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.
Tasty grub & potent grog are promptly ordered from the rich Ya Udah Bistro menu.
SO WHAT IF DOCTORS AND PILOTS COVER FOR EACH OTHER?
‘The issue, darlings, is Quality Control / Quality Assurance’
PART ONE OF FOUR
Paul was philosophical. ‘You know what they say about the difference between an Indonesian doctor and Almighty God in Heaven?’ He looks around.
Alan: ‘God in Heaven does not believe He is an Indonesian doctor.’
Snickers all around. ‘That is correct.’ Paul nods, accepting the observation.
‘My pal’s wife had some kind of problem, and the doctor just glanced at her and prescribed four kinds of medication.
‘You can afford this, I hope’ he told my pal. ‘It is very expensive medicine.’
‘So naturally Jerry, my good buddy, very politely asks the physician ‘Could you please tell me what each of these medications is for?’
‘The doctor rears back and very angrily snaps “You challenge my professional opinion?”
‘Jerry’s not having any of it. “No, doctor, no challenge. Let’s look at it this way. My wife and I are buying a service from the hospital, which is paying you a salary. In exchange for that payment, we expect both service and an explanation. Is that too much to ask?”
‘The doctor tears off the prescription and says “I am busy. Get out.”
‘The wife, meanwhile, in typical Indonesian style, is tugging at Jerry, trying to avoid a confrontation.
‘Jerry, very patiently: “So what if I share this conversation, and your attitude, on the internet?”
‘”I shall report you to the police.” Jerry gives up. Turns out that only one of the four medications prescribed for his wife was necessary, according to another doctor. The others were “frosting on the cake”. But what was he going to do?
‘The cyber-law is very strict, and nobody wants to end up in an Indonesian court of law. It’s only the lawyers and the judges who profit from that.’
Lulu pipes up, looking quizzical. ‘So what is wrong with Indonesian doctors?’
Paul (pontificating): ‘Nothing is wrong with Indonesian doctors. They have excellent doctors in this country. There are hospitals with the latest imported equipment.’
Everybody looks at him, expectantly.
‘The problem’ he frowns ‘is Quality Control’. You get good doctors at poor hospitals and you get miserable doctors at expensive ones. The only thing you can trust is word-of-mouth and that is not so reliable either.
‘Good doctor has a bad day and the patient gets buried. With honors.’
Brett grins. ‘So now is when we once again share horror stories about Indonesian medicine?’
Hiroshi, puzzled: ‘What do you mean, Brett?’
‘When old-timer expats get together one of the common topics of discussion is the disasters suffered by someone’s wife or a colleague. Or the ripoffs. Doctors here seem to be all too fond of the word “operasi”. You get some real swashbucklers.
‘Cut you open for the slightest reason, poke around, sew you up and you’re as good as new.’
‘No you’re not. You’ve been subject to a slasher. And you’ll pay the price, in pain and possible infection as well as money.’
‘I would imagine expats in general go to the higher-class institutions.’
Brett shakes his head. ‘You get excellent medical care at the cheap, old, run-down hospitals and you can get damaged for life at the most expensive and snazziest ones. Take it from me.
‘The stories, however, are always about medical errors and high-priced swindles. You rarely hear stories of medical successes.
‘Good doctors do their job and have a steady career. Bad ones get moved from hospital to hospital, clinic to clinic, and their errors covered up by the system.’
Brett growled ‘…or buried’.
Paul nodded. ‘Yes, the prevailing religion: it stipulates you have to bury a body within 24 hours, so an autopsy is almost never done. How many medical errors – not to mention unnecessary operations – are hidden forever?’
A waitress orbits by. ‘Here’s your beer. You order now or later?’
Paul pipes up. ‘Now. I’m dying of hunger.’ No, he is not dying. Dying is actually beneath him. He is too stuck-up and arrogant to die. Especially of something so low as hunger.
He thinks for a moment, as the waitress rolls her eyes and gazes off into infinity. ‘I’m for pasta. I simply cannot decide whether it will be the spaghetti or the fettucine. Decisions, decisions.’
Brett looks mock-angry. ‘Are you reading my mind again, Paul? That’s not cool at all. I was just musing on how the Aglio-Olio Spaghetti would go down with this fine Balinese wine.’
Alan quips ‘Ah, the Balinese plonk. I hear you can use that local stuff for paint remover and industrial solvent as well. Maybe even pour some in your carburetor to dissolve the gunk.’
Brett protests. ‘Alan you’re full of shit. This Hatten wine is, well…’ he searches for an accurate description. ‘…eminently drinkable. You can drink it. Look!’ he says, polishing off a glass of the red. ‘Waitress!’
Like lightning the waitress crackles by. Actually very slow and leisurely lightning – you know how hard it is to get struck by a bolt – but she waltzes up and looks at his empty glass.
‘Red or white?’
‘That’s very patriotic’ Brett roars. ‘Give me a glass of each.’
Paul raises his own glass. ‘”Drinkable” is a fair enough description, Brett. I have to hand it to you. I would like to remind one and all that not so many years ago people made fun of Australian wines, and before that they ridiculed California. Look what’s happened. You buy Italian or Spanish wines these days you’re likely not getting much Italian or Spanish wine – it’s all mixed with Australian or Chilean or God knows what.’
Hiroshi: ‘Hey, even the Chinese are getting into the act. They hire a few French viniculturists, learn all the tricks and BINGO: they’ve got respectable vineyards and moderately pleasant Chinese wine.
‘Next thing you know not just “drinkable” but prize-winning. Just wait and see.’
Nobody wanted to challenge Hiroshi on that point. The progress China has made in many fields had silenced its critics, time and again. And Hiroshi was Japanese anyway – a traditional adversary of the Middle Kingdom. So he had nothing to gain from praising the Chinese.
‘So how about your Japanese wines, Hiroshi?’
He sighs. ‘Japanese people are weak for imports. Even when the local stuff is just as good, and not quite as expensive, most Japanese will still buy the foreign brands.
He laughs to himself. ‘It was funny though in Japan in the 1980s when the stupid Austrians were caught adding – what? Anti-freeze? To their sweet wines.’
Paul: ‘Idiotic indeed. Ethylene glycol. It won’t kill you but it can’t do your guts much good. They sold the sweetened wine to the Germans. Not imagining they’d get caught. But why is that funny, Hiroshi?’
‘Because the Japanese consumers panicked – as they will do very easily – and stopped buying Australian wines.’
Everybody laughed out loud.
‘So the poor Aussies had to mount a big expensive campaign: “Not Osu-To-Ri-Ah! Osu-To-Ra-Ri-Ah!”’
‘All foreigners look the same.’
‘No, but we are such a suspicious people that we panic easily.’ He sipped his Panther Stout. ‘I’ve always been a beer fellow. Beer is man’s best friend, not the dog.’
All nodded in appreciation. The beer helped the noddies. Enough of it and you’ll nod right off.
‘Do I have a story for you guys’ smiled Lulu. And she did. But only a week from now.
[TO BE CONTINUED]