I made my first real trip to the city one afternoon on my way home from work . I brought my little bag with everything I need to draw in it , and headed back up the main road that runs past the hotel . Of course , there was no way I could pass by unseen . There were lots of people , cars , and mopeds , and vendors along the sidewalks . I reached a large mosque and turned off for the nearby shore .
One of the hills overlooking the estuary , covered with houses and tiny alleys .
There hadn't been a beach to speak of for a long time ; it was hidden by a heap of houses on stilts , thousands of stilts all mixed up and stuck in mucky gray sand . It was a beautiful mess . I entered the labyrinth of plank shacks , where smiling kids were line fishing amidst the trash .... I stopped at a wharf where run - down little boats were waiting for the tide . I started drawing , and people gathered around me . The atmosphere was nice and relaxed right from the start . A respectful little crowd formed . They asked if I was American , if I ' was Christian ; children were pushed forward for a better view . They watched my brushstrokes attentively , commenting among themselves , touching the paper to see , and clucking admiringly . The men had golden rings set with big round pale stones , maybe marriage rings . The day began to wane , and everyone went quietly home with a story to tell .
I went for a walk downtown - the poshest and most modern part of Balikpapan . The emblem of this modernity is the Mall , a shopping center that gathers the top stores of western consumerism : chic dresses and perfumes , TVs , cell phones , musical instruments , golf clubs , coffeehouses and pizzerias . Dozens of employees in each boutique cater to rich Indonesians who've come to show off . It's quite pleasant , true - AC on every floor - but I find the artificial atmosphere a bit stifling . I head back out and down the boulevard toward the sea .
Display of wares on the sidewalk , in the shade of houses
The shops get more and more ordinary - looking , and behind a block of houses I find the mall for " ordinary " people : a covered market with everything you'd want to eat or wear .
Little shops stuffed full to overflowing , dark and unsanitary , almost squalid . Displays of chickens dying among one another's droppings .
Sometimes I go walking in the market district , and a few vendors recognize me .
The woman who sells birds and fish asks me to draw her portrait .
It's not easy to make out her face through her veil , but I like being able to look her in . the eye .