This morning I found myself suffering from increased anxiety on the way to work (as opposed to my usual background anxiety), because the music compilation CD I had made featured some rather indulgent prog rock excesses. (If you must know, it was Yes’s early-seventies masterpiece Close to the Edge. And yeah, yeah, yeah: I’ve heard all the comments before. Don’t even start.)
The cause of the anxiety? That my Indonesian driver would think I have weird tastes, since the music is somewhat annoying to many (most) people. Twenty-minute symphonic rock masterpieces with complex time signatures, tight harmonies and monophonic Moog synths don’t always span cultural differences I’ve found.
So there I was, worried that my driver will think less of me because of my eclectic tastes. Then the CD started jumping and it also became a battle of wits and wills as to whether I tell him to turn it off, or he tried to move it to the next track, and who’d do which first.
All in all, these trips are quite eventful for me in terms of mentally grappling with in-car entertainment choices, among other things (like do I open the sunroof today?). But this is, of course, what we term a “first world problem.” And it got me thinking about other such issues Rebecca and I regularly encounter in our somewhat cosseted life here in Jakarta.
One example would be my almost continual battle with the staff at our serviced apartment over the number of fresh towels they give us. I need at least two: one for my regular swims in the adjoining huge swimming pool, and one for post-shower, plus a small one for my face.
Most times they leave only one big one, leading me to curse and mutter under my breath about inadequate towelage and how-complicated-can-it-be comments to anyone in earshot (that means Rebecca, who normally filters these sorts of things out).
And the staff always, always leave free soap and shampoo when we don’t need any, since we always take the free amenities at all the five-star hotels we visit. It’s something of a chore to collect up all the freebies and redistribute them to family and friends. Elsewhere in our serviced apartment, a faulty humidifier occasionally means the air in the bedroom is dry and gives us sore throats and sneezes.
There are more. To list them all would be exhaustive (and I’m already drained from having to lift to my mouth the cup of hot tea that the office maid brings to my desk every hour), but they include: really chilly shopping malls as well as over-zealous salespeople with no product knowledge. There’s also the loud housekeeping service every morning; a (free in the room) washing machine that makes annoying beeping noises; and the perennial problem of the fact that our apartment lifts often take a little bit too long to arrive.
Of course, reading the above would make you think we’re a couple of whining ingrates, which we are from time to time, I will freely admit. And though much of it was written with tongue firmly in cheek, all the examples are real in that we’ve both moaned about them (and when I say “both” I mean mostly me).
As to my driver? He supports a large family on a fraction of my salary, and works very long days with a smile and with humility, even through the mind-bending tedium of a lengthy Pink Floyd epic at 5:30pm in gridlocked traffic. I learn a lot from observing him. And more often than not these days, I simply don’t ask him to put the music on to save us both. It’s the kindest thing for both our sakes.