Gepost door: Frank de Zanger | juni 7, 2012

Short story: ‘From Aceh No News’

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As a linguistic experiment, it was my intention to publish the short story ‘From Aceh No News’ in DITRAT (Digitally Translated Text). I have done it some time ago with the free translation service of Google. It was hilarious; the text got a Shake Spearian touch. However, things have improved in the meantime, with the result that you cannot laugh about it any more. The translation service is getting serious now, has improved considerably. This meant that I had to do something about it. So, now the short story is in DITRATWIA (Digitally Translated Text With Assistance). It is possible that some time later you will find in this blog the short story ‘From Aceh No News’ in DITRATWIAA (Digitally Translated Text With Advanced Assistance).

From Aceh No News

The bar with dining room in the basement of my hotel in Jakarta, was designed in German atmosphere. No idea why, but I suspect there is a German in the management. One cannot get pork in strict Islamic Aceh, where I just came from and where I have worked two months. Not only in Aceh, but also in other parts of the world, many people believe that pigs are unclean. Of course, today pigs are no more unclean than contemporary cows, but a few thousand years ago that might have been different. Anyway, even though I know that we all have to be vegetarian – and that for various reasons – miraculously I crave now for the offered sausages with sauerkraut on the menu. But, it attracts and repels. Ultimately, I choose for beef wrapped in cabbage leaves and mashed potatoes; really German. A compromise though. Tastes pretty good after all the rice and chicken and still … Regarding Aceh: a lot has happened after the tsunami. Much was planned and has been built, and strangely enough there is not much to see anymore of the devastation that had taken place. Actually, I have been two months in Aceh and there is really little to report.

At nine o’clock the band starts playing in a room space next to the dining area, where I had my beef with cabbage leaves. I had the bill signed by an Indonesian girl, with  (on the sides) forward curled hair and dressed in black clothes, like a young French woman from a ‘film noir’. I move to the bar and order a Bintang draft beer. I did not have it for two months; of course not important, but still … In the band I see keyboards, bass, drums, rhythm guitar, a singer and three lady singers. The lady singers have short skirts. That is in itself not so special, unless you have been two months in Aceh. In short, for me it is ‘skirts day’ and the band plays and sings too loud. But it is very alive in a way that I have not experienced in two months. Here are eight young Indonesians making music with heart and soul. It is something that moves them, of which they probably will not earn much, but what they do with enthusiasm and fun. Looking around, I see at the bar a few Chinese Indonesians in conversation with a few girls. One of them is seated separately and has three glasses of beer in front of him. He looks around a bit confused. One of his friends asked one of the waitresses for a dance. It is part of her work, customers must have fun and if possible should also spent their money well. He dances like a bear – heavy to the left and heavy to the right  – and she looks around a little shy. Earlier, when I walked into the dining area, there was a man, also of Chinese descent, sitting at a table pouring four glasses of wine. Apparently he was expecting some company. And yes, a little later three young Chinese women came in in very tight pants. One of them in fabric with tiger pattern. That all seemed very raunchy, but it was not. They ate German food, like everyone else, and meekly all four of them let a waiter slide over their heads a red and white checkered apron. Suddenly I saw that everyone sitting at the dining tables was fitted in such an apron, except me. Strange that I was not offered such a thing, but they must have noticed that outside Munich – and certainly not outside the borders of Bavaria in Germany– I would not let me put on a red and white checkered apron. In any case, this company of one gentleman and three ladies have quietly eaten their steaks, drank their wine, and checked their mobile phones, and after about one hour they were gone. If you ask me now: would you have experienced also such a night in Aceh? Oh, Aceh has its own charm, nice people, but like this … no, not in Aceh.

Behind the bar, a large European guy, with wide jaw, is sitting at a wooden table, looking very angry. And doing that already for a long time. Only when he signs his bill with the girl with the forwardly curly hair, he seemed to thaw. The music is too loud. The singer and lady singers drown each other and therefore it sounds false. Too bad, because you can hear that there is potential in it. I don’t know whether that other Westerner will hear it, who is sitting with tousled hair just outside the bar area, with his back to the band. He eats, reads a newspaper and seems not to be present. Well maybe present, but not here. On my left at the bar there is an Australian chap with his young Indonesian wife. I know that, because when he goes to the restroom, she says to me that her husband is terribly jealous and therefore she does not talk to strange men. While she is telling me this in detail, her husband is already in sight and hoists himself back on the barstool. Not so convenient after all, because I do not want any quarrel with this ‘mate’, who is one and a half times larger than I am, owning a lot of tattoos, and a has a shaved head with a small ponytail in the heavy neck. Furthermore Dustin Hoffman comes sitting across to me at the bar. However, a quarter century younger than Dustin, because he is at his early forties. He has something to do with the “lead” singer of the band, because he waves and she waves back promising. The bartender slides a glass of red wine to me. My eye falls on the flat screen on the wall in the dining area. I see that a Formula 1 Grand Prix race is shown. Brutal bolides pull over smooth asphalt.  Just, the drone of the engines can be heard in the background. I don’t have much with grand prix races, but tonight I see the dynamism, innovation, glamour and daring. I would like to jump now in such a hot rod, give full throttle, and later spraying champagne as an idiot instead of a filling a glass with it.

I want the band  to calm down and ask the bartender for a piece of paper one can write an application number on. I just don’t know a title, so I write “a slow ballad please”. Moments later is announced: “a slow ballad please, from Mr. Frank.” Reflecting for a while. Yes, they’re going to do something. It begins quietly, no idea what song, but then it escalates again. Too loud, too little emotion, disappointing. Nevertheless, I clap after the song, because I want to keep it positive tonight. I don’t want to influence the band, no, not the whole place, negatively, because it lives more than I have experienced in two months. The girl with the French hair style is the only one still working. The other girls went to the pool table and are imbibed in the game of cue and balls. I really want something else from the band. Thinking of wide jaw, the Chinese guy behind his glasses of beer (who now has fallen asleep), the shaved Australian, and the derailed consultant behind his newspaper, I ask again for a piece of paper and write “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, the ultimate and probably best melancholy bar song in the world. The bartender is happy that I order another glass of wine and rewards me by pouring the glass ample full. That feels good, but the band must confess that they cannot play “Piano Man” and that feels unfortunately less. They play something I do not know. Not bad but not good either. And yet, I still feel that there is potential. Hoffman gives his lady singer signs and closely follows the band. The band  is discussed something and they look at me. They start playing ‘Still got the blues’ from Gary Moore. The band is now subdued, the singer concentrated. The rhythm guitarist goes out of his mind with the solos. I knew it: there is potential in this band and I see that they play this beautiful song with a lot of attention and feeling. Dustin finds it beautiful, the Australian jogs me and thumbs up. It’s all right tonight. A strange feeling I have not had for two months.

Hoffman is invited by his lady singer to come forward. He walks hesitantly to the stage, but you see that this is the only thing he wants. He sings a blues-like song, backed by the singer of the band, who visibly enjoys the courage of this opportunity entertainer. It goes very well, much feeling, a lot of passion. He seems to surpass himself and that is confirmed by his  lady-singer, who claps her hands in delight. This is integration! Not artificial, not forced, not organized in groups and evaluated, but spontaneously. Meanwhile, wide jaw has left, as well as the dazed consultant, who all this time had been sitting with his back to the band. Of course there have been tonight the loud Westerner with his beautiful Asian girlfriend and the American who -with a big grin – was spinning the ice in his glass of whiskey with his forefinger, but I had already met them before, again in other cities. The bartender is pleased to give me a glass of water with ice, without insisting on more drinks. The Australian couple  is going home and he shakes hands with me. It all worked out tonight. I realize now that one night in Jakarta is equivalent to two months in Aceh… but yes, different indeed. I am aware that this evening would not have been possible in Aceh. As a matter of fact, I also don’t see it happening in the Bible Belt in The Netherlands. However, I do see a smiling Buddha passing by. But then … no … no news from Aceh.

© Frank de Zanger

26 May 2012

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