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Clipping nails at the breakfast table
Jakarta (Indonesia), July 14th 2008

Usually we sleep in the cheap budget hotels of which Indonesia is full of, but sometimes we end up in a midrange hotel. This was the case in the Sumatran city of Bangko. Because we didn’t have a map or hotel information about this rather meaningless city, we asked the driver of an ojec (kind of motor taxi) to bring us to a “losmen”. Losmens are small family run guesthouses that are both simple and cheap. Apparently, the losmen drivers couldn’t believe that western travellers would like to stay in such a basic guesthouse so they dropped us at the Permata hotel. It is a beautiful country home that wouldn’t be out of place in a posh suburb of a big western city. While somebody opened the door for us, we went inside. While we asked whether there was a room available, we resolved that we would take the room if the price was fair. After all, after a long bus journey and weeks of simple hotels with cold showers and noisy rooms we liked to immerse in some luxury. The prices were reasonable so we decided to stay.

Our room was 200.000 rupee per night (approximately 14 Euro). For western standards a give-away, that doesn’t justify high expectations. However, a hotel room of 14 Euros per night in a small provincial city in central Sumatra is qua price comparable with a hotel room in Europe of 110 Euro per night. Not a top-end hotel but still quite expensive. At the check inn we asked directly whether the restaurant would be open this evening. We looked forward to a nice hot shower, followed by a nice meal in the garden restaurant before going to bed. No problem, the restaurant would be open to 21:00 hours.

When we were sitting with our cleanly washed wet hair in the restaurant, we were stared at by the ten waiters that were neatly dressed in the hotel uniform. Apparently, they don’t see that many foreigners around here. Because there wasn’t any menu, we asked whether it was possible to eat something. A stupefied look was the only answer we got. Because our Indonesian language is far from good, we tried to clarify our question with the universal “we like to eat something” sign. We pointed with our stretched pointer finger to our opened mouths and at that moment the stupefied look changed to a scared expression. The restaurant is only open “Pagi” (in the morning). A single second we fell back in our western habit of trying to explain why there were so many waiters in a restaurant that isn’t open, but luckily we could suppress that habit quickly. Some things just can’t be understood. After a simple meal in town, we went to bed for a good night sleep. The bed was big, mattress was good and for the first time in weeks we didn’t hear a single snoring hotel guest. These kinds of nights are really reviving.

After sleeping late, it was time for breakfast. As soon as we sat down at our table, we thought that we weren’t fully awake yet. There were many clipped fingernails lying on the table cloth. Not just a single piece of fingernail that somebody accidentally picked from his fingernail and dropped on the table, but the result of clipping all fingernails very thoroughly. Can you imagine yourself waking up in a hotel room and realizing that your fingernails have to be clipped? Then you walk to the restaurant of the hotel to sit down at a table to clip your nails and afterwards you let the pieces of nail lying on the table cloth. You don’t even think about putting these pieces in the ashtray, because that is the task of the waiters. And if those waiters are to busy with doing nothing, those nails won’t do any harm to anyone. The latter is true and therefore we tried to forget the way that we westerners interpret the concepts of cleanliness, tidiness and hygiene.

While we enjoyed our Nasi Goreng for breakfast we saw another example of something that wouldn’t be accepted in a western restaurant. After a few people finished their breakfast buffet, they left some samosas over. These fried dumplings with a vegetable and meat filling were lying untouched on some plates on their breakfast table and we can imagine that people have problems with throwing this good food away. Within seconds after the guest left their breakfast table, there was a cat sitting on the table. Although cats are known as clean animals, in our western perspective they shouldn’t become to close to food. The cat didn’t share that perspective and looked forward to a nice samosa. To select the best samosa, he licked them all before selecting the one that he started eating on the table. When one of the waiters tried to scare the cat away, we could see that this cat had been here before. While the cat was grabbed at the back of his neck, he just went on eating. Another waiter came to help. He took the remaining samosas that the cat had licked before and putted these samosas back on the buffet for the next guests. Afterwards, the waiters stroked the cat a few times as reward and the cat could finish his samosa on the table.

During our trip we have become familiar with the different hygienic standards in the restaurants and hotels, but it remains remarkable that these things can happen in a (for local standards) expensive hotel. When we saw the expensive jeeps on the driveway, this gave us high expectations. We expected that those rich people would demand high standards from the places where they stay the night. From the outside, the hotel looks nice and, if you don’t look to close to the carpet, the rooms are well looked after. There are even table cloths on the restaurant tables. So, they certainly try to make something from this hotel but for western standards it just doesn’t completely work out.

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