A Night at the Bintang Cafe (Revisited)

The following text was written at the Bintang Cafe in Yogyakarta, Central Java, in June 2011.  The poem quoted in this passage is from The Host by William Carlos Williams.  The photographs here were all made in Yogyakarta and Bandung, West Java in the spring of 2014 (though I just finished the prints in the last couple of weeks).

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Dinner at the Bintang Cafe in Yogyakarta, Central Java.  Bintang is the name of one of the locally made beers, it is also the Indonesian word for star.  The cafe is a favorite hangout for expats.

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I am sitting at a table alone, sipping a Bintang (it is, after all, Happy Hour).  From where I sit, I can see four other tables.

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The table directly in front of me sits empty.  And just behind this is a table with four people.  The first is a boisterous and somewhat drunk Englishman who lives and works in Jakarta (he speaks very loudly, so it easy to hear everything he says).  Together he sits with a young Indonesian man who is doing his best Seattle grunge imitation – long, dirty hair on the verge of dreads, flannel shirt just as dirty as his hair, sleeves rolled up to three quarter length with the cuffs unbuttoned, and with a grey t-shirt underneath – a man from Algeria, and an American woman named Maya (I overheard).  She looks like a hippie, and carries a shoulder bag with a portrait of Bob Marley stenciled on the front.

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The Englishman is willing to engage anyone in conversation, and has found a willing party with the table to his left.  Here sits an aging Dutch man (orang Belanda) sitting with a young, petite Javanese woman, prostitute (I saw her here in the night before, with a different man of the same description – there was a blackout in Yogya last night, and I came to the cafe to drink beer and read by candlelight).  When asked by the Englishman, the prostitute introduces her “date” as her very, very best friend.

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And lastly, immediately to my left is another couple of the same description, and older Dutch man with a young, petite Javanese woman.  They have a young child with them, but it is difficult to say whether or not he is the father.  The boy could be biracial, but I can’t say for certain.  The woman seems eager for my attention.  When I look her way, she is quick to make eye contact and smile.

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The cafe is open-air, and smells faintly of urine.  No one is there/save only for/the food.  Which I alone,/being a poet,/could give them./But I had only my eyes with which to speak.


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