Sun, 22 Oct 2000

A day with a bartender from a characteristic Irish bar

Asep Syaifurahman, 31, has been tending bars all his life. He's currently shaking it up at Kelts at the Hotel Gran Melia in South Jakarta. Born in Subang, West Java, he lives in Bekasi, also in West Java, with his wife Sri Wahyuni, four-year-old daughter and four-month-old son. He spoke to The Jakarta Post's contributor William Furney.

JAKARTA (JP): I drag myself out of bed at 5 a.m. to say the morning (Muslim) prayer. Then I go straight back to sleep until 6:30 a.m. Because I live in Bekasi, it's always a rush to get to work. I have to take two buses and there are many traffic jams at that time. The buses are packed with people and often there's nowhere to sit and I have to stand all the way. Public transport in Jakarta is so bad; I'd love to see what it's like in other countries but I don't have enough money to go abroad.

There are eight members of staff at Kelts, working two shifts -- 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., but at the weekends the late shift can run to 2 a.m. When I'm on the early shift, it's all about preparing for the day and stocking up the bar. The first customers come in about lunchtime. Some people, especially businessmen and executives, have a drink or two then.

When I left high school, I wanted to do something that was relaxed and had a casual work atmosphere. I trained at the Mandarin Hotel as a barboy and have worked in lots of bars around the city. I love the work; it keeps me happy. If I were a waiter or something else, I'd be miserable. I like chatting with the guests.

I've been at Kelts for two years now, and although it was first known as an Irish bar, it's now "the bar at the Gran Melia". But it can still be called an Irish bar. When I started, my manager told me about Ireland because the only thing I knew was the violence in Northern Ireland. When Irish people come in, they talk about the beer. They always ask why we don't have Guinness on tap. I tell them it's not easy in this country and we can only import draft in cans that's brewed in Hong Kong.

I'm licensed as a bartender from the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association. I had to take a two-week Ministry of Tourism course first. I learned things like measurements and how to satisfy a guest. At Kelts, I look at the customers and if, for example, someone is tired, I'll ask him if he'd like some strong coffee. With the regulars, I remember their favorite drink and will have it ready for them before they even have to ask.

I have lunch at the hotel cafeteria. I'll usually have some kind of Indonesian dish. I love fried chicken and various other types of Western food like McDonald's.

Some customers, mainly foreigners, like to talk about their lives and the situation in Indonesia, particularly on quiet nights. They talk about Soeharto and his family. They say if he were put in jail, Indonesia would be a better country. Businessmen say that it's not difficult to do business here. They say that outside Indonesia, there are bad rumors about doing business here but once you come here it's not like that. Others talk about personal problems. Oftentimes, people are just lonely and want someone to talk to.

If someone asks for a certain type of cocktail, and I don't know what's in it, I'll pretend to make it. Every bar has its own way of making drinks, so they won't be the same wherever you go. I also have my special little book behind the bar, and I'll refer to it.

When customers are very drunk, I give them a special drink to make them throw up. It's ginger ale and different types of herbs. They feel better afterward. Once, there was a Japanese who was so drunk we couldn't wake him up. He wasn't staying at the hotel and I tried to call his family, but he had no information on him. We thought about calling the Japanese embassy, but it was too late. In the end, I called security and we put him on a lounger in the lobby, where he spent the night. If a customer is drunk and wants more to drink I'll give him, for example, a little bit of Bacardi with a lot of cola. I won't charge the full price, of course.

There's a small number of prostitutes that hang around the bar at nighttime and it's hard to stop them from coming. Every bar in the city has them. They're nice people and we chat about life and other things. We had a complaint recently, though. A customer said one particular lady was pestering him and he felt uncomfortable. There's a lot of well-known pick up joints in this town and if people want some company they can go there. That's what I tell customers who're looking for some fun. Right now, we're trying to cut back the number of prostitutes that come to Kelts.

It amazes me how much people spend on alcohol. If there's a bill for Rp 1 million or more, I think, "Wow, that's almost my salary for one month!" But I guess it's not much for the guests. There's a difference between foreigners and Indonesian customers. Indonesians tend to like cocktails; foreigners drink a lot of other things and a lot more.

If there are difficult guests who are rude, it can be hard to deal with. But it's okay if they're respectful and don't mock me.

If I'm on the early shift, I'll get home about 8 p.m. It always takes a long time, as there's a lot of traffic on the streets. Sri will have cooked something for me and after I eat, I like to play with the children. Otherwise, I get home about 3 a.m. I can't sleep straight away, so I'll stay up for a while and read the paper. The most important thing in my life is making my family happy. I have to work hard to make money for them. As long as I'm earning enough, that's all I want. Religion is also important to me; it keeps me balanced and in control. I don't drink that much. Islam says we can drink but not get drunk. I have two days off a week and usually I just stay at home and help Sri. Sometimes I'll have a beer or two.

We own our own house. It's small but nice. It's in a government estate. I paid Rp 10 million as a down payment and it's Rp 200,000 every month for the mortgage. It'll take 15 years to pay off. Sri sleeps with the children and I'm on my own in a different room. The children are very young and I don't want to disturb her.