What goes around comes around.
There are good and bad people wherever you go but it’s never nice to be forced to “eat a bowl of shit”, especially when all you really want is to live a peaceful and quiet life.
But such experiences are common among expats living in Indonesia - whether it’s dealing with the mafiosi in Bali or keeping clear of those who believe they are above the “law” in Jakarta (because of their connections to nefarious groups and organizations – some legit and others not).
Extortion is the name of the game, and foreigners are, naturally, always in the wrong.
Bah-well’s experience is a classic example of how what-should-be-a-perfectly-ordinary-day can go horribly wrong.
Fortunately for him, he played it cool and got through the situation but others are not so lucky – and the consequences can be far more serious.
But not just in Indonesia.
It was some years ago in England and I remember picking up a local newspaper and seeing a picture of an old school classmate on the front page. The stupid idiot had killed someone. I was quite taken back because he was – or so I thought – an incredibly “ordinary” person. He didn’t have a mean streak in him and he wasn’t what you would call the evil type. In fact, if anything, he could even be considered to be a bit of a wimp. He had never done bad stuff at school. And yet here he was on the front page of a newspaper. As a killer! How could he have done such a terrible thing?
But then it struck me. Basically – and unlike we are led to believe by the media - it isn’t only the nasty, evil types who are serving lengthy prison sentences for murder. There are many “normal” people in prison as well. Jealous husbands, for example, who have topped their wives for finding them in bed with someone else. And many others. Now I don’t want to go into my old schoolmate’s particular circumstances but I will say that a bizarre series of events did conspire against him, pushing him over the edge so that he “cracked” and committed his dastardly deed.
Anyway, onto my little story.
It’s a Saturday night and I’m at Muara Angke. Jakarta’s fish market by the sea. Here you can get buy fresh fish – packed with mercury no doubt – and then get it barbecued up at the ubiquitous little warung (eating stalls) scattered around the place.
We find one, order the beer bintangs and relax beneath a cloudless sky, the stars barely visible thanks to the blanket of smog which seems to cover Jakarta at all times.
But as I sit back, vainly trying to pick out some of the better known stars, some street ruffian has appeared from nowhere.
Straight away I know there’s a problem. He’s got the manic bloodshot eyes of a street junkie and a vacant stare that can only mean trouble.
Minta bir! (give us a beer!), he demands.
At first I try to ignore him, but he’s a persistent bugger and very much into my personal zone - and that makes me feel very, very edgy indeed.
So I raise the palm of my right hand, and politely ask him to leave.
But to no avail.
He now tries to sit down next to me, so instinctively I raise my arms up and push him away, telling him in no uncertain terms to go away. Not what he wants to hear, of course, but he leaves anyway, muttering some garbled nonsense under his breath that I can’t understand at all.
Anyway, thinking no more of it, we continue to drink our beer as the cheerful ibu gets down to barbecuing the fish.
But about 10 minutes later, there’s the sound of scuffling.
And old Red Eyes is back on the scene, heading towards us - but with whom I think is the car park attendant desperately trying to hold him back! But that’s not all. Because somehow this nutter has managed to get himself a bloody huge samurai sword which he’s now holding in his right hand!
Now there are times to stand your ground of course. But this is not one of them. Especially when we learn from the ibu that Red Eyes only recently got out of prison. For murder.
I grab the wrapped fish, thank and pay the ibu, and with a half-full bottle of Bintang in one hand, drive quickly away with everyone safely inside the car.
But while it’s eminently sensible to turn the other cheek it doesn’t make you feel good at all.
So I slam on the brakes, reverse course and head back to the warungs. The road is clear and there is no traffic whatsoever. I wind down the window, take a last swig from the bottle and - seeing the guy on the right hand side of the road - let him have what he requested in the first place:
one nice (albeit almost empty) bottle of beer Bintang.
Although judging by his yelp, I ain’t so sure that he enjoyed it half as much as I did. :)