WE CONTINUE THE TALE OF THE FIVE ADVENTURESOME EXPATS IN JAKARTA
Once again, the dramatis personæ:
- Droll Paul, very tall and very droll, a crooked English entrepreneur on the run from the authorities in Perth. A very leisurely Australian run actually, having to do with an awkward misunderstanding, one which could conceivably be interpreted as “fraud” were it unfortunate enough to be brought up in a court of law. Snooty, elegant and condescending, as well. Has a long bule nose and a management firm striving to impart mysterious advanced western corporate techniques to unsuspecting Indonesian start-ups [aka ‘marks’]. Looks down that long nose on the whole wide world. Basically a useless fuckwit selling useless shit. A ‘character’ (these are common in the East – particularly in Seminyak, where they are always trying to one-up each other). The others tolerate Paul, in spite of his manner – or rather, his lack of them). Why? Only God knows. Maybe just for fun.
- Alan. Fresh, sweet, smart, fun Alan. He survived an insane Chinese-Indonesian gambling addict who attempted to have him killed for insurance money and a grinding ESL-teaching job at Bank Qabur. After that trial by fire he’ll do fine, rolling with the punches.
- Lulu is knocking them back. She is what is known in the trade as a ‘serious drinker’. However, she is a solid citizen who pays her own way, tips the waitress fatly is entertaining and an all-around rewarding customer who knows how to hold her grog. She’s been married and divorced in Kuwait and married and divorced in Kazakhstan and married and divorced in California to a serial line of [immensely wealthy] dummies, lambs she has shorn neatly in divorce court. Is she on the lookout for a new hubby in blissfully unaware Indonesia? Not likely, as by now with the alimony she’s scraped off the hides of her various exes she could buy and sell just about all of the candidates. Watch her when she folds her folding money and stashes it in her purse: it’s frightening. So what’s she doing here? Oh she loves Indonesia. And it loves her (duit).
- Brett is bad and he knows it. He grew up in a bad family living in a bad part of town. He likes Indonesia because folks here just assume a grumpy whitey is a bule gila and tolerate his moods. He actually tries to put a hold on ‘the Bad’ because otherwise sooner or later he’d be grabbed by the collar and given the bum’s rush out of Indonesia toot sweet. But he’s bad. Nobody likes him. Secretly, he envies everybody else, because they’re happy and he’s not. But don’t expect him to show it. Brett is currently >ahem< ‘out of work’ (but everybody knows he’s a notorious Remittanceman) (‘stay-away-for-pay’).
- Hiroshi. First import-export… then ‘event organizing’… then ‘management consulting’ for shady Japanese companies… no one was quite sure what purpose the smooth, handsome Japanese man, 40 and looking 14, served in life. Hiroshi was always expensively-dressed, drove a luxury European car, and was a polite and careful listener. He met personal questions with a beaming smile, and not much else.
Grub & grog are promptly ordered from the rich Ya Udah Bistro menu.
‘The Only Way to Lose a Foreskin’
PART THREE OF FOUR
Alan continues his tale of Hank, the lonely middle-aged bule who had suddenly fallen for an ESL student in his class – and little industrious star-student Ayu, in her jilbab, reeling him in like a trout on a lure.
‘Hank was no-nonsense, particularly after having witnessed the physical altercation between his American teacher compatriot and the brothers of another teacher, who either suspected the bule of dallying with their sweet sister or were trying to unload her by forcing a marriage. Nobody ever found out.
‘At the end of a class one day, Hank pretended to look at the writing in Ayu’s workbook, and made a notation in tiny cursive “Will you meet me after class?” None of the other students noticed, though Hank was trembling and his heart was beating hard.
‘He had taken care to visit various students’ desks before stopping by Ayu’s.
‘He stood at the head of the class. “Are we all set to go to the next Unit?” He glanced at the mostly-dopey faces in the classroom. When his eyes locked onto Ayu’s she nodded imperceptibly.
‘The students drained out of the classroom, and Ayu stopped in the hall. “I’ve lost a pen – the one my grandmother gave me.” She turned back, the others suspecting nothing.
‘”I should talk to your father, Ayu” Hank got straight to the point. She nodded, saying nothing.
‘”You arrange it. Any evening except Tuesday or Thursday. I have classes both days.” She nodded again, and slid out of the room wordlessly.
‘She too knew the danger of gossip. Nobody should know of their connection until marriage to this bule was set and announced. She liked him. She trusted him.
‘One reason that none of the other girls suspected Ayu was that she was a loner, in a country where everybody always does everything in a group.’
Paul laughed and butted in. ‘Oh god, you’re not kidding. We had an important meeting last week and right in the middle one of the girls said “Excuse me – I need to go to the toilet”. Next thing you knew she had organized a delegation of about four female friends to accompany her to the Powder Room.
‘I couldn’t believe it. “What, are you having a musharawah in the Ladies’ Room?”’ I joked. ‘”Another meeting to go to?”
‘Nobody laughed. It was S.O.P. to do everything in a group, including going to take a pee.’
Alan picked up and continued.
‘Hank had on his finest shirt and tie for the meeting with Ayu’s dad. He wasn’t worried – he’d either get a “yes” or a “no” and that would be that. He was wise enough to know that the world does not end when a romance is broken off.’
‘But what about the family?’ Lulu asked, curious.
Alan nodded ‘Oh they were all secretly delighted to unload Ayu – get her off their hands. Indonesian families are normally relieved when the daughters get married off: one less mouth to feed, and the bonus of grandkids coming along soon.
‘In this case they were doubly happy, because unbeknownst to all Ayu was a problem child, a good girl with a wild hair.’
Hiroshi spoke up. ‘What is a “wild hair”? A kind of rabbit?’ He was joking, of course.
Alan shook his head. ‘It means she has hidden tendencies to cut loose and raise hell: drink, smoke, run away for a number of days, get herself knocked up.’
Paul frowned. ‘I beg your pardon.’
Lulu intervened. ‘Pregnant by accident. It’s an American expression.’ She turned to the others. ‘”Knocked up” in British means “woken up”. As in “Could you kindly knock me up tomorrow morning at five?” she said, laying on a thick proper English accent. Everybody laughed but Paul.
‘That’s why it’s called “The English Language” he reminded one and all.
Lulu ignored this. ‘So how was the meeting with dad?’
Alan: ‘Dad – Pak Suleiman the Department Head to you and me – had earned his degree in Management from the University of South Carolina at Chapel Hill. His English was excellent.
‘He was also broad-minded enough to accept a foreigner for a son-in-law.
‘But there were a couple of qualifications. First, religion. “You must enter our religion” he said sternly, sternly staring at Hank.
‘Hank cared about religion about as much as he cared about quantity surveying. “Oh sure, no problem. Whatever you say.” No big deal.
‘The old man smiled, triumphant. He had done his duty to his supreme being: another convert to the perfect religion.
‘Then the other shoe dropped, hard. “And you must be circumcised.”
‘Hank took a couple of seconds for this to sink in. “Excuse me, I…”
‘The old man shook his head. “My daughter can marry no man unclean. You must be circumcised.”
‘Now it just so happened that Hank’s brother was a doctor, and he had been on the warpath for years campaigning against the brutal genital mutilation of infants and toddlers. He had also harangued Hank and his parents about this deplorably hideous practice, and convinced them all.
‘Hank and his family were absolutely dead-set against the cutting of the genitals, male or female.’
Lulu piped up. ‘Oh it’s not the same thing. Babies get it all the time. They don’t even feel much pain.’
They all stared at her, open-mouthed. ‘Well my sister’s a nurse and she told me. The hospitals do it as a matter of course, to all the babies.’
Brett butts in. ‘Three hundred seventy-five dollars added to the bill, KAA-CHING!’
‘Hank knew what he had to do. He agreed, smiling “Sure, I’ll see to that” but he thought “I’ll see you in hell first, old fella”.
‘But what to do? What to do? By now he loved that girl dearly, his first romance ever – at thirty-seven yet – and she apparently loved him equally.
‘What was he going to do?’
Brett barges in. ‘An old Jewish classmate of mine put it very, very succinctly, when he once told me “The only way to lose a foreskin is to wear it off”.
Riotous laughter, except for Lulu. She did not know what to think. This old girl was getting a belated education in life skills at the Bistro.
…go the glasses.
Calamares fritos and onion rings all around. What to do, what to do…
(TO BE CONCLUDED)