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The Patient Javanese

The Javanese are a very patient people; I only hope some of this rubs off onto me.

Having settled on an apartment, we begin the convoluted process of formalising arrangements. I say convoluted because as a local would say, "We are entertaining the idea of beginning to think about the possibility that this may be the apartment which could be like the right one for you." There are ID card issues, and I need papers signed that will take a while. Planning on it taking a couple of days, I tell the agent that this will hold up things for three weeks. "This is fine," I say, because as we had previously discussed, a couple of things need to be done to the apartment. It needs repainting and the hot water system needs replacing. The agent is doing this.

"Usually this is done before you move in", she cheerfully informs me.

"Usually?" I enquire.

"Yes, usually," she smiles, without guile or malice.

I take a good look at her. Patience.

Audience to these entire proceedings in the real estate office is our driver, Muhammad Ali. He is the smallest, wiriest, politest Muhammad Ali I have ever seen. Good natured too. Very patient. We have been lent Muhammad and the car today and tomorrow by a friend who doesn't need the car. Muhammad is a laugh. Not a very loud laugh, as that would be impolite. He calls me boss and apologises if the traffic is bad. After a while this became a kind of joke as the traffic never improves, so he stopped apologising. We take Muhammad to lunch as well. Muhammad enjoys this and feels perfectly at ease to order whatever he wishes from the waiter. After all, he is driving us around for free, and I did say I'd buy lunch. Makes sense to me.

Muhammad has not always been in the room. He attends some things and sits in the foyer for others. Muhammad likes air conditioning, so he comes in with us and sits in foyers, unless of course they are not air conditioned, in which case he comes into the offices with us and quietly sits at the table smiling at everybody. Everybody is fine about this.

Everybody is fine about this because nobody here ever does anything alone. The guidebook I bought yesterday informs me that if you do something by yourself people will assume something is wrong with you, and even the most mundane task warrants taking a friend. I had noticed this already. It is impossible to be served by just one person in say a bank or a shop. No, you approach one person and at least one other will come across as well, ‘just helping’.

In the bank yesterday I went to the help desk to enquire about transferring money to the real estate agent and was assisted by a very able young woman in a headscarf, who had excellent English and was very concise about what was required. I had a couple of questions. Immediately two other staff in the background pricked up their ears and now I was served by the initial woman and a small chorus of others, all very pleasant. I then went to the teller to change some traveller's checks. This takes a while, so I was asked by the teller to “take a seat Mr M next to the help desk as its nice and cool there for Mr M.” After three quarters of an hour, I thought perhaps my money might have been changed, so I approached the help desk to enquire as to the progress of my transaction.

"Oh yes, Mr M, this is being organised for you." Hmm, everybody now knows my name as well. Note also the present continuous form of the verb "to be organised". Nobody is actually so bold as to suggest that after 45 minutes it should have been completed or might actually be ready for me.

What if it hasn't been done? Someone will lose face.

"Will it be long?"

"Well, Mr M, we only have two tellers today because one teller is not here and the other one, her husband is sick and she had to go home."

I can see three tellers. I do not argue with Javanese logic, as the answers you are given are designed to save face. The tellers in this particular case, I suppose.

"But I will go and ask the tellers."

"Thank you."

Mince, mince, mince to the teller, mince, mince, mince back.

"Oh yes Mr M, please go to the teller."

"Terima Kasih, Ibu."

"You're welcome, Mr M."

Everybody behind the help desk smiles at me. I smile back.

Two weeks later and we are back at the real estate agent, everything is in order. Everything is signed. I have receipts for money paid. I smile. We can move in. "Oh, Mr M, maaf, one more thing."


We need to fix the bath, it has a crack, and we don't want to paint it, because, you see, the paint will come off and you will not be happy. And Mr M, we are taking out the bath and then the keramik (ceramic) is chipped"

"The tiles"

"Yes, the tiles. So we need to make the new tiles, and this pattern, it is no longer made, so we have to buy the new tiles, and after the bath is fixed, we will retile, and then the tiles in one bathroom are different so we will do the other bathroom too. About 3 weeks."

"But I have nowhere to live."

Yes, maaf Mr M, but we can give you another apartment."

We move in on Wednesday.

Our thanks to Miccal for his contribution of this story.

© Miccal