Here’s a big difference between the States and Indonesia: no fire alarms. This might seem disconcerting and “underdeveloped” at first. But think about it a little differently. When you’re at work or at school or hanging in your apartment or wherever and hear fire alarm, what do you do? You stop what you’re doing and look at the people closest to you, wait a few seconds, maybe wander outside, and then continue with what you were doing… shouting over the racket or maybe trying to go back to sleep. Once a few years ago during a bomb scare in an office building Starbucks where I worked, we just kept making big sweet drinks for the impatient public – couldn’t be bothered to wait outside.
Now, if someone started pounding on your door at 4 a.m. shouting Api! Api! Fire! Fire! Quickly! This way! you would get up and run for your clothes. We know because that’s what happened last week.
Our neighbor Ricky woke Sarah and I up doing this and would not stop repeating the above until we had left, locked our door, and were following him and his cigarette lighter torching a path through the haze. An old fridge at Nu Bliss, the bar we live two floors above, shorted out and caught fire. No one was hurt and other than the fridge being destroyed there was only smoke damage. And here’s something else the Indonesians got right: buildings are made of concrete. Who knows what would’ve happened with plywood and drywall.
The fire department never showed – who knows why not. Instead the whole building helped put out the fire – even passersby. Only a cell phone came up missing during the whole event. Not ours. Ours was pick-pocketed in a mall two weeks earlier.
And of course during all this strangers still said to me, “Hey! Mister!” and shook my hand as I stood outside half asleep with the call to prayer going out all around me. I didn’t even do anything. Just watched the front door for looters. (There were none.) Then we all went back to bed.
Nu Bliss was open for business the next day.