Monday, April 20, 2009

The Savoy


For about two dollars we bought a T-shirt, trousers and shoes from the astonished Chinese Indonesian store owner. Abdul’s greasy old clothes were thrown into the gutter, but still Abdul didn’t lose his unwashed smell.

"Take us to the Savoy," I called to the grim-faced becak driver. "It’s very close to here and we’re extremely hungry."

In the darkness and the miserable rain he appeared to pedal us to the edge of Bandung, then back to the centre and then to an outer industrial suburb. Was the problem the one-way road system, or the driver’s lack of geography, or was it just possible the gentleman was trying to cheat the stupid foreigner? A piece of plastic sheeting gave us some protection from the rain and from the driver.

"Don’t you know the way?" I shouted through the deluge. My smugness and euphoria had evaporated.

"Hotel Savoy? It’s very near," called back the driver.

"You don’t know the flipping hotel," I wailed. "You don’t know where you’re going." I was determined I was not going to pay this guy more than a few cents. Never in a million years. At that moment we turned a corner and there was the hotel.

We got out to pay the bill. Eight thousand rupiahs.

"That’s far too much. You took us the wrong way. All round Bandung. It’s criminal."

"Eight thousand rupiahs," he growled.

"OK, here you are," I said. He had the look of a slavering hyena.

We entered the elegant hotel restaurant where Abdul, in spite of his new clothes, couldn’t help but look a little out of place. His table manners were good but somehow he didn’t look or smell like one of the elite. He ate huge quantities of oxtail soup, chicken with rice, and ice cream, and less than a fifth of it went on the floor.

As I drank my coffee I pondered the problem of what to do next. When I had first arrived at the Savoy, earlier in the day, I had allowed my driver to go off in search of accommodation for himself. The arrangement was that I would meet him again the following morning. I had no idea where he was, but I would need him if I was to ferry Abdul to the children’s village in Lembang.

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