BERENTI MISTAH by Peter Nolan Smith

In 1991 I bought a round-the-world ticket for $1399 from Pan Express. The owner set up a magical itinerary.

“New York – LA – Hawaii – Biak – Bali – overland to Jakarta.” John recited the trip from memory, since he sold hundreds of these tickets every year.

“What do you mean ‘overland to Jakarta’?” Their advertisement in the NY Times offered a flight between Bali and Jakarta.

“Oh, sir.” The Hindi travel agent produced an Indonesia brochure extolling the volcanic beauty of Mount Bromo, ruined temple of Borobuder, and ancient palaces of Yogakarta. “Many people prefer to travel overland to see the sights of Java of which there are many. I will reserve you a flight from Jakarta to Padang.”


“Yes, sir, in Sumatra.” Another brochure praised the cultural heritage of the Batak, the awe of Lake Toba, and the jungle paradise of the orangutang reserve. “You fly out of Medan to Penang and Malaysia and overland to Bangkok.”

“Let me guess.” I was falling into step with the program. “Most people do this overland.”

“Yes, sir. What are you going to do on the trip?” Hindi are a curious people and John was no exception.

“I’m writing a novel.” NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD was a story about a hustler forced into a contract murder of a porno producer by dirty NYPD cops and who avoids violating the 5th Commandment by escaping into the desert with two lesbians filming a movie about the last man on Earth. John didn’t need to know the plot. Hindi men were in some ways very curious about sex.

“Oh, sir, I must warn you that many countries in Asia do not like writers, especially journalists.”

“I’m not a journalist.” My typing was atrocious and my grammar was even worse.

“Whatever you do, do not tell anyone you are a writer.” His head bobbed side to side like a broken bobbing dolls. “The police do not like journalists in Asia.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

John was 100% correct about overlanding across Java.

I saw the dawn from the rim of a volcano, met the sultan of Yogakarta, drove up to the vertiginous heights of the Dieng Plateau, endured the scorching equatorial sun riding a motorcycle around Lake Toba and watched male orangutang masturbate without shame. The females shunned the jerk-offs. I arrived at the Medan airport for the flight to Penang. The police spotted my typewriter. I

“Berenti, mistah.

“Saya?” I had learned a little Bahasa in three months.

“Yes, you.” A short pineapple-skinned officer nodded and his two uniformed compatriots pulled me from the line. The other passengers smiled with relief, happy to not be me. The police sat me in their very official office and the head officer asked, “Journalis?”

The trio wore grim faces. A single overhead fan wobbled in its socket. The chair was nailed to the floor.

“Tidak journalis. Penulis buca.” I claimed the higher status than journalist.

“You write books? About what?” The lead interrogator leaned forward with a metal sap in his hand.

“About the mafia. Porno. Hollywood.” I was one smack away from squealing the truth about any crime dating for Adam’s eating an apple .

“Hollywood?” The three cops intoned the word with sanctity normally reserved for Allah. Indonesia was 90% Muslim.

“Yes, Hollywood.” I followed the lead and told them about how JFK was killed by the CIA. They spoke about the betrayal of Sukarno by the present dictator. A bottle of Johnny Walker Black hit the desk. Red is beneath them. We drank toasts to freedom.

“Beraka,” I spoke every language with a Boston accent.

Whiskey in hot weather was a hard slog. It was getting late and I asked the chief officer, “So I missed my flight, how do I get to Penang?”

“You didn’t miss your flight. We held the plane. One more drink and kamu boleh pergi.”

“To whiskey.” Without it the Irish would have ruled the world.

The police drove me to the waiting plane. The other passengers were gobsmacked by re-appearance from the belly of the beast and even more so by the power fist salute of the police.


It was a small world after all.

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