In 1992, my father announced that he would like to come and visit me in Jakarta. Wonderful, I thought, he had never been to Jakarta before, or even Asia, so this would be a great opportunity to show him the other side of the world and the place where I live.
I met him at the airport and bustled him and his bags into a taxi, then we headed towards my house. On the way back into the city it was fun to watch him gaze out of the window in slack-jawed awe at the various sights that can only be seen in Jakarta. For example, as we came off the toll road, a motorbike passed us with what can only be described as a small house strapped on to the back of it. It was a large light blue box with what looked like a chimney sticking out of the top and a couple of small hatch doors on each side. The bike was clearly unstable with this huge load on the back, and by the look of the rider he was clearly unstable as well. As he careened along the road he had his full-face helmet perched on the back of his head at a jaunty angle, his jacket on backwards, and he was looking cross-eyed down his nose trying to light a kretek cigarette with the lighter in his left hand. My father, a retired UK Firefighter and former National Fire Brigades Union Health and Safety representative, didn’t know where to start. “Did you see...? He had a... and his helmet was... and he was trying to... while he was...” He swallowed, “Good Lord”.
When we reached my house, the houseboy came out to meet us and started unloading the bags from the taxi. My father tried to help. I told him it was okay, Suparman would take care of it. He looked confused. He then tried to shake Suparman’s hand, and now Suparman was confused. “He’s our houseboy Dad,” I said, “he works here.” We went inside and I introduced my maid, Tini. My father greeted her very politely like she was my girlfriend. “How do you do?” he asked and added the obligatory “I’ve heard so much about you”. Now Tini was confused and quickly scurried off to the back of the house. I doubled up laughing and my father said “What? What did I say?” That just made things worse.
To honour my father’s visit I fixed up a small tour of the country staying at various hotels owned by a client of mine. The hotels gave us free accommodation in return for my services as a “spy guest”, meaning I had to test all the hotels’ facilities and services and then write a report for the management. Great work if you can get it—eat at every restaurant, order room service, use the laundry, empty the mini bar to see how long it takes to get re-stocked, etc., and all for free. At our first hotel in Surabaya, my father and I duly ordered everything we could without looking suspicious, and timed how long it took for our orders to arrive, then we critiqued the food and the service. Every night I spent half an hour writing up our expert findings. This very important work seemed to come very naturally to us.
When we reached Bali and checked in to our poolside room, I could see that my father was suitably impressed with his surroundings. Within three minutes of entering our room I heard a splash; I looked round to see my father floating on his back in the rippling pool gazing up at the clear blue sky. After lunch I asked him what he wanted to do and gave him a narrative of the possibilities. He thought for a moment and grinned. “Is it all right if we just stay here?” I was pleased. I guess Bali is in itself a destination for most people and just being there is special enough. For four days we lounged around and walked on the beach and swam. We ate and drank and lived like kings and I wrote up my reports. My father could not have been happier.
We came back to Jakarta via Yogyakarta and had an equally pleasant time walking the markets and seeing everything there is to see that is so different from anything in the UK. What stuck in my father’s mind the most was a scene at a building site we walked past one afternoon. He watched in amazement as the labourers climbed like monkeys up the bamboo scaffolding with tools between their teeth, wearing nothing but shorts and sandals. His mouth was moving but no words came out as he looked at me and pointed in the general direction of the scene. I put my arm round his shoulder and led him away. “It’s all right Dad,” I assured him, “they’ll be fine”.