Locomotive Nights – Snapshot #1

This article is dedicated to my fellow delegates: this delegate found our trip amusing, and unforgettable.

Exactly 10 days ago, twelve students and two teachers took a train from Jakarta to Bandung and spent three days and two nights attending a Model United Nations conference. I was one of those twelve students. It was during that three-day trip that we would encounter circumstances unfamilar and worlds alien (to some of us, at least): uncomfortable lavatory situations, flammable bus heaters, tie-fastening apparatuses, and worse, socializing. Our first Model UN was much like a pool table; a group of new and experienced players bonding around an individual and collective challenge, over which the sounds of mid-adolescent banter, heartfelt laughter, and the gentle sizzle of a good roast diffused into the night air like smoke off a grill. It is this quixotic chronicler’s solemn duty to transcribe to you, dear reader, what happens when you squeeze twelve teenagers into something as potent as a three-day MUN conference out of town, with no one for company but each other, two teachers, and 63 other delegates.

Day 1 – Wednesday, 28th February 2018

Adrenaline ran high as we clutched our travel bags in anticipation of the school bus’ arrival at 3 pm. Out of gaseous anxiety (or possibly boredom), the seven other guys and I compared our travel bags; from Rodriguez’s tiny sticker-ridden hipster trolley to our friend Roberto’s soccer mom weekend getaway luggage (which we nicknamed “USA’s GDP”), we were somewhat prepared. As much as an Allan Brooke suit, an extra pair of socks and a Mobile Legends application can prepare you for a model UN, anyway (which we would later find out was quite a lot, actually).

On the bus, one of us worried about whether he would need a passport to pass through security at the train station. The rest of us played a game where they had to name places in the world that started with the letter ‘A’. Occupied with such intense pre-game warmups, we passed Monas and reached Gambir Train Station at around 6 pm. Ms. D asked security a few questions while we chatted up a storm of nonesense. We went to grab dinner at around halfway to 7 pm. Several different restaurants lined the corridor where we searched for food. McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, CFC.

“CFC’s got nothing on KFC,” my friend Howard stated with conviction. “They’ve both got their merits,” I said. We debated heatedly, before mutually concluding that both brands were superior to Ohio Fried Chicken.

We ended up splitting up into two groups, where a couple of us went to HokBen, an Indonesian Japanese bento restaurant, and the Solaria cafe, due to space problems. We discussed our respective delegations on the way; I was a delegate of Algeria. My friends Howard, Jimmy and Jane were delegates of the US; Lucy, Sue and Jennifer were delegates of India. John, delegate of Japan, ordered takeout food while we spoke of cabbages, and kings, and food security. All that good jazz. We then joined the others at the cafe, where we ordered drinks that would never materialize from the letters and ticks that sat at the bottom of the waitress’ order list; those orders would wait for drinks that never came as the feet of teenagers thundered through the corridors, through the hallways, in pursuit of an express train that would almost leave them behind…

That first night on the train to Bandung was probably my favorite night. It was a three hour train ride, from 7 to 10 pm. Naturally, it was very hard for us to remain silent for 3 hours. I had been planning to finish the draft for my Black Panther review after I finished dinner and catching a few Zs. The twelve of us ended up spending two-thirds of our train ride exchanging intense banter in hushed conversations. Above the roaring hubbub of wheel upon train-track and the gentle snores of sleeping passengers, our dialogue involved a free eBook website, local celebrities, and the merits of vlogging. In short, we came closer and had a fantastic time. Our conversations were interrupted only by repeat failed attempts to take a decent group picture (someone’s eyes were always closed or had produced an embarassing gesture) and trips to an unpleasantly odorous bathroom. Let’s just say that the bathroom was a tiny water closet that required a tad more maintanence (in retrospect, we found that the eBook website was a somewhat more pleasant place to be).

The train arrived at Bandung a few minutes past 10 pm. We alighted the train, to meet a cool night with a mild drizzle. Squeezing through a crowd of students, elderly women and black-clad men, we met the school bus that awaited us at the exit to bring us to the hotel. Since half of the bus was filled with our luggage, a lot of us had to share seats. My friend Roberto ended up sitting on the bus heater, and we warned him not to let out any unbecoming gaseous emmisions, for fear of making headlines. “Twelve Students Lost in Explosion, Cause Unknown”. We stayed at a decent hotel, where we promptly either fell asleep, ordered a late night plate of Nasi Goreng, or watched Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. I plead guilty to the last two.

Day 2 – Thursday, 1st March 2018

Day 2 was our first real day of MUN, where we would be briefed on protocol at the hosting university campus. Most of us woke up at 6 am, while some of us (namely, me) woke up a little later. The hotel buffet was surprisingly comprehensive, spanning a selection of Indonesian, Japanese and Western foods, of which my friend Rodriguez was a connoisseur. Knowing my moderate appetite, he only gave me curry meatballs, broccoli lasagna, fried rice, sushi rolls, Soto with chicken and crackers, an omelette, a glass of milk, yoghurt, and various other foods to add to my plate. You know, the stuff of a light breakfast. We all had to wear formal clothing (batik, flannel, or school uniforms), according to our dresscode. We must have been a sight, in all our formal wear, playing and joking around in the hotel’s tiny playground area, waiting for the school bus to arrive and take us away.

The university campus was small, but compact. We could see the many university students striding through the hallways, walking towards class with casual, breezy paces, chatting with friends along the way. We were the first students to show up for the MUN protocol briefing, and we were greeted by our amicable liaisons, who got us up to speed on our itinerary. We would have several speaking sessions related to MUNs and the various protocols involved, have lunch, and be dismissed at 2. They were nice enough to give us a tour of the campus facilities while the other students arrived, and we were ready to go into the briefing area by 9 am.

The briefing session was a series of talks given by university alumni and current students. Many of the alumni had interesting stories to tell about their careers as diplomats, protocol officers, and founders of various Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). Afterwards, the Interantional Relations students broke down the protocol of the next day’s MUN conference. The highlight was probably the Q&A session, where we could ask questions regarding protocol. The questions asked by the audience were… interesting, to say the least. There were many long and enthusiastic questions, some of which came from my fellow delegates and I. It was certainly interesting to check out the ‘competition’, so to speak; potential allies, as well as opposition. We ended our sessions with a sit-down lunch on the floors outside the briefing area. We devoured McDonalds and conversations. We mingled with other students, where my friend Jay met a familiar face (the delegate of France) in the crowd. It was an enlightening social experience; but it was only an appetizer, as we would soon find out.

The school bus picked us up at 2 pm. After saying Au Revoir to blossoming associates, we left to have a “short” coffee break at a local cafe. A wave of sleepiness knocked us all out on the bus, all plugged in to our phones, listening to playlists as varied as personalities. All I remember was ironically listening to L’il Pump’s “Gucci Gang” and seeing a crazy man dance shirtless on the streets. We reached the mountaintop cafe at 3 pm. It was a pretty dazzling view, encompassing Bandung’s greenery, roads, and tiny people, which I admit with equal parts pride and self-dissapointment was the spot of my first ever Instagram story, and where I first became a true post-millenial. We had coffee and tea, depending on how much each of us had slept that morning (including during the briefing sessions).

We ended up staying on that mountaintop until 7 or 8 pm, weathering three cloudbursts of rain, one-thirds of a movie review, and conversations about the state of India’s poor food distribution infrastructure. Working hard on our draft resolutions for the next day, we collaborated on a game plan which would mutually benefit all of us. The evening was compounded by teenage banter, the clickety-clack of laptops, and the millionth song cover on the cafe speakers from an unlicensed YouTube artist. In other words, we ate, we talked, we did it all. It was a fun night, despite our pre-MUN, perceived-buttkicking anxiety. We returned to the hotel by 9 pm, and we ended the night with a short practice round before collectively saying “Let’s just wing it” and going to bed. Tomorrow was hours away…

This post is continued in One More Day.

One More Day – Snapshot #2