A train rush, million dollars and the badminton jackpot!

Just getting to Jakarta was an adventure in itself. Here are some snippets from the lead-up to and the opening days of the 2018 Asian Games.

Fireworks explode over the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta on August 18.   -  AFP

Just as Diary was planning to paint his beard, which had a new streak of salt, came some shocking news.

“The airport has been closed and it will be closed till Saturday,” a friend from the Cochin airport confirmed. After torrential rain, nearly all the dams in the state have been opened and now even the airport is flooded.

It is Independence Day, Diary has been assigned to cover the Asian Games in Jakarta and he is in a dilemma. He is supposed to catch the night flight to Kuala Lumpur, but with the airport being closed, some quick thinking needed to be done.

Though Jakarta will be packed with thousands of pretty young faces during the Asian Games, Diary reluctantly decides to drop the paint job.

After a quick pack-up, he rushes to Ernakulam Town Railway Station and decides to catch the first train out of Kerala. A two-hour wait follows, and then the New Delhi Express chugs in. Diary informs the travel agent about the Cochin airport closure, buys a ticket to Coimbatore, thinking he would catch a flight from there to Chennai for a Singapore or Kuala Lumpur connection.

Everybody wants to stay stuck to the windows for a close-up at the damage done by the floods. It’s raining, the Internet lines are very weak and, as he nears Palakkad, Diary scrolls through many flight booking websites only to realise that nearly all the airlines have decided to make a killing. Ticket prices from Coimbatore to Chennai have shot up from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 14,000 and more. It would be cheaper to go to Jakarta!

Diary decides to turn smart, too. He drops his Coimbatore plan and decides to extend his train travel. But the nearest station to Chennai by this train is Katpadi and he alights around 2 a.m. and waits for the next train to Chennai.

Diary is very tired but he tries to push himself hard. The train reaches Chennai at 6.30am and after some haggling with taxi drivers, settles for a Rs. 650 cab ride to the airport.

There’s an 11.30 morning flight to Singapore and a plane to Jakarta from there. Diary quickly calls the travel agent, who is first reluctant, but, after some coaxing, turns out to be very understanding and helpful.

Tickets are booked and Diary rushes into the airport, tired and ragged, quickly gets himself set after a quick shave and other formalities and is off to Singapore.

There is a roar of laughter as the big screen shows a man riding a bike and performing a few hair-raising stunts as he reaches the GBK Stadium. As he removes the helmet, it turns out, he is Joko Widodo, the President of Indonesia!   -  AFP


That’s what friends are for!

The Air India flight to Singapore is late and with the flight to Jakarta just about an hour away, Diary has to run to collect his boarding card. But there’s a long queue at the JetStar counter, and just when he thinks of giving up, he notices a group of journo friends from Delhi near the head of the line.

He thanks his stars, quickly gets in, gets the job done and manages to catch the flight even as the last call is on. Finally, some 40 winks on the plane!

Feel like a million dollars!

Changing currency at the Jakarta airport made Diary feel like a million dollars.

“Here’s your one million, sir, and here’s another half million,” says the gent at the exchange counter handing over two bundles.

Converting US dollars to Indonesia rupiah will certainly make one feel rich. It adds to the feel good factor, too though shoving the bundles into a jeans pocket could be a bit of a problem.

The driver decides to get rich, too

It’s late in the night in Jakarta and there is a long wait for taxis. And then a big black car comes in. The cab driver could feel the mood of his country’s newest tourist. And he decides to get rich quickly, too!

“That hotel…that will cost you 300,” says the driver. But a little later, Diary disappointingly learns that 300 means 300,000. That’s 3 lakh! And a SIM card with some data costs 250,000.

August 16: After a long chat with his family about the flood situation back home, he finally goes to bed around 2 a.m. Diary has a long list of things to do the next morning.

August 17: After chatting with a few pretty volunteers near the Asian Games main stadium, Diary learns that the Indian badminton team will be coming for a 30-minute training session the next morning. Diary is thrilled.

'No English'

August 18: After their training session, the badminton stars go for a stretching session. And when Diary calls out P. V. Sindhu as she goes past, the Olympic silver medallist recognises an old face.

A chat with Sindhu, followed by a brief one with K. Srikanth, the world No.1 three months ago, and then with chief coach P. Gopi Chand. And then as he walks into the badminton stadium again, there is Kento Momota, Japan’s new men’s world champion. Momota looks friendly, but he does not speak English. Thankfully, Olympian Shintaro Ikeda agrees to help. Diary feels he has hit the jackpot.

Amusing start

There is a roar of laughter as the big screen shows a man riding a bike and performing a few hair-raising stunts as he reaches the GBK Stadium, the venue for the Asian Games’ opening ceremony. As he enters and removes the helmet, it turns out, he is Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, the President of Indonesia!

August 19: Diary is keen to track the live results at various venues. But the Internet connection at the Main Press Centre crawls at a snail’s pace. He speaks to the volunteers, but they say that there is a problem with one Internet line while the other line is slow because more than a thousand journos are using it.

Around noon, there is a buzz of excitement with news coming in that India has won its first medal, a bronze in shooting through Apurvi Chandela and Ravi Kumar in the 10m air rifle mixed event at Palembang – some 600km from Jakarta – and then in the night comes the first gold, through Bajrang Punia in the men’s 65kg wrestling in Jakarta.

The Games have begun for India.

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