ninja. Jorden was right when he said we will be speaking full-on Tagalog for the duration of the trip. It has only been Day 1 and the bus was already blaring with Tagalog phrases like besh, bakla, shuta, bezimer, beshimae. Those are just the most frequent audibles.
This ain’t really a Tagalog word nor all the words I previously mentioned. They are gay slangs that are widely used in text messages and social media. Besh means best friend. Even if I just newly moved to the Philippines and is new to this vocab, I use besh for almost everyone. It’s more like a term of endearment than a name for your best friend.
The four of us sat in two separate rows but still talked and talked and talked. I don’t remember the particular topics but I can see in all the bus rides, we were the only ones talking. I never asked the guys how they felt about our language but in my defense, when they hear us speak, it’s not really annoying because they don’t understand anything. They can just brush off the noise and selectively hear other things.
At the very back of the bus is the battle of the high-pitched Aussies. Jorden and Beau found their way to each other. See what I mean by Australians like their flock? I know I said we were the only ones talking in the bus but Jorden and Beau did not relent. They kept talking and talking and talking about things that may not make sense to me but it probably does to them. Of course, Australians speak in English so we were always in the loop of their conversations whether we liked it or not. Sometimes, it really is funny when you listen closely. Often, they’re just blurbs. There is a possibility all they were saying were funny in Australian humor. We just don’t get it.
Most Influencers in our group were not happy and were bored as feck in our tours in Jakarta. We went to sh*tloads of Museums and I can imagine how the adventure Instagrammers were suffering. For us bloggers, it’s added content on the blog – we sure can add value by writing. But for most of the group who are visual artists, they won’t know how to fecking market a museum. I bet they won’t even post it on their perfect grids!
We went to lunch at Batavia Cafe, a cafe that sent me back to the 1940’s movie Casablanca where everyone is smoking and playing music. The ground floor is a huge smoking area with a stage for live performances while the second floor is for great dining with an exclusive view of Fatahillah Square. The walls are filled with pictures from the old jazz in 1930’s theme which played perfectly in the mix as the building is the second oldest building in Fatahillah Square.
I sat on the first floor to have a cigarette and write some field notes in my notebook. Mr. Japanese came to my table, surprised that I was smoking there.
“You can smoke here?”
“Of course! Look around! There are ashtrays on all the tables!”
He sat with me but did not bother to have a chat. That’s what I like about Japanese people – they are not too chatty. He removed his slippers, raised his right leg to the chair and lit a cigarette. Then he started singing some Japanese rap while pointing his fingers in the air. I was not sure if this was a sign that he wanted to chat. I could leave what I was doing and start talking to him but I was just in the mood to ask for his name, his background, his Instagram work, if he has a 9-5 and all that.
“Sorry, I didn’t get your name?” Hell yes, I asked anyway.
“Tat.” he said. Fine, let’s push through.
“What do you do?”
Normally, I would ask “what’s interesting about you” or “what are you looking forward to in 2 weeks” but people find it a bit off. My years on the road and getting tired of where-are-you from pushed me to be experimental to see how people will respond.
I knew Tat is a fake Japanese. He told me he lived in Tokyo, Sydney, Shanghai (not in that order) and went to school in New York. I did get the Steve Aoki vibe but he’s more quiet and selective on what to share.
There was complete silence when we both decided to light another stick. I also raised my left leg. Looking at him sit like that feels like it was fecking comfortable so I did it. For the first time in my life, I was sitting there, in straightforward silence, physically at ease with a semi-stranger.
I excused myself to go to the toilet. We were leaving very soon and I don’t want to make the bus driver stop just because of my peemergency. There were only 2 cubicles in the toilet and one is conveniently out of order. I saw a girl facing the mirror with tears running down her face. I am not sure why I did what I am about to tell you what I did but there was just a force that was telling me that this person needed love.
I came to her and hugged her really tight. She held me back and she started sinking – more tears streamed to my chest. I patted her back and all I could say was, “It’s okay. You’re okay.” After a few minutes, we separated and she said thank you. I never had a chance to ask her what happened and somehow, that was good enough for me. When we see people crying, most of us don’t know how to react, especially if it’s a stranger but my reflex just told me to hug the girl and don’t ask questions. At least I know she felt good to have someone there at a time that her emotions are at its peak. And honestly? I felt really good, too.