Atchafalaya Swamp

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lives In The Balance: Good Works Vs Bad

I have always held firm to the belief that we must have some balance in our lives; some sort of yin and yang in equal measure. To do some bad and to do some good, because to see the worst in human nature will make us appreciate the nicer parts of humanity. And I don't mean women's bodies...

I'm sure many of you will disagree but that's just me; seeing bad in good and good in bad. And I'm always grateful to be able to tell one from the other.

Because... how else would I find myself in what once was the largest prostitution area in the whole of South East Asia last Sunday afternoon?

I said,
was. Remember the tense, please, was.

It's in north Jakarta, past Tanjung Priok, at a place called Kramat Tunggak.

What once housed close to 4000 rooms in 277 buildings employing hundreds of
germos (pimps) is now the Jakarta Islamic Center. I dare not even speculate how many PSK's (Pekerja Seks Komersial) this bustling area once had. Ten, twenty thousand? More?

Anyway, all that was demolished in 1999 and early in the millennium the Jakarta Islamic Center had replaced all that had once brought misery and ecstasy in equal doses.

But don't take my word for it. Go here to Mualaf Center Online for a background on Kramat Tunggak.

So you ask, what the hell was I doing there?

I went there on a self-induced mission to visit a friend who once worked as a radio operator on my rig in Kalimantan.

Pak Aa Gym, fiftyish and obese, suffered a stroke about a year ago in his
kost (rented room) in Balikpapan. Workers like Pak Aa Gym don't get to go home during time off like I do because their point-of-hire is in Balikpapan. They see their families perhaps once or twice a year, usually over Lebaran Idul Fitri, and of course, paying out of their own kantong celana. They just don't make enough. Their schedules are usually "two-one" - two weeks on and one off, and it was on one of those "offs" that his neighbor noticed that he had not emerged from his kost for two days running.

So he had suffered a stroke, alone in his
kost, with no one giving a damn.

He was hospitalized for a while and when he was able to walk, his kin came to take him home to Jakarta. He had, by then, lost his faculties to speak.

So I promised myself that if I ever spend a day or two in Jakarta, I would hunt him down and pay my dues to a fellow comrade.

But finding him was no easy feat. I had to ask around until I found another offshore worker called Sugeng who could get me his address. So I kept that battered piece of paper with some crude references to
Bekas Tempat Prostituisi Terbesar and finally, there I was.

I kept the meter running on the taxi (no need to expound on my getting lost in the maze of Tanjung Priok - the taxi driver had never been there either) which eventually made me poorer by almost RM 150.00 (yes, it's that far). After asking around I found the "Ibu RT" (some sort of neighborhood leader) who finally led me to Pak Aa Gym.

There was no one home except Pak Aa Gym, dressed in a white T-shirt and sarong with a metal cane by his side. He had lost perhaps fifty pounds. He registered surprised, and a pitying 'huummm, huummm' escaped his throat. He grabbed my waist and cried. And so did I.

And so I had come to fulfill my vow.

What struck me was what "Ibu RT" said to me as she left me outside his gate, "Pak, you're the only friend from his workplace that visited".

In reply, I said, "Alah...but my house is just on the way, Bu...", shrugging it off.

She had no idea that my house is in another country.


Kata Tak Nak said...

Wow, you would do that. Not many would I tell you. I don't think I am up to it. I may wish to visit but when it gets that tough then I think I'll just give up.

Pi Bani said...

Nasib baiklah ada juga sorang co-worker tu gi visit dia kan? I'm sure it meant a whole lot to him. Do they have anything like the Socso scheme over there?

den said...

Pls accept a sincere tabik from pak den

Anonymous said...

Staying in Jakarta myself, I can appreciate what you have to go through to locate him. The fact that you will do such a thing speaks a lot about who you are...you have my respect.

insan tak kamil

Anonymous said...

Saya tak terkata. Alhamdulillah, semoga ada ramai lagi seperti saudara.

cakapaje said...

Salam MS,

Bro, the Pak's house is along the way to yours! :)

Bro, you did good. May Allah s.w.t. reward you for your kindness.

Suci Dalam Debu said...

Wow, that's really good of you to do that.

It is unbelievably sad and happy at that very moment when the two of you meet.

Normally when you are down and out, you lose all your friends. Only memories remain. The world is so cruel. Where are all my good-time friends? What a lonely existence. No friends, no money.

You answered that call. It meant a lot to the RO and brought meaning to his life. And yours too.

He did you bookings when you need to go home. He helped you to make that important call from the radio room. He did so many things for others that were taken for granted. Of course, it was his job but the did it with honor and extended his friendship to everyone without asking for anything in return.

Your visit meant so much to him. Something that money cannot buy. He'll cherished that till he closes his eyes.


The Ancient Mariner said...

Very profound.

I know the feeling. When you retire you find all the apple polishers dizappeared. You are on your own. Thank God for friends like you.

Mat Salo said...

@ Chegu Nazir K.T.N. (Kapla Terajang Negara):

Bukan apa Chegu, aku dah lama heboh kat member2 rig nak jumpa dia kalau tak pergi juga nanti di kira haprak.. cakap aja, orang kata.

So this time saya kotakan janji, that's all. Just trying to lift a person's spirits up. Mudah mudahan hukum karma will one day befall me too. Ha ha.

Mat Salo said...


I know my visit to his home was probably one the highlights of our lives: mine and his. A lot of readers might fail to appreciate that from Balikpapan, KL is closer than Jakarta, due to the vast distances across their archipelago... so to show up at his doorstep is really something, for both of us.

SOCSO? I tell you Pi. It really is a dog eat dog world here in Indonesia. Why do you think millions come to our shores in droves? But I'd like to think, in God's Infinite Grace, every dog will have his day...

Mat Salo said...

Thanks Pak Den.. no need to tabik. I hope if something happens to me one day, someone would care to do the same, ya Pak?

Mat Salo said...

Insan tak kamil,

Sir, appreciate your coming by. Perhaps one day kita bisa ngopi di DKI ya Pak? Dimana di Jakarta, Pak?

Mat Salo said...


Haha... kalau ramai macam saya susah lah kerna part 'baik' tu too rare and too far in-between.

Yang baik semua dari Sang Pencipta, yang jorok dan jelik, saya sanggup aja bertanggungjawab, ya E?

Makasih, 'Bu...

Mat Salo said...

Bro Shah @cakapaje,

After living like a nomad these past decade, I can't say for sure where my rumah is these days.

Disitu bumi di pijak... langit di junjung. Could be in Tanjong Priok, Kota Damansara or wherever I am, I shall feel at home. Because God does not recognize all these man made boundaries.

As for getting "rewarded", these things never crossed my mind bro'. Because my "sins" far, far outweigh any "good" I have done.

It's easier to handle one's life when he knows he's condemned. So my conscience is clear. I do things simply on a human level, that's all.

I'm unreasonable in the sense that I expect others to do the same. For Pak Aa Gym to be a Moslem was simply coincidental. Even if he's an atheist would not make any difference to me. Anyone close to me deserves my attention. I am just built that way, Sir.

Mat Salo said...

Suci Dalam Debu,

Sir: What you wrote staggered me. You so right in the assumption that Pak Aa Gym is a rare gem of an RO and a human being. Normally to get in their good graces you have to "suck up" to them... ole2, rokok, all that shit.

But not him. He just did his job without ever asking for anything. Friendship was all he wanted.

And for people like him, real friendship is what he deserves, and surely it is within my power not to deny him in his moment of need?

Sir Suci.. most astute, and I appreciate your comments very much.

Mat Salo said...

Bang Captain,

Like all seafarers, my little story would strike a chord in you too.

God help me with all the apple polishers of the world, Sir, for I despise them so.

The other saying I hold on to goes something like this, "Judge someone not by how they treat the 'higher-ups'... but by how they treat fellows less fortunate than them'.

Isn't this so true, Sir?

Salt N Turmeric said...

I can't believe nobody from the office came to visit him all these while. That is in fact so sad. What a tough dog-eat-dog world and I hate it! It was really good of you to pay him a visit.

Mat Salo said...

Miss F in SoCal,

Somebody from the office to visit? Not in a million years. These guys aren't employees in the real sense, by name only, really just like contract staff because they belong to a third party labor supplier.

It's what the world is heading to these days. Source everything out. Even bank tellers for some big banks are contracted on a year-to-year basis. What more credit card executives and their customer service people. Perhaps just "one-off" only. They just wear the uniform with none of the perks, that made banking once a sought after profession.

The good old days has passed us by, dear. Maybe the last bastion of security is a good ol' government job. Companies are screwed big time.

Too late now to join the civil service, haha. I hate I too, but it's the way of the world.

We do what we can to alleviate a little misery...

Suci Dalam Debu said...


I just hope you don't mind me posting this thread.


Have a nice day.

galadriel said...

God bless your heart...Mat Salo. Lu bikin wa emo .

Ur as much a bleeding heart as I am. Perhaps even more. I have been in the exact situation u were in.

At least I know, if tomorrow I die, u might just turn up for the funeral. Heartening to have u as a fren, bro.

Wish Pak Aa a steady recovery.

Anonymous said...


Saya kerap ke sini sejak dulu2 cuma tak pernah komen. Cuma tumpang syiok. But this post moves me to salute you. Allah jua yang akan membalas budi yang sdra tanam.

~ Dak Ah Bau

Mat Salo said...

Sis galadriel aka Ms. ARK,

As to Pak Aa Gym's, "making a steady recovery", I'm afraid the prognosis is not good.

My job is to let him know that someone actually gives a shit.

I think we're doomed in perpetuity to be a "bleeding heart", Sis. Might not be good thing, maybe?

Mat Salo said...

Bro Dak Ah Bau,

I think 'm just doing this as a normal human being, and I don't expect any recompense from anywhere.

No need to salute laaa. Saja nak cerita how fleeting life is, and wonder if we have those so-called friends that really care?

I think it's safe to assume that for a majority of people, malay muslims particularly, their thoughts are on how to "get enough points" to "get ahead in the afterlife".

Not my cup of teh tarik laa,just trying to show someone who's fallen on hard times that there is such thing as friendship.

Appreciate your leavin your thoughts here, bro.

Eskapisminda said...

Alhamdulillah. What you did was BIG. It was BIG to him and a BIG example to people who takes their life for granted. Oh btw, U are a cool photojournalist! :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you ....

You made my day, sir.

ziyad said...

Assalamualakum Pak Cik,

It was noble thing u did back there...We shared the common experiences with Pak AA Gym, how his stories and laughs by that time amuse us in some sense....in the middle of the swampy barge...Let us pray to PAk AA Gym health....