Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bathtime in Jakarta

The lobby of the hotel we're staying at in Jakarta is bigger than the entire hostel we were staying at last night. We cross a grand plain of marble to the front desk, a sweeping staircase to our right, hotel guests eyeing us from plush chaise lounges to the left.
We seem distinctly out of place with our bathing suit shorts, old runners and dirty worn backpacks.
The clerk is nonchalant, though, and greets us with polished, professional form. I feel like the castaway guy from the 80s American Express commercial as I slap my credit card down on the tropical-hardwood counter to put a deposit on our room.
Unfortunately, that spell is broken when the machine rejects my Visa. I have to pony up $300 US cash instead.
After three months on the road, I am in a four-star Western hotel, in a tony area of embassies and offices just south of central Jakarta.
I'm here to meet up with my brother, who's at a conference at the hotel. It's out of our normal price range, but for two days the boy and I can splurge.
No cage lockers here, no common-room fridges or mosquito netting. The hotel is all air conditioning, carpeting and chrome, push-button elevators and key-card locks. Buffet for breakfast, included. Staff in uniforms smile and open doors for you.
We ride the Muzak-ed elevator to the 11th floor (11 floors! And more!) and enter our room. I stayed in a hundred like it back when, travelling on business.
And I stop myself. It has a bathtub.
It is the first honest-to-God western-style bathtub I have seen in three months.
Now, people do things differently here. And I am cool with that. They don't do baths. That's fine.
What they have in Asia is showers. If you're lucky, there's a little heating unit attached to the wall allow a person to fine-tune the water temperature. But more often than not, it's just ambient temperature. 
I can even understand why they don't have bathtubs. For one, it costs money to heat all that water. Two, it's almost always 30+ degrees here, so who would ever want to lie in a tub of hot water?
So for the last three months, I've showered. And yeah, that's OK. Part of 'the experience'.
But day by day, lukewarm rinse by lukewarm rinse, my need to soak has grown.
We just get settled in the room when my brother knocks on the hotel door. We head down for some supper.
It's great seeing him again, we catch up on all sorts of news. But in the back of my mind, I'm thinking about that bath tub. We call it an early night (he's working in the morning) and I head back to the room.
Back to the bath tub.
I walk into the bathroom and look around. That alone is a luxury. No more closet-sized hostel bathrooms for me. No more shower-head-spraying-everywhere-wetting-the-toilet-paper-and-cosmetic bag.
Not tonight.
Tonight is cream-coloured marble flooring, two-tone tilework around the fine porcelain tub. I pull the clothesline cord from the dispenser thoughfully included on the side of the tub, and draw it across to its receptacle. I have no clothes to steam out. I just want to do it.
I'm going to savour every minute this. I want to see the chrome mist up as the water heats it, condensing the cool air on its surface. I am going to fill it to the brim, and slowly sink under the surface, until only my nose can be seen. I am going to emerge finger-wrinkled and pink and am going to wear the white terrycloth bathrobe I just spotted on the back of the door.
I crank the dial to stop the drain.
I turn the tap, try one way, then rotate it to the left for the hottest water. I watch and wait patiently to adjust it just to the best temperature. I let it run.
And run.
And run.
And run.
It has been a full ten minutes now, dear reader. And the water has not gone above tepid.
Who needs hot water when it's always 30-plus degrees?
It was so close, yet so far. Far away.


So it's three o'clock in the morning when I'm woken up by #1 Insomniac Son getting back into bed. He's wearing the white terrycloth robe.
“Did you take a bath?” I ask stupidly. It was three a.m., after all.
“Sure,” he says.
 “It wasn't cold?” I ask. See above.
“No, it was hot.”
Well, I'm instantly awake. I go to the bathtub. I can feel the heat still rising from his bath.WTF?
I try the water handle again. I turn it full the other way, and wait this time. It's hot, in a few seconds.
Oh shit.
I run, and nuke the blog post. Idiot. Idiot.
Then I realize, It's OK. I'm not writing high journalism or anything I have to pretend about.
This is me, dear reader. I fuck up.
I pour a bath. A hot bath. I watch the taps condense vapour as they heat up. I feel the warmth of the porcelain as I slilp into the hot, hot water. I slide under the surface, my nose just poking out.
This posting will have a happy ending after all, I think.
I'm a heppy, heppy ket.

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