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In Washington, D.C., I've played on the Mall with foreigners who made their quickest runs or dived into the Reflecting Pool when immigration officers showed up. In Turkey, spectators on the sidelines shot rifles in the air with real bullets to celebrate. In Canada, I played in snow until the ball became a huge white planet. In France, each of my teammates smoked half-a-pack of Gitanes cigarettes at half-time to cool off.
I thought I had seen it all but that was before living in Indonesia. The first team I joined was Tunas Muda, which translates into "Young Tunas". I never asked.
My first practice was on a rock-hard field next to a car-flooded highway. Being a foreigner, I was assigned the position of center striker. On my first breakaway, I was tripped from behind, tasting dirt as I slid into a rare clump of grass. I decided to play it safe on the right wing but that was next to the highway and I soon felt nauseous from the traffic fumes.
I finished on the less-polluted left side, participating in a few passing triangles and taking several shots on goal from more than 20 yards. This surprised my teammates who played a distinctive style of trying to dribble the ball into the net. After practice, the coach said I should report back to the rock-hard field the following Sunday at 11 a.m. for a very important game. Extremely eager, I arrived 30 minutes early and waited in a sidewalk café.
Businessmen in suits, talking to their cell phones, chowing down rice plates, called me over to their table. They knew who I was, they said, and they hoped I would score many goals. The others would be there shortly, they added.
The other players started arriving two hours later, after which time I had already downed a few energy drinks made from cobra's blood and unsavory parts of a bull. The players drank the same concoctions until 2 p.m. when the coach pulled up in a beat-up Toyota van.
We all piled in, the businessmen and the players - I was given the front seat - and headed to a large house in Jakarta's Chinatown where other players and managers were waiting. A large man greeted us and gave us bananas and more energy drinks and he too spoke of the many goals I would score.
We were given white uniforms, changed in his living room and then piled back into the van. The players were now truly squished liked tunas in the back. I was breathing easy in the front, and twitching eagerly under the effect of the many energy drinks I had consumed.
After two hours of driving east, until there were only horse carriages to be seen on the road, we pulled over in a small town. We walked through a barrage of local guards and police all wielding sticks and finally made it to a nicely-groomed grass field, which was inside a brick fortress. Six rows of spectators lined the walls, others sat on overlooking rooftops. Hordes of children came running after me and surrounded me when I sat down to tie my shoes.
The game started and the crowd roared every time I touched the ball. My first shot hit the crossbar and the live commentator speaking into the field's sound system went haywire. He compared me to a famous French soccer player. My teammate on the front line then scored on a header, unleashing fury among the spectators.
We were obviously on enemy soil. Rooftop fans threw rocks the size of pineapples. Spectators started running toward players, tripping all over the place. A fight broke out and all the guards with sticks started using them on the humans next to them.
As quickly as the mayhem started it stopped and the game resumed. The home team went on to score six goals. I took a few distant shots but never hit the net. After the game, the front seat in the van was taken. I was crammed in the back but I was more than happy. I was no longer a novelty.