6:30 am. The Devil, which manifests itself within my alarm clock, awakes me. I change, get ready and am out the door 10 minutes later, banana in hand. I go to the garage to hop on my motorbike, which after sitting unused over the weekend was in a bit of a tight spot. I moved a couple bikes, maneuvered mine out, put the key in and… nothing. Tried again. Nothing. I succumbed to the Monday Gods and ended up taking a taxi to school, only to arrive after my first class had already started. We’ll call this incident Strike One.
The Attack of Strike Two
As I was teaching, I noticed that all my classes were half empty. Instead of 25 excited little Indonesian faces eagerly staring at me there were only 9 or 10. My co-worker explained that a new policy had been put in place; If a student arrives anytime after 7:30 am, let’s say at 7:35, they are sent home and not allowed in school that day. This made me furious. No, furious is too tame of a word for my current mood. I was irate. I was absolutely irate. I understand the need to discipline kids and encourage punctuality, but to deprive them of education was beyond me. With this policy, what if kids decide to just stop coming because they woke up a few minutes late? Or their bus took a detour? What if there is traffic? Hell, even I was late this morning! Should I not teach? In my view, school is not mandatory here, so if they are coming they deserve to learn, whether that be for 8 hours or 2. This incident should be called Strike 2 through 20, but to tone down the theatrics, I’ll settle for Strike Two.
Strike Three, Coming In Hot
I took a motorbike taxi back home, and of course it’s raining. Thanks Monday Gods, real cool guys. I didn’t think to grab my poncho out of my bike before I left so I was a tad bit wet on the ride. We were nearing an intersection and the driver asked where to go by pointing straight or left. I pointed straight. He pointed left. I said no, and again pointed straight. He pointed left. I pointed straight. I don’t want to ruin the ending of this edge-of-your-seat story, but spoiler alert: He turned left. Whatever, I assumed he knew a better route. Then he started asking which way to go. I don’t know, man, you took a freaking left! I don’t know this street! I asked where his GPS was, since you know, it’s his job to know directions or whatever. “Hujan,” he concisely replied. Rain. He didn’t want to put his phone on the stand and get it wet. Understandable. But then we had to use mine, so it was my phone that got wet instead. This really isn’t too big of a deal, but he was annoying me and today wasn’t a great day so everything was compounding. Therefore, this will now be dubbed Strike Three.
I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone…
Finally, we make it back to my place without incident, and it stopped raining. I decide taking taxis to and from school sounded less than delightful so I went on a repair shop hunt for my bike. I came across one, or at least I thought I did. It wasn’t a repair shop, it just sold fancy car things, but bless them, they still tried to help. In my best Caveman Indonesian I said, “motorbike no good, need fix *insert bad impression of a car not starting here*” How strange that they looked at me completely perplexed… I tried again, this time inserting a few more hand gestures and sounds for added effect. It produced an “ohhh” or two, so we were at least making progress. “Where fix?” I said. They waved in a general direction that for all I knew could have meant in Timbuktu. Finally, they asked for the car key and where my bike was, I pointed to my parking garage a few blocks down. A young man said “Ayo,” or “let’s go,” and he walked all the way back to my apartment with me, waited as I ran up to get the keys and when I came back down he fiddled with the bike. He tried the usual way of turning it on, which failed, both to my satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Obviously I wanted it to work, but how embarrassing if he just walked all this way for it to start up miraculously. Then he popped a thing-a-mjiggy out from the side of the bike, did a little jumpy-motion-thing and viola! The stupid thing started. He then patiently showed me how to manually start it myself. The whole thing took all of three minutes.
Unlike most Indonesians he was quiet, not shy, but just not the usual chatty Cathy type. I tried out a little small talk because lord knows Indonesians love small talk, but I quickly realized he was a man of few words, which I actually really appreciated. After showing me how to start the bike, he said in Indonesian, “Okay, I walk back now.” It wasn’t in annoyance, it was just matter of fact; Bike was fixed, time to leave. This surprised me and I suddenly said, “Of course, of course! Thank you, thank you!” As if doubling up my words could add some sort of quantifiable emphasis. And off he went. No “where you from Miss?” or “Where you go now?” was uttered. It was weird; I wasn’t a big deal to him. I’m an Indonesian celebrity and here is this guy, just coming and going, completely uninterested in my existence. It was fantastic!
I really was grateful for his help; The idea of walking my motorbike to a repair shop in traffic sounded like an endeavor that I didn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole. But now that it can start I can drive to a shop to get it checked out (#blessed). I wanted to thank him but money always seems insulting to me, so I did what any true Indonesian would do: I force fed him. I went to the store and grabbed an arbitrary armful of goodies to give any otherwise healthy human Diabetes; Oreos, a Kit-Kat bar, and some weird looking chocolate stick things. I caught him at the shop just as they were locking up and he took them gracefully, but without a fuss or any over the top thanking. And off I went.
How normal. How different an interaction than I have grown accustomed to. It was refreshing.
The Return of the Excitable Indonesian
After arriving at school this morning, and calming down after this new policy was brought to my attention, I gave a book to my teaching counterpart. The week prior he had asked if I’d ever seen the movie, A Street Cat Named Bob, because he watched it that weekend and loved it. What a coincidence! I had just read the book and loved it too! I promised to let him borrow the book and brought it today. He was very touched so I offered to let him keep it; He seemed to really like it and it’d just be more weight in my bag anyway. “Oh my goodness. Do you mean it? I can have it? Oh my goodness, I will cherish this book for all my life!” Words like this were uttered for about 20 more minutes, and differed only slightly in variation. This occured again as we were heading home at the end of the day. “I have no words to thank you, I will read this book with my wife.” A little theatrical? A bit. Straight from his heart? Yes. Was I simultaneously amused and very touched? Absolutely.
These are very different reactions, representing both ends of the expressive spectrum employed by your average Indonesian. On a scale of one to ten, miracle bike man fell at a solid 1.5, my co-worker was nearing a 12.8 and most Indonesians, nearly as excitable as a pile of Corgis at a party, come in around an 8 or so. I’d put myself in the 3-4 range, personally. Anyways, to be clear, I’m not the Santa Claus of Indonesia, I don’t hand out chocolate and reading material left and right, but on a day that everything seemed to go wrong, it felt good to recognize the things that went right. And of course, to write extensively about it and post it to the internet and hope everyone is amused as I am (which I only have been in hindsight).
Maybe you’re a “glass half empty” type, or perhaps you are somehow a “glass half full” person, and if that’s the case kudos to you, man. Maybe you’re a realist like me and think the glass merely contains half the amount of liquid that it is able to hold. I mean, let’s be real here, there are always more Mondays and the Monday Gods aren’t known for their mercy. But in the case of today, I’d like to try out this glass-half-full thing, so from me to you:
Stay positive, my friends. (even on those stupid Mondays)
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