Friday, November 25, 2005


The University has put a car and driver at my disposal since I got here. When a local staffer gets a bule to tend full-time, he must feel like those kids in The Night Before Christmas. On the other hand, when a bule gets a local staffer full-time, the question is always “How do I take care of this guy without losing my shirt?” And the game begins. There can be only one winner if everyone is to win.

Katy knows he can’t make anything above his $20 or $30 a month if he just drives me to and from work. I know he’s going to be grumpy and unreliable if that’s all we’re doing. So, from the beginning I’d get him to take me shopping on the way home, and compensate him for every hour of overtime. This often included picking up a pack of smokes for him at the cashier. No big deal. We’d drive around, he’d honk at the cute girls and buzz the weaving motorcycles, giving me the thumbs up as he did it. At the same time, I noticed I was getting hit for gas a couple of times every week, and he was using my water – extremey wastefully, I might add, to wash the car anytime he arrived early enough. No huge deal, but I discouraged him from the car wash thing.

This went on for a couple of weeks until one afternoon he tanked up on me at the end of the day… and tried to hit me for another tank first thing the next morning. What did he do, and how stupid did he think I was? Drive all over Java after he took me home? Unlikely. Odds will get you evens he took his free gas to his kampung (family village compound) and sold it to his cousins.

“Nga (pronounced ‘ng-ga!’) is the viscerally pleasing-sounding Indonesian slang word for “no”. Kinda like saying “not” when you mean “no, you twit.” That was my answer to Kati that morning. I followed it with, “I can always take a taxi to work. It’s a lot cheaper.” Which is true. Also, “Probably better to buy a motorcycle, really.” Which is also true.

The look of chagrin on Katy’s face was nearly comical. We got to the office and parted frostily (if frost is possible here) and I confirmed from my Indonesian rep at the University that the University would be happy to reimburse me for all gas bills. So I could relax. But I also couldn’t let Katy take me for it, regardless, or he’d win the game and everybody would lose: I’d drop him as a driver and he’d lose the care of a bule for the year.

When it was time to go home I learned that Katy had had to be reassigned, and they couldn’t get me a driver for the afternoon. Sadly, I’d already made plans with him to take my friends and me to the temple for the Ramayana ballet that evening. They’d call me in the AM if they’d worked something out. What this really means is that I had embarrassed Katy privately, and he could not show himself to me again. So much for the convenient ride to the ballet.

But later that evening I was messaged that he would pick me up in the morning. It seemed they’d worked something out with him. So I invited him immediately to come get my friends and I to the ballet that evening, and there he was. We didn’t talk much, but he did the job well. And I rewarded him fairly… and he was thrilled.

Since then I use him for airport runs, the beach run, and all that other stuff. Now he pops out of the car and negotiates me a filling and safe 50-cent breakfast at a market on the way to work. If I did it myself it would cost me three times that. He helps me haul the water jugs when they need replacing, and the shopping when there are two many bags. His young son was hit by a motorcycle ten days ago, and he’s missed a few days amid court appearances and insurance meetings… and I’ve made sure I’m using him enough to ease some of the worries that go with that.

So now he sees that he doesn’t have to try to rob me: if he takes care of me I’ll take care of him. He still won’t wear a seatbelt unless I tell him to, and will hit 100 km/hr on beach roads and bump motorcycles unless I get stern with him. That’s when he grins and laughs, and says “Yes, Mister,” and honks at the next babe on the back of a bike…


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