My hotel is just across the road from a Pizza Hut.
It’s not the usual one, with its eye assaulting orange colour scheme and its slightly tragic guitar player at the breakfast buffet. This is a slightly more local hotel, buried even deeper in the bowels of Jakarta.
“I’m sorry, I’m not Indonesian”, I say to the check in girls. There are three of them, in brown crumpled uniforms, each assigned a small but seemingly vital task, like inking a stamp or folding a paper or filling in a tiny pink breakfast slip. They flap about, bewildered, smiling nervously, and after some time spent examining my passport, one of them ventures: “You are French?”.
The way to the 9th floor is slow and tedious. I am spoken to in Bahasa repeatedly and repeatedly must explain that I don’t speak Indonesian. Random people insist on showing me how to make the key card function. The way down from the 9th floor is no better. “Where are you from?”, asks a man behind me. “You do not look Indonesian”. The next day two men have a loud and seemingly hilarious conversation just outside my door, at 6 am. I can hear the lift beeping cheerfully every couple of nano seconds. It makes me miss the 5 am call to prayers. At breakfast a solicitous maitre d’ follows me around the buffet, trying to entice me to the egg station, bringing refills of potato lyonnaise (the breakfast of champions) for my benefit.
Anyway it is still evening and, oblivious to the delights ahead of me, I’m sitting across from Greg at the Pizza Hut. We’ve just done “la bise” and the collective intake of breath is palpable around us. Two foreigners! Cheek kissing! Or maybe one foreigner and one Indonesian? I can sense the waitresses fussing behind me, like a brood of hens too scared to pick at the worm. Greg’s pizza (dry chicken, weird sweet black pepper sauce) arrives ages before mine (bits of corn, large helping of mayo). Two small girls wander over to us and hover near the table, wordlessly. We are irritable and tired, having both sweated all day in our respective offices. The problems on the project are stacking, crushing and oppressive, an endless litany of requests, inefficiencies, and inadequacies. Behind Greg a group of muslim men have settled into a booth, their bodies twisted grotesquely to stare openly at our table. I don’t mention this because he is telling me that he is sick of people staring at him, taking surreptitious photos of him, peeking at him from behind corners, or simply pointing and laughing. Nearby a child is screaming, loudly and repeatedly, like an angry car horn. We both wince, our hands going up instinctively to our heads, hunching over in exasperation. The sound system suddenly kicks in, and I can swear the cheerful, soul destroying song goes “Pizza Hut Pizza hut something something in Bahasa Pizza Hut Pizza Hut!”.
“So, anyway, how are you?” asks Greg.
“Oh, you know, I’m OK”, I say. “I quit yesterday”.