Fueled by special edition quail-egged bakso, I threw myself into the next set of twisties with more enthusiasm than prudent. It was a narrow windy road with steep gradient, and the trucks of Indonesia – small, green and badly maintained – were backing up the traffic for miles. There was no opportunity to overtake unless you looked at the situation like an Indonesian – but I was starting to assimilate. Pull out, ride, then dart back into the gaps between vehicles to let the oncoming traffic squeeze past; there were only a couple of times where I thought ‘I probably shouldn’t have done that’ but the last few months had been a bit upsetting so I wasn’t that worried.

Anyway, the Gods of Deranged Motorcyclists watched over me, as they are wont to do, and I made it safely to the bottom of the mountains to fuel up again just as the afternoon began to fade. Where to? I looked at my map and saw a town called Jember a little way ahead; it would probably have accommodation.

So I headed off and made Jember at the end of the day. It seemed a proper sized town. Soon I was riding down wide streets with plenty of traffic. I saw a sign ‘homestay’, so I followed it. In my experience, ‘hotels’ are out of my budget and to be avoided, whereas ‘homestays’ may be as primitive and delightfully cheap as you like. Well, this time I was disappointed. The ‘homestay’ was incredibly nice. It was flash. It had a swimming pool. It was in the middle of a launch party with canapes and amplifiers. It was a goddamn hotel.

The cheapest rate was about $35, so I asked the nice receptionists if they knew of any cheap cheap homestays for the genuinely penniless, and they suggested a place a few kilometres away, helping me to find it on google maps. After a some time wandering through back streets, I found it in real life too. It was facing onto an alley that dead ended with a big brick wall; it wasn’t a particularly prosperous part of town, and there were some children playing there. They didn’t smile; they looked at me hard. The homestay was built right to the edge of the road, with nowhere safe for the bike unless I was prepared to ride it down four steps into the living area. I thought I could ride it down, but they were large stairs and I wasn’t sure how I would go getting it back up again. No-one came out to speak with me. I didn’t get a good feeling, so I moved on.

Google maps reckoned there was another homestay a little bit further up the road and around the corner, so I set off, but soon the map didn’t resemble the physical reality at all. I was in an area with big gated houses but no guttering on the street, and frequent empty lots. It was dusk. Confused, I stopped in the road to peer at the map.

giant black SUV pulled up beside me. The driver’s side window opened, and a man leaned out, jumbo Starbucks cup in hand: “Where are you going? Why are you here?”
I’m looking for a homestay, I explained. He looked annoyed. “But why are you here? Alone?”

I explained that I was riding my motorbike to Europe, and tonight I was looking for a cheap homestay. He shook his head. “Stay there,” he commanded and drove a little further to a big house.

The big iron gate slid open and he drove inside.

He came back to talk to me. I was hoping that he could me directions. He was still holding his jumbo sized Starbucks takeaway cup, and I was fixated by it: a symbol of extravagant consumption. Bloody Starbucks in Indonesia, if you adjusted for currency and buying power, it would be something like paying $25 for a cup of coffee. It was like getting around with Gucci on your handbag.

He told me that he was a pastor for an evangelical congregation, and that he would call one of his congregation who was involved with a homestay. I said thank you, that it was very kind. He said that I should wait at his house, so I parked the bike in front and awkwardly went inside. His wife offered me coffee; we have Starbucks coffee, he told me, pointing to a variety of Starbucks take-home products. Thank you, I said. I didn’t mention that I wouldn’t normally go for Starbucks because I used to be a Sydney coffee snob, where it’s considered overpriced and poorly flavoured. I didn’t mention that I’d been drinking coffee from Timor to Java and I knew for a fact that the ordinary coffee being roasted and drunk by the locals in most villages was much better than anything Starbucks ever sold. I just said, thank you.

You know those times when you’re conflicted, because someone is being kind to you (so you want to demonstrate gratitude) but they’re actually also being a bit awful, and you want to tell them to piss off? This was one of those times.

So I sat awkwardly on the edge of his couch and I tried to sip the Starbucks coffee which was too hot, while he told me about how he is friends with a great Australian politician, what’s his name, Fred Nile. He told me about how he’s been to Australia, he’s been to Sydney and he’s been to Hillsong, and that apparently Australia is a nice country but it has a problem with those homosexuals, you know, they want to get married now and he doesn’t have anything personal against them or anything but it’s wrong and contrary to the word of God and they’re going to hell.

One of those times when you’re trying to smile politely but you’re actually gritting your teeth.

Then he turned to me.

– Have you finished school? he asked me.

– Yes.

– Have you finished university?

– Yes, double degree.

– So what did you do in Australia?

That question again.

– I used to be a lawyer, I told him.

– What kind of a lawyer?

– A commercial and regulatory litigator.

– And you left that? You’re not on holidays, not going back to it?

– Yes, I left it.

He frowned.

– Well, I don’t mean to be rude, he said, but that is very stupid.

Heavy emphasis on the word ‘stupid’.

I smiled sweetly.

– Why is that, I asked him?

– Well, you would have earnt a lot of money as a lawyer. And now you threw it away. That’s stupid.

I took a moment.

– Surely, I said, there are more important things in life than money.

Inside my head: and you, purportedly a man of God?

He just looked at me like I was an idiot. Then he told me that I needed Jesus in my life.

* * *

Later, the people came to show me to the homestay. They were kindly and friendly and delightful; spoke excellent English and chatted easily with me about time spent studying in Melbourne. Then I followed their scooter through Jember’s darkening streets, into a peculiar kind of housing estate; there were guards and boomgates, but the guards didn’t really seem to care who they let in and the houses didn’t match. There were weed-grown vacant lots; houses that seemed abandoned, mould-stained multilevel monoliths; and then fancy oversized McMansions with shining security gates.

Then there was the homestay. The homestay was really a hotel, brand new, modern, ultra compact. Clean and bright and delightfully cheap. I parked my bike inside the gate, in front of the reception desk. I was thrilled. My guides were kind and nice but they had somewhere to be – a church meeting, I think – so they left, and there I was alone. Just me in a clean room with unmarked white sheets; a clean cold water bathroom; feeling safe.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63f6ecxKVVY&w=560&h=315]

I washed and then ordered nasi rawon – a sort of beef and black bean soup, warming and rich despite the usual factual scarcity of meat. I went out onto the terrace and sat out there with some travelling businessmen, eating my dinner as they smoked and worked on some kind of presentation for the following day. We exchanged greetings then simply coexisted quietly. The food was good. Next door, the sounds of the jungle emanated from an overgrown empty lot.


It had been an interesting day. I was a happy woman: safe, clean, fed, and in possession of a motorbike. Life was good.

0 thoughts on “Starbucks Evangelist

  1. @SmithPlatts says:

    What a pompous prick that pastor is! His behaviour is the opposite of what he purports >:(

    You are not, in any way, stupid!

    Glad that you’ve found a spot to feel safe; may many more moments like this be on the horizon Grace!

    1. Ah the world is made up of all sorts. I think you can imagine how much weight I gave his criticism ????‍♀️

  2. ozemarketeer says:

    Welcome back into the world . . . And YES! Life is indeed good. Congratulations on your tact and diplomacy.

  3. Darin Lafalam says:

    Was the Pastor saying you needed God in your life, or money? Perhaps he has them confused. To think others may look to him for moral guidance.

    Scares me that you weren’t that worried by “I shouldn’t have done that” moments. When life finds you in a valley, beautiful mountain views are just ahead. Life IS good!

    1. Yes there was some apparent confusion there… ???? The thing that really got to me was the knowledge of how poor most people in that city were. Irrespective of theological loyalties, I just think the pastor ought not be one of the richest people in town when so many are suffering in poverty. And if the money comes from members from the congregation who are less well-off, then that would be even worse.

      Yes, life is good but sometimes your brain becomes so adapted to surviving in valleys that it can’t process the view even when you get to the top of the mountain. It’s not an easy mess to untangle

      1. Darin Lafalam says:

        Cheers to untangling.

  4. Claudio Martinho says:

    Well, I really envy you stupidity. But in truth, you are courageous, not stupid.

    By the way, your shirt remind me of a fun fact. Do you know that the Indonesian president is a metal head?


    Thank you for taking us with you.

    1. Not courageous more desperate I suspect ???? But thank you. Very glad you’re enjoying.

      I am a bit of a Jokowi fan.

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