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The Beauty of Bustling Conversations

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It was Friday evening - 8 o'clock - in an up-market bar on Jl. Thamrin. Latino music blasted through heavy-duty speakers strategically positioned in each corner of the room. The air was hardly breathable. Layers of thick white smoke floated above the crowd. An excellent place for people who have already quit smoking, but still crave the nicotine. All they have to do is just sit down and inhale.

Waiters dressed in penguin uniforms were run off their feet back and forth to the half moon shaped bar. The bar was covered by gleaming sticky liquid - a blend of various drinks from Singapore Sling to Slippery Nipple. The room was only about 25 square meters. It was a bit too stuffy for the bar and 12 high round drinking tables cramped inside. You could simply reach out and touch the next table, if you could get through the throngs of overweight beer gutted males whom were sitting and standing around their drinks - acting similar to what a Australian football commentator described as: 'a mob of seagulls on a sandwich at a beach'. Each table had four chairs around it. These were basically obsolete. As there were more than four people at each table with a strong sense of distrust toward those skinny, imbalanced high chairs due to the individuals level of body weight and soberness.

The place was packed with Jakarta's white-collared professionals. The scene was so familiar that it could happen in any developing country in the world. It was a combination of 80% whites and 20% coloured people; that included the waiters.

Julia and her Englishman sat at table one. She's a sweet mid-thirties Indonesian lady, who was trying to get together with her old friend, whom she once had a crush on. Julia was playing with her cutlery - trying to catch her reflection on the back of her spoon. She checked her magnified set of teeth, which reminded her to buy a new pack of floss.

The Englishman shouted a few words. Julia looked up; staring at him confused. The music was deafening, complicated further by a bunch of Aussie males at the table behind them who were caught up in a debate over golf. It was impossible to have a decent conversation without stretching their neck muscles to the limit. She could hardly hear him, not to mention he also had a very thick English accent.

"So, how are you doing?" he asked.

"Great," she replied. Not sure why he asked how her wine was while she hadn't taken a sip.

The evening grew into sheer torture for Julia. She tried her best to read his lips and pretend to understand what he uttered. With a big smile, widely opened eyes, slightly lifted eyebrows, serious nods here and there and an intermittent sip of her wine, she had convinced everybody in the room that she was a good listener.

"Do you know that John, bless his soul, passed away last week?" he asked in earnest at the end of his drawn out dialogue.

"Yes, wow - that is great!" Julia answered enthusiastically followed by a big laugh.

It's interesting to observe how people slowly losing their sense of politeness generally in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol they consume. With Julia's hearing problem for example, initially she said 'Pardon me?', every time she asked for clarification; after the second glass she said 'What?' and after the third the question deteriorated to a simple 'Huh?' or worse to 'What the **** are you talking about?'.

And that was it. No more drinks for that woman.

A lonely local night butterfly occupied table number two. Her name is Siti. She had been sitting there for the last hour. Her eyes scanned the room for potential prey. Her left hand held her glass of Coke while the other kept stirring the ice cubes in it - she wanted the ice to melt so she would have enough liquid to drink and didn't have to reach into her wallet to buy another glass. A bottle of Coke costs almost Rp 30,000 in that place. That was a little bit more than what she expected to spend on a quiet night.

Siti could feel her back getting damp from the sweat of the guy who stood behind her. He moved so much; trying to demonstrate his famous stroke to his buddies. She felt his elbow hit her rib for the thirteenth time before she launched her left jab counterattack.

The incident caught the attention of a guy who looked like a backpacker sitting in the corner. Considering how close this place is to Jl. Jaksa, it wasn't surprising - almost a relief - to see a naïve human like him. He smiled to her, stood up and walked by scuffing his dusty mountain sandals on the wooden floor toward Siti.

"May I join you?" he asked her. She nodded. She looked at his khaki shorts and his faded blue Garfield T-shirt. Her brain worked hard trying to estimate his net value.

Her expectation heightened when her almost empty glass of Coke transformed into a colourful, bright orange and green cocktail. He bought her a drink. That's a good start, she said to herself.

The limited hearing scenario also played havoc with this newly met couple. Only this time it ended better, well, for the benefit of the parties involved at least.

"We can't talk here. Let's go to my place," he said after a series of befuddled miscommunications.

He paid the bill, and they strolled hand in hand toward the exit.

"Nice hair," the backpacker complimented Siti's long black wig on their way to his small rented room on Jl. Jaksa. But she didn't hear his comment. She had temporary club deafness.

"Star light star bright, I wish I may I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight..." she hummed.

Housing and schooling information for expats in Indonesia expatriate website for Indonesia Indonesian language translation of article

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