“From Jarrow To Java (on a Beer Scooter)” by Joe Writeson is an ebook I couldn’t put down. Joe will make sure you come out of it totally immersed.
The Beer Scooter itinerary covers the cultures, aspirations, quirks and way of living of both locals and expats in East Java. Oh, and the Balinese. Herman the German, a man power recruiter, who says to Joe, “Us Europeans should stay together.” Joe says he was making good money,” but if he had it his way he’d screw the work force. Funny how quickly ‘us Europeans’ can revert to ‘local habits’”. He did Joe over by getting a free weekend in Bali on the company’s expense account. But with the help of a wild boy of Borneo toting a Japanese sword, he writes , “Thirty minutes later we were at the nearest ATM withdrawing the mount owed plus some ‘beer money’ for the lads who had escorted a shit-scared Herman and myself to the cash point.”
Joe is fly on the wall, in the book, taking very sharp and ribald observations. Other times he’s just a good drinker,leaning on the bar, avoiding mosquitos, and generally adding to the conversation. He’s a hard worker and has just grinded his teeth in the North Sea. With change comes some responsibility. Saftey is his concern. He needs to speed up a project that is languishing in corruption. Along the way he earns his respect. “The job description and my skills were a perfect match. Karma? Kismet? Serendipity? Fate? Who can say? But the posting was to change my life forever.”
Joe’s adventures begin while managing local workers on a coal plant that powers most of Bali, and in the book it’s under construction, during the hight of the Suharto Empire. Most of the book revolvers around his work, his colleagues and the locals servicing the 10000 strong crew of workers. Money was spewing out the vent holes. Corruption meant a gravy train for many, and fortunes were made and lost. Greed a prime factor, and of course some hard work, Joe goes into the characters of East Java.
Some boozed up chapters will either horrify or excite you, or both. Joe is thrown 30 meters off his motor bike in the chapter Born to be Wild…ish, he escapes a King Cobra and a jumping snake in the chapter Fangs for the Memory. He goes back to where he fell off his Beer Scooter, and finds boulders and trees, and a skid mark in the rice field. He had missed most of the danger obstacles, and came out of it with a few bruises. His wife realises it was a close call with death, and confiscated the keys. He didn’t ride a bike until ten years late
A marriage of convenience turns into something more serious. They are still married to this day. Joe gets on well with the grandfather at the village ceremonial gathering, who is the local arak distiller. Later the marriage will turn into something more serious. We aren’t sure if the village is in Madura or somewhere near Bunywangi. Why let small details get in the way of a good yarn?
Joe weaves in his life as an expat working for a Japanese firm. There’s tonnes of cash and characters and services springing up in this community to service the workers of the power plant. One guy opens up a church. He accepts all Christian denominations. Another Chinese opens up a western bar, and almost gets it right except for not chilling the beer. Stan the orangutan, who is fed booze, french fries (with ketchup) , and cigarettes (which he chews, making sure he spits out the filter and paper) is one of the more endearing characters. But Joe’s mate Jock, who recently bought the bar, is having problems with the primate.
“Stan was now roaming around the bar in a distracted manner swaying his upper body from side to side and baring his teeth at the staff.”
Jock asked the previous owner what was the problem with the orangutan.
“Ahh he’s probably got a hangover.”
Jock figured out it would be cheaper to mix arak, rice whiskey, with beer. Stan became more docile and Jock’s maintenance costs of the boozing orang-utan went down down considerable.
Joe is the Boss and must deal with the locals, on an off site. At first it was trying but over time he becomes well versed in local culture. He explores how he sees things through the local’s eyes. His translator is called a few times to sort out some stuff. The phone has been cut off. His driver got into an accident. An Indonesian wants to buy the bike back he sold to him for half the price.
The jihads, a bunch of brainwashed teenagers, who Joe calls the Jihad Jerkoffs, wrote crude notes saying they’d kill all prostitutes and infidels if they didn’t leave town. That was during Ramadan,“The culprits were soon identified as they had left a load of their leaflets in their school photocopy machine.” The police rounded them up, and told them to keep off their turfs, many of the brothels and Karoke joints ran in the town.
Scams in Bali are revealed. The chapter, Teddy Bear picnic, set in Bali, is another alcohol fuelled adventure into Kuta Fantasy land. The big fat Australian Sheila saves Joe’s team from a Bali scam. The boys wanted to have a hat collection. Not just for her help, but the big pendulous boobs that were flapping out of bikini top. And her partner, the Bondi Surfer, Joe sums up his communication abilities that are on level with Stan, the local orangutan in Joe’s village. Hilarious stuff. Grunt grunt, and yeah, grunt. I think that means more booze. Sheila and the surfer were made for each other. If only the Surfer gave as much attention to her as he does to his surf board, she’d be in Boganville heaven.
Civil strife. He’ll stick around and get double time. That’s the time when the demonstrations flooded Jakarta and threatened to spill out across the archipelago. Lots of beer is consumed, games concocted. It’s not all happy and funny anecdotes, though. The Chinese fleeing the rape and pillage from Surabaya, are attacked ruthlessly by gangs, explains Joe,is one of the more gruesome tales.
The gold diggers, there’s a few of them. Veronica is a real laugh and has a few husbands on the go. Seeing Veronika leave the Italian restaurant, with stolen plates and forks and salt holders, and being told to hand them back by the manager, who places a dirty napkin back into her bag, is pure gold material.She’ll get her come uppance soon. And another gold digger, who married a very rich old Australian man with one foot in the grave. A year later he died, and she bought land in Bali. She did cry at the funeral, and Joe rekons it was the incense that watered her eyes.
A Texan falls in love with a young beaten wife, who gets a divorce, and starts a successful hair salon in Hollywood. He may not convert to Islam, but promises he’ll provide her with all her spiritual needs, one of the more touching sections of the book. Then there’s serenading Dan, who also works with Joe. He’s the Casanova, and plays romantic pranks, and helps a few office staff who are distressed from bad relationships or need their spirits uplifted. Eventually he’ll marry an office staff. Like Joe, he falls into the softie category. Come to think of it, all of Joe’s mates in this book have a heart of gold. Those who are mean and desensitized to the local culture, usually get their com uppins. A snake bights one guy’s toe, and a South African is flown out of the country for serious treatment of the pox. The arseoles are weeded out with karmic gestures.
Indonesia is diverse, and the anecdotes Joe dishes up don’t suggest otherwise. It’s a kaleidoscope of impressions, and lasting one is that someone has at last got a carbon copy in book form of what East Java and Bali is really like. Scammers everywhere, fortunes lost, love gained. If only Joe’s mate had of consulted some of the jaded expat drunks in Sanur, he might not have been shafted with a property by the Balinese. Every miner, rigger , expat and traveler should read this book, and so should Paul Carter.
There aren’t many expat books on Indonesia. No literary pretension, but very well written. Joe has tapped into the hearts and minds of the Indonesians, and had a few laughs along the way.