Friday, December 09, 2005


That evening I met Fergus for a drink. As usual he was wearing immaculately pressed shirt and trousers and dark glasses.

"It’s been a bad week," I said to Fergus as we sat in the Tavern, a bistro-style bar crowded with overweight expats, Indonesian secretaries having a night out, and commercial girls. "An Indonesian child I knew died of tetanus."

"Very high death rate among Indonesian children," said Fergus, looking surreptitiously in the direction of a table surrounded by Indonesian women. "It’s been happening throughout history."

"Makes me feel guilty," I said.

"Remember what Buddha said. You’ll never find a family that’s not known some sadness. People die. We’re all bound to feel guilty. It’s like in these Greek tragedies."

"I didn’t know you were into Greek tragedies." The last book I had seen Fergus reading was a Wilbur Smith.

"We were talking about this at school. In a Greek tragedy, people have to decide between two possible actions. But they always end up feeling guilty whatever decision they make."

"That seems to be the way it is," I said.

"Buddha and Jesus pointed out that suffering is inevitable in this world."

A tall Indonesian girl, wearing too much makeup, walked past our table. As she did so she smiled in the direction of Fergus, who gave a quick smile in return.

"How’s Min?" asked Fergus, as his eyes followed the girls legs towards the exit.

"Fine. But I don’t think he’s gaining much from his schooling."

"I suppose there isn’t too much you can do with a child who can barely speak?"

"Agreed, but the children and staff at Wisma Utara seem to sit around a lot, not doing very much."

"Lack of supervision," said Fergus. "It’s a problem in Indonesia. I just had some problems with a travel agency. Staff not too well trained. Lot of hassle getting tickets for Thailand. Anyway, what are your plans for summer?"

"I might explore parts of Java. Maybe a trip to Borobudur."